Among the countless questions waiting to be answered in the last eight episodes of Breaking Bad — how does Walt end up on the lam? Will Hank be able to catch his criminal brother-in-law? How many more times will we watch
Flynn Walt Jr. eat breakfast? — one looms larger than the rest: In the end, what will happen to Walter White?
Will he die in a bloody shootout, or finally succumb to lung cancer, or end up in prison, or be placed in witness protection and given a whole new family — ultimately revealing that Breaking Bad was just an elaborate prequel to Malcolm in the Middle? This last theory was actually floated at a New York TimesTalk with the cast and creator Vince Gilligan tonight. “That may not be as far fetched as you imagine,” star Bryan Cranston joked in response. “DVD extras!”
We won’t know for sure until September 29, when the celebrated drama’s final episode airs on AMC. But during tonight’s event, Cranston did pose an interesting hypothesis of his own — one that could say a lot about where we leave Walt.
When asked whether he believes his character deserves to die, Cranston — who had been cracking jokes throughout the panel — grew somber. “I think there’s a good case for that, that maybe that’s a fitful end,” he said.
Then the Emmy winner dropped this bomb: “And yet what if the thing he wanted the most, which was the togetherness of his family — what if he lived and they didn’t?”
At this, a hush fell over the crowd. “Wouldn’t that be a worse hell to be in?” Cranston continued.
“Or maybe he should die,” cracked Cranston, instantly relieving the tension. “I vacillate on this.”
For the record, Vince Gilligan doesn’t seem to think there’s anything good in store for the man who would be Heisenberg — and he’s also confounded by anyone who’s somehow still rooting for the show’s one-time hero.
“What I was worried about in the early days was that people would not engage with [Walt], that we wouldn’t be able to set the hook, as it were, because he wouldn’t be likable enough,” Gilligan explained, noting that it’s tough to care about someone who cooks crystal meth. He cast Cranston partially because he knew audiences would sympathize with him: “He had this basic underlying humanity that just comes through. It kind of beams out of his eyes,” Gilligan explained. The show’s creator also stacked the deck against Walt — saddling him with major economic hardships, a pregnant wife, and a disabled son — in order to make him a more sympathetic figure.
Having laid this groundwork, Gilligan hoped that people would keep watching as Walt got darker — even though they clearly wouldn’t like him as much. But much to his surprise, “people are still rooting for this guy — and I’m like, ‘Really? Seriously?’”
“I mean, I want you to be interested in him,” continued Gilligan. “But I would not have guessed the character…I would have guessed at this point he would lack sympathizability. But [that's] not so for a great number of viewers.”
For more on Breaking Bad‘s final episodes — as well as its conception, the cast’s favorite scenes, and the revelation of RJ Mitte’s favorite breakfast food — check out a full video of the event, courtesy of the Times.