Walter White may be dead, but it seems we can’t stop talking about the finale to “Breaking Bad” even as we approach a year since it first aired. The meth dealer left for dead, it was a fitting ending to the character whose initial attempt to pay for cancer treatment turned into a new, illegal profession that turned him into a monster. And while we’ve known that the writers batted around many ideas when it came to how to close off the show, creator/writer/director Vince Gilligan reveals another version that would’ve seen a bigger body count. But he first lays out how tricky it was to put anything in place at all.
“We had so many versions of the ending, and we really had boxed ourselves into a certain number of corners well in advance of the ending. Out of cockiness or stupidity, 16 episodes from the end, we had Walter White show up in a beard, long hair, and a new set of glasses, buying an M60 machine gun in a Denny’s parking lot,” he told EW.
“We didn’t really know how we were going to get to that story point — we didn’t even know what that meant or what Walt was going to use that machine gun for. So that was kind of ill-advised. I wouldn’t recommend to my fellow showrunners doing that unless you really know where it’s all headed. That led to a great many dark nights of the soul, many days in the writer’s room where I was like, ‘We’re never going to get there.’ The question always came up: ‘What the hell do you need a gun that big for?’ We had an idea for the longest time that Walt was going to break into the downtown jail in Albuquerque and just shoot the s— out of the jail with this M60 machine gun and rescue Jesse,” Gilligan continued. “Of course, we kept asking ourselves, ‘Well, how bad is Walt going to be at the end here? Is he going to kill a bunch of upstanding, law-abiding jail guards? What the hell kind of ending is that?’ And then we had some version of it where he’s going to shoot up a prison bus. We had so many crazy ideas. But the crazier ideas went away bit by bit and step by step as we kept filling in the blanks of each episode.”
But even with spinoff “Better Call Saul” coming up, Gilligan says it wasn’t something that was initially planned, with Bob Odenkirk‘s character certainly up for grabs when it came to character deaths in the finale. But the larger question he faced was justifying an ending that was more than just a bloodbath.
“We talked a great many times about killing off Saul and we were open to it. We would have done whatever it took to come up with the best, most satisfying ending to ‘Breaking Bad,’ including killing off Saul. But the more we talked about it, the more we thought, ‘You know, we don’t necessarily want the end of this series to be a bloodbath.’ At one point, we talked about killing off every major character, and one particularly dark week along the way we talked about killing everybody — having some sort of ‘Wild Bunch‘ bloodbath of an ending,” he shared.
“But you live with those ideas for a while and you think, ‘What do we need to kill all these characters for? Just because an ending is dramatic or perhaps overly dramatic does not ensure that it will be satisfying.’ We thought to ourselves, ‘Let’s just go with what feels right to us.’ And there’s no mathematics to this. You just have to feel your way through it blindly and go with your gut, and that’s what we did,” Gilligan added. “And in the case of Saul, we thought to ourselves, ‘Saul Goodman is kind of like a cockroach, in the sense that he’s probably going to survive all nuclear wars and he’ll still be out there somewhere after mankind has become extinct. He’s a survivor and therefore it’d be weird if he didn’t survive.’ Walter White, on the other hand, got a death sentence in the first act of the very first episode. It would be less than satisfying perhaps if he didn’t die at the end of the whole thing.”
So…thoughts? It’s candid stuff from Gilligan, and even if you don’t like how “Breaking Bad” wrapped up, you have to appreciate the constraints and pressure to get there. Sound off in the comments section below.