Walter White (Breaking Bad)
|Breaking Bad character|
|Created by||Vince Gilligan|
|Portrayed by||Bryan Cranston|
Chemist at Sandia National Laboratories
Co-founder of Gray Matter Technologies
High school chemistry teacher
Car wash cashier
Car wash proprietor and manager
|Significant other(s)||Skyler White (wife)
Gretchen Schwartz (ex-girlfriend)
|Children||Walter White Jr. (son)
Holly White (daughter)
|Relatives||Hank Schrader (brother-in-law)
Marie Schrader (sister-in-law)
Dr. Walter Hartwell "Walt" White, Ph.D., (also known by his clandestine alias, Heisenberg) is a fictional character and the protagonist of the American television drama series Breaking Bad on AMC. He is portrayed by Bryan Cranston and was created by series creator Vince Gilligan. Once a promising chemist who was one of the founding members of the fictional, now multi-billion dollar company "Gray Matter Technologies", Walter left the company for personal reasons and became an unhappy and disillusioned high school chemistry teacher. After being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, he resorts to manufacturing methamphetamine to ensure his family's financial security when he dies. As the series progresses, Walter gradually becomes darker and takes on a more villainous role.
Although AMC officials hesitated to cast Cranston due to his previous comedic role on Malcolm in the Middle, Gilligan cast him based on the actor's past performance in an episode of The X-Files. Cranston has contributed to much of his character, including Walter's back story, physical appearance and personality traits. Gilligan had described his goal with Walter White as turning Mr. Chips into Scarface, and has deliberately made the character less and less sympathetic.
Both the Walter White character and Bryan Cranston's performance have received critical acclaim. Cranston won three consecutive Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, becoming the second actor ever to do so and the first since Bill Cosby for I Spy in the 1960s.
Character biography 
Background and personality 
Walter White is a talented chemist who, as a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, contributed to research that helped a team win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. After graduate school, Walter founded the firm Gray Matter Technologies with Elliott Schwartz, his former classmate and close friend. Around this time, Walter dated his lab assistant, Gretchen. However, he abruptly left both Gretchen and Gray Matter Technologies, selling his financial interest in the company for 5000 dollars. Gretchen and Elliott later married and made a fortune, over which Walter secretly harbors animosity.
By the start of Breaking Bad, Walt has been forced to work as a high school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, providing instruction to uninterested and disrespectful students. The job pays so poorly that he is forced to take a second job at a car wash, which proves particularly humiliating when he must clean the cars of his own students. Walter is married to Skyler White; they have a teenage son named Walter Jr., who has cerebral palsy. Skyler is also pregnant with their second child, Holly, who is born at the end of season two. Walt's other family includes Skyler's sister, Marie Schrader, and her husband, Hank, who is an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Season one 
The pilot episode of Breaking Bad begins on Walt's 50th birthday, when he watches a local news report about a methamphetamine drug bust and is impressed by the amount of money recovered from the dealers. The following day, Walt is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and is told that he likely has only about two years to live. Knowing that his family is in serious financial straits, and remembering the earlier news report, Walt considers secretly cooking meth as a way to ensure his family has money and security after he dies. He accompanies his brother-in-law, Hank, as a ride-along during a DEA drug bust against a local dealer named "Cap'n Cook". During the bust, Walt sees a former student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), fleeing from the scene, and realizes that Jesse is the dealer Hank is investigating. Using the school's records, Walt tracks down Jesse and blackmails him into letting him enter the drug trade. The two form a partnership in which Walt will manufacture meth and Jesse will sell it, producing the product in an RV that Jesse purchases with Walt's life savings. Because of Walt's expertise in chemistry, he produces exceptionally pure supplies of meth.
Walt is nearly killed when Jesse brings meth distributors Krazy-8 Molina (Max Arciniega) and Emilio Koyama (John Koyama) to the RV, and Emilio recognizes Walt from Hank's bust. He survives only by mixing chemicals to produce a deadly gas, killing Emilio in self-defense and incapacitating Krazy-8. When he hears sirens, Walt falsely believes his arrest to be imminent and attempts suicide, but survives after he forgets to remove the safety on his handgun. Krazy-8 survives the encounter and is held captive in Jesse's house. Walt wishes not to kill Krazy-8 and, after getting to know the man, plans to release him. However, upon realizing Krazy-8 plans to kill him with a makeshift weapon once released, Walt strangles him to death with a bicycle lock.
Elsewhere, Walt keeps his activities secret from his family, but when Skyler learns about Jesse and confronts Walter about him, Walter claims Jesse is his marijuana dealer. Walter eventually tells his family about the cancer and, although he initially insists he does not want treatment due to the medical costs and concerns over loss of dignity, he ultimately agrees to seek treatment.
Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz offer to give him a job and to pay for all of Walt's treatment, but he refuses to accept, apparently due to pride and animosity over their past. Instead, he resumes cooking meth with Jesse, despite his initial plans to abandon the partnership following the incidents with Krazy-8 and Emilio. Walt insists he wants no part in the drug dealing end of the business and that he wants no more bloodshed, but also expresses impatience at the rate at which Jesse is selling and demands that he find a distributor. Jesse makes contact with Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz), a drug kingpin who beats him so badly that he becomes hospitalized. Walt confronts Tuco – using the alias "Heisenberg", after Werner Heisenberg, the author of the Uncertainty principle – and demands $50,000 for the drugs and Jesse's pain and suffering; after Walter uses an explosive crystal of fulminated mercury to nearly blow up Tuco's office, Tuco agrees to the proposal and they form a lucrative, albeit unstable, partnership.
Walt starts producing meth more quickly and, to circumvent sales restrictions on the organic pseudoephedrine compound, opts to use phenylacetone reacted with methylamine, which produces racemic meth, which is then purified to the same pure dextrorotatory form as before, except in a blue color that becomes a signature for Walter's product. The first season ends with Walter and Jesse's delivering a fresh batch of meth to Tuco, who viciously beats one of his henchmen, No Doze (Cesar Garcia), for making a single comment as a shocked Walter and Jesse look on.
Season two 
When No Doze dies as a result of Tuco's beating, Walt fears Tuco's unstable personality. Tuco becomes increasingly paranoid and kidnaps Walter and Jesse out of fear they will turn him in. They are kept hostage for several days in a trailer (belonging to Hector Salamanca) in the middle of the desert, but after a struggle, Jesse shoots Tuco and escapes with Walter. Shortly afterward, Tuco is shot to death in a gunfight with Hank, who tracked Jesse's car to Tuco while searching for Walter. To explain his absence, Walter wanders naked into a grocery store, feigning confusion, and later claims he has no recollection of the past several days. Although Hank knows nothing about Walter's role in the drug trade, he starts investigating the recent upsurge in blue meth and the mysterious manufacturer known as "Heisenberg", unaware it is his own brother-in-law. Walter's constant lies start straining his marriage, as Skyler seems to sense his dishonesty and grows weary of his coldness. Meanwhile, Walter grows more and more aggressive in his role as a drug manufacturer; when Jesse tells him they are short of money because one of their dealers was robbed, Walter demands that he "handle it" by whatever means necessary.
When Walter's medical bills start mounting, he promises Skyler he will seek assistance from Elliott and Gretchen after all, but continues to pay with his drug money. When Skyler calls Gretchen to thank her for their help, Gretchen confronts Walter and asks how he is paying the bills. Walter becomes angry, insisting it is none of her business and condemning her and Elliott for making millions of dollars on his research. Meanwhile, one of their dealers, Brandon "Badger" Mayhew (Matt L. Jones), is arrested and, fearful it could lead the police back to them, Walter and Jesse seek advice from the sleazy and unscrupulous criminal attorney Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). Saul arranges for a career criminal, who willingly goes to prison for crimes he does not commit, to pose as Heisenberg and be arrested. Although Hank remains suspicious that the real Heisenberg is still loose, the arrest takes some heat off of Walter, and Saul uses the experience to become Walter's consigliere-like adviser.
Walter soon learns his cancer is in remission and the tumor has shrunk by 80 percent. In light of this news, Walter insists to Jesse that he will be getting out of the drug trade after unloading the last of the meth. However, there are signs he is embracing the criminal activity, such as when he threateningly warns a prospective competitor to "stay out of my territory". When another of Walter's dealers, Combo Ortega (Rodney Rush), is shot to death during a deal, Saul arranges for Walter to meet Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), a powerful drug kingpin who also runs a chain of fast food restaurants as a front. Walter seeks to sell his entire supply in bulk to Gustavo, but the extremely cautious and low-profile man expresses concerns about working with Walter, particularly due to the unpredictability of Jesse, whose addiction to meth has worsened. Nevertheless, Gustavo agrees to buy Walter's entire stock of meth for $1.2 million. The deal is nearly blown by Jesse's drug problems, but Walter makes the transaction, even though it makes him miss the birth of his daughter Holly.
Jesse demands his cut of the money, but Walter refuses to turn it over until Jesse gets clean. Later, however, Jesse's drug addict girlfriend Jane Margolis (Krysten Ritter) blackmails Walter, threatening to make his drug activities public unless he gives Jesse his money. Walter agrees to the demand and, later that same night, goes to a bar and meets Donald Margolis (John de Lancie), whom he does not realize is Jane's father. When Donald tells Walter one must never give up on family, Walter realizes he has paternal feelings toward Jesse and decides to help him. He breaks into Jesse's house, where Jesse and Jane lie passed out after a drug fix and Jane starts choking on her own vomit. Seeing Jane as his personal enemy, Walter chooses not to help her and allows her to die. Later, Jesse is distraught over Jane's death, unaware of Walter's role in it, and Walter checks him in to an expensive rehabilitation clinic. Meanwhile, Walter undergoes an aggressive, risky surgery to treat his lung cancer, which appears to be a success. However, incriminating statements Walter unwittingly makes while under anesthesia lead Skyler to discover the extent of many of Walter's lies, and she leaves him. The second season ends with Donald, an air traffic controller, making a mistake at his job due to his despair over Jane's death. From his home, Walter watches two commercial airplanes crash into each other, unaware that he is indirectly responsible for it.
Season three 
At the start of the season, Walt is wracked with guilt after learning about the role Jane's death played in the plane crash. He has also moved out of the house. During a discussion about a possible divorce, Skyler accuses Walt of dealing marijuana with Jesse, believing it to be the only way he could have paid his medical bills. When Walt admits to manufacturing methamphetamine, a stunned Skyler says she will not tell anybody if he grants her a divorce, but he refuses. Meanwhile, Gus offers Walt $3 million to cook meth for three months. Walt declines, still despairing over the loss of his family. Walter breaks in to his house and stays there despite Skyler's insistence he stay away. Shortly afterward, while Walter is showering, the Mexican drug cartel hitmen Leonel and Marco Salamanca (Daniel and Luis Moncada) break into the house and wait with an axe to kill Walter to avenge their cousin Tuco's death. Walt is only saved by the last-minute assistance of Gus, who insists he needs Walter's help producing meth. Skyler threatens to turn Walter in to the police when she realizes he is home, but she fails to go through with it. Later, Skyler reveals to Walter she has had sex with her boss, Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins).
Walter becomes an emotional mess and, at one point, tries to kiss his own boss, assistant principal Carmen Molina (Carmen Serano), who places him on indefinite suspension as a result. Gus offers Walter a state-of-the-art meth lab concealed beneath an industrial laundry facility. Although Walter initially continues to resist, he eventually accepts Gus's offer, then reluctantly signs Skyler's divorce papers. By this point, Walter and Jesse have had a falling out, and Walter is working with a new lab assistant, Gale Boetticher (David Costabile). When Hank asks Walter if he remembers whether his former student Jesse used a recreational vehicle, Walter realizes Hank is closing in on Jesse and tries to have the RV destroyed. Hank follows Jesse to the repair yard where the RV is kept, which results in Hank's finding the RV and pounding on the door while Walter and Jesse are inside. They escape the situation only after Walter arranges for Hank to receive a phone call that his wife, Marie, has been hurt in an accident, prompting Hank to rush off to see her. Walter and Jesse subsequently have the RV destroyed.
Later, a furious Hank beats Jesse to the point that he is hospitalized. Walter convinces Jesse not to press charges and the two make amends after Walter makes Jesse his full partner, resulting in Jesse's replacing Gale as his lab assistant. When Hank is shot by Leonel and Marco Salamanca, Skyler insists that she and Walter will pay for Hank's medical bills, and she claims to Marie that Walter made his money by gambling. Skyler gradually starts to become more involved in the dark side of Walter's life and proposes they buy the car wash where he previously worked for a front business to launder his drug money. She also reveals she never filed the divorce papers Walter had signed. Eventually, Jesse learns the drug dealers who killed his friend Combo work for Gus, and that the dealers forced Tomas (Angelo Martinez), the 11-year-old brother of Jesse's girlfriend Andrea (Emily Rios), to commit the murder. Jesse starts making plans to kill them, and Walter seeks to stop this by informing Gus of Jesse's plans. This leads to a meeting of Walter, Gus, Jesse and the drug dealers, during which Gus warns Jesse not to harm the dealers and tells them to stop using children during their deals.
Shortly afterward, however, Tomas is murdered by unknown gunmen, prompting an angry Jesse to seek revenge. Upon hearing local news broadcasts about Tomas' death, Walter realizes how Jesse will respond and seeks to find him. Just before Jesse is about to confront the dealers, Walter arrives and runs them down with his car. One is killed instantly and Walter executes the other by a gunshot to the head. Walter places Jesse into hiding, then later tells Gus that he has fled the state. Although Walter insists he wishes to continue cooking meth for Gus, he quickly realizes Gus is grooming his former lab assistant, Gale, to eventually replace Walter. He correctly predicts Gus will try to kill Walter once Gale is ready, so Walter tells Jesse they must kill Gale to prevent this. Jesse does not want to do it and suggests Walter turn himself in to the DEA, but Walter refuses and says he will kill Gale himself. However, before he can do so, Walter is abducted by Gus's henchmen, Mike (Jonathan Banks) and Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui), who plan to kill him. Walter claims he will arrange to turn Jesse over to them, but when they allow him to call Jesse, Walter quickly informs Jesse he must now kill Gale himself, or else Mike and Victor will kill him. The third season ends with Jesse's shooting Gale.
Season four 
After Gale's murder, Mike and Victor kidnap Walter and Jesse. They are taken to the laundry and brought before Gus, who slits Victor's throat with a box cutter in a gruesome show of force. Walter is unnerved by Gus's actions, and fears he will kill them at the next opportunity. He plots to pre-emptively kill Gus, illegally purchasing a snubnosed revolver for the task. However, Walter is told by Mike and a new lieutenant, Tyrus Kitt, that Gus has eschewed all contact with him. Walter attempts to kill Gus at his home, only to be confronted by Tyrus. He also approaches Mike at a bar and asks for his help in killing Gus; however, Mike beats Walter and leaves.
With some help from Saul, the Whites force Bogdan into selling his car wash. However, Walter begins recklessly spending his money on other items, buying a Dodge Challenger for Walt, Jr.; when Skyler refuses to let the boy accept the less-than-inconspicuous gift, an angered Walter destroys the car in an empty parking lot. Walter's demeanor becomes increasingly sinister, frightening Skyler to the point where she contemplates leaving New Mexico. She stays, however, but tells Walter that she intends to "protect this family from the man who protects this family".
The relationship between Walter and Gus continues to deteriorate; Walter discovers that Gus has installed a surveillance camera in the superlab to track his movements, while the depressed Jesse's increasingly erratic behavior makes him a possible target. His troubles increase when Hank begins an unofficial investigation into Gus, having found evidence linking him to Gale's murder. The oblivious Hank asks Walter to place a tracking device on Gus's car in a Los Pollos Hermanos parking lot; a harried Walter informs Gus of the tracking device, which he later removes. Hank also has Walter drive him to Gus's laundry, which he avoids by deliberately causing a car accident. When Gus learns of this incident, his distrust of Walter deepens.
In another plot to kill Gus, Walter manufactures a small amount of ricin and gives it to Jesse, telling him to covertly poison Gus as soon as possible. However, Jesse fails to follow through out of fear for his own life. Upon learning this, Walter confronts Jesse and the two engage in a brawl, signifying an end to their partnership. Jesse subsequently joins Gus's organization as an apprentice to Mike.
Gus later takes Walter out to the desert and tells him he is "fired" and that if he tries to contact Jesse or interfere with his murdering Hank, Gus will kill Walt's entire family. (Gus couldn't kill Walter outright due to Jesse's adamant opposition, despite their falling out.) Jesse continues his relationship with Andrea and her son, Brock, who is hospitalized from poison, which Jesse believes to be from the ricin. Walter later regains Jesse's trust by pleading ignorance of Brock's poisoning and suggesting Gus was responsible, as Gus approved of violent measures against children in the past. Jesse and Walter attempt to kill Gus by rigging his station wagon with a remote-controlled pipe bomb, but Gus senses something is awry and Walt's plan is thwarted. Jesse later tells Walt of Gus's visits to Hector Salamanca at the rest home; Walt, in collusion with Hector (who weighs the many family members of his whom Gus has killed versus Walt's role in the death of only Tuco), rigs the pipe bomb to his wheelchair so that Hector may trigger it with his bell. When Gus visits him next, he is killed in the blast, along with Tyrus and Hector.
With Gus dead, Walter storms the superlab and kills two of Gus's henchmen to free Jesse, who had been kidnapped and forced to cook at gunpoint. The two proceed to set fire to the superlab, destroying the entire laundry facility. Afterward, Jesse tells Walter that Brock will live, as he was poisoned not by ricin, but by berries from a Lily of the Valley plant; because of this, Jesse realizes that Gus couldn't have been responsible for Brock's condition. Walter assures Jesse, however, that Gus's murder was necessary. The duo shake hands and part ways. Walter then calls Skyler to assure her that Gus is dead and he has "won". The final shot of this season fixes on a potted Lily of the Valley in Walter's back yard, suggesting he indeed poisoned Brock.
Season five 
Season 5 opens with a flashforward to Walt's 52nd birthday. He eats breakfast in an Albuquerque Denny's, using a New Hampshire driver's license in the name of "Lambert". After meeting an arms dealer in the restroom, Walt goes to the parking lot, where he finds a car the dealer left for him. In the trunk is an M60 machine gun. The story then returns to the aftermath of the season 4 finale.
Walt's defeat of Gus leads him to develop a sense of arrogance and invulnerability. He and Jesse join forces with Mike to destroy evidence in police custody that would prove their involvement with Gus, which they narrowly escape. Afterwards, Walt convinces them to join him in establishing their own meth operation. While searching for new locations to cook, Walt devises a plan to periodically set up his lab in residential houses tented by a pest control business. However, Walt's alliance with Jesse and Mike becomes tenuous, especially when he realizes Mike is using some of their returns to pay off Gus' incarcerated underlings, causing him to make less money than he did while working for Gus.
Elsewhere, Walt continues spending his money frivolously, selling his Aztek for fifty dollars and leasing sporty cars for himself and Walt Jr. Relationship problems with Skyler begin to culminate, as she attempts to send the kids away from home, telling Walter that she wants to protect them from him. She is so afraid of what Walt's methamphetamine business might bring on their children that she tells Walt that she'll keep fighting him until he finally dies of cancer. On the business side, trouble with their supplier leaves Walter, Jesse and Mike without any methylamine precursor. Mike suggests ramping down production, but Walter disagrees, saying that they are "just getting started". Thus, Mike turns to an old, untrustworthy accomplice from his days with Gus. Their new supplier, Lydia, is an American executive for Madrigal Electromotive GmbH, the parent company of Los Pollos Hermanos and the supplier of Gus's methylamine.
Lydia assists Walt, Mike, and Jesse as they arrange to steal 1,000 gallons of Madrigal's methylamine from a train traveling through New Mexico. The heist goes without a hitch until a fourth member of their gang, Todd, notices that a young boy witnessed their crime and immediately shoots him. After disposing of both the boy and his dirt bike with hydrofluoric acid, Mike and Jesse express their desire to end the three-way partnership and sell the methylamine to a Phoenix-based competitor. Even though the competitor, Declan, initially wants the methylamine in exchange for having Walt's meth pulled off the drug market, Walt persuades him to sell his superior product. Walt has yet another falling out with Jesse over his leaving their meth operation, and learns that the DEA is poised to arrest Mike after flipping his lawyer. During an angry confrontation with Mike, Walt impulsively shoots and kills him. Walt then conspires with Todd's Uncle (head of a group of white supremacists/Aryan Nation members) to have the ten former Fring employees killed during a coordinated, group assassination.
Walt makes a deal with Lydia to begin distributing his product overseas in the Czech Republic. After a few months, he amasses so much money that Skyler cannot even count it all. Walt reluctantly decides to end his involvement in the meth business, and his family is reunited. However, during a family gathering at the White residence, Hank goes to the bathroom and discovers Walt's copy of Leaves of Grass, given to him by Gale, which contains a handwritten note addressing Walt as "W.W." Remembering a conversation he previously had with Walt regarding those initials in Gale's lab notebook, Hank becomes visibly shocked.
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan cast Bryan Cranston for the role of Walter White based on having worked with him in a sixth season episode of the science fiction television series The X-Files, where Gilligan worked as a writer. Cranston played an anti-Semite with a terminal illness who took series protagonist Fox Mulder hostage. Gilligan said the character had to be simultaneously loathsome and sympathetic, and that "Bryan alone was the only actor who could do that, who could pull off that trick. And it is a trick. I have no idea how he does it." AMC officials were initially reluctant with the casting choice, having known Cranston only as the over-the-top character Hal on the comedy series Malcolm in the Middle and approached actors John Cusack and Matthew Broderick about the role. When both actors declined, the executives were persuaded to cast Cranston after seeing his X-Files episode.
Cranston contributed a great deal to the character's persona. When Gilligan left much of Walter's past unexplained during the development of the series, the actor wrote his own back story for the character. At the start of the show, Cranston gained 10 pounds to reflect the character's personal decline. He had the natural red highlights of his hair dyed a regular brown. He collaborated with costume designer Kathleen Detoro on a wardrobe of mostly neutral green and brown colors to make the character bland and unremarkable, and worked with makeup artist Frieda Valenzuela to create a mustache he described as "impotent" and like a "dead caterpillar". Cranston has also repeatedly identified elements in scripts where he disagreed with how the character was handled, and has gone so far as to call Gilligan directly when he could not work out disagreements with the episode screenwriters. Cranston has said he was inspired partially by his elderly father for how Walter carries himself physically, which he described as "a little hunched over, never erect, [as if] the weight of the world is on this man's shoulders". In contrast to his character, Cranston has been described as extremely playful on set, with Aaron Paul describing him as "a kid trapped in a man's body".
Gilligan has said it has been difficult to write for Walter White because the character is so dark and morally questionable: "I'm going to miss the show when it's over, but on some level, it'll be a relief to not have Walt in my head anymore." As the series has progressed, Gilligan and the writing staff of Breaking Bad have made Walter more and more unsympathetic. Gilligan said: "He's going from being a protagonist to an antagonist. We want to make people question who they're pulling for, and why." Cranston said by the fourth season: "I think Walt's figured out it's better to be a pursuer than the pursued. He's well on his way to badass." Regarding White's fate in the series ending, Cranston foresees it as "ugly[, with no] redemption", although earlier, Gilligan divulged his plans to "end on a high note, in a way that will satisfy everyone".
New York magazine writer Emma Rosenblum said Bryan Cranston "pulls off the unassuming White with flawless subtlety: a waxy pallor, a slump of the shoulders, and a sense of doom that is palpable". The Hollywood Reporter writer Tim Goodman praised as courageous Vince Gilligan's decision to transform Walter White into an unsympathetic character: "You don't take your main character and make him unlikable. You just don't. Nobody does that. Nobody has ever really done that to this extent." TIME magazine describes Season 5 to be "unflinching" while the New York Post says viewers should prepare for a "wild ride."
Bryan Cranston won three consecutive Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, the first actor to do so since Bill Cosby for the 1960s secret-agent adventure series I Spy.
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Further reading 
- Egner, Jeremy (19March 2010). "On Character: Bryan Cranston in ‘Breaking Bad’". New York Times. Retrieved 13 July 2012.