Zilpha Geary isn’t dead. She’s Taboo’s most important character

Zilpha Geary’s suicide scene pissed off a lot of “Taboo” fans. We witnessed her grow over six episodes, cheered when she pushed a needle through Thorne’s heart and gasped when James finally rejected her love. And then the show’s writers threw her off a bridge.

Oona Chaplin didn’t have a Zilpha Gearyclose-up to explore the pain on Zilpha’s face before she leapt. No flashback surfaced to illustrate better times between James and Zilpha. The woman we thought would be key to James Keziah Delaney’s heart wound up being a footnote in the show’s history.

But what if we were wrong? What if Zilpha Geary is Taboo’s most important character?

Think about it: Who else shows us so much turmoil on screen? Who else can crush James or elate him? Who else kills with such glee and transforms with a taste of blood? And who else has fans hungry for more?

Zilpha isn’t gone, not by a long shot. She could have faked her death. She could have been abducted. She could have attempted to leave a secret message in her suicide note. Or, even if Zilpha is dead, she could delightfully spook us forever as a ghost in James’ head.

Why would Taboo waste time on Zilpha Geary?

Taboo’s first season weaved mystery, horror, action and romance in just eight short episodes. That left no time for filler episodes or self-indulgence. Every minute had to be important, and Zilpha devoured a lot of those minutes.

In those minutes, Taboo invited fans to explore every minute detail of Zilpha. Her words were clearly delivered; her eyes were allowed to haunt scenes. When she straddled James in church, when she stood out at Countess Musgrove’s ball, when she waited with soot-stained fingers for Thorne to return from the duel: at all times, Zilpha was given the time to display the small touches only acceptable for big characters.

Zilpha developed more than anyone else

James Keziah Delaney rumbled into “Taboo” Episode 1 as a grunting, violent, resourceful man with some mental health issues and hints of supernatural power.

By the time we reached Episode 8, James had grown into a grunting, violent, resourceful man with some mental health issues and hints of supernatural power. And he wasn’t alone.

Most “Taboo” characters crawled along a flat trajectory. Sir Stewart Strange began and ended as the violent leader of the EIC. Brace remained the anguished servant. Dr. Dumbarton, even with the Taboo’s big reveal, pretty much was the same guy from episode 1 to 8.

But Zilpha was different. Zilpha overcame her guilt. Zilpha struck back against her abuser. Zilpha went from keeping up appearances to tearing down London’s social order, embracing her half-brother’s romance and running free through the rain like a raven Godiva.

No professional writing team would go through such pains to ordain a single character “the evolving one” without giving her some future or, at least, a much grander death.

James needs Zilpha Geary as a muse or foil

You said it. I said it. We all said it at the end of “Taboo” Season 1: Can’t anyone hurt James Delaney? Can he just predict everything? What’s a hero without a weakness?

First, James isn’t a hero. Just … he isn’t.

Second, ZILPHA can hurt James (and did). ZILPHA is unpredictable. ZILPHA is James Delaney’s weakness. Whether in his head, in his heart or in his bed, James’ half-sister holds the most sway over Taboo’s protagonist. No one else comes close.

“I used to think we were the same person,” ZIlpha says to James.

This notion emerges too many times in “Taboo” to just be a romantic musing or twisted outlook. The show suffers a great imbalance without a Zilpha to challenge and accompany James.

We want to see Zilpha’s dark side

Zilpha clings to religion in the opening episodes of “Taboo.” Clearly, she’s committed acts so heinous that she believes severe penance is in order. It’s evident in the abuse she accepts from Thorne and her resistance to James’ initial advances.

But when she kills Thorne, Zilpha’s suppressed darkness shines through. Fans were expecting Thorne’s murder would unleash a whirlwind of sex, killing and other dark delights from Mrs. Geary.

“I killed him, just like you said,” says Zilpha, not realizing James had nothing to do with the little voice that told her to kill.

A bridge-jumper’s death robs Zilpha of the delicious wickedness she could conjure. Honestly, the next season of “Taboo” could just be about her deviance and malevolence.

What do you think? Is ZIlpha Geary dead? And is she the most important character in “Taboo”? Or is it someone I haven’t considered? Let me know!

14 thoughts on “Zilpha Geary isn’t dead. She’s Taboo’s most important character”

  1. Zilpha, I’m sorry to say. Is not dead. I do not like her character AT ALL. If she were, James WOULD’VE heard her sing. He’s not stupid.
    MY QUESTION: What happened when they finally had sex that turned James off so much???

    1. It doesn’t matter because she can still appear to James as a ghost or in a dream or even show scenes from the past before James went away to Africa

  2. I don’t think she’s dead either, in fact it seems that the story line between James & Zilpha may be more than just a subplot. The Sankofa bird that shows up everywhere- tattooed on James back, on the matching rings that James & Zilpha wear, carved on the fireplace, and also in Bedlam – means to go back and fetch what you have left behind. The first words that James mutters to Zilpha in Twi are “come back to me, return to me, I want to be inside you”. The sex voodoo is actually a real fetish ritual in which a person binds himself to the other and there is no way to break the bond. Zilpha said she had been to a doctor who had sent her to a priest who had been to Africa and he said that James “visits as animals”. Clearly this was something ongoing, even while James was away. I think Zilpha and James both practiced some kind of magic before he left for Africa. She hints at something more than incest when she asks him to keep the secrets buried in a deeper grave. When Zilpha tries to push James away he basically tells her that is impossible because of the “great big river that connects them” and says “I will always be this close to you, won’t I?”. He also says they used to speak to each other without talking in dark corners and they are the same person. This all hints to some kind of mystical connection beyond just being related and the incest.

    We see Zilpha with ashes on her hands and going under the water in the bathtub a few times. These are also hints of her doing some kind of ritual. She asks for guidance in killing Thorne and clearly some spirit is assisting because there is no way she could kill him so successfully on her own with a knitting needle. She thought it was James, but could it have been Salish? Is this confirmed when James sees Salish while he is literally inside of Zilpha? I think that disconnect caused the break-up, but later as he works through more visions, he seems to gain some understanding. He tells Atticus “the lioness will do anything to protect her cubs regardless of the consequences, even if it means her certain death”. He was talking about his mother. Are the cubs James & Zilpha? Was Salish trying to protect Zilpha?

    The jumping off the bridge scene does not appear to be happening in real time. You mentioned this on the podcast. You can’t have a voiceover happening during the walk and later jump. The lighting also seemed different. Also what is written on the suicide note and what is said on the voiceover are different – and I’m sure that’s significant too. I really think the jumping scene is just in James’ head. The spoken letter says “eyes I didn’t know I had have been opened”, I think this is referring to her 3rd eye being opened and she’s now using her “gifts” the way James has been. The very last vision of Zilpha that James has is like a reconciliation – she says “James you came back, you told me you loved me”. Then the kiss and she says “you shall see me again”. I think this shows the unbroken circle of the sankofa – they can’t get rid of each other. Plus if James survived a shipwreck, it wouldn’t be surprising if Zilpha survived a jump into the Thames, if she did jump! I’m pretty sure Zilpha’s part in this story is not over yet! I hope the writers continue the good work they started with this. It’s a fascinating story.

  3. Good thoughts, well executed (no pun intended). Her death had such a distant feel, it felt odd. Cool visual though.

  4. I agree 100% with everything stated in this article. We only had a glimpse at what Zilpha could bring to this show. We have the Lorna the typical “strong” woman, that has been shown time again. However what’s missing on TV is Zilpha, that caged up wild woman that equals or even surpasses James’s wild. The letting of hair down, kicking off shoes and grabbing something to drink after she just killed her husband. The wicked child like face as she’s told to “sit there”. She could and should be a force to be reckoned with. We think James is bad, we haven’t seen anything yet. I would hate that they used Zilpha’s character as a victim! Someone done the way she was by her husband, brother and father should have been able to let loose and show James just exactly what he came back for. He obviously knows Zilpha and her wildness he has seen it. He states it in his letters. We should be able to see that character transform.

    1. Definitely a possibility. When I refer to “dead,” I’m talking more about the character than the physical body. In that sense, Salish is alive, too. Zilpha isn’t dead because she her role isn’t through, even if her mortal life has ended.

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