“What surprised me the most is how this woman who is seemingly so well put together is actually in turmoil and unraveling on the inside,” T’Nia Miller teased during a January visit to the set of Netflix’s Haunting of Bly Manor set. Miller was describing her own character, Hannah Grose, the house manager of the series’ titular mansion.
It’s only when you watch Bly Manor’s fifth episode, “The Altar of the Dead,” that you can see the succinct clarity of Miller’s words. In the previous episodes, Hannah is beset by hallucinations of an inexplicably creepy crack. “Altar of the Dead” finally explains the crack’s meaning: It’s the last thing Hannah saw before she died. Because Hannah is dead after a possessed Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) shoved Hannah into a well, killing her. Hannah is now Bly Manor’s hardest working ghost.
The Hannah reveal was even a surprise to Miller, who didn’t know she would get her own episode — or that she was playing a ghost — until she read the script for “Altar.” For Miller, the twist comes down to Hannah’s ability to hold onto “hope” so tightly she’s can explain away her own terrifying situation — until that option evaporates.
“‘I’m a ghost who doesn’t realize she’s a ghost. So I guess I play her as a human?,’” Miller told Refinery29 on a Zoom call the day before Bly Manor’s debut, explaining how she brought Hannah to (after)life. “But she does wander and wane, as you know, to these pockets, these memories.”
It is those “waning” moments that define “Altar of the Dead.” Over the episode, Hannah tumbles through her memories; her anchor for the emotionally unmooring experience is her first conversation with her love interest and Bly’s handsome chef, Owen (iZombie's Rahul Kohli). Despite the unnerving manner of the supernatural cycle — which keeps pulling Hannah back to her kitchen discussion with Owen — she is unable to leave it.
“She would always just try and find logic. When something wasn’t right, she would always go back to logic. As it progresses, it starts to scare her,” Miller explained. “That sort of ramps up in every scene — we go back and go back and go back to the kitchen. The fear starts to really set in and she’s no longer able to really maintain that denial — that place of ‘This isn’t happening, this isn’t happening, this isn’t real.’ Something is wrong.”
Miller believes Hannah's reaction is normal, despite the wholly abnormal situation. “When we know something is wrong, just generally as people, we don’t want to deal with it, we don’t want to face it,” she said. “Like being in a bad relationship, you get little tell-tale signs.”
Hannah isn’t exempt from that nagging feeling. As we see throughout the first half of Bly Manor, her character touches the back of her head — where her skull was smashed in— when she sees the crack. “There’s still little clues going along, so that you’ll notice that something’s not quite right,” Miller adds.
Miller was tasked with remembering those little physical quirks while also maintaining Hannah’s perspective as she ping pongs through her years and years of memories in Bly. It’s a gargantuan task, which Miller succeeded in through silly means (like standing by as co-star Rahul Kohli “broke wind” to break the tension) and serious ones like creating a timeline of Hannah’s history, rewatching takes during production, and talking to episode director Liam Gavin.
“I just went, ‘What’s just happened? Where is she?’ There are times when I was just generally confused,” Miller, a self-described IRL “ditz” quipped. “So if you see me looking confused sometimes, that’s just T’nia.”
However, if there’s one topic Miller seems sure about, it’s what Hannah would be doing if she survived: thriving as one half of a “beautiful couple” with Owen.
“She’s doing what she does best. She’s taking care of Owen and she’s doing it not just for Owen, but for herself,” Miller said, imagining Hannah in Paris with her chef beau. “She’s writing up the whiteboard for what today’s specials are … She’s tasting these dishes and they’re creating recipes at home. They have a lovely garden and she’s calling Jamie like, ‘How do I grow this cilantro? Well what’s the best kind of sunlight?’ She has her own family. And the kids come and visit. In another lifetime.”
If this alternate history — or the brutal truth of “Altar” in total — brings a tear to your eye, Miller has some advice. “[Hannah’s fate] just really confirms for me tomorrow’s not promised. It really isn’t. And fear is a bloody liar. It’s a liar. Don’t listen to him,” she began. “Live your life! Live your best life. Because that’s what happens if you don’t.”