Creator Pete Nowalk says Annalise Keating & Co. are on a redemption tour this season

In the wake of Wes’ death, Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) and her acolytes will be reevaluating their lives when How to Get Away With Murder returns.

“Annalise is definitely on a redemption tour to pick herself up,” executive producer Pete Nowalk says, divulging that the disgraced professor will make a huge decision in the premiere that will affect everyone.

The same goes for Laurel (Karla Souza), who is mulling whether to keep her unborn child with Wes. And it probably won’t be long before she suspects that her own father is to blame for his death. “Guilt will definitely be the first emotion, but she’s also such a doer that she would want to get revenge,” Nowalk hints. Will she actually get it? Read our full interview with Nowalk below to get the scoop:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where is the new season picking up?
PETE NOWALK: We’re picking up a month or two later, so things have happened, decisions have been made.

We know Laurel’s father was responsible for Wes’ death. Is there anything you can say as to why?
That is definitely a major answer we have to give to the audience, which is why did Jorge order Wes to be killed? Esai Morales comes back. That is a major thrust of our season. That backstory is the spine of our season. Our new season starts with the story line and it just goes gangbusters from there. The question is, Does Laurel know or does she not know? We’re going to find out an answer to that soon, and it’s going to set us off on this crash course that’s going to lead to our midseason question/flash-forward, which is bonkers.

Each season you’ve started with a flash-forward or big revelation. Are you going to do the same this year?
Yes. I’m excited about the premiere because it’s very different for our show. It’s more character-driven, and it’s energetically quieter, but it all leads up to this final thing. Every year, I try to do something a little different, and what’s fun about this year’s question of our season — like who’s under the sheet or who killed Sam — this year it’s a where, and it feels really different to me, but also very exciting, so it’s a where.

What are the themes that you’re exploring this season?
I think the theme is redemption. There’s a lot of parenting themes in it as well. Annalise is definitely on a redemption tour to pick herself up. She’s disgraced. As low as she’s ever been. Her life is literally in ashes, so she has a long way to climb back, both in her career and her personal life and her relationships, and so, in the premiere, she’s going to make a huge decision to start that, and it’s going to affect everyone else in the show. What’s great about that is watching Viola Davis claw her way from the ashes and see what that looks like for her.

Before, she wanted to keep these students close to her because they all had this shared secret, but since she thinks she essentially got Wes killed, does she then push everyone away?
That’s a definite possibility. I totally agree with you. This last season, with even admitting how much Wes meant to her in her AA meeting, that was the first step to healing. Reassessing how she’s been dealing with all the murder, and starting fresh, is very important to her, and starting differently is very important to her, so we’ll see what that means in the premiere.

Is Annalise legally off the hook for Wes’ murder?
Yes, she’s legally off the hook, which is great because it allows her to start from zero again this season. I really wanted us to move forward. As much as there’s backstory things to figure out, it’s really all forward story, and everyone is starting fresh in a new way, and in really strange ways. The dynamics of the show are going to shift.

How will Laurel feel if and when she finds out her father is to blame? Will she suffer some guilt from that?
Guilt will definitely be the first emotion, but she’s also such a doer that she would want to get revenge.

How is she handling Wes’ death this year?
Laurel has a big decision to make obviously about whether to have the baby or not, and we’ll find out the answer to that in the premiere. Wes is still on the forefront of her mind, and I think seeing Dominic on the street that night really changed her view of what happened, so we’ll see what action she’s going to take this season.

Anything you can tease of what role Dominic is going to be playing in this whole crazy Castillo family drama we’re seeing this year?
Nicholas Gonzalez is on another ABC show that shoots in Vancouver, but there’s a good chance we’ll see him again. Dominic is a tool of Jorge, as we saw in the finale, so it’s more what bidding is Dominic doing for Jorge? We see Jorge in the first episode, but Jorge is more the person that Laurel’s dealing with. Jorge would be her main target.

It sounds like she’s going to find out pretty quick then.
I’d say that.

Denver was also somehow tied to Jorge?
Yes, Denver is back as well in the show, and these are all the exact questions we want you to be asking, like why did Jorge kill Wes, what was Denver’s involvement, who is Dominic to Laurel, and by the end of the season, probably earlier than that, we’ll have answered all those questions.

How is everyone feeling like regarding the loss of Wes this year? How is that resonating?
I think it’s actually grounding them all in trying to be happy and trying to make the most of their lives. Wes’ death reverberates for each of them, and they all react in a different way this season, whether that means they’re reinvesting in law school or whether that means they’re saying, “f—k it all,” and what’s fun is that each of the kids has a very different reaction to that, and it starts the arc of the season. I can’t be more specific than that.

Considering the name of the show, will we see more murder this season?
Will we see more murder? We will see more blood.

Is there anything you can say about these new faces that you’re introducing, like Jimmy Smits, and if there are other new people we should expect?
Jimmy Smits, I don’t want to say who he is or what he does on the show because you’ll find that out in the very first episode, it’s a surprise, but most of his scenes, right now, are with Annalise, and that’s just so exciting, because the two of them on screen together are electric, so I’m very excited that he agreed to do it, and I think the audience will be too. Their scenes together will be like mini plays. I’ll say that.

What’s next for the students in terms of actual school, and will Annalise be involved on that end?
She’s so disgraced that we’ll find out in the first episode whether that means she’s allowed to go back to school and whether she wants to. There will be some crosses because she has to interact with some characters from there, but the kids are starting their second semester of their second year, so they’re halfway done with law school when we start this year, and they all have different reactions. The second year is where you go and start interning for other bigger law firms. We’ll see if some of them want to do that. We’ll see if some of them want to just say, “f—k it all,” and drop out of law school. That’s a possibility.

What’s coming up for Bonnie this season?
We’re going to see Bonnie have to grow up in a major way, and we’re going to see her finally come into her own power, her dark power.

How about for Frank?
Frank has some career ambitions that are going to surprise us, but again, he’s a person who’s just trying to get back on his feet, but I don’t think he wants to go back to just being old Frank, and he has a lot of relationships to mend, so he’s both trying to pursue a new career as well as mend all of the relationships — with Laurel, with Annalise — that he broke.

Oliver proposed to Connor, so what’s next for them?
We’ll see how Connor responded to that in the premiere, and of course, it’s not going to be typical, but we’ll see like where they are in the relationship, and if marriage is on the horizon for them. Connor is not a person who, when we met him, was all into a traditional marriage, but he might be now, so that’s the question for them.

What’s next for Oliver in particular?
Oliver is out of a job at the university, because Annalise was the one that hired him, so he is also just trying to pick up the pieces and figure out where he wants to go. He’s also going to find out a lot more about Connor’s parents.

Will we meet Laurel’s mom this year?
That’s a good question. We’ve just written episode 4, so I don’t know, but I like that idea. We definitely have to meet her eventually.

What’s next for Asher?
Asher and Michaela said “I love you” to each other in a ridiculous moment last season, so we’re going to see him move in with Michaela, and he is, as always, trying to be a person that sees the best in everyone in the group and really needing his family to stick together.

How about for Michaela?
Michaela is back in beast mode. She is basically trying to erase what happened to her the first three seasons, besides her and Asher. She’s in a great relationship with him. It’s kind of fun to just see them be happy, and I think she’s really trying to start over and be the Michaela Pratt she started law school as.

Anything new for Nate this year?
Last we saw, Nate was working with Denver to get Annalise out of jail, and that worked, charges were dropped, so he’s still going to be working at the DA’s office, and he’s going to have a new coworker there that’s going to lead to some twisty change of relationship status.

Will we see any more family stuff for Annalise this year?
There is family stuff. We will see Cicely Tyson and the rest of her family in the beginning of the season somewhere and that’s always beautiful, and Cicely is amazing. For Annalise, step one is to decide she wants to heal, and then we’ll see how that happens, and we’ll see where she’s living, which is strange on its own, and we’ll see if she’s able to pick up the pieces at all and if she has any fight left in her because, at this point, if I was Annalise, I would be kicking it in Palm Springs being a barista, but I think she has more fight left in her.

Lastly, are we going to see Wes back at all, via flashback, or anything like that, this year?
I hope so. I know Alfie is in some show in South Africa, so we’re not definite one way or another, but Wes’ memory, and him as the heart of our show, it’s still there.

How to Get Away With Murder returns Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

Episode Recaps

How to Get Away With Murder

Viola Davis stars as a law professor where she teaches, wait for it, how to get away with murder.

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