‘How to Get Away With Murder’: EP Pete Nowalk on That Big Bombshell, and What Secrets to Expect Next Year
Spoiler alert: Stop reading now if you haven’t watched last night’s How to Get Away With Murder.
After months of mystery, How to Get Away With Murder mastermind Pete Nowalk finally revealed who shot Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) in last night’s twist-packed fall finale: It was Wes (Alfred Enoch)! The very same member of the Keating Five who, not long ago, killed Annalise’s husband, Sam.
But to help explain the why, the showrunner first revealed who offed ADA Sinclair: Fellow Keating Fiver Asher (Matt McGorry), who, in a fit of rage and grief over his father’s suicide, ran down the prosecutor with his car after she bad-mouthed his dad. When Asher turned to ex-girlfriend Bonnie (Liza Weil) for help, Annalise decided that the best way to cover up that crime was to pin it on her former client, Catherine Hapstall, who’d conveniently gone MIA. And to really sell Catherine’s guilt, Annalise dialed 911 to report that Ms. Hapstall had just shot her, then proceeded to convince several of her students to pull the trigger. While Connor (Jack Falahee) came close, Wes ultimately did the deed–but only after Annalise confessed that his girlfriend, Rebecca, wasn’t missing, but in fact dead.
And with that, Wes didn’t bother aiming the gun at Annalise’s leg, as the brilliantly manipulative defense attorney had proposed. Instead, he delivered a far more devastating blow to the stomach. He might have finished her off, too, if not for her repeated cries of “Christophe.” Which, as it was revealed in an episode-closing flashback, is Wes’s real name. The one he was called as a 12-year-old child, when he sat in an interrogation room after the apparent suicide of his mother while a young Annalise and her on-off girlfriend Eve (Famke Janssen) looked on and wondered, “What did we do?”
We chatted with Nowalk to get the scoop on the episode’s biggest twists and to find what’s in store for the drama when it returns for the rest of season two in February.
When did you decide that Wes was Annalise’s shooter?
What we decided first was that Annalise was going to have them shoot her. We knew we were going to do a frame job pretty early on. And when you talk about that [idea] out of the blue, it sounds crazy and bananas, and I’m sure it is for people still, but I think we always knew that Annalise was gonna have to frame the client somehow. We didn’t know which one, or how, but that felt fun to me, setting up a murder scene. And then who shot her—it wasn’t until we were breaking the [finale] episode that we decided.
Wes was revealed as Sam’s killer in last year’s midseason finale. Why did you decide he should also be the one to pull the trigger?
It was basically, how is Annalise gonna convince any of these kids who are not sociopaths to shoot her? And it was like, ok, she’s got a loaded weapon in the Rebecca secret, and that felt like a good culmination. It turned the motivation from being practical to actually wanting to shoot her—and you want that payoff. You don’t want Annalise to get shot just [for] plot. You want it to feel like someone wanted her dead. So having it be Wes just felt like a perfect culmination of their two stories. And we had been hinting at the backstory between Wes and Annalise, but I never intended to do it this soon. It literally came out randomly when we were writing that scene with Eve and Annalise in [the November 5 episode] where Annalise said, “It’s him.” We never planned that moment either, but it just felt very present. I thought [the Wes-Annalise backstory] would be something we’d dangle over seasons, and now we’re not going to. We’re gonna tell people what it is.
People have wondered for a long time exactly what their relationship is and, specifically, if Annalise is Wes’ real mother. What light can you shed on that?
I’m not gonna count anything out. But I have always had that feeling—I think in the pilot, some of the extras were like, “Oh, they must be son and mother.” And we even wrote a funny line [in a Season 1 episode] of Michaela saying, “All black people can’t be related” to address that. But what I’ve realized is that things that you don’t even plan on, you start writing towards because it’s just what’s interesting. And their backstory, which is obviously very complicated, is interesting. Just because she’s in that room at the end [of the episode] and his name’s Christophe doesn’t count anyone’s theories out. It just throws another question into it.
So you’re saying he could still be her son?
I’m saying everything is possible. I’m not counting anything out.
But you have a plan in place for what that relationship is? Or are you figuring it out as you go?
We have ideas. We always have targets, knowing we can throw them out. It’s just about following the story and having options, so you can [decide] in the moment. The story really does tell you what it has to be. It just takes a lot of late nights and wanting to, like, die. [Laughs] That’s how I feel right now.
You said earlier you didn’t plan to tell the Wes-Annalise backstory so early. What ultimately changed your mind?
At first, when we wrote the [finale], it was really long. We got through the whole night [of the shooting], and we saw the rest of the flash forwards. There’s still some flash forwards dangling that we have to explain when we come back. I felt like we showed them all last year, so it was like, we have to explain all the flash forwards we’ve done this year. But it would’ve made the script, like, two episodes long. So it was mostly when we decided to end with the most exciting moment, which was the shooting, that I felt we needed one other thing, and that was the most present, interesting story. And also, we’ve done flash forwards, we’ve done some flashbacks, but we haven’t ever flashed back this far. And that’s the thing I’m craving, and I also think the audience is craving, which is, they want to know more about [the characters’ pasts]—like, when Bonnie and Frank started working for Annalise. I want to see Sam again. And I really want to know what Eve and Annalise were doing. Back in episode two, we did have Eve say to the judge, “I think we worked on a federal case 10 years ago.” And then randomly, Wes said that 10 years ago, he was 12 and his mother killed herself. So it all just kind of worked out.
The flash forwards you haven’t gotten to yet–including how Nate picked up the Keating Five after the shooting, and how and why Asher winds up at the police station saying he wants to make a confession–are those things you’ll address quickly when the show returns?
We’ll address those in the first episode back. Structurally, it’s done in a different way, but we explain those. Even if we don’t actually show them, we at least explain them. Basically, the questions will be tied up.
In the finale, you also killed off Asher’s dad and had Asher run down Sinclair. When did you decide he should become a killer?
That was probably in the middle of the season. Sinclair getting run over was always a thing that felt very real to Asher’s character for me.
Why is that?
I just feel like he has a temper, and we’ve seen little bits of his rage. He’s just spastic. [Laughs] And people snap all the time. I’ve seen snapped! [Laughs] This is gonna sound sick, but it feels like a very relatable way to kill someone. It’s not shooting a gun, it’s not stabbing someone, it’s just pressing a pedal. So it felt horribly easy, you know. And with all the trauma he’s had this season—his dad’s suicide, his mother’s [reaction]—I just believe that he’s a little bit capable of snapping in a human way.
Asher also found out that Bonnie didn’t actually kill Sam. How is he affected by everything going forward?
I don’t think he can be the same. He’ll deal with this trauma in a way that’s really different than the rest of our kids. He’s gonna be different, and that’s scary because he’s such a fun character for us, but I think if he just stayed that way, it would feel stagnant. I felt like we needed to change him, and Matt’s obviously capable of acting a million different kinds of things.
When the chips were down, Bonnie really stepped up to help Asher.
Yeah, and that story’s not finished. I think it’s sad for all the characters because any hope they had left in their life gets kind of dashed [in the finale]. But they do have each other, and they only have each other at this point. In our world today, it’s like, why do you really need to stay with anyone? There’s a million options–you can get on the internet and find a new girlfriend or boyfriend. But you can’t find that many people who will really understand what you went through. And that’s what I’m excited about, that the group can bond in new ways.
It was interesting that Connor couldn’t pull the trigger, even when Annalise threatened to bring down his boyfriend, Oliver.
Yeah, it’s the ultimate character reveal. We added that moment of Connor grabbing the gun because I do believe he hates her and he would want to be able to shoot her, but I think he probably talked a big game. Which is nice. It makes me like him. [Laughs] There’s a lot of baggage to be picked up from that night—the things they said to each other, the things they saw; it’s not gonna go back to hunky-dory very easily.
If it did, you wouldn’t have a show!
We wouldn’t have a show.
So, wait—you didn’t originally plan to have Connor nearly shoot Annalise?
That was a later addition. It was about leaning into the mess of that scene. It was always really messy, but I thought we needed a moment where one of them is like, “I hate you so much, I’m gonna shoot you.” And it just felt very real for Connor. And I love Michaela jumping in front of the gun to stop him.
After Wes shoots Annalise, why does she use his real name?
I think she’s desperate to live. She’s been a little suicidal, to be honest, all season, if not her whole life. She said that to [Nate’s late wife] Nia. She’s carrying some wounds that feel like she can’t heal from. They say people who jump and survive, the minute they jump, they regret it, and I think that’s a realization for Annalise in the moment—that she actually wants to live. So she’s gonna break out the one secret weapon she has to make him stop.
What exactly are Annalise and Eve up to in that final flashback scene?
Exactly! That’s the question. [Laughs] When I was talking to Famke once, she said,”I just love that Eve knows stuff about Annalise that nobody else does,” so it kind of stemmed from that. We used to have even more in the script about that flashback, but we decided to wait until the first episode back to reveal it. I love the Annalise-Eve relationship, and I love to reveal more about Annalise through it, and Famke’s amazing and I love writing for her. So we’re gonna see more of Eve.
What else can we expect when the show returns?
Well, the first half of the season, we wanted to have our amazing twists and turns and have more of a fast-moving thing. I think what the flashback at the end of [the finale] does is, it lets us look back, slow down for a second, really dive into the characters. We really want it to be character-driven. We’ll still have our twists and turns, but maybe just delve more into their psychology and why they are the way they are. And flashing back just felt like a really good evolution for the show because we’re always flashing forward. So now it’s like, let’s take a moment and look back at their lives.
How much will you get into the Annalise-Wes relationship?
The first episode back we only start to get into the Wes-Annalise mystery and what that relationship is. What happened 10 years ago is a long mystery, so we’re gonna play it out for, at least, the rest of the season.
How is Wes doing when you come back?
He’s about as traumatized as a person could be. We pick up two weeks [after the shooting], and the question is, what’s gonna happen when they finally see each other? How do they go on from here?
How to Get Away With Murder returns on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016