Walter White (Breaking Bad)
|Breaking Bad character|
|Created by||Vince Gilligan|
|Portrayed by||Bryan Cranston|
|Significant other(s)||Gretchen Schwartz (ex-girlfriend)|
Walter "Walt" Hartwell White Sr. (also known by his clandestine alias Heisenberg) is a fictional character and the main protagonist of Breaking Bad, portrayed by Bryan Cranston. A graduate of the California Institute of Technology, Walt was once a promising chemist who cofounded the company Gray Matter Technologies. He left Gray Matter abruptly, selling his shares for $5,000; soon afterward, the company made a fortune of roughly $2.16 billion, much of it from his research. Walt subsequently moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he became a high school chemistry teacher. After being diagnosed with Stage IIIA lung cancer, he resorts to manufacturing methamphetamine and drug dealing to ensure his family's financial security after his death. Series creator Vince Gilligan has described his goal with Walter White as "turning Mr. Chips into Scarface", and deliberately made the character less sympathetic over the course of the series. Walt's transition from mild-mannered school teacher and family man to ruthless criminal mastermind and murderer is the show's central focus.
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 the X-Files episode "Drive", which Gilligan wrote. Cranston contributed greatly to the creation of his character, including Walt's back story, physical appearance, and personality traits. Both the Walter White character and Bryan Cranston's performance have received critical acclaim. Cranston won four Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, three of them being consecutive, becoming the second actor to do so since Bill Cosby for I Spy in the 1960s. Following his fourth win, Cranston tied Dennis Franz for the most wins in the category's history. He is the first man to win a Critics' Choice, Golden Globe, Primetime Emmy, SAG, and TCA Award for his performance.
- 1 Character biography
- 2 Development
- 3 Reception
- 4 Real-life impact
- 5 In popular culture
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Background and personality
Walter White was born on September 7, 1959, as seen on some of his personal papers. Walt studied chemistry at the California Institute of Technology, where he conducted research on proton radiography that helped a team win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1985. After graduate school, Walt founded the firm Gray Matter Technologies with Elliott Schwartz (Adam Godley), his former classmate and close friend. Around this time, Walt dated his lab assistant, Gretchen (Jessica Hecht). However, he abruptly left both Gretchen and Gray Matter Technologies, selling his financial interest in the company for $5,000. Gretchen and Elliott later married and made a fortune, much of it from Walt's research. Though they remain friendly, Walt secretly resents both Gretchen and Elliott for profiting from his work.
At the age of 50, Walt works as a high school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, providing instruction to uninterested and disrespectful students. The job pays so poorly that Walt is forced to take up another job at a local car wash to supplement his income, which proves to be particularly humiliating when he has to clean the cars of his own students. Walt and his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) have a teenage son named Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte), 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 (Betsy Brandt); her husband, Hank (Dean Norris), who is a DEA agent; and his mother, who is never seen.
On his 50th birthday, Walt, along with his family, watches a local news report about a methamphetamine drug bust led by Hank, and is impressed by the amount of money recovered from the dealers. The following day, after collapsing at the car wash, Walt is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and is told that he likely has only two years to live. Knowing that his family is in serious financial trouble, Walt considers secretly cooking meth as a way to ensure his family has money and security after he dies. He accompanies 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. It is later revealed that Jesse blew Walt's money in a strip club and stole the RV. Because of Walt's expertise in chemistry, the meth he produces is of exceptionally high quality.
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 mixes red phosphorus and hot water to produce phosphine gas and suffocates Emilio and Krazy-8 in self-defense. When he hears sirens, Walt believes his arrest to be imminent and attempts suicide, but forgets to remove the safety on his .45 Smith & Wesson 4506 pistol, which he took from Krazy-8's body. He then realizes that the sirens were from firetrucks, responding to a fire that was started by Emilio's cigarette at their cook site. Walt and Jesse soon find that Krazy-8 is still alive; panicked, they imprison him in Jesse's house, where they also proceed to get rid of Emilio's body by dissolving it in hydrofluoric acid. Walt does not want to kill Krazy-8 and, after getting to know the man, plans to release him. Just as he is about to turn Krazy-8 loose, however, Walt realizes Krazy-8 has fashioned a makeshift knife from a broken plate shard and plans to kill him. Walt strangles him to death with a bicycle lock.
Walt keeps his activities secret from his family, but when Skyler learns about Jesse and confronts Walt about him, Walt claims Jesse is his marijuana dealer. Walt eventually tells his family about the cancer and, although he initially insists he does not want chemotherapy due to the medical costs and concerns over loss of dignity, he ultimately agrees to seek treatment.
Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz, Walt's former business partners, offer to give him a job and to pay for all of his treatment, but he refuses to accept their offer. Instead, he resumes cooking meth with Jesse. Walt insists he wants no part of 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 local drug kingpin. Jesse shows up with a bag of meth, which Tuco agrees to buy. When Jesse asks to be paid, Tuco becomes enraged, steals the meth, and beats Jesse so badly that he is hospitalized. In response, Walt, using his newly adopted alias "Heisenberg" (borrowed from Werner Heisenberg, discoverer of the uncertainty principle, and — like Walt — a teacher who was diagnosed with cancer), confronts Tuco and demands $50,000 in compensation for the stolen methamphetamine and Jesse's pain and suffering. To prove that he is serious, Walt throws an explosive crystal of fulminated mercury that destroys Tuco's office. Tuco admires Walt's aggressiveness and agrees to his request. They form a lucrative, albeit unstable, partnership.
Walt starts producing meth more quickly and, to circumvent legal restrictions on the sale of the organic pseudoephedrine compound, opts to use phenylacetone reacted with methylamine to produce racemic meth. He purifies this compound to the same high quality dextrorotatory form as before, except it has a blue color that becomes a signature of Walt's product. The first season ends with Walt and Jesse delivering a fresh batch of meth to Tuco, and watching in horror as Tuco viciously beats one of his henchmen to death.
Walt and Jesse are now full partners with Tuco, until the paranoid drug lord kidnaps them out of fear they will turn him in. Tuco holds them hostage for days at a house in the desert owned by his uncle Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis), a former drug kingpin who has been confined to a wheelchair by a stroke. After a struggle, Jesse shoots Tuco and escapes with Walt. Shortly afterward, Tuco is shot to death in a gunfight with Hank, who tracked Jesse's car to Tuco while searching for Walt. To create a believable story to explain his absence, Walt wanders naked into a grocery store, feigning confusion, and later claims he has no recollection of the past several days. Meanwhile, Hank starts investigating the recent upsurge in blue meth and the mysterious manufacturer known as "Heisenberg", unaware that it is his own brother-in-law. Walt's constant lies start straining his marriage, as Skyler seems to sense his dishonesty and grows weary of his coldness. Meanwhile, Walt grows increasingly aggressive in his role as a drug manufacturer; when Jesse tells him they are short of money because one of their dealers was robbed, Walt demands that he "handle it" by whatever means necessary.
When Walt'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 Walt and asks how he is paying the bills. Walt becomes angry, condemning her and Elliott for making a fortune on his research. Meanwhile, one of Jesse's dealers, Brandon "Badger" Mayhew (Matt L. Jones), is arrested and, fearful it could lead the police back to them, Walt and Jesse seek advice from unscrupulous criminal attorney Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). Saul arranges for a career criminal, who willingly goes to prison for crimes he does not commit in return for a fee, to pose as Heisenberg and be arrested. Although Hank suspects that the real Heisenberg is still loose, the arrest takes some heat off of Walt, and Saul uses the experience to become Walt's consigliere-like advisor.
Once finished with his first round of chemotherapy, Walt undergoes another PET-CT scan that will only be explained by his doctor in a week. He accidentally sees the picture of his scan right after it's taken, which shows a bright large spot in his lung, which he believes to indicate he's getting worse. Walt tells Skyler he's going to visit his mother, and at the same time cons Jesse into going on a several day cooking spree by lying to him that their supply of methylamine needs to be used up right away or it will spoil. While Walt and Jesse cook over 40 pounds of meth, the RV battery depletes, leaving them stranded without food or water for several days before Walt creates a makeshift battery and uses it to start the RV engine. Walt soon learns his cancer is in remission and the tumor has shrunk by 80 percent  and the bright spot he saw on his PET-CT scan was an image of radiation pneumonitis. In light of this news, Walt insists to Jesse that he will be getting out of the drug trade after unloading the last of the meth. When another of Jesse's dealers, Combo Ortega (Rodney Rush), is shot to death during a deal, Saul arranges for Walt to meet Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), a powerful drug kingpin who runs a chain of fast food restaurants as a front. Walt seeks to sell his entire supply in bulk to Gus, but Gus refuses to do business with Jesse, who by now is addicted to heroin as well as meth. Nevertheless, Gus agrees to buy Walt's entire stock of meth for $1.2 million. Jesse nearly ruins the deal by failing to deliver the product, but Walt makes the transaction, even though it makes him miss the birth of his daughter Holly.
Jesse demands his cut of the money, but Walt refuses to turn it over until Jesse gets clean. Later, however, Jesse's drug addict girlfriend Jane Margolis (Krysten Ritter) blackmails Walt, threatening to make his drug activities public unless he gives Jesse his money. Walt agrees to the demand and, later that same night, goes to a bar and has a random conversation with a man, who he does not realize is Donald Margolis (John de Lancie), Jane's father. When Donald tells Walt one must never give up on family, Walt decides to help Jesse. He breaks into Jesse's house, where Jesse and Jane lie passed out after shooting heroin. Walt accidentally turns Jane over on her back, and she begins to choke on her own vomit. Walt does nothing to save her, and watches her die. Later, Jesse is heartbroken over Jane's death, unaware of Walt's role in it, and Walt checks him in to an expensive rehabilitation clinic. Meanwhile, Walt undergoes an aggressive, risky surgery to treat his cancer, which appears to be a success. However, suspicious statements Walt unwittingly makes while under anesthesia lead Skyler to discover the extent of many of his lies, and she leaves him. The second season ends with Donald Margolis, an air traffic controller, making a mistake at his job due to his despair over Jane's death. From his home, Walt watches two commercial airplanes crash into each other, unaware that he is indirectly responsible for it.
After Skyler leaves, a depressed Walt attempts to burn the money he has made from the meth business, before changing his mind at the last second. 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 Hank if he grants her a divorce. He refuses, but moves out of the house. Meanwhile, Gus offers Walt $3 million to cook meth for three months. Walt declines, still despairing over the loss of his family. Walt breaks in to his house and stays there despite Skyler's insistence he stay away. Shortly afterward, while Walt 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 Walt to avenge their cousin Tuco's death. Walt is only saved by the last-minute assistance of Gus, who insists he needs Walt's help producing meth. Skyler threatens to turn Walt in to the police when she realizes he is home, but she fails to go through with it. Later, Skyler reveals to Walt she has had sex with her boss, Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins).
To get back at Skyler, Walt attempts to kiss 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 Walt initially continues to resist, he eventually accepts Gus' offer, then reluctantly signs Skyler's divorce papers. After Walt and Jesse get into a physical altercation, Walt is given a new lab assistant, Gale Boetticher (David Costabile). When Hank asks Walt if he remembers whether his former student Jesse used a recreational vehicle, Walt 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, and knocks on the RV's door with Walt and Jesse still inside. Guided by Walt, Jesse tells Hank that he has no legal grounds for breaking in. Hank plans to order a search warrant, but Walt arranges for Saul's secretary to call Hank's phone, pretending to be a police officer, and tell him Marie was involved in a car accident, prompting Hank to leave. Walt and Jesse subsequently have the RV destroyed at a junkyard.
Later, a furious Hank beats Jesse to the point that he is hospitalized. Walt convinces Jesse not to press charges and the two make amends after Walt makes Jesse his full partner, resulting in Jesse's replacing Gale as his lab assistant. Meanwhile, the cartel pressures Gus for permission to kill Walt, but Gus instead tells them to kill Hank, who actually killed Tuco. When Hank is shot by Leonel and Marco Salamanca, Skyler insists that she and Walt pay for Hank's medical bills, and tells Marie that Walt made his money by gambling. Skyler realizes that she is already a part of Walt's life of crime, 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 Walt 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 new girlfriend Andrea (Emily Rios), to commit the murder. Jesse plans to murder the drug dealers himself. Gus finds out about his plans, and has his enforcer Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) intercept the assassination attempt and take Jesse to a meeting with Walt and the drug dealers, during which Gus tells the dealers to stop using children in their business.
Shortly afterward, however, Tomas is murdered by unknown gunmen, prompting an enraged Jesse to seek revenge. Upon hearing local news broadcasts about Tomas' death, Walt realizes how Jesse will respond and seeks to find him. Just as Jesse is about to confront the two dealers, who draw their guns, Walt arrives and runs them down with his Pontiac Aztek. One is killed instantly, while Walter takes the surviving dealer's .45 Smith & Wesson 945 pistol and shoots him with it. Walt sends Jesse into hiding, then later tells Gus that he has fled the state. Although Walt insists he wishes to continue cooking meth for Gus, he quickly realizes Gus is grooming his former lab assistant, Gale, to eventually replace him. Walt correctly predicts Gus will try to kill him once Gale is ready, so he tells Jesse they must kill Gale to save themselves. Jesse does not want to do it and suggests Walt turn himself in to the DEA, but Walt refuses and says he will kill Gale himself. However, before he can do so, Walt is abducted by Mike and Gus' henchman Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui), who plan to kill him. Walt claims he will arrange to turn Jesse over to them, but when they allow him to call Jesse, Walt quickly informs Jesse he must now kill Gale himself, or else Mike and Victor will kill him. Jesse arrives at Gale's door and tearfully shoots him with a .380 Beretta Cheetah pistol.
After Gale's murder, Victor abducts a distraught, almost catatonic Jesse and brings him to the meth lab. Victor rushes back to the Boetticher residence to clean the evidence, but the neighbors are already there and confront him as he carelessly goes inside to see Gale's body. Willing to make up for this mishap, Victor proceeds to singlehandedly start a meth batch, having learned all the steps while having Walt under surveillance, claiming it's just a recipe to follow, while Walt tries to prove his worth by asking specific questions, to show that he doesn't know what he's doing and can't replace him. When Gus arrives at the lab, he changes into a hazmat suit and, without saying a word, slits Victor's throat with a box cutter, in front of both Walt and Jesse, in a gruesome show of force. Walt fears that Gus will kill him at the next opportunity, and plots to preemptively kill Gus with an illegally purchased .38 Ruger LCR revolver. However, Walt soon discovers that Gus has cut off all contact with him and has sent a new enforcer, Tyrus Kitt (Ray Campbell), to keep an eye on him. Walt attempts to kill Gus at his home but is interrupted by a phone call from Tyrus, who is surveilling the house. He later approaches Mike at a bar and asks for his help in killing Gus; however, Mike beats Walter up and leaves.
With help from Saul, the Whites strong-arm Bogdan (Marius Stan), Walt's former boss, into selling them his car wash so they can launder Walt's drug money. Walt begins recklessly spending his money, buying a Dodge Challenger for Walter, Jr.; when Skyler refuses to let Walter, Jr. accept the conspicuous gift, a frustrated Walt destroys the car in an empty parking lot.
Gus installs a surveillance camera in the lab to track Walt's movements. Meanwhile, having found evidence linking Gus to Gale's murder, Hank begins an unofficial investigation and asks Walt to place a tracking device on Gus's car outside of his restaurant. A harried Walt informs Gus of the tracking device, but installs it anyway after Gus instructs him to. Walt later rushes to the lab and, facing the surveillance camera, acknowledges to Gus they have a mutual problem with the investigation, but begs Gus not to kill Hank.
Walt manufactures a small amount of ricin in the meth lab and gives it to Jesse, instructing him to covertly poison Gus as soon as possible. Hank has Walt drive him to retrieve the tracking device. This proves unsuccessful in gathering any credible information however, due to Gus' knowledge of the bug.
Jesse fails to follow through with the hit on Gus, partly out of fear for his own life, but also because of a burgeoning fascination for him. Upon learning this, Walt confronts Jesse and the two engage in a brawl, signifying an end to their partnership. Jesse subsequently joins Gus' organization as Mike's apprentice. Unconvinced that Gus is innocent, Hank continues his investigation and discovers Gus' laundromat where the meth lab is located. Despite Walt's attempts to thwart his investigation, Hank convinces him to drive him to the laundry to investigate, but before they arrive Walt deliberately causes a car accident. A few days later, Walt visits Jesse to seek help, but Jesse refuses. Upon leaving, Walt is ambushed and tasered by enforcers who were surveilling Jesse's house on Gus's orders.
Walt wakes up in the middle of the desert to Gus telling 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 Walt outright due to Jesse's adamant opposition, despite their falling out.) When Andrea's son Brock is hospitalized, Jesse is convinced that Walt poisoned the boy with ricin, and confronts him at gunpoint. Walt convinces Jesse that Gus was responsible by pointing out that Gus had approved of violent measures against children in the past. Jesse and Walt attempt to kill Gus by rigging his car with a remote-controlled pipe bomb, but Gus senses something is awry and Walt's plan is thwarted. Jesse later tells Walt of Gus' visits to Hector at his rest home; Walt, in collusion with Hector, rigs the pipe bomb to his wheelchair so that Hector may trigger it with his bell, and then has him pretend to share information with the DEA, so as to lure Gus into killing him personally, thus taking advantage of their intense mutual hatred. When Gus visits him shortly thereafter, he is killed in the blast, along with Hector and Tyrus.
With Gus dead, Walt storms the superlab and kills two of Gus' 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 Walt 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 poisoning. Walt assures Jesse, however, that Gus's murder was necessary. The duo shake hands and part ways. Walt then calls Skyler to assure her that they are safe and "he won". The final scene shows a potted Lily of the Valley in Walt's back yard, signifying that Walt had intentionally poisoned Brock in order to spur Jesse into action and forward his plan to kill Gus.
Walt and Jesse join forces with a reluctant Mike to establish 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. Trouble with their supplier leaves Walt, Jesse and Mike without any methylamine precursor. Mike suggests ramping down production, but Walt insists they stay on course. Their new methylamine supplier, Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (Laura Fraser), is an executive for Madrigal Electromotive GmbH, the parent company of Los Pollos Hermanos. Skyler attempts to send the kids away from home, afraid of what Walt's meth business might bring upon them. During a dinner with Hank and Marie, she stages a suicide attempt in an effort to convince the Schraders to temporarily take custody of Walter Jr. and Holly. With the children gone, she tells Walt that she'll keep fighting him until he finally dies of cancer.
Lydia assists Walt, Mike, and Jesse in stealing a thousand gallons of Madrigal's methylamine from a train traveling through New Mexico. A fourth member of their gang, Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons), kills a young boy he saw witnessing the heist, leaving Jesse horrified and disgusted. After disposing of both the boy and his dirt bike with hydrofluoric acid, Mike and Jesse move to end the partnership and sell the methylamine to a Phoenix-based competitor named Declan (Louis Ferreira). Even though Declan initially wants Walt's meth pulled off the drug market, Walt persuades him to sell his own superior product instead, promising more profit with a 35% cut than with their own operation; he ends the exchange by having Declan acknowledge that he is in fact Heisenberg, a revered name in the business by that point. Walt argues with Jesse over his leaving their meth operation, and learns that the DEA is poised to arrest Mike. Following an angry confrontation with Mike, who is about to escape and refuses to give him the names of his nine imprisoned former associates (all potential witnesses), Walt impulsively kills him with a .357 Taurus Model 65 revolver. He then conspires with Todd's uncle, Jack (Michael Bowen), a criminal with ties to the Aryan Brotherhood, to have Mike's associates and their lawyer killed in a coordinated assassination. Walt also makes a deal with Lydia to begin distributing his product overseas in the Czech Republic. After a few months, he amasses a fortune of 80 million dollars. Showing him the huge pile of bills, Skyler convinces Walt to end his involvement in the meth business, and his family is reunited.
During a family gathering at the White residence, Hank goes to the bathroom and discovers Walt's copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass given to him by Gale Boeticher, which contains a handwritten note addressing Walt as "my other favorite W.W." Remembering a conversation he previously had with Walt regarding those initials in Gale's lab notebook, Hank realizes that Walt has been Heisenberg all along.
In the wake of his discovery, Hank begins investigating Walt and puts a GPS tracker on his car. Walt eventually realizes what Hank knows and confronts him, which leads to a physical altercation. Walt reveals that his cancer has returned and that he will likely be dead within six months, making an arrest pointless since he would not live to see trial. Hank demands that Walt give him and Marie custody of the kids, but Walt refuses. After Hank remarks that he no longer knows who Walt is, Walt calmly urges him to "tread lightly".
With help from Saul and his henchmen, Kuby (Bill Burr) and Huell (Lavell Crawford), Walt puts his money into seven barrels and then goes alone to bury it in the Tohajiilee Indian Reservation. Walt records a videotaped "confession" in which he frames Hank as the mastermind of the meth operation, and hands over a DVD of the confession to the Schraders as a threat. Meanwhile, he persuades Jesse to skip town with a new identity. When Jesse discovers that Huell stole the ricin cigarette, he realizes that Walt did poison Brock after all. Enraged, he rushes to Saul's office and beats the truth out of him. He then goes to Walt's house, which he proceeds to douse with gasoline. Saul promptly informs Walt, who arrives at the house armed, only to find that Jesse is not there.
Saul and Skyler urge Walt to call in a hit on Jesse, but he refuses to do so. Unbeknownst to Walt, Hank talked Jesse out of burning down the house, and Jesse has agreed to cooperate with the investigation. Walt arranges a public meeting with Jesse in Downtown Albuquerque, not knowing it is monitored by Hank and his partner Steven Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada). However, as Jesse is approaching the rendezvous point, he sees a suspicious-looking man who he mistakenly assumes was put there by Walt. Instead of meeting him, Jesse calls Walt on a pay phone and threatens him. Walt finally contacts Jack to have Jesse killed, but Jack only agrees to the deal on the condition that Walt teaches Todd how to cook his signature blue meth, which has been declining in quality since Walt left the drug trade. Walt agrees to do so, but only after the hit is done.
Still cooperating with Hank, Jesse sends Walt a photo of what appears to be one of his barrels, pretending to have found them using a GPS tracker, and threatening to burn all the money. Walt frantically drives to To'hajiilee, only to realize that the photo was a decoy to lure him to the money's actual hiding place, where he can now be tracked from his cell phone's signal. Believing that Jesse is coming to kill him, Walt contacts Jack for backup. However, he calls off the hit once Jesse shows up with Hank and Gomez. He then surrenders and Hank triumphantly arrests him. Jack's gang shows up anyway, however, and opens fire, killing Gomez and wounding Hank. Jack then executes Hank at point-blank range. Jack digs up Walt's money using the GPS coordinates and takes most of it for himself, leaving Walt one barrel and advising him to leave town. Walt finds Jesse hiding under his car and gives away his location. As the gang takes Jesse into captivity, Walt spitefully tells him that he watched Jane die.
Walt returns home and is confronted by Skyler and Walter Jr., the latter having been told the truth about his father's criminal activities. After revealing that Hank is dead, he gets into a violent struggle with Skyler and flees with Holly. However, after Holly cries for her mother, Walt feels a pang of conscience and leaves her at a fire station. Before doing so, he makes a threatening phone call to Skyler, in fact intending to cast suspicion away from her. With a single barrel of money left, Walt leaves Albuquerque and lives in total isolation in New Hampshire.
After several months alone, Walt travels to a nearby town and calls his son, offering to send him money; Walter Jr. angrily rejects the gesture. Feeling hopeless, Walt contacts the Albuquerque DEA, intending for the authorities to trace the call and arrest him. While waiting for the police, Walt sees a TV interview in which Gretchen and Elliot dismiss his involvement with Gray Matter. Angry and reinvigorated, Walt returns to New Mexico – coincidentally on his 52nd birthday. He first strong-arms Gretchen and Elliot into giving his remaining $9.72 million to Walter Jr. on his 18th birthday, staging a fake death threat with the help of Jesse's friends Badger and Skinny Pete (Charles Baker). After purchasing an M60 machine gun and retrieving the ricin from his abandoned house, Walt intercepts Todd and Lydia's meeting in a cafe in an apparent attempt to teach Todd how to cook his formula for a million dollars, which only prompts Lydia to dismiss him politely and ask Todd to kill him. At the meeting, Walt slips ricin into a packet of stevia which Lydia pours into her tea. He then makes amends with Skyler, giving her the coordinates of Hank's burial site so she can make a deal with the police, and admitting for the first time that he entered the meth business for himself, not his family. Grateful for his honesty, she allows him to see his daughter one last time.
At night, Walt meets with Jack and his gang, who have enslaved Jesse. Walt feigns an attack on Jesse and tackles him to the ground, remotely activating the machine gun that was hidden in the Cadillac Walt used to drive to the compound, which sprays the house with bullets and kills most of the gang. In the aftermath of the barrage, Jesse strangles Todd to death, and Walt shoots Jack in the head when he attempts to bargain for his life. Walt then asks Jesse to kill him. Jesse finally refuses, seeing that Walt was mortally wounded during the shooting. Walt takes a call on Todd's phone from Lydia, who is feeling very sick; Walt calmly reveals that he poisoned her with ricin during their earlier encounter. Walt and Jesse silently nod to each other, and Jesse escapes the compound in a car. Walt walks through Jack's meth lab, admiring the equipment one last time as police cars approach the compound. Eventually, he collapses onto the floor and dies on September 8, 2011. Moments later, the police enter the lab and find his body.
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 Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) 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 father for how Walt 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 progressed, Gilligan and the writing staff of Breaking Bad 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 foresaw 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."
The character development of Walter White as well as Bryan Cranston's performance have received overwhelming critical acclaim.
Since watching [the fifth season episode, "Confessions"], I've been thinking a lot about Walter White, the 'shadow' on his recent CAT scan, and the black cloud that has long since overtaken his heart. The closer we get to the end, the more Walt scrabbles around and lashes out like a rat when it's surrounded, the less I'm buying Vince Gilligan's whole 'Mr. Chips to Scarface' quote as an analogy for Walt's transformation. That's the route the character has taken these five seasons, sure, in terms of his changing context. But I think the most horrifying part of Breaking Bad may be that Walt, at his core, didn't really transform at all. It wasn't greed or generosity or cancer or fear that fueled this reign of death and destruction. It was resentment. Seething, burning resentment, the kind that forms not due to poor treatment but due to an innate knowledge that you, the aggrieved, are better than said treatment, better than everyone who has somehow gotten the better of you over the years. ... Every moment Walt spent in front of a classroom he was thinking about how beneath him it all was. He was a genius; he was meant to be a millionaire, not this castrated cross between stepping stone and doormat. When you got down to it, Walt desperately wanted to teach every one ... a lesson, and I don't mean in the style of Mr. Chips.
Similarly, Scott Meslow wrote in The Atlantic that Walt's capacity for villainy was present well before the series even began, and that cancer was merely the catalyst: "all the elements that have since turned him into a monster were already in place."
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." Robert Bianco of USA Today called Walt "one of the greatest dramatic creations ever to grace our TV screens." In 2011, the New York Times named Cranston as one of the "eight actors who turn television into art". Following the show's conclusion, Academy Award-winning actor Anthony Hopkins wrote a fan letter to Cranston, wherein he praised the show and called Cranston's performance as Walter White the best acting he had ever seen.
Cranston has received various awards and nominations for his performance as Walter White. For the first three seasons, he won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series thrice consecutively, becoming the first actor to accomplish this feat since Bill Cosby for I Spy. Cranston was also nominated in 2012 and 2013 for season four and the first half of season five, but lost out to Damian Lewis for Homeland and Jeff Daniels for The Newsroom respectively. He also won his fourth Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards
At the annual Golden Globe Awards, Cranston has been nominated for the Best Actor – Television Series Drama accolade on four occasions for his role in Breaking Bad, in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, winning in 2014 for the second half of season five. At the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Cranston has been nominated for Male Actor in a Drama Series five times, in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, winning in 2013 and 2014, for both parts of season five. Also, Cranston has been nominated with the rest of the cast for Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, in 2012, 2013 and 2014, winning in 2014.
In addition, Cranston has won the Satellite Award for Best Actor: Drama Series three times consecutively, in 2008, 2009 and 2010, for seasons one, two and three, and has been nominated in 2011, 2012 and 2014 for seasons four and five. He won the TCA Award for Individual Achievement in Drama in 2009, and was nominated in 2010, 2012 and 2013; was nominated twice for the Prism Award for Best Performance in a Drama Series Multi-Episode Storyline; won two Saturn Awards for Best Actor on Television in 2012 and 2013 (tying with Kevin Bacon for The Following on the latter occasion), and was nominated in 2009, 2010 and 2011; and won the Golden Nymph Award for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series in 2013.
Over time Walter White has developed a cult following, spawning fan websites like "Heisenberg Labs", "Walt's Wardrobe", and "Save Walter White", which is an exact replica of the website Walter White's son creates in the series to raise money to pay for his father's cancer treatments. A platform style Breaking Bad video game has been created as a tribute to Walter White. In 2015, series creator Vince Gilligan publicly requested fans of the series to stop reenacting a scene in which Walter angrily throws a pizza on his roof after his wife refuses to let him inside; this came after complaints from the home's real-life owner. Cranston reprised his role of the character in a commercial for Esurance which aired during Super Bowl XLIX, one week before the premiere of Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul.
Obituary and funeral
A Breaking Bad fan group placed a paid obituary for Walter White in the Albuquerque Journal, October 4, 2013. On October 19, 2013, a mock funeral procession (including a hearse and a replica of White's meth lab RV) and service for the character was held at Albuquerque's Sunset Memorial Park cemetery. A headstone was placed with a photo of Cranston as White. While some residents were unhappy with the makeshift gravesite for closure with the show, tickets for the event raised nearly $17,000 for a local charity called Healthcare for the Homeless.
Alternative theory concerning death
Many fans of Breaking Bad, including actor Norm Macdonald and New York Magazine writer Emily Nussbaum, proposed a theory, in which most of the series finale happened in Walt's mind, and he really died in the stolen Volvo in the beginning of it. While Nussbaum merely stated that it would be her preferred ending, MacDonald emphasized the seemingly unreal scenarios of Walt's final day, as well as what he deemed as unreliable acting. However, series creator Vince Gilligan debunked this theory, explaining that Walt could not possibly have known several things that happened, like Jesse being held in captivity by Jack's gang instead of being murdered by them, or that Todd had begun taking meetings with Lydia regarding the meth trade.
In popular culture
- Walter White has a few guest cameo appearances in several comic publications, including:
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- VICE - The Real Walter White