The Haunting of Hill House ending explained - everything you need to know after watching

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So. That Haunting of Hill House ending. There's quite a bit to untangle, so I really don't blame you for having questions about everything from the Red Room, to the ghost in the bowler hat, to Hill House itself in all its creepy, vine-entwined glory. Part of what makes the Haunting of Hill House ending so intriguing is that it can take quite a bit of work to figure out the timeline of each characters' actions and how they all affected each other, so I'm not surprised you're here trying to figure out what exactly went on in the series. 

Bluntly put, as one of the best shows on Netflix the Haunting of Hill House ending has rightly got most people rewatching the series to pry the answers out of it with their (thankfully) very much alive hands. I'm one of those people, so just keep reading for answers galore about what went on with the Crains in that literally damned house. 

SPOILER WARNING: The entirety of this article contains spoilers for the Haunting of Hill House ending, so you will have the biggest twists shoved in your face without mercy. Consider yourself warned. 

Ghost are lurking in the background of almost every episode. Take a look at our article that lists all the hidden Haunting of Hill House ghosts to see them all. 

1. What is the Red Room?

In the last episode, Nell’s ghost reveals that the Red Room is the “stomach” of Hill House. Over the course of the Crains’ stay in the dark mansion, the Red Room remained stubbornly closed despite Hugh Crain taking a hammer and chisel to the door frame. No wonder it stayed shut - the room is something different each time it opens depending on who wants to get in, disguising itself as a different room to - get this - “digest” whoever is inside. 

Digesting the family takes the form of getting inside their head and slowly brainwashing them, like what happened to Olivia Crain. That leaves them susceptible to the influence of the ghosts roaming the hallways. So for Shirley the Red Room is a family room, for Theo it’s a dance studio, for Steven it’s a game room, a treehouse for Luke, a reading room for Olivia, and a toy room for Nell where she found her cup of stars. Notice how Hugh very rarely saw ghosts? He’s the only character who didn’t have his own version of the Red Room, suggesting that he couldn’t see ghosts thanks to the House’s inability to get inside his head precisely because he didn’t have a room of his own to be “digested in”. In hindsight the Red Room’s ever-changing nature explains Mrs Dudley’s confusion when Nell and Steven mention the toy and game room to her, as despite having worked in Hill House for years she had never encountered those rooms. Luckily for her...

2. Who are the ghosts?

Hill House is rammed full of the undead. First off, the one we see the most is Poppy Hill, husband to William Hill, a flapper who was clinically insane and brainwashed Olivia Crain by terrifying her that her children would be eaten up by the outside world (the solution to which is, obviously, killing them and therefore keeping them safe in Hill House forever. Obviously). Next we’ve got Poppy and William’s wheelchair-bound son, who appears in front of Olivia Crain and bangs the walls as he can’t speak, making him the one who terrified Shirley and Theo at the beginning of the series. 

Obviously there’s the Bent Neck Lady who haunts Nell, who turns out to be Nell herself. After Nell dies in Hill House she finds herself being flung backwards through time in an effort to warn her family about Hill House, a trip which ends with her appearing in front of her younger self and scaring the bejesus out of her. Olivia’s ghost appears every so often, like to Luke at Nell’s funeral and in Shirley’s office to Theo and Hugh, with her cracked head and dishevelled nightgown. Those are the major ghosts but there’s also Abigail’s ghost (who was actually alive for the majority of the series until Olivia poisoned her), Luke’s ghost, the ghost of the man at the bar, the man fixing the clock with his magnificent moustache, Hazel Hill’s bedridden ghost (who Mrs Dudley used to work for) and many, many more that we see behind Steve at the end of the finale. Hill House sure has an appetite...

3. Who is the tall ghost with the bowler hat?

That fellow is Poppy Hill’s medically-insane husband William Hill, otherwise known as the creepily tall man (during life his height was always an obsession of his according to Poppy). As a child his parents sent him to “boarding school”, which was actually a mental asylum where he met, fell in love with, and married Poppy. Talk about a dysfunctional relationship.  After being driven even more insane by the House, he bricked himself up in a wall in the ‘40s and Hugh discovered his skeleton while trying to rid the house of black mould - and sure enough, William brought his cane into the wall with him. He’s the one who goes floating from room to room looking for his bowler hat after Luke found it in the house as a child. After Luke steals his bowler hat, William haunts Luke for the rest of his life. You can see William in one of the photos Mrs Dudley finds in Nell’s Toy Room standing next to his daughter, complete with bowler hat, moustache, and cane. Shudder. 

4. Are the ghosts all of the dead?

No. Although they mostly are undead, outside of Hill House ghosts can be the embodiment of someone’s guilt, regrets, or trauma. So the man in the bar who keeps appearing to Shirley reminds her of when she slept with him at her mortuary conference (ew) yet he isn’t dead, instead being a representation of her guilt. Luke isn’t dead either - though he sure comes close for a while - yet Nell and Olivia both see him foaming from the mouth as a premonition of his near-death encounter at Hill House. These kinds of ghosts are warnings, representing fear, or guilt, or a painful memory, and it’s ambiguous whether they’re the result of Hill House’s influence on the Crains or whether they’re hallucinations springing from someone’s fragile mental state. Hugh, for example, sees Olivia’s ghost beside him at all times, but that turns out just to be one of his coping mechanisms as when he meets the real ghost of Olivia in Hill House, she tells him that version of her was all in his head. 

5. Is The Haunting of Hill House ending really that happy?

If you’re anything like me, you might feel disconcerted at that twee happy ending. Steve’s wife is pregnant, Luke is 2 years clean, Shirley has reconciled with her husband, and Theo - even that beautiful mess Theo - is in a stable relationship with Trish. Too good to be true? Maybe. Showrunner Mike Flanagan said in an interview that “we talked for a very, very long time about putting the Red Room window, that weird vertical window, in the background of this shot. And I ultimately decided not to. It was too cruel”. Implying that the Crains haven’t escaped Hill House - perhaps literally - that window would have been the perfectly ambiguous way to end the series, but Flanagan decided against it. Boo. We’ll just have to see whether Netflix commissions another season to find out whether something was really hiding in that suspiciously happy ending. 

6. What will happen to Hill House now?

If Steve decides to do things like Hugh, I reckon he’ll just leave it to disintegrate into the dirt. Now that Hugh, Nell, and Olivia are haunting Hill House they might be able to keep the other ghosts in check. Remember when Olivia masterfully told Poppy Hill to piss off in the last episode when she was taunting Hugh? That moment, along with the ghost of the elderly bed-ridden Hazel Hill telling Olivia that Poppy lies, implies that although the ghosts are - well, ghosts, they get to know each other in the same way us living folk become accustomed to people. Being confined to Hill House probably forces you to socialise. Which is a nightmare in and of itself, to be honest.

7. What made Hill House evil to begin with, and who built it? 

Short answer: I don’t know. But damn, I want to. Judging from its architecture it looks like it was built in the Gothic Revival style, which would put its construction at about 1830 - 1860. However, Poppy Hill is the oldest ghost we encounter, and as she comes from the 1920s - hence her flapper dress - it’s not certain when precisely the house started to “digest” its inhabitants as we don’t see many ghosts from the 1800s. Perhaps it gradually turned evil...

In an interview Mike Flanagan says that “we had a whole history of Hill House that we were going to shoot. We were going to open several episodes of the show with this kind of history, split out over the whole season, which would show you the construction of Hill House, the history of the Hill family, who everybody was”, but because of filming schedules it was eventually scrapped. There’s not much you can gather about Hill House’s past from the episodes, so to get an answer to this one we’ll just have to wait and see whether Mike Flanagan addresses it in the sequel we’re hopefully going to get. 

8. Who put the buttons on Nell’s corpse’s eyes?

I have no idea. I’m sure that none of the family would have perverted her remains in that way, though. The dirty ghost of Olivia Crain appears to Theo and Hugh in Shirley’s study after destroying the model of the family’s dream house, so she might have put the buttons there. As all of the family saw the buttons, it’s not a hallucination, so Olivia’s ghost meddling in the funeral to freak out her living relatives seems to be the best bet. 

9. Why didn’t Hill House burn when Luke tried to set it on fire?

I think the answer to this is simply because it didn’t want to. If Hill House can change the Red Room at the blink of an eye, create dead ends (like when Hugh was pursuing Olivia through the house during the storm), conjure up visions, create black mould, make people disappear, warp time, and, you know, create ghosts, so I reckon when it comes to physical states it probably has the power to decide whether it wants to be set on fire or not. 

10. Why do the ghosts only come out at night?

Night-time has always been a hive of activity for anything spooky, and Hill House is no different. Ghosts might only appear at night because the Crain’s mental state is more fragile in the dark, and because it’s easier to hide things in the shadows when there’s not sunlight streaming through the windows. Perhaps Hill House is less powerful during the day as it’s harder to scare people when they can clearly see everything around them. Or maybe the House just needs time to gather its strength for more disturbing events, and it uses the day to recharge. 

11. Can ghosts travel through time?

When the ghost of poor Nell appears to her siblings in the Red Room in the final episode, she starts off talking nonsense before Shirley finally says: “I feel like I’ve been here before” and Nell’s nonsense turns into a coherent answer, as her nonsense is actually us only hearing one side of a conversation (just like in the Blink episode of Doctor Who). Nell says that “everything’s been out of order… I thought for so long that time was like a line… between the beginning and the end. But I was wrong. It’s not like that at all. Our moments fall around us like rain”. Ghosts, by the sounds of it, are able to jump through time - hence Nell appearing to her younger self - but in Nell’s case she’s not always able to control it. Whether all ghosts have Nell’s time-travelling ability remains to be seen. 

12. Will we get The Haunting of Hill House season 2?

God, I hope so. So far Netflix hasn’t commissioned a second series, but considering the outstanding response The Haunting of Hill House has gotten it certainly wouldn’t be unusual to commission the Haunting of Hill House season 2. What form it would take we’re unsure, but it could explore a number of things, most obvious of which is an anthology-like series about the ghosts haunting the house. Poppy’s sadistic nursery rhyme about the Grattons could even be sequel territory, as they might have been killed in Hill House. Whatever Netflix decides to do with The Haunting of Hill House, the first season sure is a tough act to follow. 

Stuck on what to watch now you're done with The Haunting of Hill House? Try out our list of the best new TV shows for ideas!