Post Mortems

HTGAWM Post Mortem: EP Talks 'Murder Night' Aftermath — 'You Should Be Worried About Everyone'

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but a desire to keep ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder fresh and exciting will lead to the show’s reinvention when it returns from its holiday break on Jan. 29 (10/9c), says creator and executive producer Peter Nowalk.

Indeed, with the “Who Killed Sam?” mystery — though not its inevitable fallout — wrapped up in last Thursday’s Winter Finale, the flipping coin/twirling cheerleader/flash-forward construct that defined the freshman smash’s first nine episodes will be put to rest. [If you need a refresher on what went down in the hour, read our full episode recap here.]

“We talked about [continuing the flash-forwards], but they just felt gimmicky. You never want to feel like you’re getting spoon-fed the same thing over and over again,” Nowalk explains. “We’ll continue to wonder what people know and when they know it. That’s what we’re always trying to challenge the audience with, that question. We won’t always understand characters’ behaviors, and within episodes going forward, we’ll flash back to something that helps the behaviors make sense.”

TVLine caught up with Nowalk to dish the Winter Finale’s epic Annalise-Sam blowout, the reasons for the steely law professor’s lengthy voice-mail message to her dead husband and whether the show is setting up Type A Michaela for a major fall.

TVLINE | Let me get one thing out of the way: Can you confirm 100 percent that Wes struck the fatal blow to Sam’s head? A few readers have noted we didn’t actually see Wes swinging. We saw blood splatter on Rebecca’s face — then seconds later, we cut to Wes with the blood trophy. Can you confirm definitively?
Yeah, yeah. Wes definitely killed him. There’s no way he was able to take the trophy out of someone else’s hand in that 20 seconds of screen time. [Laughs.]

TVLINE | The assumption that Sam killed Lila, though…
That is an assumption. I will say that, and that will be dealt with in future episodes.

TVLINE | We know that the Keating Four — Wes, Michaela, Laurel and Connor — plus Rebecca and Annalise… there are a lot of lies going on, a lot of side alliances. How ugly can we expect things to get as the police begin to investigate Sam’s disappearance?
You can expect high drama. There are different allegiances. There are trust factors. There are people playing for their own survival. There’s also groupthink. So it’s messy, that’s what I’ll say. Whether it gets ugly or dark, everyone will see eventually, but it definitely gets very messy and complicated, and the tensions are running high between every character. All of their previous relationships get turned on their heads.

TVLINE | Have you already determined how the season will end, or is that still up for grabs?
We have ideas of how we want the season to end. Since the beginning, we’ve always adjusted along the way, but we have a direction we want to go in. There are still a lot of questions that we have to answer, and we’re deciding when we want to answer them and how. The fun part for me is I don’t know everything when I start it. If I did, then I’d just be really mean to the actors who are always like, “What happens next?” I really don’t always know, and I also always want to keep the option of changing my mind and completely reversing course from something we set in motion.

VIOLA DAVIS, TOM VERICATVLINE | I want to talk about a couple of specific scenes from the Winter Finale, and first is the Annalise/Sam fight. That had to be one of the ugliest, if not the ugliest, marital spat I’ve every seen on film.
That’s the best compliment you could ever give us. [Laughs.]

TVLINE | We really got to see Sam as this shark-eyed monster in that moment, telling Annalise that she’s nothing but a disgusting slut. And of course she comes back at him with her confession about the affair with Nate, and the graphic details of their trysts. Walk me through that moment.
I remember sitting down with Viola and saying, “We’re always going to build to this great Virginia Woolf-esque fight. I’m not saying it was that well written. [Laughs.] I don’t ever want to compare myself to a great playwright, but we wanted it to be a showdown. And because it’s the last time we’re going to see the character of Sam alive, not in a flashback, we really needed to end things with fireworks. The fight, although, yes, it’s dark and nasty and mean, it was all called for, honestly, given everything that the two of them have been going through and also the 20 years of marriage that they have between them.

As I told Tom Verica, “Yes, he’s saying these awful things. But I don’t think anyone in the show is just good or evil.” People in the heat of the moment will say anything to wound, and they’ll say things specifically that will wound the deepest. Who else knows how to hurt someone more than a person to whom they’ve been married to for 20 years? They know exactly what words to use that will cut the deepest.

TVLINE | Later, Annalise leaves that lengthy voice mail begging Sam to come home, essentially saying all is forgiven. But later we learn she already knew Sam was dead when she was making that phone call. I wonder: Is there a part of her that’s genuinely sad and regretful, who is using this moment to say goodbye to Sam? Or is this merely an exercise in creating an alibi and creating doubt in the mid of some future jury?
Everyone’s going to try to fill in the pieces of the holes themselves, so I don’t want to say any one thing was exactly one way or the other. The voicemail, for me, worked on so many levels, and that’s what I hoped people would feel when they watched it. I watched it with some friends, and I could feel them get really uncomfortable during that scene: I don’t know if they didn’t believe it or if it just felt like a turn they didn’t want Annalise to make, and that’s what I freaking love. As long as people don’t turn off the TV, I feel like we have to push it to this level of where you kind of hate a character. You hate what they’re doing, and it makes you cringe for them, and you don’t believe them. That’s what Viola is so genius at playing, all of those things at once, and just also making even the most incongruous behaviors believable.

TVLINE | We saw a number of mistakes being made in the course of the Murder Night cover up, and I feel like Michaela made a lot of them: Losing her ring, not wearing gloves when they disposed of the body in the Dumpster. Should we be worried about where she might end the season?
You should be worried about everyone. I think they’re human. So, by nature, mistakes were made that night. It’s not easy to get away with murder, so again, you should worry about everyone — for sure.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Tammy says:

    I have to say, I think I’m done with this show. I wanted to like this because it has actors I like but it just seems weak. Hard to care what happens.

  2. abz says:

    I’m really curious about the longevity of the show. They do have a lot of stuff to get through (the fallout from the murder, the Lila case, exploring the Keating 4 and other character’s histories, etc.), but I’m interested to see what their plan is when all of that is wrapped up. I thought the show felt a lot like Damages and that it might follow a similar format, but now that he’s saying they might not do flash-forwards any more, it should be interesting to see how they keep the show going the following season (A new seasonal murder? Return to case of the week format? Both?).

    • Larc says:

      Or neither? Maybe it will all head in a completely different direction now. The inside group have been trying to help people on the outside. Now they are complicit in a killing and extreme action to cover it up, and the wolf is inside their house. It becomes a very different situation when they have to protect themselves and justify their own actions.

    • TigerLIL says:

      abz, Its a drama with an end and I think it longevity is most likely 3 years no more. After the students leave school and venture into their own lives the story line will naturally come to a close. The students tie into the murder to me makes it impossible for the show to be like a “Law and Order” theme or even a “Good wife theme for that matter where its a new story line each season, well in this case a new set of law school freshmen students each year it’s not built for that. Other thing is the main character, Viola Davis with her profile being raised this far and fast she will likely have too many things coming at her to hang on to the show, this is a great branding and marketing move for her and her team, this is the first role she has had in my opinion that explores all the depths of her talents…..but the one that is going to make her a Betty Davis Joan Crawford house hold name. Those are my favorite actresses of all time, I mean it was hard to separate the characters they played for the women they were and it’s getting like that with Mrs. Davis for me…lol

  3. ChicagoDan says:

    I was so glad when Sam called out Annalise on being a hypocrite. She raked him over and over for having an affair with Lila while she was hooking up with Nate in their HOME/her office. It was a big turn-off of liking or honestly caring what happens to Annalise with her being sanctimonious like that when we knew the truth. It really didn’t fit. I could accept her having an affair – no problem – but she was vicious to Sam about his affair. I suppose S2 will kick off in finale with a murder – maybe one of the Keating 5 (otherwise it’s just them representing clients, which they’ll do anyway). However, it’s going to be hard to top killing the husband by her students.

    • abz says:

      I think a lot of her anger about his affair had to do with the fact that the girl he was sleeping with is dead and he may have been the one who killed her and she’s representing one of the suspects in the murder and as time goes by she keeps finding out more lies from him. But I agree, she was very hypocritical about the situation regardless of how she justifies her anger.

      • Angela says:

        Good point. It’s one thing to have an affair, it’s another altogether to wonder if your spouse is responsible for killing their mistress.
        And while I agree that Annalise’s anger is hypocritical, with situations like this, once someone is in deep, like she is, things that should be blatantly obvious kind of aren’t. Emotions are weird and very complicated that way. That doesn’t excuse her behavior, mind, but it does, to me, explain why an otherwise smart woman wouldn’t be thinking straight on this particular issue.
        And if her husband WAS somehow involved in Lila’s death, and given his deeply horrible, verbally abusive barbs he threw at her the night of his murder, that doesn’t speak well for his treatment of her, and people could argue that’s a justifiable reason for her affair (though, that said, hooking up with a man who’s got a cancer-stricken wife isn’t exactly the best choice to be making, to say the very least).

        • TigerLIL says:

          I’m going to say this and I wrote a comment before that did not post but I’m not to quick to judge. Now lets examine all hypocritical cheering. I don’t think she being as hypocritical as she is acting out of a high level of revenge or vindictiveness and how you act that out may be based on the level of trust you bestow on the person.

          Now I’m not justifying her affair with Nate but I can give it a open look not from a moral compass our conscious, but a human one basic instinct. The woman is intelligent, has high cognitive skills but is obviously emotionally damaged. Sam was treating her most likely and then started taking sexual favors with the girl who was a 20-something year old or so law student, as she did mention that 21 years ago she was in her first year of law school and they have been married 20 years.

          -Now we don’t have the back story but we do know this Lila mess is not the first time Sam dip his stick into some young hot student and that is going to eat away at any woman’s self-esteem and worse as that woman gets older.

          -Now I’ll make the point that you have to be crazy (deranged) a complete sociopath with violent tendencies, who has no empathy or on the verge or in the throes of a complete nervous emotional breakdown to be screwing a man in your husband’s home and all over the place. That takes a lot of hate towards a person who has got to have opened a serious emotional wound and pouring a ton of salt on it for you to do that to a person who you suppose to love and respect like that.
          -Sam’s actions show he had no love (desire) for her and he certainly by screwing Lila had no respect( value) for her because this mistake of bedding a virgin with those kind of ties to the university ( parents giving 8 million a year) a killing or even a pregnancy would certainly have flat-line both of their careers, community standings and lifestyle had it come to light.
          -That is possibly what drove her to wanting him dead. I’m not going to use hypocrite unless someone can prove to me that Sam’s character, his behavior and moral compass was BEYOND reproach. She was never acting in a way as to make her behaving in a way that suggests one has higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case as the definition prescribes. I don’t think so, she was acting out of revenge, pain and deep seated loss of self-esteem put on her in a way it was not put on Sam. I’d be more incline to call her behavior revenge which has more of a hint of violence and violation which is how I see her affair with Nate. And a sociopath they lack empathy which to me can explain that she didn’t have any feeling for her betrayal of Nate’s wife. Annalise is experiencing a complete psychosis as she is completely detached from reality and let’s please not say Nate is being a man he is acting with complete disregard too and off of pint up rage as is evident by his release of sexual energy. This is some amazing character writing by that staff and a good look into the human complexity, I hope Viola’s ability to bring the Betty Davis/Joan Crawford elements of mentally disturb flaw doesn’t call for an out cry to stop the show mental illness is so out there it needs to be brought out to the front. Hell the ID channel is doing a great job with new series for the real life drama every …JMO

    • laurelnev says:

      I get what you’re saying, but Sam was schtupping a student. It’s kind of like the difference between catching your husband looking at porn and catching your husband looking at child porn. Sam is jeopardizing his position at the University, as well as their professional reputations, by choosing to sleep with a freshman who is HIS student. Analise’s affair was with an actual adult, an equal, and with one that, if discovered, would not jeopardize a cushy, tenured position.

    • Larc says:

      At least Annalise was having an affair with another adult that was her peer. Sam was involved with one of his students he would be giving a grade for his course. That would have been ethically questionable even if he hadn’t been married.

      • Angela says:

        Also good points, both to you and to laurelnev above.

        • TigerLIL says:

          dido that both Larc and laurelnev make excellent points. If Sam was having an affair with a grown as woman who was Annalise equal I doubt seriously she would have went from loving him and seeing him as a partner to hating him and wanting to see him burn in hell (no pun intended)

    • Alichat says:

      I believe she raked him over the coals because this was not the first time he’d had an affair with a student.

      • Hmm says:

        This is where I’m not sure… because at first I was like “oh yeah it happened before because Annalise said ‘it wouldn’t be the first time’.” But was she referring to another student affair or the fact that their relationship began as an affair? I was honestly convinced that he had an affair with Bonnie, but now I’m not sure if that happened or if Bonnie was just in love with him. She had some freaky obsession with Sam – pining looks in the Keating home, watching his movements from her car, throwing Annalise/Nate’s relationship under the bus when she gave Nate up for breaking into Sam’s car. It’s weird. There are so many things I thought I had figured out that I don’t.

  4. Babygate says:

    Sadly, from the premiere episode I was disappointed. Sure there have been some interesting plot twists but other than Viola Davis and to a lesser degree, Liza Weil, I don’t find any of the characters compelling. And even Annalise left a really bad taste in my mouth after choosing to have sex with Nate while his wife is dying inthe hospital. It felt very John Edwards to me. I’m all for the shock factor as long as it doesn’t cross the line into really bad taste. I’ve wondered if the hype can sustain the success of the show once the lack of substance become too obvious to ignore. Another big problem is the lack of chemistry. I don’t understand how Wes has become so attached to Rebecca or why Michaela would want to marry a person who’s ambiguous about his sexuality or why Laurel is hooking up with Frank. There’s no real spark there. Everything feels so flat… I hope this changes soon.

    • TigerLIL says:

      hmmm sorry you feel that way Babygate but I find all of the characters a microcosmic view of the human flaws we see in our human society going back centuries.
      -Wes has deep seated problems he has repressed because of his mother’s suicide which may have happened in front of him and the results of his lack of security may cause him to latch onto a person like Rebecca who is a master manipulator.
      -We going to find that Rebecca actions are completely staged and she is looking for an acquittal and not exoneration of Lila murder, as she told Nate and I find that very interesting.
      -Bad taste in your mouth for Nate screwing Annalise while his wife dying of cancer, happens more time than we believe and is even sanctioned in some cases by the very person who knows their partner has to continue with their life.
      -These people, well characters are not thinking straight, and they have little by little lost their moral compass (conscious) because of the complexity of the problems they have and are experiencing in their lives.
      -To me the characters have not fully developed yet and I think Michaela desire to marry a person who has some ambiguous about his sexuality to escape poverty has a lot of realism in it and the understanding of that well, that may be based on your experience of living in and through an impoverished condition.
      -See we are all watching a drama but we don’t know how we would be acting or conducting ourselves if we had the same set of shoes to walk in.
      -I’m not going to get too rapped up in the moral ground of the character because I’m more fascinated with the skills these actors display to deliver the character especially Viola Davis and she is driving the support for the show in way many may not understand.
      -As humans we are unique because we have individual minds and no one knows us or what we are capable of this uniqueness is built into our survival mechanism which we come to earth with. People are always quick to say what they would never do, its easy to say that when you are watching the situation as oppose to experience it because really you don’t know what you will do until the situation comes to test your theory….JMO

      • SouthernBelle says:

        Completely agree with you. This show is putting a microscope on the flaws and questionable behaviors that humans have/are capable of if pushed although we, hopefully, would find and use our moral compass to guide us in real life.

        I think it’s interesting anytime a viewer states that they dislike a certain show or character because of their lack of morals or because there seems to be “no one to root for” when we have such critically acclaimed shows such as Dexter, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. Whats the difference? I could argue that some of those characters are even more so lacking in a moral compass.

        • TigerLIL says:

          OK SouthernBelle and for real, I’m like what is the point of bashing a show you keep watching, change the channel. If you don’t like the show and it’s so morally distasteful turn to the cartoon network. Like it or not humans are jacked up out here pulling out all kinds of crazy and hell to the no I’m not bout to put my self in a position to be clowning like that, I like to see the ability of the actors to transform themselves into the and at what skill level to see if they really know their craft. I’m not going to hate the show cause the characters are acting human and displaying human flaws… need proof humans pull the crazy out on a daily check the ID channel and lose your heartburn and fast….LOL

          • SouthernBelle says:

            Exactly! And I’m not bashing any viewers’ comments, I just don’t understand why that would be a reason to not watch a show (similar to the excuse that a show is not likable because it’s too “good” or “cookie cutter”) when that’s kind of the point of tv/movies/general entertainment. Acting or any similar art is used to not only make us think and examine the human psyche but is also used as an escape of what’s happening in our daily lives. I personally enjoy shows like HTGAWM and the others I mentioned above that can show, and show well, an extreme look at our flaws (and even the best parts of us from other “lighter” shows). Plus are we really surprised that a show titled “How To Get Away With Murder” includes characters that may not be very morally upstanding? lol

  5. I absolutely love this show annialise is such a great character the rest Dem in comparison This is one of my favorites 4sure

  6. Jay says:

    Show has too many characters, very few likable and they aren’t fleshing out any of them. Viola’s character is also getting very close to being unlikable, the twist at the very end made me like her again just a tad. But still. Done with Wes,emogirl, Failed-slap girl, the-girl-who-cant-make-her-mind, and from the looks of it this show is once more just gay-baiting with Connor as his story-line seems to have hit a stop after his sexscene.

  7. Brock says:

    Oh great, another show runner who doesn’t have it all planned out. You can always tell when a show has it planned and when it doesn’t. It starts to leave out plot points and have unresolved things. I have a feeling this show will sink very quickly. We’ll get answers, but they’ll be rushed and then they’ll throw in some big shock just to throw people off those answers.
    I’m also wondering how the show is going to play out in season two or three. So often these type of shows have a strong first season and then just cannot maintain their premise for another season, let alone multiple.

    • TigerLIL says:

      Brock got a new flash for you this show is going to play out to the natural end which is about the time the student will be finishing law school, two years from now and departing into their own lives. I know who is watching and why and as long as they don’t care about the technical plot points it will be on the tube trust me,….lol

  8. Lowell says:

    I shouldn’t even have to say this – If you’re looking for a series with likeable characters, DO NOT watch a show called “How To Get Away With Murder”!!!

    • TigerLIL says:

      For real if you hate the show so much why you keep watching it hit the remote and watch something else or better yet turn to the ID channel and get a good dose of SNAP then maybe you will have your moment cause I’m saying the same things after watching both channels DAM….

  9. MiketotheB says:

    I really like this show! Given that Annalise has become to be a powerful lawyer, more successful than Sam being a normal university professor, I think that it’s pretty much about the husband’s ego and how the wife is miles successful high caliber than him. It has been noted that Sam’s relationship with Lila is not the first. Basically hooking up with his female students is a way to conquer that ego of him. Why would he chose not to have an affair with another woman. Because being with a student and him in charge makes him more powerful and in authority since he can’t exercise that one with Annalise. Their house that also serves as Annalise’s office is an everyday reminder of his insecurity ( manhood and career).

  10. Guest says:

    I’m warming up to this show. My favorite character on this show is Wes, he looks very calm and innocent but he runs very deep. He was the only one not freaking out in that whole murder scene. I’m very interested in his character’s development.
    Most of the other characters are very unlikable Micheala, Bonnie, Laurel and esp Rebecca. Nothing has happened this far to make me root for these characters and I clearly do not understand them. Connor and Asher are a tad likable because they provide a bit of comic relief besides that I still cant place them. Then comes the queen herself Viola…I love Viola but in this role I have a love/dislike r/ship with her. The whole blaming Sam for cheating when she’s got something on the side as well is ridiculous. Ok she may have been doing it out of revenge and it also seems Lila was not Sam’s first affair. BUT the way Annalise breaks down every time she brings up his infidelity is too dramatic for my liking. Seriously Annalise tears up every episode about Sam’s indiscretions like she is the victim; makes it really hard to connect with her. No matter how many times Sam has cheated and lied, Annalise also had/has her own affair and lied about it too so her having a breakdown over Sam is quite hypocritical
    She is a shark everywhere else but when it comes to being blackmailed by Wes she becomes a mouse and bows to every one of Wes’ demands. Wes seems to be her achilles heel, why does he have this much power over her. I know Wes caught her and Nate in a compromising position but Bonnie also knew of Nate but Annalise still treated her like crap.

    • TigerLIL says:

      Got your point, Guest but I think Sam has been running a side bar for more than a minute looks like a few years. Annalise affair with Nate appears to be in retaliation to his constant side bars and she noted it had been going on some months. Not justifying her crazy but some people get fed up and move on and some people get feed up and it leads to revenge and some time murder (ID Channel). Based on her affair in the man’s house, I got to go with vindictive revenge. But what the hell, Sam in their bedroom taking naked pictures of a erect penis and sending it to a student is not exactly saintly either. Then he always wants her to excuse his side bars but wanted to choke the life out of her when he found out who was making love to his old lady while he was out making love…please…lol

      • kell says:

        You know I think that Nate and Annalise’s affair is about too emotionally damaged people seeking comfort. Nate’s wife is dying and Annalise keeps miscarrying and her relationship has been empty for sometime. I’m not justifying an affair but it was done differently then Sam’s. Sam is screwing a child. It was an Ego trip. Annalise could have forgiven that because she has made some mistakes too but now the kid is dead worse Sam keeps lying even when Annalise is trying to help him, but then she finds out the girl was pregnant that just brings up all her insecurities. I like the complexity of this show and the characters. One scene changes your whole perspective of a characters actions and motives. Little by little were coming to know them and all of them are grey characters. I really like this show

  11. kate'shomesick says:

    It is beside me how anyone can think the Sam/Annalise fight was good acting. It was so hollywood- cliche-over-the-top….that’s what’s been bugging me about Viola Davis on this show….the constant teary eyed- either furious or desperate act is becoming one-note very quickly. Maybe she wants this to feel like meh acting because she knows a lot plotwise (seriously doubt that) – in that case she’s a genius….if not…it’s just not good enough. Really don’t understand the rave reviews. Also- I LOVED the first couple of episodes but the show has to be careful…if there is nobody left that seems genuine and likeable…it’s going to loose viewers. There’s nothing about all-around vile characters that gets (most) people invested.

  12. Nikki says:

    I knew the minute she was on the phone leaving that long message for Sam I knew she was building up an alibi. Things just added up. She slept with Nate to build up an alibi…who can’t remember sleeping with someone while their wife is in the hospital…all she has to do is give a date they check the hospital alibi right there…plus remember Annalise put Nate on the spot before Then there’s Bonnie who would probably do anything for Annalise even murder….then there’s the upset phone call that Bonnie received from Annalise..would you rush to Annalise side after she had just fired you…I think not …seems like everything was already completely planned…and remember Wes talking to someone on the phone saying don’t worry we’ll protect you…after seeing the finale I’m more then certain it was Annalise he was talking to and not Rebecca . I can’t wait for season two.

  13. Pam says:

    I don’t understand how Sam was choking Rebecca and she did nothing to try and stop him, just laid there like a dummy.she didn’t call for help, kick or bang her feet on the floor when the rest of the group were just a few feet away. That kind of ended it for me along with the lengthy voicemail. She should of been cut off halfway through it

  14. Maryann says:

    What I am wodering is how on. Earth they will have a Season 2. Lol

  15. The show is AMAZING! The script is so creative and original! I feel like the actors are so believable! Hooray for ABC! I would bet Sam didn’t kill Lila. I think the script could evolve to an actor being in wrongfully charged, arraigned and sentenced. Then taking it from there…..

  16. sarah j says:

    I now think Annalise killed Layla.
    I also think she planned out having Sam killed, well not in every single detail but I have a feeling her plan all along was to have Sam killed. The reveal at the end when we see that she was home when Wes returned and you can bet she told him what to do from that moment forward.
    Going to Nate’s and calling Sam and leaving that message all sets in motion the plan to have it look like Sam fled town. Hence How to Get Away with Murder.