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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday’s season three premiere of How to Get Away With Murder, “We’re Good People Now.”]
If fans tuned in to How to Get Away With Murder’s third season premiere expecting a tame opener, they had another thing coming. Following a cliffhanger at the end of season two, the show wasted no time before revealing that Wallace (Adam Arkin) is definitely dead and Frank (Charlie Weber) is alive and well… and ready to take whatever action necessary against Annalise (Viola Davis) in order to keep himself alive.
Meanwhile, after a tumultuous summer, the students returned for a second year of university and to Annalise’s new class, which gave them an opportunity to practice real life court cases. The schooling quickly took a back seat when a new threat emerged in the form of “killer” Annalise Keating posters though, and thanks to a two-month flash-forward, viewers learned that someone very important to the law professor is about to die a grisly death involving a house fire.
To break down all the premiere twists and find out what comes next, THR caught up with showrunner Pete Nowalk. Here he talks about the “hardest decision” he’s had to make in the history of the show, how the timelines factor in going forward and Famke Janssen’s return.
When did you decide you were going to kill off a big character, and when did you know who it was?
Over our hiatus I was thinking that we needed to make a big impact in our new season. Of course that’s a lot easier to do in theory when you’re on vacation or working with the writers early on in the season. We are just actually catching up to the episode where we reveal who is under the sheet — that happens in episode nine. We got to that point just this last week so I had to make that decision of who. I always just want to surprise myself and find the thing that’s best for the show, but it was a very hard decision. It was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in the history of the show.
Were you going back and forth between a few characters?
I tried not to think about it. It was a decision that was much easier to make when I didn’t have to think about it. It’s like anything — I didn’t make it until I was forced to and at that point I just trusted my gut and followed the story.
Because this show plays with time, is it possible to continue seeing that character in the future?
Because our show plays around with time a lot, we will always flash back to certain things. I still think there is a chance we could see Rebecca in a flashback sometime. So that goes for all of our characters. I never thought we would see Sam as much as we do, but we are going to see him again this season with some flashbacks that relate back to Frank’s origin story. So I think there’s a very good chance that we will see more of this person.
What does your timeline look like now that the premiere is out of the way?
That premiere packed in a lot of timelines, so we are going to simplify it from here out. It will just be in the present and then in the two-months-later timeline with the Keating house fire. So it won’t be too confusing but those are two main time periods.
Where does that leave the Frank and Bonnie (Liza Weil) origin stories?
We do find out more about Bonnie’s past in certain ways, it’s just not in the way you may expect. We’ve always had a really good idea of how Annalise and Bonnie first met. But this season is very much about a Frank-Annalise conflict. Obviously they’re on separate sides so his origin story felt a lot more present and urgent to tell right now.
How does he factor into the season now that viewers know he’s alive?
We will find out what Frank is doing and where he is. It is a mystery right now. And our characters are going to wonder those things as well. Annalise is scared of Frank and what he is capable of. There is a lot of fear there and she has to do something about that.
Does that fear go both ways?
Yeah, it does go both ways. When two very strong people are backed into a corner, it can be a very emotional thing. They both freak each other out because they both might do something that’s unpredictable and dangerous.
Is there capability for forgiveness there?
That’s the question of the season; both of them are asking themselves that. Where we catch up with Annalise in the premiere versus where we left her in the finale, she was so angry in the finale and hurt and shocked. That’s probably when she hired that guy to go find Frank. And of course we saw her struggle on the phone with whether she could give the final order to “take care” of him so to speak. That is a struggle for Annalise. When she said to Bonnie, “I’m not a killer,” she really believes that. It’s one thing that she can really hold onto about herself after having done so many bad things.
Is she now trying to be a better person?
I don’t know if I would say she’s trying to be a better person; she’s trying to get back to normal. It’s not about her image or anything to her. It’s about feeling bad and realizing that she and all of these kids are tied together. Their fates are tied and in order for her to feel good, they need to feel good. So it’s kind of a push-pull of whether she is doing this out of concern for them or out of concern for herself. I think it’s both of those things.
Will it be revealed how Conner got into Stanford if his marks are so low?
We do not address that but I imagine he had some good recommendations or something. There are a lot of personal favors that Connor was able to pull in order to get in.
What can you say to fans that will be upset by the Connor-Oliver breakup?
It is always a challenge for me to do what the audience doesn’t expect. Oliver said he wants to break up, but we are going to see what that looks like with the two of them. That was a very painful and a very mature decision on Oliver’s part. Is it just a break they’re taking or are they going to get back together? I will just say that yes, fans will be upset and I understand that. I am upset too; I love them more than anyone. But they are going to be in each other’s lives in a very major way for the rest of the season. So just hold on, don’t get too depressed and see where it goes.
How did the decision to give Wes (Alfred Enoch) a “normal” girlfriend (Corbin Reid) come about?
Someone else in the writers’ room pitched that and it just felt real to me. It felt like Wes deserves that. We are going to find out more about Meggy and what she is like. If I was Wes and I had been through all of this horrible stuff, and seen my father got shot, and I wanted to heal, and I had my cathartic scream, I might flirt with a girl in the bookstore. Or I might look for a little peace and quiet. That’s what happened with Connor and Oliver. That’s why Connor threw himself at Oliver, because of his normalcy. It just gives Wes balance.
Does Wes having a girlfriend make Laurel (Karla Souza) reevaluate her decision not to pursue their kiss from last season?
There is definitely some longing for both of them. There was never an opportunity for either of them to pursue something; Frank was in the picture and there was crazy drama. Laurel was really hurt when Frank pulled away from her. But these are two people who care deeply about each other. Whether or not that should be romantic? Right now they’re both telling themselves it won’t be.
How do the court cases factor in going forward? Do the students continue to compete for first chair?
Yes, they get to take a much more active role in the courtroom or on whatever cases they’re working on. That’s based on a real-life clinic a professor who came in to speak with us runs. She really gives her students a lot of rope to hang themselves with. It’s just fascinating to me and it allows our students to take a more active role in certain cases. I wanted to get back to that fun trophy competition. Annalise needs that for them; she knows they need to distract themselves like little puppies. She needs to make them run otherwise they’re going to make themselves crazy.
Does that force new students into the mix or do you have to find excuses to let the Keating Five win all the time?
It’s both; you’ll see the answer to that in the season. Other students besides the Keating Five will get a chance to be first chair. We definitely wanted to see how the other students feel about the Keating Five and Annalise. Obviously she needs to keep her people close, but she also needs to play the game.
Will Famke Janssen return as Eve now that she’s starring in The Blacklist spinoff?
Yes. Luckily before she went on to her new show, we got her back. She is going to be in an upcoming episode very early in the season. Eve and Annalise fans should definitely watch that.
How to Get Away With Murder airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.
Who do you think was under the sheet? Sound off in the comments below.
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