'How to Get Away With Murder' Creator Says Holes in Murder Night Will Be Revealed

Showrunner Pete Nowalk responds to burning questions about where the Viola Davis drama goes next story-wise and what to expect structurally from the remainder of its freshman run
ABC

[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the midseason finale, "Kill Me, Kill Me, Kill Me," of ABC's How to Get Away With Murder.]

A major piece of How to Get Away With Murder's central storyline was revealed during Thursday's midseason finale. But the identity of Sam's (Tom Verica) killer only sets up a slew of new questions — both about the show's central mystery and its overall structure — as the rookie heads into its six remaining new episodes of the season.

Wes (Alfred Enoch) ultimately killed Sam in a bid to protect Rebecca (Katie Findlay), who gathered what is suspected to be the smoking-gun to put Annalise's (Viola Davis) husband behind bars for Lila's slaying. Only Annalise may have had a role in Wes and the Keating Five covering up their savage misdeed. (Read our recap here.)

On a structural level, now that the identity of Sam's killer has been revealed, will the flashbacks and flash-forwards continue? Does the season ultimately answer who killed Rosie Larsen Lila? Or do the murder victims continue to add up in a massive game of dominoes?

The Hollywood Reporter turned to series creator Pete Nowalk to break everything down.

Read more 'How to Get Away With Murder': Sam's Killer Revealed

Where does the show go now that Sam's apparent killer has been revealed? With six episodes left, does it become about finding Lila's killer?

We'll answer the question of who Lila's killer is in the next six episodes. The show becomes about the fallout from Murder Night, how that plays on all the characters, how their distrust of each other can grow at same time they have to really trust each other. They'll be paranoid, they'll be scared, they'll be working really hard to cover it up and going to law school because they have to act normal. All of the relationships change from here on out, which I always knew. They weren't going to become friends until after this, and "friends" is a very simplistic term. They are tied to each other now as students and tied to Annalise one way or another. That's what's fun, to show how their lives completely take a left turn from now.

The show started with a murder (Lila) and cover-up (seemingly Sam), which led to another murder (Sam's) and cover-up (Wes and the Keating Five). Will the dominoes continue to fall in the same fashion over the course of the series? Who is the last domino?

Oh, my God. That's the challenge we have: to make the dominoes fall but in a way that they're not falling one after the other as you'd expect. We can't just come up with a formula for the show. In the pilot, we just threw a mess at the wall and tried to figure it out as we went. I'm really happy that people seem to be satisfied with how Murder Night ended up because it really was so scary to get there with the answers. I hope we're able to do that in a way that's as real as possible. That's the challenge we have from here on out. I take it episode by episode. We have great writers who have amazing ideas. I don't want the show to ever become formulaic and feel like it's the same thing over and over again. The next six episodes are going to feel really different. We're not doing the flash-forwards. Every episode is different in the way that we tell it. I'm hoping that people get to really spend more time with the characters and get to know them more now that we're not dealing with the carrying around the body that Murder Night gave us. Energetically, it's going to be different. That's scary because the old version worked, but I think the new version will hopefully work just as well.

Read more 'How to Get Away With Murder' Boss Teases Big Mystery, Plan Beyond Season 1

Now that the Keating Five killed Sam, what happens if he wasn't the one who kills Lila?

That is a great question. That's a question all the students are going to have. That is a big worry. How that affects them all will make for some good drama.

Annalise also seems to have a role in covering up Sam's death. When in her timeline did she return to the house, after she was at the police station? Were Nate and her impassioned call to Sam all a cover-up?

I don't want to say one way or the other. The things that we showed and did not show are intentional. There's a version of episode nine where we could have explained all the answers, and we actually shot that version. I give credit to the audience that they have been so engaged and liking playing the game of the show, which is filling in those pieces. It's more engaging and active. So I don't want to answer any of that because we will eventually show that to everyone. But for right now, I want people to have fun with the puzzle over the break. Watch it again!

So there will be more flashbacks to fill in some of the holes that still exist from Murder Night?

Yes. I don't know if I'd call them flashbacks, but we will see things from Murder Night again. 

Why would Annalise want to help Wes cover up her husband's death? Is she looking at this as an opportunity?

That's something we'll answer when we come back. I'm hoping the answer will surprise people. Annalise is much more human than lot of people expect. For Annalise, one of her frustrations in life is that people like to put her in a box that she's hardcore and ruthless. You could call her a sociopath. But I think she's much more human and complicated than that. She's emotional, so there are very emotional reasons for any action she takes, including the one she took on Murder Night.

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Structurally, you said there won't be flashbacks but we will be going back to Murder Night. How would you describe the structure of the back-half of the season?

There's no one structure. That's what makes it fun for me. We've written three of the six now and they're different. We're figuring out what the story is for that episode; what makes the most sense for the structure of that episode? What I don't want to get into a is a formula: This is the structure of our show and every chunk of episodes will lead up to a flash forward and see the puzzle pieces. That's what we did for the first season. If we do it again will depend on what plotlines we come up with. Every episode feels like we're writing a new show and as a viewer, the shows I love so much — The Good Wife is one that I admire because they never follow a formula, and I'm so impressed because every episode they're figuring it out all over again. That takes a lot more work. It's blood, sweat and tears. I'm hoping we can do that in a way that it still feels satisfying for the audience.

How are the Keating Five handling this life-changing event? How do you live with being part of a murder while learning the law?

They're under even more pressure to learn the law because the only way they don't get found out is if they go through their life like normal. That's what's really fun for me and hopefully interesting for the audience is to watch these characters, especially the students they don't know that much about, and now really to reveal who they are in the aftermath of this trauma. That night is going to have ripple effects through the rest of their lives and is going to change their behaviors. That's what we're having fun with in the writers' room: learning who these characters are in a really high adrenaline, they're-all-on-acid-type of way (laughs). They're all going to react in ways that they don't expect and viewers don't expect.

You spoke before about a larger mystery beyond the show's central who killed Lila story that could take you into season two. Does this season end with a conviction?

I won't say one way or the other. There are a lot of lose ends. Hopefully we've always been able to tell the story in a way that feels unexpected. Saying it's going to end with a conviction may feel too simplistic for what we have planned. I hope!

Read more 'How to Get Away With Murder' Creator Breaks Down Shondaland's New Drama

How much of these murders might Annalise be orchestrating at this point? Is she a puppet master at this point?

That's a word that I think simplifies her too much. She's a real person and I can't imagine a puppet master existing in real life, that they could be able to see that much ahead. Annalise does things five steps ahead but also reacts in the moment to things that she couldn’t have expected happening, like Wes finding out that Sam was Mr. Darcy. More than a puppet master, she is just a great chess player.

Speaking of master chess players, who would win in a showdown: Annalise or Scandal's Rowan Pope (Joe Morton)?

Oh, man! That's a real compliment, comparing Annalise to Rowan Pope, who is the master chess player. I think that'd be a run for the money. That would be fun for Shonda and I to hash out that script. But I think we have too much on our plates right now!

Let's get a Kickstarter going to fund that.

(Laughing.) Maybe over the summer hiatus as a project to see a monologue-off or something! 

What about Michaela's missing engagement ring or the justice trophy's missing scales — will those be a factor? Are there other clues people should be looking for?

Yes. Everything that happened that night is a worry for them, definitely any of the loose ends and there are a lot of them. I love how people are picking up on the scale and that level of detail. Not everything is going to be a twist. Not everything is going to come back to bite them in the ass. For me, what's more fun is for [the Keating Five] to worry about that and see when things come to bite them in the ass what situation they're at at the time. But everything is up for grabs; people should not count anything out. We're going to try to give them answers.

Marcia Gay Harden is coming in as a rival for Annalise. Might she be Sam's ex-wife?

I'm not going to say one way or the other. It's exciting to think of her and Viola in scenes together. But she does have interactions with the Keating Five.

The whole show feels like such an allegory for the flawed criminal justice system. How much of that is by design?

I just want the show to be fun, most of all. You talk to criminal defense attorneys who we consult with all the time, and they do have a darker view of the justice system and think of it more like a game because they see unjust things happen all the time. I don't know if in real life I believe that it's that cynical and dark. But for Annalise and her job and what these students do every day, they deal in the darkness and the injustice a lot more than we'd all like to believe exists. I don't know if our show is that serious (laughs). If it's there, I think it's contextual. It's not supposed to be super reality-based. It's just supposed to be fun. 

What kind of long-term plan do you have for this series?

I don't. I'm bad at that. I don't even make dinner dates more than a week out. I'm following the story as it goes. I think there's a lot of life in the show. What's been surprising to me is what do we do now because there are so many questions we have to answer. It's about digging into the characters deeper and watching them react in surprising ways that I'm discovering all the time. I can't think about the longevity of the show; I just think about what I have to do next, which is work with the writers on episode 113. If people keep watching, we'll try to give them what they want.

The show is called How to Get Away With Murder, implying there could be several more to come. Will there be more murders?

That's an interesting question. I don't know. They represent murderers, I will say that. You'll definitely see a few more (laughs).

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit

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