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This post contains spoilers from season 2 of 13 Reasons Why.
Season 1 of 13 Reasons Why was the story of Hannah Baker’s death. Season 2 was the story of letting her go. And if there is a third season, well, Hannah Baker — and more specifically, Katherine Langford — won’t be returning. Which means that, while all of the characters within the fictional world of 13 Reasons were saying goodbye to Hannah during season two, Langford was doing the same.
EW spoke with Langford about what it was like to bid farewell to her first role.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you know at the start of season 2 that this was your chance to say goodbye to this character?
KATHERINE LANGFORD: In all honesty, no. I think [showrunner] Brian’s [Yorkey] always had an idea about how many episodes that I would be in, but this season was interesting because unlike last season, it was completely new territory. We weren’t based on a book. And particularly for Hannah, it was something that was developed over the course of shooting, but I think that ultimately it was important to have her back for a second season and assist in continuing the dialogue from season 1 and following a lot of the other characters this season, particularly Clay.
This year, you were playing Hannah… but not really. How did you find that balance between the character we knew and how others saw her?
Season 1 was something that I could really sink my teeth into and pour myself into the character, whereas this season was challenging as an actor because I had to put a lot of faith and a lot of trust into the writers and the directors in making sure that what I was doing was right and their vision. I think what everyone learned over the course of shooting and developing her was that you don’t see the same Hannah this season, and that’s for a number of reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is that every time we see Hannah this season, it’s either through flashbacks or filtered through the eyes of someone else. Or it’s through the eyes of Clay as a presence. You only ever see her through the eyes of someone else.
Season 2 came with a few new twists to Hannah’s story. Which surprised you most?
There’s one obvious big surprise in the season which is her relationship with Zach Dempsey. At first, it’s a shock. I remember looking at Brian and just being like, “Really?” When people found out, they were shocked, and then one person turned to me and said, “Oh I don’t like that because it makes what happened to her with Bryce mean less.” That made me stop and go, “No, it doesn’t, it doesn’t at all.” In addition to that discussion, which will inevitably come up which I think is important, it’s also really important to have that relationship in there because it’s probably the first healthy intimate relationship that we see on the show. It’s important to see this loving, consensual relationship that Hannah had. It’s so beautiful and nice and sweet, and it makes sense. When I was told about it, I was immediately shocked, but then I realized no, that makes sense, and it’s beautiful. I’m glad it’s in there.
Did you feel ready to say goodbye to Hannah?
For me, we told Hannah’s story so fully in season 1. And in a way, doing that scene in episode 13 [of season 1], I’ve so often referred to it as it was the hardest scene because it’s the scene where I had to let her go. I think coming back this season was challenging because it was playing her but not really her. The challenge was when you tell a character’s story so fully, and then you have to come back as a version of her that’s filtered through other people’s eyes; that required a lot of trust. I guess if I could put Hannah’s life into season 1 and then say it was kind of like being in purgatory for season 2, and then being able to officially say goodbye to her. It definitely felt like time. For me, letting Hannah go was in season 1; season 2 was for Clay to let her go. It was being able to assist Clay on that journey as Hannah and let Clay have his moment to let Hannah go.
What do you hope people take away from Hannah’s story?
There’s a lot of things that people resonated with. Even though she may not be part of another season, I think that her presence and the importance of her and her story will always matter and will always be there. To be specific in this season, the big thing to take away is in regards to the trial where her image is distorted and defiled. At the end of the day one of the really important things to take from this season in regards to Hannah is that it doesn’t matter who she was or what she did, she didn’t deserve any of what happened to her.
In terms of your career, what does this show mean to you?
As a lot of people know, this show was my first role that I ever had. I was like 19, and I was cast straight out of Perth and shot season 1. 13 Reasons Why will always be a really special part of my life, and I know I’ll always be close to the people that I’ve worked with on this show. But I’m also really excited for what’s to come. Even though the show is so huge, and I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to play Hannah, it still is just one thing that I’ve done, and since then I feel very grateful to have been a part of Love, Simon, and I have another film, Spontaneous. But I think ultimately, I feel like playing Hannah was such a small part of me that was magnified, and I’m just really excited to, over the next few months or years, show the rest of me.
13 Reasons Why season 2 is available to stream on Netflix now.