How will Breaking Bad end? The answer is just weeks away: The first of eight final episodes airs Sunday, August 11, and they’re already taking wagers at BettingBad.com to predict who will survive through the show’s final hour. The central question on any gambler’s mind: Will Walter White live or die? The finale airs Sept. 29, so there’s still a little time to consider possibilities. In the meantime, let’s all pray for Badger and Skinny Pete.
WALT DIES OF CANCER, HEISENBERG LIVES FOREVER
The theory: Everyone fears the One Who Knocks … except, obviously, cancer. During the flash-forward that kicked off the fifth season last year, Walt was shown swallowing some kind of prescription pill in the men’s room of the diner, which has led some fans to suspect that his cancer is no longer in remission. Of course, the fact that his hair has grown back in the same scene suggests that he might be doing better — unless he’s simply given up on doing chemo and accepted his fate. One upcoming episode is called “Ozymandias,” after Percy Bysshe Shelley’s 1818 poem of the same name, which is about “the inevitable decline of all leaders, and of the empires they build, however mighty in their own time.” (At least, that’s according to the Cliff’s Notes. Apologies to my high school English teacher.) You can hear Walt himself reading from it in this Breaking Bad preview clip. The poem focuses on the tyrannical Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II (known in Greek as Ozymandias). His story is being told by “a traveler from an antique land,” and although Ramesses II was once a powerful man, it’s clear that his life story has been reduced to one giant, broken statue with this inscription: “Look on my works ye Mighty and despair.” Like Ramesses II, a dead Heisenberg would leave destruction in his wake, but also a pretty good legend. The fact that Breaking Bad‘s posters say “Remember My Name” — a slight twist on Walt demanding, “Say my name!” — also suggests that he’s gone.
How likely is this to happen? Fairly likely. Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan recently told GQ that he used the finale for M*A*S*H as inspiration: “From the first episode, these people sit around and say, ‘All I want to do is go home,’” he explained. “So of course they all get to go home in the final episode. Sometimes the best moment in a TV show is an unpredictable moment, but sometimes it’s actually being predictable.” What could be more predictable than the cancer-stricken chemistry teacher actually dying of cancer at the end?
WALT DIES IN A SHOOT-OUT
The theory: Last year’s flash-forward shows Walt buying a machine gun, and you don’t buy a machine gun to kill one man. Which begs the question: Which of his many enemies will give him the best reason to aim that thing at them? The Czechoslovakians? Todd’s family? (Todd knows too much already, and any attempts to get rid of him or shut him out of the business would surely not be handled well by Todd’s Nazi gang leader uncle, Jack.) Declan, the meth distributor from Phoenix? (Walt broke his promise to become Declan’s sole cook, and there’s bound to be consequences for that.) All of those people at the same time? No matter who’s there, there’s bound to be a bloodbath: Breaking Bad‘s finale is called “Felina,” which is an anagram for finale, but also, as another sharp-eyed critic noticed, it’s a nod to the 1959 country song “El Paso” by Marty Robbins. In the song, the narrator falls in love with a beautiful Mexican girl named Felina and ends up killing a stranger who buys her a drink. He escapes to “the badlands of New Mexico” before he’s shot down by the stranger’s friends, a furious posse of vengeful cowboys. That can’t be a good omen for Walt.
How likely is this to happen? It’s possible. You could call it Chekhov’s machine gun: At some point, that weapon in Walt’s trunk has to go off. Also, the last half-season ended with an episode called “Gliding O’er All,” a reference from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass: “Gliding o’er all, through all / Through Nature, Time, and Space / As a ship on the waters advancing / The voyage of the soul — not life alone / Death, many deaths I’ll sing.” Many deaths, huh? Like maybe the number of people you could kill with an M60?
WALT LIVES, BUT HIS FAMILY DIES
The theory: It would be the ultimate irony: the man who changed his life in order to save his family ends up getting his wife and kids killed. Walt wasn’t wearing a wedding ring when he bought the machine gun in the flash-forward. He also used Skyler’s maiden name (“Mr. Lambert”) with the waitress in the diner, and — even more telling — he was arranging his bacon into the number “52” in honor of his 52nd birthday, a trick that Skyler performed for him the year before. Some fans have suggested that Heisenberg borrows a characteristic from each person he kills. Could it be that Walt has killed Skyler? Perhaps that’s too extreme, even for a megalomaniac like White. In any case, I’m really hoping that Baby Holly doesn’t stumble upon the ricin he left behind in the house.
How likely is this to happen? Improbable, but possible. During a recent talk with The New York Times, Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston was asked about the theory that Walt will die. “There’s a good case for that, that maybe that’s the fitful end,” he said. “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? Wouldn’t that be a worse hell to be in?” Still, it’s hard to believe Cranston would put things so plainly if that was how the series actually ended.
WALT LIVES, BUT HE GOES TO JAIL
The theory: We already know that Hank has discovered Walt’s little secret, and there are other witnesses who might be willing to testify. There’s that divorce lawyer who once told Skyler that she should rat out her meth cook husband in order to protect her kids. There’s that poor junkie, Wendy, who gave Jesse an alibi when Tuco died, but might be willing to fess up in exchange for a reduction in jail time, should she get arrested again. There’s also the small matter of the sad man who won’t go away. The description for an upcoming episode, “Buried,” says: “Skyler’s past catches up with her.” Could that mean we haven’t seen the last of Ted Beneke? I’m remembering Skyler’s I.F.T. poster and imagining one for Walt: T.F.M. (Oh, google it already.)
How likely is this to happen? Not very. On one hand, Cranston told TV Line: “I think Walt’s going to a place where he truly enjoys the empowerment that his situation has given him.” Couldn’t you just see him ruling over everyone—Jesse, the rest of the meth cartel, any other criminals doing time with Walt—from his perch in jail? On the other hand, we already got some foreshadowing long ago: When Hank confessed that he’d like to arrest Heisenberg himself, just like Jimmy “Popeye Doyle” did in The French Connection, Walt reminded him that the movie ended with the bad guy getting away.
JESSE KILLS WALT
The theory: Jesse is slowly turning against Walt. Emotionally, the distance between them keeps getting wider. And Jesse still doesn’t know the truth about Jane’s death, or Mike’s death, or the poisoning of Brock. Of those three victims, only Brock is still alive. It’s curious that Brock hasn’t told anyone that Walt tried to poison him—unless, of course, Brock doesn’t know. (Did Walt feed him the poison in person? Or did Walt somehow poison Brock’s food when no one was looking, and trust that Brock would eat it at some point? Somehow, I don’t believe that a man as scientifically exact as Walt would leave such things up to chance.) Another option: Is it possible that Walt will make a death-bed confession to goad Jesse into killing him (rather than facing the cancer on his own)? Maybe that scenario seems insane. But having Jesse pull the trigger might be the most heartbreaking option. Somehow, it would hurt Jesse way more than it hurts Walt. Walt seems like the kind of guy who might perversely enjoy getting killed.
How likely is this to happen? Remote. It’s true that Bob Odenkirk, who plays Saul, recently told Vulture about the finale: “You can’t believe the number of loose ends that get wrapped up.” And Jane’s death is just begging to be revealed. But this kind of ending already worked for Brad Pitt elsewhere (spoiler alert!), so Gilligan probably can’t use it again.
WALT KILLS HIMSELF
The theory: This one’s probably the least credible. But Walt has to use that ricin at some point. And it’s hard to understand why he’d even need ricin when he already has access to that machine gun. Either he’s going to take out someone close to him (Hank, Jesse, Skyler), or he’s getting ready to use it himself, before someone else does first.
How likely is this to happen? Beyond remote, yet not totally impossible. Breaking Bad has always wrestled with moral ambiguity. If no one else punishes Walt, he might end up punishing himself.
WALT TEAMS UP WITH HANK
The theory: Could Walt team up with Hank to get his enemies behind bars? If anyone ever hurt Jesse or Walt’s family, he might have a good reason to do this. Plus, some obsessive viewers think that Walt is wearing a wire in that flash-forward scene. What?!?
How likely is this to happen? Ask yourself: Would Hank be willing to forgive the poisoning of a child, the bombing of a nursing home, and the murder of many, many people, all for one measly rat job? There’s a better chance of Skyler quitting smoking.
WALT SURVIVES WITHOUT CONSEQUENCES—WHICH IS A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH
Now that Hank knows that Walt is Heisenberg, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Walt flees to some tropical island somewhere, with a piña colada in one hand and a list of countries with non-extradition policies in the other. But Saul did offer once to set Walt up with a “vacuum repairman” who could help him “disappear” from his old life. Also, the idea of Walt escaping does feel right for this show, which steadfastly thwarts the expectations of viewers and characters. In this case, Hank would miss his chance to bring Walt to justice. Walt’s family would lose its father figure (and so would Jesse). Walt would have to let go of the ego that comes from other people fearing The One Who Knocks, which would probably make him want to die anyway. And the rest of us wouldn’t get to see Walt get his comeuppance. Harsh!
How likely is this to happen? It’s not off the table. Gilligan told Vulture that when he was thinking about how to end Breaking Bad, he realized that the ending of Casablanca is “pretty perfect.” “No one gets everything they wanted. The guy doesn’t get the girl, but he has the satisfaction of knowing she wants him. And he doesn’t get her because he has to save the free world. What better ending is there than that?”
Okay, maybe not. But place your bets on who will die first in the comments.