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How to Get Away With Murder: How cast reacted to that devastating death

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ABC/Nicole Wilder

After months of wondering who in Annalise’s (Viola Davis) inner circle would die on How to Get Away With Murder, viewers finally received the tragic news in the winter finale: Underdog law student and resident moral compass Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch) is dead.

As heartbreaking as it was for the audience to see such an integral character end up on the slab, the cast had an even harder time upon discovering that Wes would die as a result of the house fire, and Enoch would therefore eventually leave the show. When EW hit the set of the Shondaland drama in mid-October, the word of the day was “devastating.”

“It was fairly devastating,” Davis recalls.

“I think all of us knew that no matter who it was, it was going to be devastating, but it was extremely upsetting,” Liza Weil says.

“I was devastated, which is a word you might hear a lot if you talk to some of us,” Charlie Weber says.

The struggle came long before that fateful day, though. Known for changing its structure biannually, Murder went into its third season with a Ten Little Indians-like format in which each episode revealed who was not under the sheet via flash-forwards to the new Murder Night. Creator Pete Nowalk waited until the last possible moment to decide — more on that here — which proved to be emotionally exhausting for the cast. According to co-star Karla Souza, the cast even begged for the truth after being kept in the dark until just before the show’s late-September debut. “Everyone’s betting, but it’s your livelihood and it’s not that great to be creative in that mindset,” Souza says.

To read more on How to Get Away With Murder‘s big twist, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Tuesday, or buy it here now – and subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

But knowing the truth proved to be even more difficult for the entire cast. “Once Pete had made up his mind about it, he called Alfie in,” Souza explains. “And Alfie came down here [to set] and was like, ‘Oh, are you guys in for the 4 o’clock meeting with Pete?’ And we’re like, ‘No… no, no, no!’ Obviously once he left, we were all [nervous], because he’s like my brother and the person I’m closest to out of all of them.”

There wasn’t a dry eye on set when Enoch returned from his somber meeting with Nowalk in September and shared the news. “I burst into tears like everyone else,” Aja Naomi King says. “It was a really horrible moment. I was extremely disappointed and sad. Alfie is like my little brother, and I really love him and I want him to be here, so I don’t want his character to be dead.”

“I couldn’t perform for like an hour,” Souza adds. “I was sobbing, and we were shooting a scene in the lecture hall and I couldn’t stop crying. I knew it was a problem, because people were asking me what’s wrong. They stopped filming and there’s me crying and Aja started crying, and hair and makeup people started crying.”

ABC/Gilles Mingasson

Though the flash forwards became an indication of who was still alive as new scripts came out, the Nov. 3 episode featured Wes seemingly alive and apparently planning to turn against Annalise as the star witness for the D.A. Viewers were not yet aware that the scene in question took place before the house fire — a bait and switch that threw off more than just the fans. “I was totally fooled by the mastermind Pete Nowalk,” Weil says. “I read 307 and you see him at the end. I saw Alfie the next day and I said, ‘I’m so glad it’s not you. I’m so relieved it’s not you.’ He took me aside like 20 minutes later and was like, ‘I have to tell you something: It’s me, it’s a trick with time.’ I completely crumbled. I burst into tears.”

Because Frank had been off on his own turbulent adventure inching toward redemption earlier this season, Weber hadn’t seen much of the cast save for during table reads, so he learned the news later. “[Enoch] wanted to tell everyone individually,” Weber says. “We went to the table read, where it appeared he was safe. He asked me to come out in the hall with him. He told me, and I burst into tears. I didn’t know what to say. It was a lot.”

Enoch being a London native also didn’t help quell emotions among the cast. “We’re a big family on set,” Jack Falahee says. “It’s just really tough to know that a friend of mine would be going. It’s hard for us too because Alfie doesn’t live here. If Matt, or myself, or Aja, or Karla would step off the show, presumably we’d still be in the neighborhood. That especially is difficult to reckon with that he’s going to be in London, which is sad, but we’ll see him down the road.” (Enoch is still undecided on where he’ll land. More on his reaction to Wes’ death here.)

In the ensuing weeks, the cast used humor as a coping mechanism to deal with Enoch’s impending exit. “It’s life, it’s going to be fine,” Souza says. “We’re going to get over it, and he even says it, too. He’s like, ‘You guys are going to forget about me in two weeks.’ I won’t say who, but someone straight away after we found out he was dead was like, ‘Well, I guess I’m going to be number whatever on the call sheet now.’ We joke around because that’s all you can do, but I know that underneath it all is grief.”

Sitting in Annalise’s not-yet-singed bedroom, Davis remarks that the camaraderie is what she admires most about Murder. “We pride ourselves on being an ensemble here,” she says, adding that she’s already aiming to work with Enoch on a future project for JuVee Productions, her company with husband Julius Tennon.

“That’s all in good fun,” Matt McGorry (Asher) says of the jokes. “I don’t know that necessarily all of us would’ve even taken it that well, but in some ways, he probably takes it better than all of us can.”

In fact, Souza says that Enoch spent some time consoling those around him after news spread that Wes was under the sheet. “I admire the way he’s handled it so much,” the actress says. “He’s never made us feel like he’s going to change the way he approaches the work at all because of knowing that now. The other day, they were doing his burned makeup and hair, and the makeup people were almost crying and he was like, ‘Guys, it’s fine.’ He makes it fine for us, which is ridiculous, like he’s taking care of us rather than the opposite!”

ABC/Richard Cartwright

“He’s very mature,” Davis adds. “He, as well as a lot of us, knew that someone was going to be under that sheet, so there was a level of preparation for it and a level of maturity and understanding once it happened. He seemed to be good with it, so there wasn’t a lot of conversation — there was just the heaviness.”

There is a slight silver lining for fans (and the cast!). Yes, Wes is dead, but viewers haven’t seen the last of him on Murder, with the second half of the season (returning Jan. 19, 10 p.m. ET) unpacking how he died and who is responsible, as well as whether he’s Laurel’s baby daddy. “We know that he’s going to be here until the end of the season,” Souza says. “I don’t think any of us are prepared, though, for the last day we see him on set. I don’t think I’m going to be able to stand.”

“I don’t think any of us have really said goodbye and I think we are very much relying on him being here for the remainder of the season,” King adds. “We all have a good time when we’re together and we’ve kept that up, so there haven’t been any attempts at goodbye just yet, because I don’t think any of us can reckon with that right now. We did have to shoot the scene where we find out it’s Wes that’s dead, and that felt a little too real for all of us. It was like replaying that moment all over again when we were told that it was going to be him.”

ABC/Nicole Wilder

The journey to Wes’ death has also shined a light on the nature of television for the young Murder cast. “The reality of one of us leaving, it’s made us all address [the future],” Falahee says. “I know for myself that because we didn’t know who it was, and it could have been one of us, we all were grappling with that confrontation of, ‘Oh, if it were me, how would that make me feel?’ That’s something that we’ve all now had to grapple with; going forward, presumably some of us are going to die. It’s the show we’re on.”

In the meantime, the cast is preparing for what Murder will look like in Enoch’s absence. “This was a ship that started with all of us, so I don’t even know what’s going to be the show afterwards,” Souza says. “We’re all also scared. It’s all rested on Wes and Annalise’s shoulders for the first three seasons. I applaud Pete and all the writers, but with outside perspective, I wonder how it’s all going to unravel, like who’s going to be the new Wes in the sense of who’s going to carry that storyline that we’ve been following for the past three seasons?”

For that reason, denial is an easy route for Davis. “I thought about it the other day and I can’t let my mind go there,” the Emmy winner says of Enoch’s exit. “Lord knows I’m the failed TV queen, so it’s just what happens. I’ve had a lot of television shows that have never made it on air, or made it on air and then [ended] after three episodes, so there’s a logical approach in my mind about him leaving. But when I let my mind…” Davis pauses, realizing it’s a fleeting attempt. “I can’t do it,” she says. “I would never say this to them because they would roll their eyes, they would kill me, but I see them all as my babies. I do.”

How to Get Away With Murder will return Thursday, Jan. 19 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

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