Post Mortems

HTGAWM Boss Talks 'Christophe' Twist and Asher's 'Path to Hell' — Plus: Where Did Philip End Up?

Ask How to Get Away With Murder creator and executive producer Pete Nowalk if he loves or hates his job, and his answer will depend on the show’s most recent episode. “I’m really proud of [the fall finale], but yeah, it could all come crashing down,” he admits.

Such are the perils of juggling at least a dozen intense mysteries — involving multiple dead bodies, childhood traumas, coverups, hookups and a recently fired gun that seems to contain the fingerprints of every major character.

Then again, “if we’re gonna go off the air,” Nowalk says, with a laugh, “I’d rather go out with a bang than to go down because it was boring.”

TVLine caught up with Nowalk late Thursday night – just after Episode 9 aired on the East Coast — to dish the “Christophe,” mystery, Asher’s dark decision, Annalise’s gunshot wound and the multiple “dangling chads” that’ll be dealt with when the show returns Feb. 11 (10/9c on ABC).

CHARLIE WEBEREvery series regular character could or should be behind bars at this point. Does that make you anxious? Does it upset you? Is your series finale eventually going to take place in hell?
[Laughs] Oh my God, aren’t we already in Hell? Yes, it makes me anxious for the characters. It doesn’t make me anxious for the show. The car is just driving into a skid here, and what Bonnie said in the middle of the episode is true: “We say we’re just protecting ourselves, but there’s a point when we’re the ones people need to be protected from.” That point has happened. They are all immersed in this crazy, criminal behavior. They’re dangerous. And they have a lot to deal with in terms of their guilt and their conscience when we come back [in February].

Asher is now an actual murderer. It’s pretty horrifying when you realize he left Sinclair under his car for 30 minutes before Bonnie arrived. Did you go into Season 2 thinking he needed blood on his hands in order to be able to remain part of this core group?
We definitely did not set out with that in mind. It actually hurt me to make him part of the murders, because his levity is one of my favorite parts of the show. It just felt the most real and honest outcome for the character. And we set it in motion with Emily roping him into this mystery and using him as a mole. From that point on, he was on a path to Hell.

LIZA WEIL, AJA NAOMI KING, JACK FALAHEEDid you ever think of zagging, or having someone else kill Sinclair on his behalf?
We always think of that kind of thing. But honestly when things scare me — when there’s the urge to keep Asher the same — that’s when you [have to commit]. I’m really excited to show this new side of him — where he goes and how he copes. It’s going to look so different on him than the rest of the group.

Is there any way the Asher “victory dance” can happen again, in this new reality?
I sure hope so. People compartmentalize, so part of his coping mechanism might be to dance it out a little bit.

As Sinclair taunted Asher about his father’s suicide, she mentioned what his father did to Tiffany. Was she talking about the cover up of her gang rape — or was he somehow more involved in that crime?
Ooh, that’s a good question. No, she’s referring to the cover up, as far as she knows. Emily rightly believes what his dad did — taking away this girl’s voice — was a heinous thing to do. She meant every word she said — and I agree with her on that point.

I always felt like Sinclair was the worst — but in actuality, she’s not.  A lot of her motivations were morally sound.
That’s how people felt about Hannah last season as well. She was actually just looking for her brother — that’s a really relatable, good instinct. That’s the fun of this TV show, that you can hate the wrong people.

This fall finale — I felt like it had twice as many twists as Season 1. But seeing Annalise and Eve in flashback, watching a young Wes get questioned about his mother’s death, and Eve asking, “What have we done?” — that was chilling. It feels like our options are that Wes killed his mom, and Annalise and Eve covered it up. Or Annalise and Eve killed Wes’ mom, and then made it look like a suicide. Are there other possibilities than that? And what can you tease us with to tide us over til February? That’s a long wait for answers — an almost cruel wait!
Would you rather we leave you with no cliffhanger? [Laughs] Of course not! Those are all the right questions to be asking, and those are all possible, but there are other possibilities, too — things I can’t say. I’m in the same state of mind as you. We’re not that far ahead of you guys [in the writing process]. We’re asking the same questions, but we have a theory right now and I think it’s pretty cool.

Law school is not forever. The Keating Five have been through a lot. You’re obviously going to see a Season 3 and probably beyond. Do you grapple with whether Wes, Connor, Michaela, Laurel and Asher will remain a core part of the show? Do you debate the idea of a new freshman class coming in as the show evolves?
We don’t debate it — because we’re so busy trying to write the next scene, honestly. We’re so behind schedule I can’t tell you.  [Laughs] But yes, while that’s a really big question for me, I don’t ever want the show to have rules to it. Annalise is a law professor right now. Does that mean she always has to be? Does she always have to keep these kids around? I think they’re bonded in a way that’s for life — or ’til the end of their lives. What’s happening in TV now is that you don’t have to stick to a formula — and you can’t. There’s too much else on the air. The minute people figure out the joke, they’re going to move on. Still, yes, it’s something I worry about.

It’s a good problem to have. Knowing Season 3 is inevitable — not having to think, we’d better have a way to wrap this up in case we’re cancelled!
Well, I still do think that. [Laughs] You’re only as good as your last episode.

VIOLA DAVISThere was a Murder on the Orient Express-in-reverse quality to Annalise’s shooting — somebody, anybody shoot me! Where did that idea spring from? And was it fun having her taunt so many characters, trying to get them to pull the trigger, leave her bleeding?
Early on, we had the pitch that Annalise would want herself to be shot in order to cover up the crime scene. When we were writing the script, we kept changing it, making it messier. But we never knew Annalise was going to tell Wes that Rebecca was dead, until we were writing it. It could’ve been any of the people in our cast. It could’ve been Philip, and, in fact, every time I watch the scene, I wonder, “Should it have been Philip?” [Laughs] What’s fun is to write that scene, but what’s even more fun is to watch it for the first time and see what they all bring to it. It goes to defcon levels of acting and excitement — and it’s different than I picture it in the best way. Viola is so vulnerable — I feel like she looks like a little girl when she’s begging Wes to shoot her. All of them are just so crazy good.

Speaking of “crazy good,” talk to me about the two scenes where the camera whirls around a horrified, then resolved Annalise. The first time we have no idea what she’s dealing with, the second time we do. Did you write it to look like that?
We did write it. But Bill D’Elia is our producing director and he’s been nominated for tons of Emmys — he’s a genius, and he made a little adjustment in the way he had Viola turn toward the camera, almost counterclockwise. The other genius is Viola. You see her go from devastation to master planner in the blink of an eye. I could watch that moment over and over where she picks up the phone and says, “Tell me you’re still at the house.” How did she just change everything, how did she just do that?!

There are some big complications left unresolved. We don’t see where Philip ends up, for starters. How quickly will Philip’s ultimate whereabouts rear its ugly head?
Yeah, and will it rear its ugly head? He might’ve driven off. He also might’ve been standing on the stairs. Who the hell knows. That Philip is tricky. They have a crazy chaos plan — to have the crime scene make no sense. And we’re going to come back two weeks later and find out where that plan stands: If it worked at all, it they’re all totally screwed, if they’re all already on death row. And Philip is a big hanging chad in our show. So is Levi. So is Catherine — what the hell is she going to say? What is Nate going to say? What is Caleb going to say? Who’s going to believe this story, if anyone?

You showed us a couple weeks back that Asher goes to the police to make a statement. But it’s not something that got addressed in the fall finale.
We left a few of the flash forwards as question marks for the first episode when we get back. We’ll obviously find out what happens with all of those in our first hour back. The Asher thing could go many ways. He could be confessing — he was in shock from the moment he hit Emily Sinclair right through buying that carwash ticket. Now that he’s coming out of it, does he just act like a normal person? Is him going to the police part of the plan? Or is it unrelated — does he want to make a statement that his cat is missing? [Laughs]

We also didn’t find out who killed the Hapstalls!
We didn’t! There are a lot of dead body mysteries! But that’s something we’ll have to answer as well.

Do you want to wrap that Hapstall mystery in Season 2?
Without having written past Episode 11, yes I hope we do. It’s not my goal to leave a case like that lingering too long.

ALFRED ENOCHHow can Wes go back to class, go back to the firm, be a part of the central story, now that he knows Annalise has some connection to his childhood as “Christophe”? How do you write yourself out of the corner?
We are in that [quandary] right now. Wes’ whole life and everything he knew has changed with Annalise whispering “Christophe” to him. He now has to question everything. She’s obviously going to be in the hospital. Does he want to talk to her? Will she want to see him? There’s a huge mountain the two of them have to climb if they’re ever going to recover from this.

Plus, Wes did not aim for the leg! And he knows Rebecca is dead — or at least that Annalise is now saying Rebecca is dead. And then there’s the question of how Annalise knows his name is Christophe. Which of those dilemmas will you tackle first in the February return?
We’re shooting that right now. It’s a big messy soup — and we can’t answer all the questions at once. We will parse them out in a way you’re not overwhelmed. But even for the characters, it’s all too much. I’d want to be shot, too!

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. Not to be THAT person, but two things bugged me in an otherwise fabulous episode:

    1 – In a room full of criminal law students, it’s not really believable that any of them would have handled that gun. It’s borderline nuts to think that ALL of them would have.

    2 – More bothersome to me, Frank poured the sedative into a bottle of water and then poured it into an unconscious person’s mouth. Because unconscious people can swallow all of a sudden? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to pour the contents of the tablets directly into her mouth and let the contents start dissolving into her bloodstream?

    • David4 says:

      1. They are children still, just students, they make mistakes under pressure.
      2. That bugged me too!

      • Yes, it just started to look like a clown skit with them passing the gun back and forth. I actually laughed when Connor had the gun and everyone was ducking out of his line of fire.

        The pills wouldn’t have bugged me if it had been anyone but Frank. Frank doesn’t make mistakes. Especially not when he’s incapacitating his victims.

    • Lucie says:

      1 – Besides all the fingerprints, there would be gunshot residue on the shooter’s hand and clothing. The question would be whether the police would test Wes before it was gone. With all of those fingerprints, would they just wipe each other out so no print is discernible or would the last one who touched the gun be leave their prints? Catherine’s would be long gone.
      2 – There are different levels of unconsciousness. Chloroform is an old and unstable method of sedation. I would think that at some level, between a brain injury coma and sleep, we still maintain the reflex to swallow.
      Annalise told the 911 dispatcher she was shot in the leg, so that should raise some questions.

    • Chica says:

      Or… They are trying to make it look like an amateur suicide attempt. Because Analise specifically told Frank give her enough not to kill her.

  2. Lena says:

    i hope they don’t //ever// move on from the keating five, i want to see them come together as a group, not disappear or be replaced. one of the things i wanted most from this season was bonding, and i’m sorely missing it. i was so hopeful when they all went dancing, when everything was out in the open and they were a team; it seemed like they were going to air out their issues (laurel stealing michaela’s ring and such), but we’ve been so bogged down with the hapstells we’ve really lost that main dynamic between the students. i miss it.

    • As long as Nate is shirtless in every upcoming episode, and Connor and Oliver remain lovers, I wouldn’t care what pathway the future of this show takes.

    • Ava says:

      I sort of disagree because two characters have bonded over the first part of season 2: Michaela and Connor. They’d each other’s back through the first part of the season. The others on the other hand…

    • Completely agree with you, Lena. I am holding out hope that the Keating Five will eventually become good friends because their on-screen chemistry is so darn good. I also couldn’t imagine the show without them (or Viola’s Annalise, to be fair!) so I’d much rather they ended the show with these central characters I adore than introduce new people.

  3. I actually see a lot of potential for where this story can go when they are out of law school. I can imagine one or more of them opening a competing practice and butting heads with AK over clients. Or I can absolutely see Asher being tormented enough to decide to try and right his wrongs by working in the DA office. Which would put him directly at odds with AK, and more importantly, with Bonnie. And bubbling beneath the surface of all of these scenarios is the fact that they all know enough about each other to bring each other down.

    • Gab says:

      I can see Annaleise being debilitated from her gunshot wound. Bonnie and Frank taking over the practice with Annalise calling all the shots from behind the scenes. The Kearing 5 could stay in play and help Bonnie and Frank maybe after graduation they would split up and open law offices in other areas, you k ow branch out the mirder business. Maybe one would even take over teaching for Annalise (Laurel of course).

  4. Larc says:

    Too much happening too fast on HTGAWM somewhat numbs us to them, IMO. Pacing things more deliberately would make events sharper and increase their impact. Hitchcock knew that, but I think it’s a lesson Shonda still has to learn.

    • Shyvonne Paul says:

      Shonda Rhimes/Shondaland produces HTGAWM. She has clarified this about her role in HTGAWM several times during the rare interviews she’s recently done. When it comes to writing, she knows exactly what she’s doing!

  5. Jax&Juice's Girl says:

    THIS IS THE BEST EPISODE so far this season!!!!!!!!!!! Viola Davis(again) & Co. needs to WIN another EMMY and some Golden Globes for their performances. I LOVE this show 100 TIMES MORE after watching last night!!!

    • vicky says:

      I loved it !!!!! Shoot me! I haven’t stopped hollering from that moment. The insanity of it all is that she actually thinks that she is solving the problem when all she has done create more problems- great storylines though. Now, I’m wondering just what did AK do to Wes/Christophe when he was 10. Can’t wait.

  6. robandco says:

    Well if they want to stay real with the Keating 5 they need a time jump between season 2 and 3. Every body seemingly moves on (they can pass the bar, become a striper, work at McDonald’s, live as a couch potato off daddy’s money or whatever) and then be sucked in one by one into Annalise’s world and start killing new people!
    Or if Shonda helps Nowalk, they can try bringing a new Keating 5, we know Shonda reinvented Grey’s Anatomy’s cast many times. But I don’t see that happening (it’ll be like what Glee tried and failed to do).

  7. Win says:

    Great point above. Yes, sadly it took me until 2 episodes ago to think: Wow – Sinclair is pretty much after the right people (but not necessarily for the reasons she thinks), and understandably so” and yet I’m cheering when she gets shut down.

    While I’m glad I came to that realization on my own, and I realize these are fictional characters, it does make me think about how many people stop to do that in real life when they’re disparaging someone for doing the right thing. Nowadays there are so many who get mad at victims, witnesses, prosecutors, or even those who are willing to look at the facts as objectively as possible during high profile cases (involving actors/athletes/”pillars of community”) just because you liked something that person does for a living or did for them personally with no regard to the facts and/or reasonable morals.

    But one can have a point/be right and still be… the worst. I know I take that title regularly.

    • Lucie says:

      Sinclair may have been going after the right people, but the issue with Annaliese seems personal rather than professional. Maybe Sinclair had her own thing with Sam at one time. Her statements to Nate and Asher were cruel. Asher may have had a weird relationship with his Dad, but he still loved him and was grieving.

  8. Angela says:

    I too have no problem with sticking with this core group of characters. I think there’s lots of places they could go with them even beyond the classroom, and like the article states, they’re so closely bonded by all these dark secrets now, so yeah, I’d love to see what other stories they could tell with them.
    I’m REALLY intrigued to see how things with Asher play out. He did a total 180 this episode and it was fascinating and terrifying to watch. Indeed, I kept thinking, “This is the same guy who did that dorky dance with the pen last week, right?” I like that we got to see a completely different side of him, and am curious to see how his relationship with Bonnie is affected by all of this. I even actually did feel for Sinclair as well, being killed as she was and her body being so unceremoniously dealt with. And I’m glad at least one question about Asher’s dad was answered here, ’cause I wondered the same thing with what Sinclair said about him. Still, I’m curious to know more of those details.
    I loved the subtle changes in the scenes from the night of the shooting as they were rewound back and played out again, too :D. And I loved the way the scene with everyone tossing the gun around was handled. I had no clue how that would play out and I was on the edge of my seat, it was so tense! Then the revelation Annalise made about Wes at the end on top of it all-yeah. Definitely looking forward to seeing how they deal with the fallout from this, as well as whatever else happened in those flash forwards that we didn’t see in the fall finale. There’s lots of potential story ideas here and I’m excited to see where it all goes. Just sucks we have to wait a few months to find out!

  9. Annie says:

    Such an amazing episode. I didn’t think they’d be able to do better than s1….I was so wrong. Cant believe we have to wait until February!
    And I love hearing about their creative process in making the show – the behind the scenes stuff.

  10. ? says:

    Asher could have gotten acquitted or gotten off with Manslaughter. No one saw him hit her, he could have just claimed he had no idea she was behind his car. Sure he was going a little fast, so driving recklessly, but hey, he was upset about his dad dying and not it the right frame of mind. Annalise could have sold that. Any felony would still have tanked his law career though.

  11. Nichole says:

    As much as you (showrunner) say Sinclairs actions came from a good place in wanting to stand up for the girl, the way she went about it and her lack of remorse over the death of another human does not strike me as very nice. Her taunts to both Nate about his wife and Asher about his dad where just cruel, even if you think they are bad people. Personally found her character very easy to dislike for those reasons. She took pleasure from getting Nate to loose it and was almost gleeful that Ashers dad had killed himself. Annalise my have to be hard and even mean to people on cross or interviewing to get what she wants out of them, but at least she never seems to be gleeful at the results.

  12. Ok i am confused can someone refresh my mins who Phillip is?

    • Stephanie says:

      Phillip is the inbred son, the cousin/brother of the adopted kids accused of killing their parents. Remember the computer creep who they tracked down and he ended up tracking Oliver down and went into the apartment like a creepy killer? Yeah, that’s Phillip. :)

  13. Sherre says:

    OMG. I didn’t realize that I wasn’t breathing until it was over. It was about 20 minutes before my pulse was back to normal.
    This is by far one of the best shows I’ve ever watched.
    Thank you and please keep it coming.

  14. I think it was something Annalise & Eve did that cause Wes mother to kill herself, much like Sinclair’s dogged pursuit of Annalise caused Asher’s dad to kill himself.

  15. LaCresha says:

    I don’t know why everyone is in up roar about what is believable and what’s not , because honestly, if you have criminal tendencies then it’s “all” plausible! I’ve been catching up on missed episodes and I’ve had to pause the recordings to take a break it was so intense. Great job!

  16. Sandra Nelson says:

    Thank you for this interview! I love this series. Sometimes I have to watch it twice to get everything. We have to remember the name is How to Get Away With Murder and that is what Annalise is teaching.

  17. Del says:

    I gathered from a previous episode, Analise is Wes’ mother. Did anyone else pick up on that?

    • Sheila says:

      No. I think she and Eve had something to do with his mothers death or got him off for killing his mother. Eve knew exactly who Analise was talking about when she said “it’s him”. Eve said she is a good person. I think Analise has been looking out for Wes all these years

  18. KarenElene says:

    Anyone else think that Wes is Annalise’s son?