The “Breaking Bad” panel in Hall H of San Diego Comic-Con 2013 on Sunday (July 21) was an emotional treat for fans as the cast and creator took the stage just weeks before the second half of the show’s final season is scheduled to begin airing.
Stars Bryan Cranston (Walter White), Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman), Anna Gunn (Skyler White), Dean Norris (Hank Schrader), R. J. Mitte (Walt Jr.), and Bob Odenkirk (Saul Goodman) joined creator and executive producer Vince Gilligan onstage to reminisce and hint at the events that remain in “Breaking Bad” Season 5.
Fans were eager to catch a glimpse of the final eight episodes, and they were not disappointed. AMC showed the opening scene of the first episode that will air when the show returns on August 11. In the clip, the White family house is abandoned, teenagers using the now empty pool as a skate park. Walt, outside the house looks older, with a full beard and head of hair. His clothes are filthy and his car appears broken down. In the trunk is an arsenal including an assault rifle and crowbar.
The latter in hand, he enters what was once his home. Graffiti colors the walls, ‘HEISNEBERG” writ large in big, bold, yellow letters. Walt unscrews a wall outlet faceplate to find something taped to its underside, catching his reflection in the mirror. He pauses to contemplate the physical manifestation of his transformation. Outside again, a neighbor spots him and freezes, clearly terrified, as he returns to his car. “Hello Carol,” he utters defeatedly, and she drops her bag, groceries rolling away.
“I am satisfied by the ending,” Gilligan says during the panel. “I hope you will be too.”
The panel opened with a retrospective on the series that showed Walt’s transformation from a mild-mannered, cancer-riddled high school teacher to the most notorious drug cooker in New Mexico and beyond. The reel proved truly explosive as it touched on every high point — and low point — in the series, of which there are many. “All bad things must come to an end,” it concluded.
The discussion began with a bit of a shock as Cranston took the stage wearing a Walter White mask. He looked like himself — until he took it off, when he suddenly had hair. He said he wore it around the convention and that it was the most fun he’s ever had at Comic-Con. Throughout the beginning of the panel he and Paul took turns making out with the mask.
Naturally the discussion turned immediately to the subject of Walt and his transformation from antihero to full on villain. “I think every single person can run the gamut of emotions,” Cranston says. “Under the right circumstances, desperation, need, greed, whatever the case might be, depression, you push those buttons at the right time and anyone can become dangerous. And that’s what happened to Walter White.”
When was Walt’s turning point? It’s been discussed often, and Cranston has his own opinion. “To me, really, it was that first episode when he decided to try to become someone he wasn’t,” he says. “And that was it. He was on a slippery slope, and he sold his soul.”
And what’s coming for the character in the rest of Season 5? “He’s in the empire business,” says Cranston. “His ego is peaking. He’s never felt this before in his life. To have this kind of power as an adult. It got to him. He succumbed to it like it was an aphro and he’s helpless really in that sense now.”
Walt’s erstwhile sidekick Jesse, played by Paul, “has been through a lot,” Paul says — much of it at the hands of Walt. “Going into the final season of this show he’s terrified of this man.”
“He was just this lost kid … struggling to find his way, searching, in desperate need of some guidance, and he finds Walter White,” he continues. “Now he just wants to stay as far away from him as possible and try to stay alive.”
It wasn’t all doom and regret, though, as Paul also shouted everyone’s favorite catchphrase. “Yeah b****! Hall H!” he yells, adding that he “can’t even count” how many people yell it at him every day.
Walt’s wife, Skylar, has had her own journey throughout the series. “She was sort of a parallel of Walt in that, I think, she had dreams deferred in the same way that Walt did from the very beginning,” Gunn says of her character. “Life really threw them some curveballs, and they dealt with it the best they could.”
“Along the way she keeps thinking, ‘If I do this it’ll make it better, ‘If I do this it’ll make it better,’ but actually each action she takes just makes it worse,” she continues.
The room quieted as Mitte spoke about growing up on the set. He started on the show at 14 years old, and will soon turn 21. “I spent my whole teenage life on ‘Breaking Bad,'” he says. “It’s who I am today.”
“Most people had high school. Most people had school. I had ‘Breaking Bad,'” he continues.
Norris and Odenkirk spoke about their characters as well. “I think [Hank] is saddled with morality and he can’t get around it, and maybe that’s a good thing or maybe that’s a bad thing,” Norris says. “[Saul] knows how to put on a show,” Odenkirk adds.
During the fan discussion one audience member, wearing a Heisenberg t-shirt, asked about the actors’ favorite moments from the series. “Certainly some iconic dialogue comes out,” Cranston says, delivering some memorable lines. “The most impactful scene that I shot I think is when Jane died. Walt had another turn in his character and he allowed this young girl to die.” Paul and Cranston, laughing, also reminisced about shooting a scene in which they’re stranded in the desert with their RV. When shooting wrapped, they pretended there was a problem with the camera so they could do one additional take in which Jesse suggests they build a robot instead of a battery.
Another fan asked whether the actors found any of their characters’ developments difficult to accept. “Not being able to walk was kind of a tough one, and having to wear some kind of diaper thing,” Norris answers. “When Jesse shot Gale was really when he obviously turned into a really bad person,” Paul answers in turn. “He killed probably the nicest guy on the show.” For Cranston, the death of Jane through his inaction was particularly tough. Paul agreed that that was a turning point for his character as well.
Cranston also revealed that the script for that scene originally had him pushing Jane onto her back as she was choking rather than simply leaving her in that position, thus being more directly involved in her death. But it was determined that it was too early in Walt’s arc for such an egregious act.
Mitte, on the other hand, said he’s always enjoyed playing Walt Jr., though sometimes he’s surprised at how oblivious the character is. Odenkirk is even more fond of his own character. “What can be said?” he asks. “He’s the most perfect character in the show.”
“It was season one, and it was not as dramatic a moment as some of these others,” Gilligan says of his favorite moment. He described an episode in Season 1 in which Walt refuses to accept help when an old friend, now wealthy, offers to pay for his cancer treatments. “They throw him a life preserver, and he says in that fourth episode of the series, he says, essentially, he says ‘No, and he goes instead back to cooking crystal meth.”
“We really realized we had something with this character at that point,” he adds.
“Breaking Bad” Season 5 resumes August 11 on AMC.