SPOILER ALERT: The report includes details about the Season 3 finale of How to Get Away with Murder.
Tonight’s series finale of ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder was filled with twists and turns, but fans finally got answers to some pressing questions — most important, whether Annalise will be absolved of her crimes.
Here’s what went down.
The season finale, titled “Stay,” opens with a shooting at the courthouse, and chaos breaks out. We get more context on that later.
The show rewinds to three days earlier, where Annalise (Viola Davis) is panicking after learning of the death of Hannah. Frank (Charlie Weber) is thought to be the perpetrator as he just learned some very shocking news about his parents — he was born out of an incestuous relationship between Hannah and her late brother/Annalise’s ex-husband Sam. It’s later implied that Governor Birkhead (Laura Innes) was behind her killing.
Seeking answers about his “mother,” Frank, holds Hannah’s attorney at gunpoint and retrieves a flash drive, which later turns out to be a game-changer in Annalise’s case.
Elsewhere, Bonnie (Liza Weil) is understandably concerned about Frank as she was the one who unveiled the truth to him. She visits Laurel (Karla Souza) in search of him, and Laurel concedes that Bonnie and Frank are meant for each other. “If anyone can make him happy, it’s going to be you,” she says.
Eventually, Frank and Bonnie reunite and Franks tells Bonnie she “should’ve put a bullet in my head ’cause that would be nicer than what you did,” referring to the fact that Bonnie was the one who revealed the truth to him.
Believing Gabriel (Rome Flynn) might be the surprise witness who will testify against Annalise, Franks bribes him not to take the stand against Annalise and tells Gabriel that Sam ordered him to kill Lila (in Season 1).
Back in the courtroom, Laurel’s father Jorge Castillo (Esai Morales) takes the stand and, of course, denies any connection with the governor. Instead, he points the figure at Annalise and Tegan (Amirah Vann), accusing them of conspiring against him. Jorge ultimately is killed in prison.
The lies and the guilt weighed heavy on Connor (Jack Falahee) throughout the season, and he questions whether to come clean. Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) threatens to divorce Connor is he doesn’t fight to get the same deal as Michaela (Aja Naomi King), which will give him probation with no jail time. Connor goes to Agent Lanford (William R. Moses), who very quickly offers Connor a new deal. Connor, suspicious of Lanford’s motive, rejects the offer.
Connor confronts Oliver after discovering that Oliver had orchestrated the new deal by offering to testify against Annalise. Facing prison time, Connor abruptly demands a divorce from Oliver, feeling that it’s his fault that Connor got mixed into the life of crime. He tells Oliver he doesn’t love him anymore.
Back in the courtroom, the governor takes the stand and as expected denies any involvement in Nate Lahey Sr’s murder. Annalise counters her claims with a recording from the flash drive Frank had retrieved in which Hannah, on a phone call with Xavier Castillo, names governor as the murderer.
Langford offers Nate a new settlement deal for the wrongful death of this father for the sum of $20 million. When Annalise, finds out, she prepares to discredit his testimony by bringing up his own dark past.
During his questioning, Nate lies on the stand and says Annalise never framed him for Lila’s murder (a flashback recounts when Annalise confesses to Nate that she did, in fact, set him up for her murder). Instead, he blames Hannah for framing him in order to connect Annalise to Sam’s murder. He also reveals that Langford is responsible for Asher’s death.
Nate tells Annalise that he finally is able to let go of the hate he harbored toward her. “If I’m going to move on, and I mean really move on, I have to own my side of the road, and that was today.” As a parting gift, he hands Annalise Wes’ confession, which he found on Xavier. She burns it and advises her to “take responsibly to how you ended up here.”
Sitting with Nate’s words, Annalise contemplates whether she deserves to go to prison because of all the bad things she has done in her life. “It’s easy to want to win when it’s right,” she laments to her mom Ophelia (Cicely Tyson).
The day of closing arguments has arrived. Anna makes a bold decision “to unmask herself” to the jury. She runs through a list of egregious things she has done. “Am I a bad person? Well, my mask is off so I’m going to say yes.” She then lists off a number of labels that describe her while throwing herself to the mercy of the court.
As the jury deliberates, Tegan confesses that she’s in love with Annalise, which has been apparent all season. Anna admits that she can’t promise to make Teagan happy and that’s what she deserves.
The verdict is finally in after a long cantankerous trial. Annalise is found not guilty of all the murders!
After the trial, Connor is hauled off to jail and he thanks Oliver for showing him how to love. Michaela, who felt her childhood was prison enough for her, attempts to comfort Oliver, who chides that it should have been her. A distraught Michaela tries to reach out to Laurel but to no avail. In the end, it is revealed that Michaela became a judge and it’s clear that she was cut off from the rest of the group.
Outside the court, Annalise holds a press conference condemning the FBI and the governor. Elsewhere, a tearful Frank is visiting the grave of Annalise and Sam’s unborn child, who he was responsible for killing. In his last attempt to right his wrongs, Frank then goes to the courthouse and it is revealed that he was responsible for the shooting. Bonnie tries to stop him, but it’s too late. Frank guns down the governor, and he and Bonnie are shot in the crossfire. Both ultimately succumb to their injuries.
The final moments of the finale reveal some huge twists. Annalise’s funeral has been teased throughout the season and it finally revealed what time period she had died. Turns out she lived to an old age, though the cause of her death is not revealed. Also, we learn that the Wes we thought was Wes was actually his and Laurel’s son, Christopher. Here’s the kicker: Christopher is now teaching a How to Get Away with Murder course. As Christopher is about to begin his lecture, a present-day Annalise appears in his classroom, and the two exchange smiles before she disappears.
Does this mean there could be a potential spinoff? Deadline caught up with creator Pete Nowalk to unpack the finale and more.
DEADLINE: So How to Get Away with Murder finally is over. How are you feeling right now, is this moment kind of bittersweet for you?
PETE NOWALK: I’m really enjoying it because I see how invested all of our fans are. When you go along making so many episodes and there’s so much TV in the world and I’m just watching on my social media and really gauging just how hardcore our fan base is. That just gives me so much joy because you forget that people care and they’re all telling me they’re really scared about what’s going to happen or nervous and frustrated that it’s only one hour. To me, that’s just like a big high five. I’m just proud of the writers and I and my actors and I that we created something that people still enjoy.
DEADLINE: I don’t think anybody could have guessed how this show would end. Was this the ending that you’ve always envisioned or has it changed over the years?
NOWALK: It was not the ending I always envisioned because I never envisioned one. I only go from season to season. But, last hiatus after season five, I did have this idea that we could play with who killed Annalise but really the answer is no one killed Annalise. The way we could do that is to use [Alfred Enoch] for people to think he was Wes but he’s actually Christopher. The magic of he’s the right age for that to be true and he was available and generous enough to come back and shoot all of this with us. Laurel and Wes had a baby boy, all of that was really random but it just led perfectly to the final twist and really the final scene of the series which felt very satisfying and intriguing and mysterious, but also definitive to me.
DEADLINE: The show is known for its twists and turns and, especially with the last six episodes, there were so many of them. How challenging was it to tie everything together in the story?
NOWALK: That was definitely challenging and I think we probably didn’t tie everything together. Ultimately the writers and I, we decided to tie the things together that we cared most about which is our core characters. It was okay to me if we couldn’t show you specifically how Laurel’s mother died, I think I have an answer for that but to me, that wasn’t the storyline I cared most about. I cared about like what happened to our people the most and we just kept that in track and when we had to sacrifice certain mysteries along the way, that’s just the way TV works.
DEADLINE: Were there other storylines that you had thought of that you weren’t able to get to?
NOWALK: I could have probably done a whole other season of storylines and they’re still coming to me. Like Tegan and her back story and how she really got roped into working for the Castillos. We could have flashbacked the how Tegan helped Laurel disappear. We could have filled in a lot of holes and made interesting storylines but never say never that we won’t answer them but I think for now we answered all the big ones.
DEADLINE: I have to ask since we see at the end that Christopher is teaching the same course Annalise did, could that be a setup for a potential spinoff?
NOWALK: That was never the intention when we wrote it. Again, I’m never going to say never. Right now I would love to write about something different. I have a lot of other interests and I think I want to escape the murder role, but never say never. But that was never the intention, it was more really just this idea that Annalise at her core was a teacher and that her legacy lives on.
DEADLINE: Why was it so important for Connor to go to prison?
NOWALK: Connor has always been wracked by guilt and I think this very strong moral code that whatever bad things you do are going to come back to haunt you. So I think he believes in crime and punishment. I think for him the only way he could be free of all this sin is to pay the price for it and that allows him to repent and cleanse himself.
DEADLINE: Was that the same for Frank? Throughout the season we saw that he knew that he had some issue now that he found out what everything is and then, in the end, we see that he takes on the governor in that last scene. Does Frank sort of free himself?
NOWALK: I think Frank in the midst of the finale was in stunned, shock, horror, self-loathing mode so the thing that he was really experiencing in this moment was his original sin which was causing Annalise to lose her child, who it turns out was also his sibling. He couldn’t get over that guilt because he saw how Annalise’s life really dissolved from that tragedy and he just needed to do something to fix it.
There’s an argument to be made that he really went about the wrong way of doing it but Frank always marched to his own drummer. I think it was basically a suicide mission because that was all he saw that was possible for him in that moment, right or wrong.
DEADLINE: The incest storyline, it was revealed that Frank is an offspring of Sam and his sister, Hannah. Was that something that was always going to happen or did that storyline just come about in the writer’s room for a later season?
NOWALK: Since the beginning of the show when we introduced Hannah’s character, I always felt like there was something twisted that happened in that house before Annalise ever lived there. Even to the point that Annalise mentions to Hannah in that first season that she suspects that Hannah has an interest in Annalise.
To take it to a bit of a downer, incest is not a soap opera device that we were intending to do. It can feel like that a lot of times but sexual abuse in the home is way more common than we even think. So much of our show has been trying to shine a light on the reality of abuse and the reality of what survivors have to do to overcome that. So this seemed to fit in thematically with so many of the stories we were telling. It wasn’t always the case that Frank was going to be their son but what I loved about it is it really made sense of so many things in the show for me.
For example, why does Sam allow Frank to stick around after he knew that he had been responsible for the baby’s death? Why was Sam so involved in Frank’s life? Why was he so concerned about Bonnie’s relationship with Frank? It all just made sense to me once we knew that that was his son.
DEADLINE: What went into the decision of killing both Frank and Bonnie at that moment?
NOWALK: That was a really hard decision and we debated it forever in the writers’ room. It just felt true to what would happen in that moment. I wanted the best for Bonnie, I love her as a character, I love Liza Weil’s portrayal of her and I wanted her to have happiness. I think that’s why it felt right that there had to be some tragic end for people that we also wanted happiness for because that’s what happens in the real world, especially when you’ve been through the crap that these guys have been up to.
DEADLINE: Annalise’s closing argument, I think that has to be one of the most highly emotive monologues I’ve ever seen. Can you talk about that scene?
NOWALK: That was actually one of the scenes that was easiest to come up with. It’s really Annalise’s last stand for herself and what I wanted was for Annalise to just say who she was, and so just tell you about her life so the audience could remember where she started and what she’s overcome. How the theme of wearing a mask has been really big in the show and I think we people everywhere wear a mask in order to get through life and to succeed. That was causing her a lot of pain, so I wanted her to take the mask off. Then, of course, you add Viola’s interpretation of the speech and performance on top of it and it goes from being something that’s really simple on the page to something that’s epic.
DEADLINE: It was so powerful.
NOWALK: The emotion.
DEADLINE: Was it always in the plans for Annalise to get a not guilty verdict?
NOWALK: No. Those are decisions that we really debate back and forth but it felt right, especially when we could for me, undercut it with something surprising and terrible right after it.
DEADLINE: Reflecting back on the past seasons, are there particular moments that stick out in your mind or like a particular storyline that you’re proud of?
NOWALK: It’s kind of obvious so I’ll just say this. I love all the LGBTQ storylines. I was in the closet until I was 21. I grew up in a small town; I never knew what a gay person even looked like or acted like. I got to put four LGBTQ characters on a show of nine and that probably beats the population and that makes it awesome to me. I love Connor and Oliver. I did not expect that to be a relationship that ran the course of the series but it was the relationship people are most invested in. I got invested in it. It’s not a relationship I’ve ever been in, I’ve never been in love that way, but what’s awesome about getting to write something like that is it gives me hope that I will get that and that so much of the audience will, too.
DEADLINE: What’s the most memorable thing about working with Viola?
NOWALK: I’m going to go back to the first in-person conversation we had where she had just gotten to Philadelphia. I think we were shooting in two days and we finally got to sit down with the script, and she said she’d been journaling about this character and her back story, though there were a lot of holes to fill because it’s just the pilot script, we really talked about her as a person. She said in that conversation like I feel like [Annalise] was abused. I don’t want to ruin the statistics but I think she said like one in five women will experience sexual abuse in their lifetime. It might even be more than that.
She encouraged me to present in the show and tell a story of a woman who triumphs even through her pain and to give voice to a lot of people who have survived that. That makes me so proud and I give her all the credit for that because that was her instinct from the beginning so I just got to collaborate with her from there.
DEADLINE: The series it ended with the core characters either reaching older age or dead. Did you do that to avoid questions of a potential revival maybe somewhere down the line?
NOWALK: No. I’ve never thought that there would be a revival. Honestly, every episode we did on the show was like this might be our last, especially in the age of so much TV, we’re so scared that we would get cancelled at any moment. So when we ended it, I didn’t think that there would even be a potential interest in a revival. Mostly I just wanted to finish this story and see the characters and moments that were exciting or impactful for me. That’s all I was thinking about. When we wrote this I just really thought this story was over.
DEADLINE: Could you see yourself ever doing some type of revival or remake? We’re in the times where a lot of people want to see their old favorites come back. Could you see that being the case with How to Get Away with Murder, five or ten years down the line?
NOWALK: I’ll never say never. Look, if for some reason people wanted it, I would be so excited that it lasted that long, affected people that long, that’s the biggest like compliment a writer could get so I’ll never say never. I love these characters. I’m still thinking about them. I love these actors so much. Right now all we’re thinking about is saying goodbye to them and then also us all wanting to challenge ourselves with new opportunities and maybe in a world that’s not so bleak for a few minutes.
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