'How to Get Away With Murder' Creator Previews Deadly Second Half of Season 2

Pete Nowalk talks with THR about flashbacks, flashforwards and why he doesn't plot the series out too far ahead.
 Courtesy of Disney/ABC

Before ABC's How to Get Away With Murder went dark for its winter hiatus, a bloody Annalise (Viola Davis) was left at the mercy of a gun-wielding Wes (Alfred Enoch), who had finally learned the truth about his dead ex-girlfriend.

But just as Wes went in for that kill shot, Annalise saved herself by muttering “Christophe,” the name Wes supposedly went by as a child. And just like that, the door opened for the show's back six, flashback-filled episodes beginning Thursday.

When the Shondaland drama returns with “What Happened to You, Annalise,” viewers will see the immediate fallout from that reveal, and begin to flashback to learn more about Wes and Annalise’s confusing history.

To find out more about Wes’ mother, delving back into the past and what else to expect from the final second season episodes, THR caught up with showrunner Pete Nowalk. Here, he previews a changed Annalise, a looming threat in the form of Phillip (Jefferson White), and getting viewers to the season two finale.  

What can you set up about the two-week time lapse when the show returns?

A lot happens. We have to explain a lot of the flash-forwards that we saw the first half of the season, like what happens the rest of that murder night. We pick up with the moment right after Annalise says “Christophe” to Wes. We’re going to pick up in that moment before we move to two weeks later. At that point it’s Annalise’s first day home from the hospital and we’re going to see that she is a different person. This experience has changed her in a serious way. She’s still quite disturbed. In that we’re going to hint at things from her past that involve Christophe that have come to the surface with her new weakened physical and emotional state. Old wounds have come to the surface and are affecting her in this very serious, traumatic way. 

Does that close the door on more cases of the week for the back half?

We might actually only have one case of the week, and it’s a case that Annalise has already been involved in and doesn’t think she’s going to have to work that hard on because obviously she needs to heal. Emotionally she also just doesn’t care. That’s what makes it so different to see her in this back six. She’s trying to find out whether she cares about anything at this point. There are some dark days for her.

What will the construct of the flashbacks and flash-forward look like in the back six?

It’s all flashbacks. The question of the back six is what happened to Wes’ mother, who is Christophe. We know that Wes’ mother supposedly killed herself; is that true? And how was Annalise involved in that? How was Eve (Famke Janssen) involved in that? Those are the flashbacks we’ll be seeing and the questions we’ll be answering through the back six.

Does that make Wes’ mother the subject of murder this time around?

Yes, that’s a great way to put it. The murder mystery is what happened to Wes’s mother Rose (Kelsey Scott).

How do the new characters from the first half, Catherine (Amy Okuda) and Phillip and Caleb (Kendrick Sampson) factor in?

In the present, Annalise still has to deal with the Hapstalls and framing Catherine. Last time we saw Phillip he was parked outside the mansion waiting for Catherine. Then we went inside the mansion and saw them shoot Annalise. So where is he and how does he play into that. By the end of the season we will find out who killed the Hapstall parents and we’ll find out if Annalise’s plan works.

Was six episodes enough to explore Annalise and Wes’ back story and how much did you know ahead of time?

We always wing everything; I wish I was the type of showrunner that knew everything that happens when I wrote the pilot. I’m not smart like that, I don’t think ahead. To me it’s fun to go on the journey of finding out these things as they write them. It allows us to make things more surprising for the audience and it makes it more fun for me because it’s like I’m watching the show. We answer the question of how Annalise knows Christophe and is that why she has selected him to be in her life in the present. Once Wes finds out the truth of all of that, it might lead him to have some more questions. 

Did you always know the second season finale scene or did that also develop as you guys crafted these back six?

Once we played the Christophe card in our midseason finale we knew where we wanted to get to. I never know about the last scene of the finale until the last minute. Like, last week when we started shooting it. Luckily it was a big question mark for me and now that I’ve done this a little bit more it’s been like that every finale we had. This finale is very different than the rest of the finales and it was a goal of mine… it definitely sets up questions for next season in a way that hopefully allows people to be more curious than annoyed at having to wait a long time. But it was a last-minute decision; it always is!

Does delving into the past allow the supporting characters to delve back into their own sins?

The guilt and the shame or horror is always going to affect all of the supporting characters and we’re going to see how they each cope. No one gets short shrift, even though we are flashing back a lot. There’s still a lot for our characters to deal with in the present. But there are bigger fish to fry—one of them is Phillip. Are they in physical danger? Everything else around them kind of pales in comparison to that situation. 

Does everyone make it out of this season alive?

There is a dead body. Someone that we’ve met before. I’ll say that.

How to Get Away With Murder returns Thursday, Feb. 11 at 10 p.m. on ABC. What do you think happened to Wes’ mother? Sound off in the comments below.

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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