The Haunting of Hill House has inspired everything from epic Halloween costumes to gut-wrenching theories about the five Crain siblings, but few things have stopped us in our tracks faster than the news that the Netflix horror-drama originally had an alternate ending. What's more? It's heartbreaking.
During an interview with Thrillist, showrunner and horror extraordinaire Mike Flanagan revealed that the final scene of the series was initially going to be very, very different (and very, very depressing). As you might recall, the show resolves on a happy note, with the family coming together after the trauma they experience and moving forward with their lives: Steven is going to be a dad, Shirley and her husband seem to have reconciled, Theo has married Trish, and Luke celebrates being two years sober.
But in the scene of the siblings giving Luke a cake to mark the milestone, Flanagan considered putting a small vertical window in the center of the wall behind the family instead of the paintings that ultimately appear in the frame, which you can see below.
In case all those ghosts and bone-chilling jump scares kept you from noticing, the infamous Red Room features a strange vertical window in the same spot. It pops up again and again in Nell's toy room, Luke's treehouse, Theo's dance studio, Shirley's family room, Steven's game room, and Olivia's reading nook — it's the biggest clue that although the room appears different to each Crain, it's actually been the same all along.
It's not until one of the show's later episodes, when Hugh tells adult Steven (Michiel Huisman) that the family never even had a tree house on the property — they were only planning on staying a few months, after all — that it all starts to click for the siblings. The room had been molding itself to be whatever the kids (or Olivia) needed in that particular moment in hopes of making them more comfortable there and trapping them there forever.
If the writers had put the window in the last scene, it would've meant that the family never actually escapes Hill House; instead they fall right into its eternal trap with Olivia, Nell, and Hugh. The bleak, ambiguous ending would've been perfectly in line with the rest of The Haunting of Hill House's dark twists, but in the end, Flanagan decided to go in a different direction.
"One thing I can say is 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," he explained. "But there was a lot of talk that this peace might not be real. In the version we ended up going with, I think it absolutely is real. We committed to that course of action."
Since a second season of the series doesn't seem likely, we should all say a silent prayer that the Crains got their happily ever after . . . well, most of them.