‘How to Get Away With Murder’ Season 4 Mystery ‘Starts With Annalise’

Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched the fourth season premiere of “How To Get Away With Murder,” titled “I’m Going Away.”

The fourth season premiere of ABC’s “How To Get Away With Murder” saw Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) humbled by her house burning down, being accused of Wes’ (Alfred Enoch) murder, and her mother’s (Cicely Tyson) slow decline from dementia.

Though her right-hand Bonnie (Liza Weil) was by her side again at her disbarment hearing, ready to argue that the test results that showed Annalise broke her probation terms by drinking were tampered with, Annalise decided enough was enough and stood up to speak honestly, asking the panel not to take the only thing she has left away from her.

But Annalise herself destroyed a lot of what she had left when she sent her interns packing, (rightfully) telling them their dynamic is not healthy.

With them going their separate ways (and many of them holding grudges about it), as well as with the flash-forward that saw Laurel (Karla Souza) waking in a hospital after being drugged wondering what happened to her baby, there are a lot of questions about what’s to come. Executive producer Pete Nowalk talks with Variety about the big changes in store for season 4.

What was the genesis of this season’s flash forward, and does the absence of a dead body mean the main characters are all safe this year?

It takes a really long time for us to come up with our mystery for each season, and I think it’s because I don’t want to keep doing the same thing. I love the one we did last year, and it was really painful as well, and I didn’t want to do “Who’s dead?” again. So coming into the season, Laurel being pregnant and deciding to have the baby is a huge emotional thing for our show. That’s Baby Wes. Wes was the heart and soul of our show, and I still miss him. So I’m really attached to that baby, so from there, what I loved instinctively about this image was just the horror of putting yourself in Laurel’s shoes. To wake up and not know what’s happened to you is really terrifying and gave me the chills. Once we had that, I was like, “Let’s just go with it!” It just felt different and new to me.

Laurel did lie to her father [Esai Morales] and ultimately fake out the audience for a little while in saying she had an abortion when really it wasn’t true. What were the motivations behind that?

It all just comes from a character place for Laurel. What we find out by the end of the episode is that her gut is telling her her father had something to do with Wes’ death, so I think that just shows she doesn’t want her father to know anything about her. She doesn’t trust him, and she really just wants to protect herself and her child. It shows how terrified she is of him, but also, smart. She’s really smart, and she’s really planning ahead.

She decided not to send her father the text asking him point-blank about his involvement in Wes’ death. Will she try to get to the bottom of it on her own, or is there someone else she can lean on and ask for help?

The next episode will see what action she’s going to take – if she’s going to try to prove her father killed Wes or if she’s going to try to get revenge somehow. We’ll start to see her plan come into action, and it will lead to the moment in the hospital bed. We are going to see Laurel really rely on and bond with another character in a major way, and I think what’s really fun about it is it’s not necessarily the person you’d think she’d go to.

With Annalise sending everyone off on their own, it seems like there could be a lot of new pairings and dynamics this season, as they figure out what to do next.

Yes, and that’s been refreshing for the writers and I, and also the actors, especially with Bonnie going off to work at the D.A.’s office. She and Nate [Billy Brown] are two people who’ve both really been in bed with Annalise in so many different ways, and now they’re both castoffs. What does that relationship look like? What does Bonnie and Nate talking to each other look like? All of the students are legitimately friends at this point, and they rely on each other. They’re the only ones who really get each other, so they’ll be really bonded, and of course Annalise will still cross their lives in ways she wants and ways she doesn’t want. It shifts all of the dynamics.

Was there ever any question that each of them would read their letter, or did you consider having someone just rip it up out of anger?

I think they probably would have liked to do that, especially someone like Michaela [Aja Naomi King], but this is someone who has been their puppeteer, and they wanted to know what she wrote. And what she wrote was smart. She knows each of them so well, and she’s so intuitive about what each of them wants to hear. They value her opinion, and that’s the weird push-pull of this strange, f—ed up mommy complex they all have.

Connor [Jack Falahee] said he didn’t want to get married until things were more normal, but if things were quote-unquote normal, the show would be over. What does that mean for him and Oliver [Conrad Ricamora]?

His mind might change. We’re going to meet a family member of Connor’s this season, and we’re going to see how that might change his mind.

Annalise had a moment of honesty at her disbarment hearing. Was that a turning point for her that means she’ll continue to be as open and honest with her new therapist [Jimmy Smits]?

Eventually she might get to that point, but it’s a slow burn. Therapy is all about dealing with the things of her past, and I don’t think she’s ever dealt with any of them or why she acts the way she acts. What she really wants to know is if there’s a way she can live her life and find happiness. But Annalise is very distrustful of the world right now. All she wants to do is be alone. She doesn’t want to interact with anyone, she doesn’t want to touch anyone emotionally, and here’s this person who’s digging at her. She needs to talk about the things we’ve seen happen to her, as well as the things we haven’t seen happen to her, but can she trust this man? He’s an officer of the court, in a way. That’s where the fun conflict comes from with that dynamic.

He was called when Laurel woke up in the hospital, but Annalise wasn’t there, so it seemed like he develops relationships with some of them outside of Annalise. How does that fit into the mystery of the season?

It all starts with Annalise. There will be an intersection where we see where everyone is on that night and how the stories converge. But her not being there is part of the mystery. Why is she not there? Did she have something to do with this?

How much does Annalise’s story take her back to her family this year? Does she need more closure than her father’s apology to heal in therapy, and were you setting up that her mother might not make it through the season?

We’re only mid-way through the season, so those are fair questions, but I’m still figuring it out as we go. I will say Cicely Tyson asked me the same questions, and it’s such a special relationship for the show and to be able to write those two actresses together that I hope we can keep doing that.

“How To Get Away With Murder” is on ABC Thursdays at 10 p.m.

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