How Polly’s Absence Will Change Tommy

How Polly's Absence Will Change Tommy

The ending of Peaky Blinders’ final seaon is dealing with the tragic loss of Polly Gray through its devastating impact on Tommy Shelby. While Peaky Blinders is coming to an end after season 6, creator Steven Knight has said that a movie will follow in place of a season 7, though the revelation of Tommy’s illness makes that feel less likely. Knight has also suggested that there is a possibility of spin-off series that will continue to deal with the Shelby family.

Since it first aired in 2013, Peaky Blinders has followed an ever more fictionalized version of the real-life Birmingham street gang, the Peaky Blinders. While Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) acts as the head of the crime family, his siblings Arthur Shelby Jr. (Paul Anderson), John Shelby (Joe Cole), Ada Thorne (Sophie Rundle), and Finn Shelby (Harry Kirton) are key parts of the ensemble cast. Perhaps the most important figure alongside Thomas Shelby, however, is Polly Gray (Helen McCrory).

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Related: Why Peaky Blinders Was Right To Kill [SPOILER]

Helen McCrory sadly passed away after a battle with cancer in April of 2021. The show began filming its sixth and final season in January and it is unclear whether, or to what extent, McCrory had begun filming, but she was notably absent from the new series. As a result, Polly Gray’s character was killed off as a retconned part of Peaky Blinders season 5 ending and she’s entirely absent from season 6, minus the first episode. Here’s how her death affects Tommy’s character and why it was such a big part of setting up Peaky Blinders’ no-doubt explosive ending.

Why Polly Is So Important In Thomas Shelby’s Story

Helen McCrory Polly Gray Finn Cole Michael Gray Peaky Blinders

As the head of the Peaky Blinders, Thomas Shelby always has a big and ambitious plan for how the gang (later an incorporated company: the Shelby Company Limited) can expand. Trusting few people, Thomas often keeps these plans to himself, taking very few other characters, if any, into his confidence, and allowing for late-season reveals. As he works to distract himself from his past traumas and an ongoing death wish, his plans are often dangerous, and his big gambles are weighed against the fact that he doesn’t value his own life and doesn’t always consider how his actions will affect others.

Elizabeth “Polly” Gray, Thomas Shelby’s aunt, serves as the matriarch for the Peaky Blinders and acts as a moderating force on Thomas. While he often rebuts her advice at first, she is one of the few characters who is able to reliably call him out when his plans are poorly contrived or overly dangerous. Time and again she has been shown to operate behind the scenes to ensure the success of Thomas’ plans with or without his knowledge. However, in later seasons with the appearance of Polly’s son, Michael Gray (Finn Cole), her allegiance is sometimes split, and the lack of her support has notable negative effects on Thomas Shelby’s machinations.

Polly Gray’s Death Drives Peaky Blinders’ Season 6 Story

Helen McCrory Polly Gray Gun Peaky Blinders

Peaky Blinders season 5 set up a complex plot for season 6, ending with Tommy in a field ready to take his own life. However, everything changed when the IRA decided to “restructure” The Shelby Company Limited in the form of killing off the Shelby family matriarch Polly Gray. While the gentler option of retiring her character may have been preferred by some, her death is what drives Peaky Blinders’ season 6 story in a much more intriguing way than had she simply moved to Australia or disappeared for a quieter life. Polly Gray’s death effectively removes Tommy’s crutch, leaving him more vulnerable and unable to properly mediate his internal struggles. This is what the IRA obviously wanted, and they succeeded to some extent. However, Polly’s absence changes Tommy by giving the character an opportunity to grow on his own, as shown by his abstinence from alcohol.

Related: How Peaky Blinders Season 6 Explains Polly’s Absence (& Why It’s Perfect)

On top of that, Polly’s death sets up Peaky Blinders’ season 6 storyline by bringing Michael’s hatred for Tommy to a boiling point and causing strife within the Shelby family as a whole. Michael vows revenge against Tommy, bringing his Peaky Blinders season 5 storyline closer to a wrap-up in the series’ final season. Without Polly there to mediate between Michael and Tommy, their conflict could come to a head that she would have prevented, one way or another. Polly’s absence caused the Shelby family to unravel, though Ada is paving the way to replace her as the family matriarch. Arthur’s relapse and Tommy’s loss of focus when Ruby’s curse was revealed forced Ada to step in and it forced growth for her character. Seeing how Ada handled the fascists with a cool wit definitely shows she will grow into the role. Ultimately Polly’s death has been an integral piece to Peaky Blinders’ season 6 storyline and is now the driving force for each characters’ actions.

How Peaky Blinders Season 6 Killed Off Polly Gray

Helen McCrory Polly Gray Smoking Peaky Blinders

In Peaky Blinders season 6, episode 1, Polly’s death occurs off-screen and she receives a traditional gypsy funeral. When Tommy comes back from his suicide attempt he enters his home only to find three lifeless bodies. While Barney Thompson and Aberama Gold are easily identified there’s one more mysterious body wrapped in a white sheet and carelessly dropped off at his front door. It turns out that the third body is that of Polly Gray. Tommy finds out that the IRA killed her during the rally, and a phone call from Captain Swing lets him in on the fact that they are responsible for Barney, Aberama, and Polly’s death as well as stopping his assassination attempt on Oswald Mosley. As the IRA describes it they took the time to “restructure” the Shelby Company, and though Polly was not a part of the company at this point in Peaky Blinders the role she played in the Shelby Company (and for Tommy’s character as a whole) was no less important.

Why Peaky Blinders Was Right To Kill Polly

Helen McCrory Polly Gray Suit Peaky Blinders

There are a few reasons as to why Polly was killed off rather than retiring or moving to Australia and fundamentally, Peaky Blinders was right to do so. First, Polly’s death brought on a more interesting storyline for Peaky Blinders season 6 which will bring the series to a fitting close. Some of these changes include Michael’s need for revenge, which will no doubt result in some type of face-off between him and Tommy. It also seems likely that Tommy will still seek his own revenge against the IRA which will have interesting repercussions. Arthur has also relapsed, now forcing Ada to assume Polly’s previous role as the matriarch of the family, holding the broken parts together. For these storylines to happen, Polly had to be killed off. Retiring her would have been a betrayal of her arc and the sad revelation that there is no real way out of “the life”.

Even more importantly, Polly’s death allows deeper character development for Peaky Blinders’ remaining central characters, most of all Tommy’s. Essentially Polly was a crutch for him, and without her, he will be forced to fight a war with himself alone. As of now, he’s already shown growth with his abstinence from alcohol; though, Peaky Blinders season 6, episode 3’s devastating ending may force him back on the wagon. Ada is facing positive change by showing she may have a knack for leadership within the Shelby family. Michael’s vendetta against Tommy, which started to grow in Peaky Blinders season 5, sets him up for a downward arc and moves him from a minor to a major antagonist. All in all, Polly Gray’s death changes Tommy’s character in Peaky Blinders, but it was definitely necessary for the characters and the storyline of the series.

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About The Author

Faefyx Collington
(479 Articles Published)

Faefyx Collington (They/Them) is a senior features writer for Screen Rant. They’re a British writer of both fiction and non-fiction, focussing on science fiction, fantasy, and mystery for the former and on culture, gender, and current affairs for the latter.
Never content to settle to one thing, Faefyx is also a co-host and producer of the podcast and video series “Unramblings,” and can occasionally be found making music around the internet as well.
Having acquired degrees on both sides of the Atlantic, Fyx has settled (for the moment) in the southern United States where they live with their spouse and an entirely appropriate number of cats.

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