It’ll come as no surprise that Viola Davis’ Annalise Keating survives the bullet that ripped through her abdomen in How to Get Away With Murder‘s fall finale — she is the ABC drama’s protagonist, after all. But when the series returns Feb. 11 (10/9c on ABC) she’ll be sporting more than physical scars from the near-death experience, teases showrunner Pete Nowalk.
“We left her bleeding out on the floor — and when we come back, she’s really broken,” Nowalk previews. “It was really important to Viola and to me to play the reality of that — of a person who’s gone through a major life trauma. We’re going to see a whole different side of her.”
The “back six” episodes of Season 2 will resume about two weeks after Annalise coaxed her student Wes into pulling the trigger — although he aimed much higher and deadlier than she’d requested — in an effort to add confusion to a very complicated crime scene.
“Annalise has been through surgery, and what I love about Viola is she encourages me to stick to the real physical harm of that. And honestly, even though she is in bed and in pain for a little bit, she’s fascinating to watch — no matter what shape she’s in. She’s one actor I could watch laying in bed for six episodes,” Nowalk says. “The first episode back, I find her performance extremely compelling and different. It can’t be the same thing every time. It can’t just always be 42 minutes of Annalise kicking ass and saying one-liners. And there are different ways we explore her bad-assness — even when she’s sick.”
The hard-charging defense attorney will also be dealing with her fury, her shock and her hurt at Wes’ attempt to kill her, the showrunner hints, not to mention the fallout from admitting to Wes that his girlfriend Rebecca is dead (rather than missing), and that she somehow knows he grew up with the name “Christophe.”Might that latter revelation — which included a flashback to Annalise and law-student lover Eve watching young Christophe in an interrogation room, answering questions about finding his mother’s body — be the impetus for a scene in ABC’s recent HTGAWM promo, showing Annalise holding a baby and screaming, “No, I can’t!”? We pressed Nowalk to find out if the Annalise-and-infant moment was a fantasy sequence or an unexpected twist that finds her playing reluctant babysitter.
“It’s a really big part of our premiere,” Nowalk teases. “It’s an extremely emotional idea that Viola had pitched at the beginning of the season. We’ve set up a lot of mysteries about how Annalise knows Wes, what their past is, why she feels so maternal toward him. All of that will be elaborated on in our back six episodes, and the baby is really important. It’s a great insight into Annalise. I’m really proud of it — and I’m hoping she will, too — because it was such a collaboration.”
In thinking about Annalise’s latest arc, the EP waxes philosophical about the joys of exploring a larger-than-life female character whose behavior doesn’t always fit the traditional standard of likability. “Annalise is a woman who’s lived a big life, and we’re meeting her in the middle of that life. We know tiny bits about what has happened to her, but we’re seeing her now 24 hours a day — the public face, the private face, the ups and the downs,” Nowalk says. “What I’m excited for in the back six episodes — and revealing more about her backstory with Wes — is that it answers a really big question about her. It doesn’t paint the whole picture, because if the character is understandable completely, why is that interesting to watch? With Annalise, I’m always discovering new things about her, and Viola is, too. Which is why I think this is a show that could go for many seasons.”
“There are so many layers of Annalise to explore, and she’s changing all the time. Annalise is someone who metabolizes her feelings really quickly — and what I love about her is that she will express them. That’s really brave,” he continues. “A lot of times, lawyer types are careful, and they live always playing things close to the vest. Annalise obviously does that, too, but she isn’t afraid to emote. She doesn’t need to be liked.
“A lot of times people hide their emotions because it’ll effect how they’ll be seen. And Annalise doesn’t give a s–t how people see her,” Nowalk concludes, laughing. “It’s really refreshing and really fun to write. I find so many things about her to be likable.”
Excited to see Annalise’s physical and emotional condition when HTGAWM returns next month? Hit the comments with your thoughts!