"Not to quote cotton commercials, but [Girls] just became a part of the fabric of people’s lives," Allison Williams, who plays Marnie on the hit HBO series, tells ET about the show's "resurgence" in season five. "It wasn't necessarily something that they felt like they had to talk to me about every week or anything like that, but there was something about the quality of this season and the storytelling."
While the show has arguably been superb its entire run, season five seemed to resonate with fans and critics alike, thanks to smart storytelling and standout performances from guest stars like Jenny Slate to the show’s main cast, most notably Williams (see: "The Panic in Central Park") and Jemima Kirke, who, as Jessa, came into her own onscreen. Or maybe it's nostalgia kicking in as the series prepares for its sixth and final season, which is currently in production.
"It's really awesome, and to crescendo towards the end is not the norm," Williams says. "So, it feels great to be getting stronger as we go. Obviously, I think we've been doing good work the last few seasons, but there's really no predicting how people are going to react to what you do."
For Williams in particular, it was episode six ("The Panic in Central Park"), which sees Marnie briefly reunite with a drug-addled Charlie (Christopher Abbott) and come to the realization that she and Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) are over, that fans really responded to. "Lena [Dunham] told me that she was writing a bottle episode for Marnie and I tried not to get my hopes up because those are pretty much like magic words for an actor on a TV show," Williams says of first learning about the Marnie-centric episode, which didn’t feature any of the other "girls."
One thing she wasn't entirely prepared for was the return of Abbott, who after season two abruptly left the series. "In terms of a heads up, I can't remember," Williams says, unsure if she saw Charlie referenced in the script first or heard it from Dunham that Abbott was being asked back for an episode. "Then I didn't really hear more about it until I saw him and we read through some scenes together."
While there have been various reports about the reasons for Abbott's departure, Williams chose not to indulge in those questions, instead opting to leave "it all on the field, so all of that ambiguity would feel real on multiple levels," she says.
"I's very meta, the way it all worked out. It's crazy that I hadn't seen him since the summer before we came back for season three," Williams says. "It was this very rare, special, synergistic situation, where I would not have to work that hard to portray an emotion that's really hard to affect. I feel like if I had talked to Chris about why he left, I would have understood and it would have made it a lot harder for me to hold it against him, which I really needed to do."
The end result is an episode Williams can be proud of, especially playing a character like Marnie for five seasons now, which she says is usually like "one step forward and then two hops backwards."
"I was disappointed to see her dabbling in infidelity again, but I was proud of her for snapping out of it and walking home and doing what she had to do with Desi. I was proud of her for deciding to go on an adventure. I was proud of her for standing up for herself in terms of her anger towards Charlie," Williams says. "But the judgment only happens once I get to watch it, because one of the worst things you can do is judge the person you're about to be playing."