Breaking Bad Boss Talks Final Season, Walter's Dark Destination and Filling Gus Fring's Shoes

Though he may have seemed on top of the world as Season 4 drew to a close, Breaking Bad‘s Walter White will only get badder as the AMC drama’s final run of 16 episodes gets underway this summer.

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First, a quick refresher on where things left off: Walt (played by Bryan Cranston) conspired with Tio Salamanca, with whom he shared a common enemy, to draw the “chicken man” out of hiding and to the Casa Tranquila nursing home. But what awaited Gus Fring there was not a mute rat who had just snitched to the DEA, but Tio in a wheelchair wired to explode — and boom it did go, leaving Gus with half a face and then complete death.

“I won,” Walt reported home to wife Skyler. But at what cost? Moments later, the closing scene revealed that it was Walt who used the toxic Lily of the Valley to poison wee Brock, thus forcing cohort Jesse’s hand into allying against Gus anew.

Though some were shocked to see Walt go so far as to jeopardize a kid’s life in the name of his endgame, it was but one example of the antihero “getting worse by the minute,” as series creator Vince Gilligan puts it.

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Heading into the fifth, final and extended 16-episode season later this year, “We are following the same thread that we’ve been following for four seasons now,” Gilligan told TVLine at this weekend’s Writers Guild Awards, where Breaking Bad grabbed two top prizes. “We are essentially taking a good guy protagonist and turning him into a bad guy. Walter White still has a little further to go down that dark path that he’s very willfully put himself on.”

But why stick to such a path at all? Walt has vanquished the superlab boss who oft wished him dead, regained Jesse’s loyalty and long ago established himself as a premiere meth cook. Why not just cut bait, having come thisclose to arrest and/or death, and pursue a life of normalcy?

“That’s a good question,” Gilligan affirms. “Does Walt do what he does for the good of his family, or are there other reasons that he does the things he does? On some level, is it ego and self-aggrandizement? Does he feel good about the things he’s doing? Does he feel powerful? Those are the questions I think one has to ask one’s self when they question whether or not he should cut bait.”

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Another question facing Breaking Bad‘s swan song — which, some speculate, will be split into two batches — is the matter of who or what will replace Gus Fring as a formidable obstacle to Walt getting whatever it is that he wants.

Noting that Gus was a “wonderful character” played by “a wonderful actor” in Giancarlo Esposito, Gilligan acknowledges that the dapper don’s memorable demise “leaves a big void, and hopefully we fill it with Walter White and a few other characters perhaps.

“It’ll be different, but hopefully, just as interesting,” Gilligan adds. “You’re right, though – those are big shoes to fill.”

Are you excited for Breaking Bad‘s final season? Where do you think Walt will end up, when all is said and done? (With reporting by Vlada Gelman)