'How to Get Away with Murder' boss talks killer twist
Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the midseason finale of How to Get Away with Murder, including the identity of the killer. Read at your own risk!
How to Get Away with Murder finally revealed Sam Keating’s killer tonight—but the ABC freshman drama also left viewers with a head-scratching, yet shocking revelation before going off the air until 2015.
In the wake of the discovery that the late Lila was more than likely pregnant with Sam’s (Tom Verica) baby, Sam and Annalise (Viola Davis) get into nasty fight, both physical and verbal. It culminates in her leaving the house, while Sam gets decidedly wasted.
The final puzzle pieces of murder night come together when Michaela (Aja Naomi King) shows up to turn in the justice trophy, placing her there when Rebecca (Katie Findlay) arrives to steal information off of Sam’s computer. Wes (Alfred Enoch), Laurel (Karla Souza) and Connor (Jack Falahee) show up before things turn physical, as Sam wrestles to get the USB back from Rebecca.
After Laurel makes a break for it with the USB, Sam goes after her. Michaela tries to slow him down by shoving him—but ends up sending his body over the banister, with him landing on the lower level with a resounding thud. Assuming he’s dead, the group begins to freak out—but not so fast. Pulling a Michael Myers, Sam gets up and starts choking Rebecca before he’s swiftly smacked over his head with the justice statue, aka the murder weapon. It’s finally revealed that Wes landed the final blow that killed Annalise’s husband.
After all the cleanup and body moving is said and done, Annalise calls everyone to her home the next morning. She explains that the cops are coming to question everyone because Sam has mysteriously gone missing; presumably, she says, he’s on the lam in the wake of Annalise accusing him of murdering Lila. Since they all know him pretty well from working on Rebecca’s case, she pleads with them to be open and honest with the cops.
There’s just one problem: It doesn’t seem like Annalise is being very open and honest herself. In a flashback to earlier in the night, before the body was moved, Wes returns to the scene of the crime to remove the murder weapon. As he regretfully tells Sam’s lifeless body that he’s sorry, Annalise suddenly responds: “Don’t be.” That’s right—she was in the house on the night of the murder.
What does this all mean? EW exclusively sat down with showrunner Pete Nowalk to get all the juicy details on how murder night came together and what’s next. (Read our interview with the killer here and the victim here.)
EW: Are Wes and Annalise in cahoots?
Pete Nowalk: That’s the question of the finale. We will get the answer to that when we come back.
Annalise saw her husband’s dead body, and yet she doesn’t seem to be too upset about it. Did she help Wes in orchestrating how to get away with murder?
Again, that’s the question I want people to wonder. When we come back in January, there will be an answer one way or another. It’s left as a dangling chad, or whatever you want to call it, so people can try to fill in those blanks themselves.
How does Wes and Annalise’s relationship change in the wake of Sam’s death?
I think it will complicate the relationship more than either of them could ever imagine.
Are we going to get a sense of the motivation for why Annalise went to Nate’s house that night?
Yes, we’ll understand it more in the timeline when we come back [and see] what happened when. I will say that nothing Annalise does is one thing or the other. Why she is such a good manipulator is [because] there’s always a sense of truth in everything she does. I think she’s a complicated lady, and that’s what makes her fascinating.
How will killing Sam change Wes?
It’s going to rock his entire foundation. It will change him completely from who he was. That night hijacked his life; you have to quickly become someone else who’s not quite human. That means many things for him. Whether he becomes hardened, whether he becomes colder, whether he becomes more traumatized, darker, more connected with Rebecca or less connected with Rebecca, I think that’s the ripple effect of what he’s done. I don’t think anyone could ever prepare for that, especially someone who is built like him. He’s had a lot of struggles in his life, but I don’t think anything has prepared him for this.
When did you decide that Wes was the killer?
Before the season started, I met with the writers the first time and said, “Guys, I think the puppy has to do it.” It just made so much sense to me in terms of it feeling right. But I didn’t know when we wrote the pilot who did it. In the pitch, I was like, “Oh, it should be the quiet girl, Laurel.” But then you write the pilot and you discover what the characters are like, and you see he’s the heart and soul of the show. He’s the most innocent coming into it, so to have him commit the deed felt the most concrete. It just felt right in terms of his arc and my initial impulse for the show, which is how do you take normal people and show them do something really bad in a way that feels relatable? That tells that story, to me. Take your most innocent, pure character and show how easily they could commit something so violent and horrible. That’s what happens in life sometimes.
Did you ever consider having someone else be the killer?
No. It made a lot of sense for me based on how he feels about Rebecca, how his love for her is inexplicable. To me, that’s the greatest type of love, where it’s not logical, rational or explained. Why else would you ever do that? Why else would you ever kill someone? It’s usually a crime of passion. It’s also in keeping with his character. It’s very protective.
What were some of the best red herrings you planted throughout the season to throw people off the scent?
I know we planted some. I don’t know which ones people are buying. I give a lot of credit to Liza Weil for the Bonnie red herring. That look in the pilot that she gives, right after Sam and Annalise kiss, was scripted, but she added so much more angst and disturbing gloom in just her two seconds of screen time, that I was like, “Oh, everyone is going to think Bonnie did it! She’s the silent killer.” It made so much sense. How she played it in that moment—even though I had this idea that Bonnie was a little infatuated with Sam. I didn’t realize how dark she would play it. I was like, “We’ve just got to keep making it seem like Bonnie did it.” Bonnie has been a real gift.
Rebecca is another great red herring. She definitely has reason to kill Sam, and the rough and tough street rat background to do something impulsive and violent. Some people still think she killed Lila, so that felt like a good red herring. Then there’s Nate. A lot of it happened organically. It keeps going. This is what I want people to know: It’s not all fixed at all.
Can the Keating Five trust each other once the police start questioning them?
I don’t think they can. I don’t think they have reason to trust each other completely. That will be a lot of the subsequent episodes: Who can you trust? It started out with the Survivor immunity idol. This is only going to heighten that. That’s what I’m interested in exploring: Which student decides to trust which other student in ways that you wouldn’t expect?
How do the students deal with the pressure of the police questioning them?
They’ll all deal with it in very different ways, and they’ll all deal with it in a surprising way. It’s a lot of pressure. When we come back, we’ll see that directly. We pick up very close, if not right when, the show ended. It’s that same day, and they’re sleepless. The fun in it for me with these characters is watching how quickly they change and how pressure changes them, and also how they grow up basically through this experience.
What role does Asher play moving forward, not taking a part in murder night?
He gives some cover because he doesn’t know anything. If he’s there, they can all take his point of view. There’s still stuff to play with him and Bonnie. What’s going to happen with the two of them? Hopefully you saw in the finale when it’s clear it was a one night thing only for her, that hurts his feelings. There’s a lot of fallout there. He’s going to be around a lot of weird behavior, and whether Bonnie knows or not will be revealed. He’s going to feel like the outsider, and that’s the most frustrating thing for him after always being loved in his circle. It really frustrates him that he’s such a black sheep in this family.
What came with the decision not to reveal Lila’s killer?
It’s so interesting you say “decision.” So much of this process is about what the story presents to you at a given time. What I love about that is it doesn’t go in a way you’d expect.
I agree, if I sat down and outlined everything, then A leads to B: First, we find out who killed Lila and then we find out who killed Sam. But the episode’s laid out in that way. Rebecca, Wes, Annalise and Bonnie all think Sam killed Lila at that moment. They all do. We’ll see in subsequent episodes how Annalise deals with that, and how she actually has to prove that. It wasn’t a decision as much as that’s just the way the story laid out. It adds a cool tension, to me, because what happens if they’re wrong? They did these things believing full-heartedly that he was the killer, but that would be a horrible, horrible fear. Their lives from now on are completely paranoid, but that’s another level of paranoia to have that in the back of your head all the time: “I did a horrible thing. The only thing that’s defensible is maybe it was someone who deserved it.” But if they didn’t, how would that f— with you?
What does the format look like for the second half of the season? Will we see another flash forward?
No. We talked about it forever. I didn’t want the flash forwards to feel like a gimmick or a device that the show has to have, because quickly they would feel forced and contrived. For me, I really liked doing them in the nine episodes. That night really had a lot going on in it, and it was so high-adrenaline that the situation allowed us to tell the story that way. We’ll see if viewers agree, but I don’t want to be tied down to a structure or a gimmick. I don’t think viewers expect that. The show can constantly reinvent itself. I like the feeling of going back and forth in time. I like the structure of not just telling a story linearly. I think there are different ways to do that, like how we come back in Episode 10. We have a structure that’s not at all like the flash forwards, but it does give you the feeling of them—that you’re spending special time with each character through the episode. If we do them next season? Maybe. It depends on if we come up with something that’s worthy of flash forwards. If not, we don’t have to do them.
Will there be flashbacks?
No. You’ll see. In Episode 11, we’re doing something different too. They are flashbacks, but they’re flashbacks to each character two weeks earlier in a special place and time. I don’t know. It’s going to feel like a very different show, and it scares me, honestly. Obviously the flash forwards were really fun to write. I know some people didn’t like them and other people really like them. It adds a certain frenetic energy and a puzzle to piece together. What Shonda [Rhimes] has taught me, and so many other TV show—like, The Good Wife does this all the time—every show is different, every episode is different. You can do different things. I don’t want to watch a show where every year I’m going to watch flash forwards that lead to a certain thing. I want it to be different all the time. The onus is on us to do that, and that scares me. But the other version would’ve been contrived—like a close up on a gun smoking, and you’re like, “Who shot the gun?”
For the second half of the season or for future seasons, will there be more murder? Or is Lila’s killer the focus of the second half?
The Lila murder is the first domino that pushes it all over. Sam’s the next domino in that. Whether there are bodies or murders, I don’t want to say one way or the other. But for me, the only way the show will work—knock on wood—in future seasons is everything stems from that event on the flash forward night. That’s the first night in these character’s new lives, really. I don’t want it to feel like someone randomly unrelated to them has now murdered another person. I don’t want it to feel cut off. Breaking Bad did it so well; one thing led to another, to another. It’s hard to pull off as a network show, but I’m hoping that’s what we can do.
Is someone convicted by season’s end?
I don’t know if someone is convicted of Sam’s murder.
Or Lila’s, in that regard.
True. Well, that is a spoiler. But I think that’s definitely a fear for all the characters. Honestly, we haven’t completely decided. At the end of the season, we’ll know. There are going to be suspects in Sam’s disappearance.
Are we going to see Sam again in the second half?
Yes. Whether we’ll see him in an alive state or a dead state, I won’t say, but yes, we will see him.
What can you tell us about Marcia Gay Harden’s character?
It’s like Viola brings all the boys to the yard. It’s true. Without Viola, you don’t try to get Marcia Gay Harden. That’s what I’m interested in exploring now—the more quiet, psychological thriller moments. We’ve done the high adrenaline of murder night. I’d like to balance it now with more serious character emotion. Having someone like Marcia Gay Harden really lets us delve into that. There will be the ‘Oh my God’ twists and turns, but one of the scenes that I loved we did in the first half of the season—when Rebecca and Sam were doing the psych eval. That’s just two people sitting in a room, really quizzing each other and playing mind games. That’s what I want to lean into in the second half of the season. I don’t want to just rely on the hijinks of moving a body around. We’ll see if we can do it.
Who is Marcia Gay Harden playing?
She’s an antagonist to Annalise. She’s a thorn in our characters’ side in a way that will be surprising, I hope.
Will we see other new characters coming in the second half?
Yeah. We’re only working on the second episode of those six, so we’ll see new characters, but she’s definitely the only new recurring character that will figure prominently into Sam’s disappearance.
Are you already thinking about season two?
Yeah. It’s really all about ending the season in terms of ways that make you want to watch season two. That’s always the trick. They’re all connected. In a way, I’m always thinking about season 3 and 4. Not literally, but I do want one thing to lead to another. Really, with Annalise: How is this going to affect her and what trouble is she going to be in?
Do you have an idea of what your end game is for the series?
Oh my God, no. And I know that’s a really bad thing to admit. I feel like every time I read someone, they’re like, “I know exactly how the show ends.” I don’t write that way. It’s not fun to write that way. For the little I’ve done this now, the story doesn’t go where you expect it to. We would’ve revealed who killed Lila and then Sam, but it didn’t feel organic that way. So we’ll figure out the other part later. Annalise is such a mystery even to me that I have no idea what could happen.
Do you envision an ending in which a flash-forward could be Annalise dead, and then the story is of who killed her?
Rip my heart out. I’ve never imagined that, no. Anything is possible, obviously. I haven’t thought that far ahead. That’s the scary thing about all this: As a TV fan, I want to believe people know exactly what they’re doing and laying it out step by step. Some showrunners do. I’m not one of them, just to be completely honest. Again, you take one step and then another and another. That’s the only way I can get through this and also follow the real story that the actors tell you. Like Liza doing that look in that scene—I just looked at that and was able to tell story from it. I’m much more reactive that way.
Has any of the fan reaction affected the ongoing storyline of Lila’s murder at all?
No, wrong or right, it hasn’t. I’m like a viewer, too. That’s what I think I’m surprised about doing this job. You watch it and you learn from it and you go from there. Also, I’m like, “That’s obvious. We have to change that.” I just try to think like a viewer.
How to Get Away with Murder returns Thursday, Jan. 29 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.