'How to Get Away With Murder' Creator Previews Rule-Breaking Finale

Showrunner Pete Nowalk reveals Viola Davis' "pivotal" contributions to the episode, which centers heavily on her character's family and backstory.
Nicole Wilder/ABC

Those who have been patiently waiting for a chance to know a little bit more about Annalise Keating are about to get their wish.

Thursday’s second season finale of ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder sees the cutthroat lawyer (Viola Davis) back home with her family, including her previously introduced mother Ophelia (Cicely Tyson), her sister Celestine (Gwendolyn Mulamba) and her absentee father (Roger Robinson). In what showrunner Pete Nowalk calls a departure for the series, most of the episode hones in on Annalise’s background, finding out why she became the way she did and why she severed some of her relationships with her family members in the first place.

“The question I get most asked is, ‘When is Cicely Tyson coming back?’ It was definitely a goal to find a place for her in season two,” Nowalk tells The Hollywood Reporter. “She was only available for this episode, so we decided to make our finale feel different from all the other episodes. It’s scary to me because of how people will react to it.”

Because of the way the showrunner and his team of writers work, they found themselves backed into a bit of a corner before the finale in terms of answering all the questions that needed to be answered within the episode. Nowalk admits that made the hour, “Anna Mae,” a particularly challenging one to craft because it involved the most world-building on the least amount of time. So he did what he usually tends to do in those situations, and called upon his star to help carve out her character’s world.

“Viola is the first person I want to run things by. She was big on wanting to meet Annalise’s sister and her father, who was a character I hadn’t really thought that much about,” Nowalk says. “At the end of the season, we don’t have that much time to write these episodes, so that’s when I really go to Viola and the other writers and lean on them.”

In the end, it was Davis’s recommendation to go with both Mulamba and Davidson, which Nowalk says helped to establish some of the character chemistry even though the actors had limited time to work on it while on set. It was also the actress’ idea to incorporate some of the family dance moves viewers will see in the episode, which the exec producer says is just another example of his star being “pivotal” to pulling off so many of these scenes. 

This is How to Get Away With Murder, however, so dance scenes and family reunions aren’t the only items on the agenda during this shocking finale. What Annalise went to her family to escape from in the first place — a huge betrayal by Frank (Charlie Weber) — is still very much playing out in the background.

“Annalise’s new family, the people she thought she could count on, have been lying to her about the biggest scar in her life,” Nowalk teases. “Maybe her blood family is the only one that she can count on.”

Meanwhile back at home, Frank will be doing some soul searching of his own.

“This is the biggest dilemma that Frank has ever been in in his life. He betrayed Annalise, this person who he’s so loyal to and kind of lives and breathes for,” he says. “Now she’s found out something that’s unforgivable, so he’s in the biggest pickle of his life. Is he going to be proactive about it? Is he going to try to fix it? Is he going to try to lie his way out of it? We will find out all of that in the finale, and learn exactly why he killed Lila."

How to Get Away With Murder wraps its second season on Thursday at 10 p.m. on ABC. 

How do you think it will all wrap up? Sound off in the comments below. 

Twitter: @amber_dowling