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"I don't know what terrible things you've done in your life up to this point, but clearly your karma's out of balance to get assigned to my class. I'm Professor Annalise Keating and this is Criminal Law 100 — or, as I prefer to call it, How to Get Away with Murder."
Annalise Keating
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ABC's How To Get Away With Murder is a legal drama starring Viola Davis.

Professor Annalise Keating (Davis) is a highly regarded practicing attorney and law professor at the prestigious Middleton University Law School. She has a notorious reputation for being a very strict, very cruel teacher among her students. Unlike other professors, she teaches her students how to practice the law and defend their clients no matter what they need to do. Along with teaching the class, she also employs several students from her class as assistants in her firm — and in the near-future, the students are subsequently involved in a murder. The story is told with parallel story lines — the first starts several months in the future, and the second starts when the class first begins, to tell the audience How We Got Here. The pattern continues each season with a present-day plot and a flash forward, generally converging in the midseason finale, though flashbacks after that point continue to reveal new information about the season's mystery.

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Shares a similar soapy focus with Scandal and Grey's Anatomy, which is reasonable considering they are all produced by Shonda Rhimes.

Season 2 began on September 25th, 2015, followed by Season 3 on September 22nd, 2016 and season four on September 28th, 2017.


Tropes found in How To Get Away With Murder:

    open/close all folders 

    A-F 
  • Aborted Arc: The whole thing with Asher suspecting that his father did not kill himself, but was murdered.
  • Abusive Parents:
    • Bonnie's father not only molested her and her sister as children, but it's later revealed he prostituted them out to other men and sold tapes of them for money.
    • Asher's father is shown as emotionally abusive, and after he commits suicide when his corruption comes to light, Asher's mother blames him for the whole thing and disowns him.
  • Accidental Murder: Subverted. Michaela thinks she's committed this by pushing Sam off the second floor railing in self-defense, but Sam somehow survived that.
  • Addled Addict: Annalise, who is ultimately forced to attend AA meetings to help her addiction.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Amidst all the murder and conspiracies and general drama of the show, Annalise's mother having dementia is a real and relatable fear for many adults her age, especially with the rest of her family not taking it seriously enough to get her help right away.
    • In Season Five, Laurel is terrified that her son may have witnessed Bonnie kill Miller.
    • In the Season Five finale, not only does Laurel disappear from Annalise's side on a crowded street after having been threatened by her brother, but Christopher does as well, from the K5's house, while most of them were home.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy:
    • Laurel casually spills to Annalise that Frank killed Lila... then tried to accuse her of hiring him!
    • Connor nonchalantly admits to Oliver that that he wasn't high the night he came to Oliver's house, crying, he was "traumatized," leading Oliver to look into what happened the night of the bonfire.
  • All Gays Are Promiscuous:
    • Connor. He also proclaims that he doesn't 'do' boyfriends.
    • Averted by his boyfriend, Oliver, though. Ironically, the one time Oliver decides to have a drunken one night stand, he ends up contracting HIV.
  • Amicable Exes:
    • Connor and Aiden, Michaela's ex fiance.
    • Asher and Bonnie.
  • Amoral Attorney: Connor sleeps with an IT employee to get emails about a witness in a case. Michaela lies to several optometrists to uncover another witness's incriminating color blindness. Basically, all the students except Wes and Laurel have internalized this and Annalise encourages it. She's certainly not morally upstanding herself.
  • Anachronic Order: Aside from the flash-forwards alternating with present-day scenes, the flash-forwards themselves aren't neatly chronologically ordered as they tend to focus on individual characters.
  • Anti-Hero: Annalise, by all counts.
  • Anyone Can Die: Its name is How To Get Away With Murder after all.
    • Except for Annalise. After the third season premiere where it's revealed that one of the characters will die, creator Pete Nowalk stated that as the main character, Annalise is by default safe.
  • The Artifact:
    • The trophy is what sets off the entire plot line, and even ends up as the murder weapon used to kill Sam, but by late season 1, the main characters pretty much forgot they were supposed to be fighting over it and Annalise forgot she was supposed to give it to someone. When Annalise mentions the trophy in season 2, she says is in a box on the basement. Somewhat justified as not only the group has way more important things to deal with than getting good grades and nobody wants to keep such incriminating evidence.
    • By late season 2, the protagonists don't even act like students anymore, and the class setting rarely even appears. This is deconstructed in season 3, when it's revealed the Keating 5 have some of the worst grades in their class. By season 4, Michaela is the only who has managed to raise her grades far enough to get post-graduation job offers from respected law firms. She also seems to be the only ones serious about being lawyers after graduation and the others are just going through the motions.
  • Author Appeal: Whoever's behind the soundtrack seems to really like IAMX.
  • Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: The Keating Five are more often than not insulting and attacking each other, but they have their moments of when they truly care about each other, such as when Michaela asks Connor to stay at Middleton because she needs him or when Laurel takes the blame for when Wes shoots Annalise.
  • Badass Boast: Early in the episode "Hello Raskolnikov", D.A. Wendy Parks tells Annalise "Be careful who you show your crazy to" after she tries to get the charges against Rebecca dropped by throwing Sam under the bus. By the end of the episode, Annalise succeeds.
    Annalise: You call it crazy, I call it winning.
  • Bad Dreams: Wes experiences nightmares from the night of Sam's murder.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Wes and his neighbor Rebecca. They are shown to be a couple at the time of the murder and Wes apparently recruited the other law students in protecting her from something.
  • Berserk Button: Annalise gets very angry in the pilot when she asks Wes a question, he obviously doesn't know the answer, and Laurel steps in to answer it without being invited to. She calls this "taking a learning opportunity away from another student" and tells Laurel in no uncertain terms to never do it again.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Annalise says this in reference to Wes and Laurel stepping up their game in "It's All Her Fault".
    Annalise: The quiet ones are the most dangerous.
  • Big Bad: As of the end of season three, Laurel's dad.
  • Big Fancy House: The Hapstall mansion, which, per Caleb, has an area of over 30,000 square feet.
  • Blackmail:
    • Sam blackmails Frank into murdering Lila Stangard for a car crash he caused that resulted in Annalise and Sam losing their baby.
    • How Annalise got her detective boyfriend to lie on the stand for her. Both of them were cheating on their spouses with each other.
    • Wes threatens to take the knowledge of Sam Keating and Lila having an affair to the police if Annalise doesn't get Rebecca back after the latter takes off.
    • Annalise tries to blackmail Connor into shooting her by threatening Oliver's safety.
    • Caleb Hapstall attempts to blackmail the Keating team with footage of the students' presence and suspicious behavior at the scene of a murder.
  • Blame Game: Happens in "Kill Me, Kill Me, Kill Me," when the cast winds up dealing with Sam's corpse, they start bickering about whose fault it was that they got into this mess in the first place.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: The deaths on Season 2 are more graphic and bloody, add Annalise in a pool of her own blood after getting shot on season 2's premiere.
  • Blood-Splattered Innocents:
    • Sam's blood splatters on Rebecca's face after Wes hits him with the trophy.
    • After accidentally shooting himself, Simon's blood is all over Michaela, who is extremely shaken.
  • Blood-Splattered Wedding Dress: Downplayed. Michaela douses her $25000 Vera Wang dress from Aiden with ketchup.
  • Bloody Handprint: Laurel's in the hotel elevator.
  • Book-Ends: The first scene of the third season ends with Wes looking back before leaving the police station. The last scene of the third midseason finale (where Wes dies!) ends with Wes looking back before leaving the police station.
  • Boom, Headshot!:
    • Wes' father, Wallace Mahoney (actually his grandfather), is shot in the head by Frank.
    • Simon Drake survives an accidental occurrence of this.
  • Boring, but Practical: When Professor Keating asks her students to come up with strategies for her attempted murder trial, the students go to great lengths to impress her with fancy legal arguments. When they are done, she explains the strategy she actually plans to use: attack the prosecution's case and create reasonable doubt. The goal is to get her client acquitted and not to create new legal theories.
  • Born in an Elevator: Laurel's baby.
  • Bound and Gagged:
    • The Murder Four bound and gag Rebecca when they begin to become suspicious of her role in Lila's death.
    • Lampshaded by Connor in season four.
    Connor: You gonna tie me up like we did Rebecca?
  • Brainy Brunette: Laurel graduated top of her class at Brown.
  • Break the Cutie: At least once per season.
    • Accidentally killing Sam breaks Wes, Laurel, Connor and Michaela, especially the latter two.
    • Killing Emily Sinclair briefly broke Asher, although he seems to have since recovered.
    • Having to nearly shoot Annalise breaks Connor and Michaela again.
    • All of them are broken as a result of Wes' death.
    • Oliver, virtually the only one that was still okay, is broken by seeing Simon's prone, gunshot body.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Frank has a duffel bag full of cash in it, courtesy of the Mahoneys.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Between Catherine and Caleb Hapstall.
  • Burner Phones:
    • Wes buys one to talk to Rebecca the night of Sam's murder.
    • Everyone starts using them when Sam's body is found.
    • Annalise has one to talk to the hit man she hired to kill Frank.
    • In season three they use one to undermine Charles Mahoney's alibi by getting it to him in jail and then calling it from his alibi witness's house.
    • Connor finds DA Denver's, confirming his involvement in the framing of Annalise
  • Bury Your Gays: In the same episode that he comes out, Simon is killed.
  • Cat Fight: Laurel and Michaela get into a cat fight because Laurel stole Michaela's wedding ring.
  • Carpet-Rolled Corpse: The body the four students are trying to dispose of in the flash-forwards gets this treatment.
  • Character Focus: The flash-forwards tend to follow one particular character.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The so-called 'immunity idol', a small statue Annalise gives to a chosen student (Connor in the pilot, but it's taken from him and given to Asher, then Wes, then Asher again, then stolen by Michaela) as a reward for helping out the most with her case, which can be invoked at any time in the future to get out of any exam the bearer wants. It is also the weapon used to kill Annalise's husband.
    • In a Wes/Rebecca post-coital scene in season 1, he casually mentions that his mother was a Haitian immigrant. What seems like a modest and insubstantial character moment, revealing something about his past to Rebecca, ends up being the basis for pretty much the entire second half of season 2 and a good chunk of season 3 as well.
  • Child by Rape: Wes.
  • Clean, Pretty Childbirth: Averted by all means. Laurel's birth scene was so gruesome that, in fact, a content warning was played before the scene.
  • Coming and Going: Wes and Rebecca have sex in "He Deserved to Die" — and the scene in which they do it is juxtaposed with the exhumation and second autopsy of Lila's corpse, seen in loving detail.
  • Compromising Call: Subverted in the first episode. In one of the flash-forwards, Wes, Connor, Michaela and Laurel are hauling Sam's corpse into the woods when Laurel gets a call from Frank. A nearby couple hear her phone ringing and decide to leave instead of investigating further.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Despite being a detective with the Phillidelphia PD, Nate is more often than not breaking the law for Annalise.
  • Content Warnings: Happens in "No More Blood", due to adult content, and especially deserved on "Live, Live, Live.", due to graphic images.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Wes' mother was a former client of Annalise's when Wes (then known as Christophe) was a young boy. Ten years later, Wes becomes one of Annalise's law students and an intern at her firm. Annalise knows that his mom was her client, but Wes strangely had no memory of Annalise.
    • Although Wes' mom tries not to get him involved in the trial
  • Coolest Club Ever: The nightclub Annalise takes the gang to in the second season premier.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Wallace Mahoney.
  • Cranky Neighbor: Rebecca. When Wes asked her to turn down her music so he could study, she bluntly tells him no because the last law student who lived in his apartment had "crazy-loud rabid sex" and slams the door in his face.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Frank kills Bonnie's father by pumping nitrogen sulfate into his lungs. Ouch. But he deserved it since he was a pedophile who abused Bonnie when she was a child.
  • Cry into Chest: Annalise to her mother in 2.15, during the "homegoing" ceremony Ophelia arranges for her stillborn grandson.
  • Daddy Issues: Laurel, Bonnie, Wes, Frank, Asher, Annalise... this show LOVES this trope. Lampshaded in 3.3 ("Always Bet Black") in a conversation among Annalise, Bonnie, and Laurel.
    Annalise: "Fathers suck, I think we can all agree to that."
  • Darker and Edgier: The second season, compared to the first, is way more heavy in drama, backstory, such as Bonnie being raped as a child, Wes's mother killing herself and Annalise losing her baby, and thriller. This time's murder mystery is way more complicated and involves way more people. Not too mention, the body count went from three; Lila, Sam and Rebecca to nine; the Hapstall parents, the aunt of the family, Sinclair, Asher's father, Caleb, Wes' mother and Annalise's baby (though through a flashback) and Wallace.
  • Dark Secret:
    • Wes: his real name is Christophe.
    • Bonnie: her father sexually abused her as a child.
    • Frank: he killed Lila and tried to kill his father when he was 13.
  • Death by Falling Over: Wes suggests covering Sam's death by claiming he fell while drunk.
  • Death by Woman Scorned: Hannah Keating, Sam's sister, thinks Annalise killed Sam because he was cheating.
  • Did Not Die That Way: Wes' mother killed herself when she was 12, but at one point, he starts to think that he killed her, rather. This is Subverted, however, as she did in fact kill herself.
  • Disappeared Dad: Wes' dad, who he finally meets in the second season finale... which is immediately followed by his father getting shot and killed.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Frank, Lila's killer.
  • Double-Meaning Title: It refers to both literally and metaphorically "getting away with murder". A lot of the things done on the show are morally dubious if not outright illegal. Lampshaded by Connor's sort-of boyfriend, who says he spends more time breaking the law than practicing it.
  • Double Standard: In-universe and lampshaded. The fact that Rebecca slept with Griffin the night of Lila's murder makes her look bad, but doesn't affect Griffin's (Lila's boyfriend) reputation at all. Annalise is rightfully angry about this and says as much to the judge.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male:
  • Do Wrong, Right: In the second case, Annalise eventually gives the Refuge in Audacity defence that her client could not have murdered his second wife because he is a seasoned hunter and would not have been so sloppy about it, with the main point of reference being his admission that he killed his first wife (for which he was acquitted — hurray for double jeopardy) with exactly the level of professionalism and anatomical knowledge one would expect from someone who's been killing things since they were a child.
  • Dramatic Irony: In the third season finale Laurel holds a gun starts chasing aftersomeon she is convinced is a murderer (with only circumstantial evidence of it). She is forced to give up the chase when she unexpecedly runs into a childhood friend, who the audience can recognize as the actual murderer.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Wes mentions his mother killed herself when he was twelve. In Season 2, it's revealed she did it because she was deathly afraid of her rapist (Wallace Mahoney) coming after her.
    • Paxton, the assistant of the fourth episode's client, after he's revealed to be part of the group who screwed her over.
    • Asher's father hangs himself in "What Did We Do?".
    • Caleb Hapstall slits his wrists in the Season 2 finale after he is discovered to be responsible for the deaths of his parents and aunt.
    • Frank almost does this with a gun in "No More Blood", but Bonnie convinces him not to.
    • Annalise tells the DA that this is how Wes died. He felt so bad for killing Rebecca and Sam, he killed himself.
  • Driving Question: Each season has several, mostly based around the flashforwards.
    • In season one, who killed Lila Stangard? And why did the four law students murder Annalise's husband? The latter was answered in the midseason finale, and the former in the finale proper - though that just raised a host of new questions along the way, the foremost being who killed Rebecca?
    • The second season premiere answers that last one, and then gives us these: Who killed the Hapstalls, the season's mystery. Who shot Annalise? And who killed Emily Sinclair? The latter two of these are answered in the midseason finale, being replaced by a major new one: what did Annalise and Eve do to Wes' mother? This was in turn answered at the end of the season, which leads into who shot Wallace Mahoney?
    • Season 3 begins with a whole new set of questions, beginning with who is harassing Annalise on campus? And more importantly: who burned her house, and which of the cast got consumed by the flames? The mid-season finale answers this and leaves two major questions: Who killed Wes and how did he die?, which were answered in the finale - but left the mystery of why Laurel's father wanted Wes dead. This was answered pretty nonchalantly in 4x06; the main mystery throughout the first half of the season was a series of flashforwards that featured too many different things to be explained as one main question: instead the promotional materials used the question of 'what happened that night?' although, arguably the first flashforward set up the mystery of 'where is Laurel's baby?', it was only in the final moments of the midseason finale that we knew definitively the baby was even alive.
  • Dropping the Bombshell:
    • While trying to provoke him into shooting her, Annalise drops a major one on Wes: Rebecca is dead.
    • Laurel keeps asking Frank to tell her more about himself. She wasn't exactly expecting him to confesses that he killed Lila.
    • Laurel, in a moment of Alcohol-Induced Idiocy, admits to Annalise that Frank killed Lila.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Annalise does this frequently, usually with vodka. She finally admits she has a problem in Season 3.
  • Dysfunction Junction:
    • Wes's father walked out on them and his mother was Driven to Suicide, and he was at least present in the aftermath.
      • It gets even worse when in Season 2 it's revealed that Wes' father was actually his mother's employer, Wallace Mahoney... and her rapist.
      • And it gets worse again. Wallace Mahoney actually wasn't the one who raped and impregnated Wes' mother. He was covering up for his son, Charles Mahoney.
    • Laurel's father is mentioned in dialogue to not be a good person, although how exactly is not made clear.
    • Asher's father rose to power by screwing over an innocent man, and is a notably corrupt judge. In the aftermath of his father's suicide, his mother tells him she doesn't want anything to do with him.
    • Michaela is mentioned to be from a poor background, and then is mentioned to be adopted. She mentions she's highly familiar with the Hapstalls' adoption issues.
    • Connor mentions he has a boatload of Daddy Issues, as his father seemed to have left him in boarding school. He seems to be on good terms with his sister, at least.
    • Annalise was sexually abused by her uncle before marrying Sam, and she carries on an affair with Nate.
    • Bonnie is also a child sexual abuse survivor.
    • Frank tried to kill his father when he was 13.
  • Elevator Failure: Laurel is going to Annalise's hotel room when the elevator malfunctions and to make matters worse, she's forced to give birth in it.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The opening scene in the law lecture for basically all the characters. Wes doesn't even realize there's assigned seating and is hopelessly confused, Michaela rebuffs his friendliness and tells him she's engaged, Connor tells him it's too bad he struck out, Asher brags about interning for a Chief Justice, Laurel helps Wes when he struggles with Annalise's question, and Annalise opens the lecture by calling on random students and ripping into them if they can't answer her.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: Nearly every episode has at least one sex scene in it. By the time the series is five episodes old, every regular character has either been shown or mentioned having sex (and it isn't too much longer for all of them to be shown screwing).
  • Evil All Along:
    • Frank. The whole time Annalise, Bonnie and the Keating Five were searching for Lila's killer, he was right under their nose.
    • In the second season, Caleb, after episodes of being virtually eliminated as the suspect in the Hapstall murders and gained everyone's trust (he even dated Michaela!), is revealed to be the killer.
    • Laurel's father, who was revealed to be behind Wes' death.
  • Experimented in College: Michaela's fiancé experimented with Connor in boarding school, and Connor won't let her forget it.
  • Facial Horror: Half of Wes' face is severely charred following Annalise's house exploding.
  • False Confession: Frank confesses to murdering Wes to get into Annalise and Laurel's good graces.
  • First-Episode Spoiler: Wes, Laurel, Michaela and Connor are all somehow involved in Annalise's husband, Sam Keating's death.
  • Five-Man Band:
    • Wes, Laurel, Connor, Michaela and Asher, who make up the Keating Five.
    • Following his death, Wes is replaced by Oliver.
  • Foil:
    • Most of the main cast is in some way or another a foil to the other members. Take Connor; gay, charming, but often makes snarky insults directed at everyone else. Asher is a rich kid who often makes immature and offensive comments when he's actually trying to be friendly.
    • In 1x04, the client, Marren, is a take-no-prisoners woman with healthy sexual appetite in a male-dominated field, like Keating. She's a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, also kind of like Keating. She's a lot nicer to her subordinates than Keating is, though, and while Keating is well-groomed, she's less well-polished.
      • She's also a foil to Connor. Both like sex but not so much long-term relationships. Both are charming and charismatic. Both can be jerks to people. And like Keating, he's better-groomed than she is. One major difference is that when their efforts combine to drive a suspect to suicide, she doesn't lose a wink of sleep, whereas he spends the night in My God, What Have I Done? mode, getting intoxicated.
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    • The early episodes of both Seasons 1 and 2 reveal that there will be a murder committed by someone in the main group.
    • In Season 3, the first flash-forward shows that someone Annalise is very close to died in the fire, and that that person was male.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: Averted, when Laurel has a Foreign-Language Tirade, she says "No manches, vete muchísimo a la fregada", which roughly translates to "Are you freaking kidding me? Go screw yourself!".
  • Foreign-Language Tirade: When Frank calls Laurel, her being in an extremely disraught state because of him, she doesn't pick up and instead screams at the phone in spanish.
  • Found the Killer, Lost the Murderer:
    • Inverted in the episode "It's All My Fault". Sam Keating, who was killed in self-defense by the student protagonists, is definitely The Murderer. The Killer, Frank Delfino, remains at large as only The Killer, The Murderer and the audience are aware that there was anyone else involved.
    • As of the second season, Laurel knows about Frank killing Lila.
  • Four-Man Band: In the first season, Wes, Laurel, Connor and Michaela are all embroiled in a murder plot and are known as "the Murder Four."
  • Frame-Up: How do you think they get away with murder?
    • In the first season, Annalise frames Nate for Sam's murder.
    • In the second season, Annalise and co. plan to frame Catherine for Asher's murder of Sinclair.
    • In the third season, Charles Mahoney, the son of the deceased Wallace Mahoney is framed by Annalise and co. to protect Wes.
    • Subverted in the fourth season. The gang plans on initially framing Teagan but later decide on Simon for leaking the Antares files, but he accidentally shoots himself in the head.
  • From Bad to Worse: As if Annalise wasn't having a terrible day already with: 1) Catherine—her client in the Hapstall murders—going missing after being accused by her brother of killing their parents; 2) Asher's father committing suicide because of what Annalise did; 3) Nate on the brink of losing his job for tampering with Philip Jessup and threatening ADA Sinclair, things become remarkably awful when she is 1) forced to cover up ADA Sinclair's death after Asher ran her over; 2) realizes she needs one of the Murder Four to shoot her in the leg to make the frame-up seem believable; 3) ends up getting shot in the abdomen by Wes on purpose.

    G-L 
  • Gone Horribly Right: Annalise's plan to frame Catherine in "What Did We Do?" requires her being shot in the leg to make it look convincing. After failing to emotionally blackmail anybody to do the deed, she admits to Wes that Rebecca has been dead the entire time, and that he should do it, and she deserves it. Wes agrees that she deserves to be shot - and he fires into her stomach.
  • Grand Romantic Gesture: Oliver serenades Connor at their wedding, singing "All of Me" by John Legend.
  • Guile Hero: As a matter of course with defense attorneys (and their students), several characters are or aspire to this. Michaela and Connor use lies and sex (respectively) to help Annalise with the first case; in the flash-forward, Michaela also manipulates a cop out of investigating the suspicious rolled-up rug hiding a body the four were transporting.
  • Half-Arc Season: Halfway through the first season, the present and flash-forward timelines have merged. The same thing goes for the second season. The second half of each season deals with them getting away with it.
  • Happy Marriage Charade: Annalise and Sam initially seem happy together, but the first episode reveals Annalise is cheating on Sam and is immediately suspicious that Sam may have cheated on her with the dead girl Lila Stangard—it wouldn't be the first time he cheated either. By episode nine, their marriage is Deader Than Dead... literally.
  • Hard Head: Sam is thrown over the stairs by Michaela and even starts bleeding from his ear, but manages to survive. This is subsequently Subverted, as he dies when Wes whacks him in the head with the trophy.
  • Heads or Tails?: In the first scene of the series, Wes is flipping a coin to decide whether or not the students should go back to the scene to get the body. However, despite landing Tails, Wes lies and claims that the coin landed on Heads. The scene puts a lot of emphasis on the coin flip itself, and this shot is used frequently in the montages used before the flash-forwards.
  • He Knows Too Much: Rebecca gets this treatment.
  • Hello, Attorney!: The show has a very attractive cast.
  • Heroic BSoD: Wes experiences this after learning that Rebecca is dead, shooting Annalise, and hearing her utter his former name, Christophe, meaning she knows something about his past.
  • Hidden Depths:
    • A retroactive example, but it's ironic in hindsight that the take-charge, morally flexible Type A's Connor and Michaela lose all composure when the murder occurs, whereas Wes and Laurel stay relatively cool-headed.
    • After accidentally driving a suspect to suicide in 1x04, Connor spends the rest of the episode looking noticeably shaken. It's the first time he shows genuine regret over his actions since the start of the series, and also foreshadows his breakdown after the murder.
    • In the same episode, manchild Asher figures out the conspiracy, right down to who did what and when. He also figures out in a later episode both that DA Sinclair has bugged Annalise's home and that the bug is located inside of a pen given to him.
    • Wes is good at putting connections together quickly. For example, in "It's All Her Fault", after Rebecca gets arrested and he sees a news program talking about her history of drug convictions, he instantly realizes that she used his bathroom to get high and also to hide something, which he discovers easily. It turns out to be Lila Stangard's mobile phone.
    • Connor is largely portrayed as self-centered. However, he takes Asher in for a while when Asher is disowned just after his father kills himself, and even though Connor hates video games, he suggests playing them in an effort to cheer up Asher because he knows Asher likes them.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Frequently done by Oliver.
  • Hollywood Law: The main student characters are all first-year law students. In the United States, first-year law students aren't allowed to work more than twenty hours per week if they're full-time students — it's a rule in place by the American Bar Association to allow the students to focus on their educations. Obviously though, following that rule would lead to less drama for the show, so Tropes Are Not Bad.
    • Note also that judges in the show very rarely stop the attorneys in their courtrooms from making long-winded speeches and berating witnesses during questioning, or directly imploring the jury in the middle of making objections. These things aren't allowed in a real courtroom to preserve decorum, but would not make for exciting television.
    • Something else that wouldn't make for exciting television: because of (relatively recent) changes to the rules of discovery, the vast majority of surprising revelations about witnesses and evidence are uncovered before trials start. However, the discovery of a witness' eyesight disability is much less exciting to find out about through reading a medical insurance form than by having one of the characters con an optometrist out of the information.
    • Related to the above, the season-arc cases — the Lila Stangard and Hapstall cases — are handled fairly realistically. Discovery is shown and discussed, and progress in the proceedings is handled in fits and starts through pretrial hearings and oral arguments. However, less realistically, the cases of the week are usually taken, investigated and resolved within a few days with a surprising revelation.
  • How We Got Here: The show begins with four law students discussing, well, how to get away with a murder they've committed. The show then takes us back three months to introduce us to them while also flashing forward to their efforts. The ninth episode merges the two timelines. This format is followed again in the second and third seasons.
  • I Can Still Fight!: Annalise agrees to stand at trial, despite that it hadn't been even two weeks since she was shot.
  • I Die Free: In a flashback, an illegal immigrant woman kills herself to escape her employer's control and his threat to her son.
    Rose Edmond: He doesn't own me or Christophe. We are not things to be owned and used and thrown away. I was born free, I will stay free... So will Christophe! You tell him that.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Another of the show's similarities to Damages, as each episode (including the pilot, and by extension the series) gets its title from a line spoken in the episode; e.g., It's All Her Fault, Smile, Or Go To Jail, Freakin' Whack-A-Mole.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him: Annalise tells Bonnie that now that she's killed Rebecca, she is no better than Sam.
    Annalise: And now you're just as bad as him.
    Bonnie: I'm not.
    Annalise: You are! Now that you've done this, you're a monster... just like him!
  • I Have No Son!: After Asher confesses to Annalise about why he turned mole for Sinclaire, she turns over a file of Judge Millstone's misdeeds to the D.A in order to help a client. Asher's dad disowns him for this, even though Asher had no idea of what Annalise was going to do. And after his father kills himself, his mother makes it clear that she views him as a disappointment and effectively doesn't want to see him again.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Pretty much the scenario resulting in Simon getting a serious dose of lead poisoning.
  • Inheritance Murder: What the prosecution suspects of the Hapstall siblings' involvement in their parents' deaths — they're adopted, and may have been after the billions they would have inherited. In the second season finale, this is revealed to be true for Caleb — Catherine's innocent.
  • Improbable Infant Survival:
    • Averted with Annalise and Sam's baby. He is stillborn at birth.
    • Played straight with Laurel's baby. After Annalise performs CPR, he survives.
  • In-Series Nickname: Virtually every character has won (the majority of them given out by Frank).
    • Annalise's mother, along with everyone from her hometown, still refer to her as "Anna Mae," her biological name. Sam calls her Annie.
    • Wes: "Puppy" and "Waitlist."
    • Laurel: "Wallflower."
    • Asher: "Doucheface."
    • Michaela: "Prom Queen" and "Shooting Star."
    • Connor: "Hair Gel."
    • Frank: "Beardo" and "Franky D," given by Asher.
    • Bonnie: "Ice Cold" and "Bon Bon," also given by Asher.
  • Internal Reveal:
    • Rebecca noticing that the wallpaper on the picture in Lila's phone is the same as the wallpaper in the Keating home, revealing to her that Sam Keating is Mr. Darcy.
    • The rest of the cast find out about Asher and Bonnie's relationship a few episodes after it starts in earnest.
    • Annalise tells the truth about the night of the first season's murder in order to force the other students to stay and help cover up another one.
    • Frank confesses to Laurel that he killed Lila Stangard.
    • Overall, the viewer is allowed much more information than the characters, who only receive bits of information and sometimes lies that the characters that do know the truth say. This gets to the point where Bonnie and Annalise are the first characters to figure out that Sam ordered Frank to kill Lila, and that is late on season 2 after the whole case was already closed. None of the Keating Five know that Bonnie killed Rebecca, for example, and they still believe she ran away and is hiding somewhere.
  • Interrogated for Nothing: When the Murder Four begin to become suspicious in Rebecca's involvement in Lila's murder, they tie her up and interrogate her. This is immediately put to stop by Annalise.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Wes walks in on Annalise and her boyfriend.
  • Irony: Oliver wants to get Connor and himself tested for STDs, since Connor was promiscuous before the murder (with over 40 different partners in the course of a year), and he also thinks that Connor is a recovering addict, making it all the more likely that Connor could have caught one. While waiting for the results, Connor is naturally freaking out, especially since he had unprotected sex with some partners before. When he finally gets his results, he is relieved beyond words since he is HIV-negative (although he is aware that he will need to get tested again in 3 months to be 100% sure), and rushes to see Oliver, only for the Nice Guy who doesn't seem to sleep around that much to reveal that he is HIV-positive.
  • It's All My Fault: In the season one finale episode titled "It's All My Fault," Wes tearfully takes the blame for everything.
    Wes: All of this... Rebecca, Sam, Nate... it's all my fault.
  • Ivy League for Everyone:
    • Laurel went to Brown University for undergrad, but went to the fictional Middleton University along with the rest of the Keating Five for law school. The university's prestige is pretty ambiguous, but if an Ivy League student goes there for grad school, it's gotta be good.
    • Connor gets into to Stanford Law School, despite the fact that he's in the bottom ten percent of his class.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: The flash-forwards of the first eight episodes aren't shown in chronological order and only show bits and pieces at a time, leaving it to the viewer to try to make sense of the night of the murder.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Due to our heroes being not-necessarily-on-the-up-and-up defense attorneys (and their students), Annalise winning the first and second cases of the series means that less upstanding people get off the hook.
    • The students themselves, but this is deconstructed. While they are able to escape punishment thanks to Annalise and dumb luck, the emotional guilt heavily weighs on them.
  • Keeping Secrets Sucks: Every character can speak from experience.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: After being beaten nearly to death by Nate, Bonnie smothers Miller, her boyfriend, with her fingers.
  • Killed Off for Real: You wouldn't think it would happen given the character's significance, but it did: Wes, as of the season three mid-finale.
  • Killed Offscreen: Wes. The details of his death, including the scene in which he dies in, will eventually be revealed in the second half of the third season.
  • Like a Son to Me: How Annalise describes her and Wes' relationship.
    Annalise: (crying) He felt like my son... because he was. He was my son.
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse: Ultimately defied. Laurel is not happy when she realizes that Frank is just like her father, with whom she has a very strained, unhappy relationship, so this is part of why she leaves him in Season 2.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: To be fair, in How To Get Away With Murder you're much better off being locked out than being in.
    • Asher, until he murders ADA Sinclair and Annalise reveals that Connor, Wes, Laurel and Michaela were the culprits behind Sam's murder so that they would agree to helping Asher cover up Sinclair's death.
    • Oliver, but he himself pieces together everything.
  • Love Father, Love Son: The victim in "He Has a Wife", who passed an STD on to the defendant's husband and son.
  • Love Triangle: Laurel/Wes/Meggy, Wes/Laurel/Frank, Laurel/Frank/Bonnie, Eve/Annalise/Nate to name a few.
  • Luke, You Are My Father: Wes approaches Wallace Mahoney to tell him that he thinks he is his son.
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    M-R 
  • Mama Bear:
    • Pete Nowalk was originally planning to depict Bonnie as a mama bear, but liked "the darkness" that Liza Weil brought to the character.
    • Ophelia, Annalise's mother, who burned down her own house to catch her daughter's rapist in the flames.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Annalise is quite capable of being one. In one scene, she uses different techniques to manipulate Connor, Wes, Michaela and Laurel into doing what she wants—she succeeds too, although maybe more than she intended.
  • Meaningful Name: Asher's last name, Millstone, evokes a particularly well-known Bible verse, Matthew 18:6: "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." Popularly, a "millstone" is generally known to be shorthand for a burden that drags people down. Asher's conduct presents serious problems in both seasons — his possession of the "immunity idol" trophy and general frat-boy behavior contribute to the events in Annalise's office on the night Sam is killed, and his killing ADA Sinclair sparks the events at the Hapstall mansion that culminate in Annalise being shot.
  • Mercy Kill: Nia, Nate's wife, asks Annalise to assist her in killing herself so she can escape the pain of her late-stage ovarian cancer. Annalise agonizes over it, even getting some pills, but ultimately refuses to let her have them. Nate eventually agrees to do it.
  • The Mistress:
    • Annalise to Nate.
    • Lila to Sam.
  • Mommy Issues: Wes. His mom killed herself and at one point, he thought he murdered her.
  • Mood Whiplash: A subtle but surely intentional (and a bit funny) example. At the tailend of 2.08 ("Hi, I'm Philip") there's an extended montage of four couples — Annalise/Nate, Laurel/Frank, Connor/Oliver, and Michaela/Caleb — having passionate sex, which abruptly concludes with a shot of Wes looking very bored studying some papers.
  • Moral Dilemma: Annalise offers Wes a job in the pilot after giving him a speech which can be summed up as follows: side with morality and turn down the job, which will probably end with Wes in a career path he hates and living a life he also hates; or shed his morals and accept the job, which will involve condoning, turning a blind eye to and possibly getting involved with some very illegal/amoral things, but, as Annalise puts it, he can 'become someone you actually like'. Wes takes the job.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Nate. Lampshaded by Annalise's deeply religious mother when the two meet in 2.15; not only does she openly tease him about his sex appeal, later she crosses herself and begs Jesus' forgiveness for what she's thinking when looking at him through a window. And further by the women in Annalise's beauty shop in 3.5.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • The title of the second season winter finale is "What Did We Do?", spoken by Eve to Annalise concerning Wes' mother.
    • Asher upon the realization that he killed Emily Sinclair.
  • Mystery of the Week: The murder cases Annalise takes on. Although, as of the second half of the third season, they have became less frequent.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Wes and Laurel. The events of the series proceed to kill their naïveté in short order.
  • Never the Obvious Suspect:
    • Season one: Everyone is deadlocked on either Sam or Rebecca killed Lila. Who is it? Frank.
    • Season two: While he is being tried for murder, Annalise and co. seemingly rule out Caleb as a suspect in the Hapstall murders and turn to Catherine and her brother Phillip. It ends up being Caleb anyway.
    • Season three takes a different approach. Rather than being which of the two is the killer, the question is which of the two—Frank or Nate as of the midseason finale—was killed. So who died, Nate or Frank? Trick question: Wes.
  • No Bisexuals:
    • When Michaela finds out that her fiancé Aiden used to be in a relationship with Connor despite never bringing him up alongside his list of (female) exes, she accuses him of being gay and he denies being so, claiming it was a case of Situational Sexuality. Bisexuality is not considered an option by either party. Oliver later raises the idea of Aiden being bisexual, but Michaela quickly shoots this down and Aiden is basically never mentioned again.
    • Zigzagged with Annalise, who was dating and sleeping with Eve before leaving her for Sam; she reconnects with Eve as well in Season 2. In the past, she was not as comfortable with her sexuality as she seems to be in the present. Annalise and Eve's previous relationship was derailed when Annalise became concerned with the idea that she was a lesbian; she went to Sam shortly afterward, implying that it had something to do with this concern. Further, Eve seems convinced (at least in the flashbacks to ten years in the past) that Annalise is actually a lesbian in denial. In Season 3, two men hit on Eve and Annalise at a bar; Eve says that she's a lesbian, whereas Annalise says "It's complicated."
  • Normally, I Would Be Dead Now: Sam, after being thrown over a flight of stairs. The head trauma definitely should have killed him.
  • Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: Frank. He only killed Lila because he felt that he owed it to Sam after indirectly being the cause to Annalise's miscarriage a decade ago.
  • Not Me This Time: The client in the second episode didn't kill his second wife. That was his daughter. His first wife, however, he did kill, but was acquitted.
  • Not Quite Dead:
    • After Michaela pushes him down the stairs, the Keating Four and Rebecca all assume that Sam is dead, until moments later when he gets up and chokes Rebecca.
    • Simon Drake survives accidentally shooting himself in the head.
  • Not So Stoic:
    • As cynical as some of the law students may seem, quite a few look shocked and horrified when Annalise starts showing them photos of a real crime scene, complete with photos of the murder victim (who was stabbed to death, leaving a lot of blood and gore), without any warning whatsoever.
    • The main five all seem a bit disturbed and disconcerted when they end up at that same crime scene (which hasn't been cleaned), and even more so when the victim's husband vividly re-enacts the murder using Connor and a pen on the same bed his wife was killed on.
    • Connor and Michaela both break down after the murder, with Connor becoming a rambling, incoherent mess, whereas Michaela is almost catatonic at one point.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws:
    • Michaela's future mother-in-law thinks she's a Gold Digger, absolutely hates her guts and doesn't hesitate to show it, and threatens to call off the wedding if Michaela doesn't sign a prenuptial agreement.
    • Hannah Keating, Sam's sister. From the get go, she is insistent that Annalise was the culprit behind Sam's murder.
  • Oh, and X Dies: Largely the premise of the series, as you discover early on in the season who was killed, with the episodes leading to the mid-season finale slowly showing some of the circumstances around the murder and the mid-season finale fully explaining what happened on that night.
    • With Sam, who was revealed to be the dead person whose death the Murder Four were covering up in the first episode.
    • Subverted in Season 2, as Annalise survives.
    • The second half of Season 2 also displays this trope, as the flashbacks show the events leading up to Wes's mother's suicide.
    • Averted in the third season. The who is not told, nor is the why, and the how appears to be by a fire, but later revealed not to be. The who—Wes—is eventually revealed in the third midseason finale, but now that leaves who killed him, how did he die and why did he die.
  • Old Flame:
    • In episode three, it's revealed that Connor went to boarding school with Michaela's fiancé and they were together for a short time.
    • Annalise and Eve.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: The flash-forwards sometimes lend themselves to this, with certain scenes recurring in part or in full to highlight new revelations and character motivations.
    • A particularly striking example is Rebecca's confession in Episode 7, in which she rationalizes killing Sam as self-defense. It becomes clear when we see the scene again in Episode 9 that she is speaking hypothetically about what she will say to protect Wes if they are caught, as he was the one who actually dealt the killing blow.
    • In the last few minutes of the Season One finale after learning Frank killed Lila, we get flashbacks to several hints that Frank is a hitman, among his other nebulously defined less-than-legal talents.
    • A brief flash-forward shows a distraught Asher at a police station saying he wants to make a statement, with the implication that he's about to tell on the rest of the cast to the police. A later episode reveals that he actually wants to make a statement saying he believes his dad was murdered and it was only made to look like a suicide.
    • We see ten-year-old Wes standing over his mother's body with a knife in his hand, Annalise running out of the apartment, and Wes being questioned by police. Later, we see that his mother actually did commit suicide, and the flashbacks illustrate the circumstances of this act rather than imply that Wes killed her.
    • One of season 3's flash forwards shows Wes negotiating immunity for testifying against Annalise on the day of the fire, seemingly confirming he is not the one under the sheet. Episode 9 reveals that Wes is actually the one under the sheet, and he left that particular meeting before finishing negotiations, the meeting itself happening well before the fire.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Annalise asks one of the Murder Four to shoot her in the leg, believing she would survive.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Asher's father is a respected judge who has a lifelong habit of documenting all his professional interactions in a journal. He even keeps all his old journals neatly displayed in his study. When a former prosecutor accuses the judge of ignoring a report that a witness in a murder trial committed perjury, Asher does not believe it. However, when he examines his father's journal for that year, he discovers that there is no entry for the day of the incident. This is so out of character that Asher realizes that his father really is hiding something.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: During flashbacks from the second season, a young Wes goes back and forth from having a Haitian accent to having an American one.
  • Parental Abandonment: Asher's mother disowns him in the wake of his father's death because she thinks it is his fault.
  • Philadelphia: The main setting. More specifically, the show is implied to take place in Northeast Philly due to the relatively suburban appearance of many scenes as well as passing references to Fishtown and Kensington.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Sam and Lila's murder.
  • Post Humous Character: Lila. We gain a greater insight into her character and the background of her death from flashbacks.
  • Power Hair: Annalise and Bonnie.
  • Preppy Name: Discussed by Annalise's mother. She refers to Annalise by her biological name, Anna Mae, and when Annalise asks her to stop, she criticizes her for choosing such a posh name.
  • Properly Paranoid: All of the Murder Four, especially Connor, who occasionally thinks Annalise—the one who has been orchestrating the murder cover-up to protect them—is going to turn on them.
  • Railing Kill: Subverted. Michaela thinks she killed Sam when she threw him over the railing.
  • Rape as Backstory:
    • In a conversation with her mother, Annalise is revealed to have been molested by her uncle, which her mother knew of but didn't stop. Annalise is understandably quite upset by this. However, it turns out that her mother actually killed him for this and made it look like an accident. Her mother reveals that she had been raped by several men on different occasions in the same conversation. She appears to think Annalise should just suck it up as she did, and not be affected by this (or so she acts at first, anyway).
    • Implied for Bonnie in her monologue to Rebecca before she kills her. Later confirmed when Annalise shows Asher the tape of Bonnie being raped by her father.
  • Rape as Drama: Invoked. Word is leaked that Rebecca and Griffin slept together on the night of Lila's murder, which makes Rebecca look more suspicious. To save Rebecca's reputation and stop Griffin from getting a plea deal, Annalise gets Rebecca to claim that she was actually raped.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • In 1.04, the client is a take-no-prisoners female executive who is completely unapologetic about her sexuality or anything else. She mentions being involved in several sexual harassment cases, because even with the sexist double standards around the matter, that's what happens when you're an executive who frequently talks about sex in front of your subordinates.
    • In "It's All Her Fault", Annalise's boyfriend does not react well to her blackmailing him on the stand and getting him put on probation (by accident). To be more precise, he tells her to stay away from him and threatens to tell her husband all the details of their relationship if she doesn't. It's implied he also sends Rebecca to the Keatings' to collect evidence that Sam killed Lila (which then ends up in Sam's murder) because of this.
    • The judge in "He Deserved To Die" sees right through the prosecution and two defense teams' schemes to get a leg up on the others and shuts it down immediately. She orders another autopsy done by a coroner of her choosing and sternly warns them that setting a toe out of line will result in disciplinary action. It's hard to play backroom politics when the judge suspects that you're up to something less than fully legal.
    • What happens when you threaten to ruin your fiancee's life if he keeps secrets or leaves you? He tells his family and they slap you with a prenup.
    • In Season 3, the new President of Middleton offers Annalise a research position to let another professor teach her classes. Why? Because the Keating Five are in the bottom ten percent in terms of class performance, which is understandable given the traumatic year they've had.
    • Also from Season 3, Annalise has an awesome moment where she convinces a belligerent client responsible for killing two women to take the plea deal of just three years in prison, using a slap and a summed-up "Reason You Suck" Speech. Come next episode, her license has been suspended because someone leaked security footage of her physically assaulting a client.
    • Connor tries to resuscitate an (unfortunately already dead) individual by using CPR, but panics when he feels a bone crack during chest compressions and is horrified to think he may have accidentally killed the individual. Breaking bones is actually a very common result of CPR performed normally.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In complete Brutal Honesty, Sam dishes a painful one out to Annalise.
    Sam: You want the truth? You're nothing but a piece of ass. That's what I saw when I first talked to you in the office that day—'cause I knew you'd put out. That's all you're really good for—dirty, rough sex that I'm too ashamed to tell anyone about. That's how foul you are, you disgusting slut.
  • Refuge in Audacity:
    • How Annalise gets the client in "It's All Her Fault" acquitted: her argument is that as the client has been hunting since he was a child, he would know how to kill someone with a knife as quickly and painlessly as possible, unlike the frenzied murder that he's been charged with. Then she plays her trump card: she points to the death of the client's first wife as proof that he couldn't have killed his second wife, because he did kill his first wife and when he did, he made it quick and neat. And the client readily owns up to having killed his first wife, but as he can't be charged with the murder because of double jeopardy (having already been tried and found not guilty), he walks away a free man.
    • In "Smile, Or Go To Jail", Annalise is asked to defend Lila Stangard's boyfriend, who has been charged with her murder alongside Rebecca. Said request comes with a not-so-subtle reminder that the administration has been very lenient and generous to her in the past. Annalise asks for time to consider her answer, and when she delivers it, not only does she not agree to defend the boyfriend, she instead decides to defend Rebecca.
  • Repressed Memories: Wes doesn't recall much of the circumstances behind his mom's suicide, as at one point, he thought he murdered her.
  • Retcon: Arguable. In season 1, Wes mentions to Rebecca that he was born in Haiti and his mom moved them to America when he was 1. When this time in his life is later depicted in great depth in flashback form in season 2, Wes/Christophe is mentioned to be an American citizen, as his mother is at one point threatened with not only deportation but separation from him. No explicit justification for this discontinuity is given.
  • The Reveal: As per its Jigsaw Puzzle Plot, the series has many reveals both large and small spread throughout each season.
  • Romantic False Lead:
    • Khan to Laurel.
    • Meggy to Wes.

    S-Y 
  • Saved by Canon: Season 3 starts showing that someone in the main group dies in the fire on Annalise's house, but each episode's final flash-forward shows someone of the group that has survived:
    • In episode 1: Annalise.
    • In episode 2: Oliver.
    • In episode 3: Bonnie.
    • In episode 4: Laurel, who is pregnant and severely injured from the fire. Meggy is also shown to be alive.
    • In episode 5: Michaela; it is also revealed in this episode that the victim is male, but that's fairly useless information as the only remaining possibilities all *are* male.
    • In episode 6: Asher.
    • In episode 7: Wes (which is later subverted in episode 9).
    • In episode 8: Connor.
    • In episode 9: It's a bit different, as this isn't the big cliffhanger ending for the episode, but the episode spends a lot of time hinting that Nate is the one who died. The big reveal happens moments after he is shown to be alive and well.
  • The Scream:
    • Annalise lets one out when she finds Sam's dead body.
    • Wes and Annalise scream in the woods to let their frustrations out.
    • Oliver shrieks "OH MY GOD!" after seeing Simon's body.
  • Seamless Spontaneous Lie:
    • When a campus cop is curious to know why the Murder Four are carrying carpet out of Annalise's house, Michaela steps up and improvises that Annalise wanted them to bring the old rug to the bonfire and finally gets him to back off by pretending to call Annalise. The others are so stunned, even Connor has to ask, "where has that girl been all night?"
    • When Bonnie finds out Asher is working with the DA, she tearfully tells him she killed Sam in self-defense and the story is compelling and completely untrue.
  • Secret Keeper: Wes somehow ends up being this for Annalise, and he has more than his fair share of secrets to keep.
  • Sequel Hook:
    • The first season ends with the shot of Rebecca's dead body and the long awaited reveal of Lila's killer.
    • The second season ends with Frank gone missing and Wes' father, Wallace Mahoney, shot dead in front of him.
  • Sex for Solace: With Bonnie and Frank. Frank is lonely and Bonnie is depressed and so they turn to each other for some comfort.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The client in "Smile, Or Go To Jail". At first the case looks like it'll be an easy one to win: they pin the blame on another guy, who agrees to testify that the whole crime was his idea, not the client's. Then the witness turns out to be on the prosecution's side, thus torpedoing the client's case. Annalise and co. are given three hours to rebuild their case... but in the end, there's no point, because the client and the witness go on the run together.

  • Shirtless Scene: Connor and Oliver get a few thanks to their sex scenes. Both Wes and Asher get some in episode 6 and 9. Frank and Sam are both seen shirtless on phone screens. Nate is almost always shirtless.
  • Shower of Angst:
    • Bonnie has one after she learns that Annalise told Asher that Bonnie was raped by her father as a child.
    • Bonnie has another one after she sees her father's body and meets up with Frank, who killed him.
  • Sitch Sexuality: Michaela's fiance insists he was only with Connor due to being in an all-male school, and that he's not bi or gay.
  • Sickbed Slaying: Discussed. Nate's wife Nia wants Annalise to do this by way of poisonous pills.
  • Skyward Scream: Wes and Annalise both let out a scream in the third season premier.
  • Slut-Shaming:
    • Rebecca is slutshamed during the Lila Stangard trial.
    • Annalise does this to Bonnie repeatedly after Bonnie secretly meets up with Frank. Annalise assumes they slept together and she's right.
  • Smooch of Victory: Michaela and Laurel kiss after learning they passed their finals.
  • Sorry, I'm Gay: Connor tries this in "It's Called the Octopus" when invited to a sex party. The lady just smiles and tells him that that's perfect, since he's just her husband's type.
    • Happens to Michaela once, too, when she tries to pick up a man at a bar shortly after breaking up with Aiden.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Oliver sings "All of Me" to Connor, as Nate disposes Miller's dead body.
  • Suicide by Cop: Annalise tries to force one of the Murder Four to shoot her in the leg, a non-fatal injury, but she actually wanted to die from it.
  • Surprise Witness:
    • In the pilot, Annalise calls in a detective at the last minute to counter testimony from the prosecution. It's especially surprising for Wes, since Detective Nate Lahey is the man Annalise is cheating on her husband with. It's a surprise for Nate, too — he has no idea what she's trying to do until he realizes she wants him to cast doubt on the incriminating surveillance footage of her client.
    • In another episode, the witness that Annalise plans on calling in ends up testifying for the prosecution.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Annalise because Sam himself is not only a cheater, but because he also hired Frank to kill his mistress when she gets pregnant.
  • Sympathetic Murderer:
    • Wes. He killed Sam because he attacked Rebecca.
    • Asher. He killed Sinclair after she taunted him for his father's suicide and he's visibly scarred by it.
    • Frank. All of his murders have been in one way or another justified.
    • Averted with Bonnie. Annalise is extremely upset with her for killing Rebecca, especially because it was avoidable. But later in Season 2 it's revealed that Bonnie was raped by her father as a child which may make the character more sympathetic.
  • Taking the Heat: Wes tells Annalise that he'll confess to murdering Sam and Rebecca, though he only killed the former.
  • Talking Down the Suicidal: Bonnie tearfully convinces Frank to put down the gun. At the same time, inverted by Annalise, who urges Frank to kill himself.
  • Teens Are Monsters: "Skanks Get Shanked" focuses on a possibly-sociopathic teenage girl and her murderous clique.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: After the first murder the students argue at length about everything but working together, because if they don't work together, they'll all go to jail. In the second season's murder, they're more willing to cooperate with each other.
  • 'Tis Only a Bullet in the Brain: Simon is shot in the head, and seems to lose a lot of blood from having laid there without any medical attention for some time, in addition to flatlining at least once on the operating table, but still survives.
  • Title Drop:
    • Once in the page quote from the pilot, and again when Annalise is describing her plan to get their client off.
      Annalise: Step 1: discredit the witness. Step 2: introduce a new suspect. Step 3: we bury the evidence. That's how to get away with murder.
    • The episodes also get their titles from spoken dialogue.
  • These Hands Have Killed: Asher struggles greatly after murdering Sinclair.
  • Time Skip:
    • There is a two-week skip between the winter finale and spring premier of the second season.
    • There is a three-month time skip between the second and third season.
  • Title-Only Opening
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Largely averted (like Oliver said, the Keating Five break the law more often than they practice it), except in one case: in Skanks Get Shanked, Annalise doesn't care that their client is guilty, but Connor does, despite orders to drop it. So he sends the prosecution an anonymous tape of their client confessing to the murder.
  • Tonight, Someone Dies: The mid-season finale for each season:
    • Season one: Sam.
    • Season two: Emily Sinclair.
    • Season three: Wes.
    • Season four: Simon Drake
      • Subverted in the spring premiere in that not only does Simon survive, but Dominic is the one to whom the title of the episode ("He's Dead") refers to.
    • Season five: Ron Miller.
  • Trailers Always Lie: The line "Are you color-blind?" in the trailer seemed like a racially charged question based on the little context it was presented with. In the pilot, Annalise is asking if the woman is literally color-blind. The witness' aggressive "Yes" in response isn't a defensive reaction but an angry admission.
  • Undying Loyalty: Bonnie and Frank to Annalise, although they've both done some pretty questionable acts that would also deem them treacherous advisors.
  • Unexpected Positive: In the episode "It's All My Fault", Connor and Oliver are getting back together after a bad breakup. Oliver wants Connor to get an HIV test before they have sex again and decides that it would be romantic to get tested together. Connor works himself into a panic over all of the risks he's taken. Connor tests negative. Oliver tests positive.
  • The Unfair Sex: Lampshaded by Sam. The whole time Annalise was accusing Sam of being a cheater and berating him, Annalise was off having an affair of her own.
  • Unreliable Narrator:
    • Season one: one flashforward shows Wes telling Rebecca on the phone, "We're going to protect you," indicating that Rebecca was the one who killed Sam. What Wes actually meant by that was that they would protect her after she broke into Sam's house, which subsequently led to his death.
    • Season two: Bonnie appears to have thrown ADA Sinclair off of the roof of the Hapstall Mansion to her death. In actuality, Asher, who was revealed to be standing behind Bonnie when Sinclair's body was thrown down in the midseason finale, was the one who killed Sinclair by running her over with his car.
    • Season three: The big season mystery was who died in the house fire, with one character revealed to be safe every episode and by episode nine, it's down to Nate and Frank. So who does it end up being? Wes. Turns out the scene that was supposed to mean he was alive was from earlier that day. To make matters worse, the green-blue lighting totally threw us off!
    • Season five: Frank shows Annalise Gabriel's DNA test, which crushes Annalise, seemingly confirming that he is her son. In reality, the DNA test showed that Gabriel is Sam's son from his first marriage.
  • Unstoppable Rage:
    • When ADA Sinclair taunts him for his father's death, Asher runs her over, killing her.
    • Ignoring all the begs and pleas surrounding him, Wes shoots Annalise in the abdomen when he finds out that she knew that Rebecca was dead.
    • Nate nearly beats Miller to death when he learns that he allegedly had his father killed.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Bonnie's reason for killing Rebecca.
  • Villain Protagonist: Discussed. All of the main characters have done objectively bad and/or illegal things, and frequently we see and hear them express guilt and angst over it (a season 3 episode is outright titled "We're Bad People.") The most pointed example is Annalise, upon an offer from a priest client to hear her confession, telling the man of the cloth "No god should forgive me for all the bad things I've done."
  • Violence Is Disturbing: The show constantly depicts all violence as completely unglamorous and as utterly grotesque, painful and visceral as possible. Witnessing violence always has a serious effect on those present, regardless of who they are or how much violence they have encountered by this point. Michaela is reduced to a hapless wreck while watching Asher deliver a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown to Connor and Annalise is clearly severely shaken by witnessing Rose’s suicide. Even Frank breaks down in tears after being forced to strangle a hitman.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: The Keating Five. They all insult each other and view one another as competition (Connor and Michaela more so than the others), but have each other's backs during times of need.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot:
    • Connor throws up into Annalise's kitchen sink after looking at Sam's dead body.
    • Annalise throwing up in the toilet after a drinking binge in "It's About Frank."
  • Web Of Lies: The entire plot, really.
  • Wham Episode:
    • "Kill me. Kill me. Kill me." What happened the night of the bonfire is finally revealed. Wes kills Sam after Sam attacked Rebecca. While Wes is on his way to get the murder weapon—the trophy—from the scene of the crime, Annalise is there and it is revealed that during the entire time the Murder Four are orchestrating the cover-up, it was on orders Wes got from Annalise.
    • "It's All My Fault," the season one finale. Frank killed Lila on vague orders from Sam. After being tied up in the basement, Frank and Annalise find Rebecca dead. Oh, and Oliver learns he has HIV.
    • "What Did We Do?", the second season winter finale, turns almost everything about the show on its head. Catherine is working with Phillip to some degree and may have murdered her parents, Emily Sinclair is closing in on Annalise's case, and Asher's father commits suicide. Emily summarily taunts Asher about it, since she is partially responsible for the smear campaign that led to it, and he kills her. Confronted with all of these at once, Annalise panics and tries to pull together a plan to frame Catherine for everything and keep everyone safe. The last step, however, is shooting her in the leg so that it looks realistic. After trying to emotionally blackmail her students, each one no longer wanting anything to do with her, she convinces Wes to do it by admitting that Rebecca has been dead the whole time. Wes agrees to shoot her — but shoots to kill, and prepares to finish her off when he hears her whisper a name: "Christophe". Cue flashback, as a young Wes/Christophe speaks with the police about his mother's death. Outside, Eve and Annalise are watching in shock, and Eve asks Annalise the titular question.
    • "Who's Dead?" the third mid-season finale: Two words: Wes dies.
    • "He Made A Terrible Mistake" and "Wes," the penultimate and ultimate episode of the third season drops a load: Connor confesses that he was at Annalise's house the night of the fire, but he ran out just as the house exploded when he noticed a gas leak; Wes was not the son of Wallace Mahoney, but of Charles Mahoney's. The charges against Annalise and Frank are dropped after Annalise hands over evidence on her phone that proves Wes killed Sam and Rebecca and then killed himself; Oliver asks Connor to marry him; and the biggest of them all: Wes was killed by a hitman on orders from... Laurel's father.
    • "Live. Live. Live." Connor negotiates with the group that he won't tell Annalise about their plans unless things go awry. They do. Simon admits that he's gay to Oliver and professes his love for him. Oliver and Laurel get the Antares files with Teagan's key card, while Frank uploads evidence onto Simon's computer suggesting he was doing some digging on Antares to paint him as a whistleblower. As Oliver is searching for Simon to plant the key card, Simon walks in on Laurel, Asher and Michaela talking about their plans to frame him. He finds Laurel's gun in her bag and accidentally pulls the trigger, shooting himself in the head. The police arrest Asher. Connor leaves Michaela an "I told you so" voicemail, thoroughly detailing their plan and mentioning Laurel's baby, while Dominick overhears. After Connor tells Annalise the fiasco going on, she orders Laurel to come to her hotel room. In the elevator, Laurel gives birth at just seven months (after being accidentally hit in the stomach as Frank was strangling Connor) and passes out. Simon dies on the operating table, while Laurel's baby lives after Annalise performs CPR.
    • "He's Dead," the fourth mid-season premiere. Laurel's father is given custody of her child after he fabricates Laurel's medical history to show a history of mental illness and drug abuse. The police release Asher from custody, citing a lack of evidence. Oliver and Michaela tell the police that Simon killed himself because he was worried about his DACA status only to learn that Simon actually survived the shot. The hard drive containing all of the files on Antares is missing. Frank kills Dominic while trying to extort the whereabouts of the hard drive. He finds a voicemail on Dominic's phone from Wes from the night he died telling Dominic that he's in trouble.
    • "I Want to Love You Until the Day I Die," the season five fall finale. Connor and Oliver get married. Nate finds a photograph of Miller using a payphone and assumes that Miller had his father killed, leading him to beat him nearly to death; Bonnie finishes the job for him. Frank finally reveals to Annalise that Gabriel is Sam's kid from his first marriage.
  • Wham Line:
    • "Why is your penis on a dead girl's phone?" The trailers for the episode even advertised that the last nine words of the show would make your jaw drop.
    • "He Deserved to Die" ends with Bonnie dropping another bombshell line that Lila Stangard was six weeks pregnant before she died.
    • In the first season's winter finale:
    Wes: I'm so sorry.
    Annalise: Don't be.
    • In "Best Christmas Ever" a potential client comes to Annalise's house and is met with a good deal of justified suspicion, with Annalise and the kids believing her to be some sort of journalist—that is, until she unveils the gem, "My husband has two women locked in the basement." Cue stunned silence.
    • Annalise goads Wes into shooting her by telling him that Rebecca is dead, and has been dead for the entirety of the events that have taken place in the second season.
    • Frank says three little words to Laurel that turns their relationship upside down: "I killed Lila."
    • A flashback to 2005 shows Annalise speaking with the father of her then-client after Rose (Wes' mother) has committed suicide and she realizes why she did it: "She was afraid of you because you raped her." And then her revelation to Wes that that rape resulted in him.
    • In the third mid-season finale, Nate reveals to Annalise that "Wes was already dead... before the fire" that burned down her house.
    • Laurel's baby's cry after Annalise performed CPR.
  • Wham Shot:
    • The reveal that Annalise saw Wes attempting to take the trophy that he just used to kill her husband casts all the flash-forwards in a completely different light.
    • The first season finale shows us the details surrounding Lila's death, including showing her asphyxiation and then panning up to reveal Frank as her killer, apparently on Sam's orders.
    • The final moments of the first season finale show Rebecca, apparently dead, hidden under the stairs in Annalise's basement.
    • The final moments of the Season 2 premiere skip ahead two months later, and show Annalise in the Hapstall mansion, apparently shot and bleeding out.
    • In the last moments of "What Did We Do?", a flashback shows a young Wes speaking with the police about his mother's death. Pan outside the room to Eve and Annalise, who are implied to be responsible for it somehow.
    • The flashback of the following episode shows how Annalise met Wes and his mother, also revealing her to be heavily pregnant at the time. This puts Annalise's hallucinations about the baby boy in her house in a new light.
    • Episode 2.12 ends with a young Wes, standing over his mother while she bleeds out from a knife wound that he apparently inflicted on her.
    • Episode 3.01 ends with a flash-forward of Annalise wailing as her house burns down and an ambulance carts an unidentified body away.
    • Episode 3.03: There was another person in the fire that gutted Annalise's house, and they're alive. The next episode reveals that the person is Laurel. Oh, and she's pregnant.
    • Episode 3.05: A person was killed in the fire, and that person was male.
    • Episode 3.07: Wes provided evidence against Annalise in exchange for immunity.
    • Episode 3.09: The coroner lifts the sheet, revealing Wes, who is horribly burned.
    • Episode 4.12: Annalise goes to a lecture hall to seek the only woman with the smarts, power and ruthlesness to help her: Olivia Pope.
  • Who's Your Daddy?: Laurel agrees to use a paternity test to see if Frank or Wes is the father of her baby.
  • You Owe Me: Sam found out Frank is the reason why Annalise lost her baby and used it as blackmail to get him to murder Lila Stangard.
  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • Wes accidentally walks in on Annalise having sex with Nate, but she seems surprisingly cool about it. When he later meets Sam Keating at a school function, it is a different man than he saw Annalise with. She confronts Wes to get him to keep quiet about what he saw. Wes assumes that getting a job at her firm is a bribe to keep him quiet, but she denies it and assures him that it's because of his skill. This isn't really true either: Annalise gave Wes the job (and made sure he'd get into law school) for her own personal reasons, without really thinking of how skilled he might be. But, him walking in on her and Nate didn't factor into it.
    • And, of course, the first case of the series is based around a business executive's affair with his secretary after she tries to kill him for ending their relationship.
    • Lila was cheating on Griffin with Sam Keating, but Griffin wasn't aware. However, Annalise plants evidence in his car that he did know in order to make the police suspect him for Lila's murder.
    • The case in 1.08 has the defendant's husband cheat on her with their nanny — who was also sleeping with the defendant's son.
    • Frank thinks that Laurel's baby, which has been assumed to be Wes', is actually his; although that's later disproven, it still means that Laurel cheated on Wes with Frank sometime during their relationship.

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