"All bad things must come to an end," Breaking Bad once told us. But exactly how to bring Walter White's misadventures to a conclusion was open to much debate, according to show creator Vince Gillian – largely thanks to what he describes as a "cocky" decision made in the writing room...
"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," Gilligan revealed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "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.
"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?'"
It was a question that prompted a great many answers, all but one eventually discarded in order to create an ending that achieved the rare feat of satisfying a loyal audience when it aired last September.
According to Gilligan, Walt's demise could have been just one of a great many: "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 (Paul). 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."
Another suggestion was killing off Saul Goodman despite Gilligan's public admission that he was interested in doing a spin-off based on Walt and Jesse's lawyer – an idea now in production as Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul!
"In those final months and weeks of breaking the end of the Breaking Bad story, anything and everything was fair game and open for discussion. 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 according to Gilligan, it was Saul's "cockroach" survival instinct that allowed him to be spared.
"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.'"
And it turns out at some point or other, just about every character faced the prospect of meeting their maker:
"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. 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."