It was 10 years ago this month that audiences were introduced to Walter White—a loving husband, doting dad, and brilliant scientist-turned-high school chemistry teacher who, upon learning that he has lung cancer, begins moonlighting as a drug kingpin so that he can leave this world knowing that his family won’t be left struggling in the wake of his death. Breaking Bad is regularly cited as one of the greatest television shows in the history of the medium, and with good reason. Unlike so many other successful shows, it only improved with each new season, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats until the final moments of the series finale. But it turns out that the show’s final ending wasn’t the only conclusion the series’ creators considered.
To celebrate Breaking Bad’s 10th anniversary, creator Vince Gilligan and a half-dozen of the series’ key writers—including Peter Gould, Moira Walley-Beckett, Thomas Schnauz, Gennifer Hutchison, Sam Catlin, and George Mastras—sat down with Variety to share some behind-the-scenes tidbits about the challenges of not just creating one of the most intense, creative, and celebrated series of all time, but the issues they faced in wrapping it up, too. And it seems that life could have turned out much differently for Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, and many of the other morally challenged characters audiences came to know and love.
When asked at what point they knew what the fate of each character would be, Gilligan said that it was “late in the game. We went through every possible permutation.” While the writers all concurred that the only logical ending would include Walter’s death, Gilligan admitted that they toyed around with avoiding the inevitable:
“There was a hive mind with these wonderful writers, where I don’t remember who said what, and it doesn’t even matter whose idea was whose. But I remember one afternoon, somebody said—and I was kind of into it for a while—'Wouldn’t it be really ironic if Walt is the only one to survive this?' Because it does seem so obvious that Walt should expire at the end of the final episode—but maybe he’s the only one left alive. Maybe he still does have a death sentence, but we go out on him alive, and maybe his whole family’s been wiped out. That would have been really f***ing dark.”
They ultimately agreed that Walter's demise was the only possible conclusion, but exactly how that happened was another matter—one that was brainstormed quite a bit.
While fans of the show undoubtedly remember White’s final moments, surrounded (fittingly) by the tools of his drug-making trade, Catlin said, “There was debate about that, and there was one pitch that he would die ignominiously on a gurney in a hospital, sort of pushed aside as a John Doe while life continued without him. I think the thinking behind that was, so much of what he chased was a sense of status and a sense of importance. It would have been more grim for him to be just tossed aside and overlooked at the end.”
Schnauz and Gould revealed another possible outcome. “There was the other pitch where he had been shot,” Schnauz said, “and crawled into a restaurant, sort of a Blood Simple-esque scene, ending up underneath …”
“… a Pollos Hermanos table,” Gould finished.
Gilligan said that he was, and continues to be, surprised by how beloved Walter was as a character, despite the fact that he did very bad things.
“I run into more people who were sorry he died at the end,” Gilligan said. “This whole thing about ‘Geez, is he really dead or not?’”
Though Walter may be gone, he’s certainly not forgotten. And we can always hold out hope that we’ll have a chance to see him once again on Better Call Saul.