Breaking Bad is one of the best TV dramas of the 21st century and to some, at least, one of the best ever made. A big part of that is down to the show’s main character, Walter White; a mild-mannered chemistry teacher who turns to a life of crime after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
Bryan Cranston’s performance as Walt is truly fantastic, but it’s the way that the character slowly transforms throughout Breaking Bad that makes him so captivating. His actions are a great indicator of his loosening grip on morality, but more often than not his words paint a much clearer picture of exactly what’s going on inside his brilliant mind.
Updated September 24, 2022, by Tom Bowen: It’s been almost a full decade since the final episode of Breaking Bad first aired, yet the show remains incredibly popular on streaming services worldwide. A big part of this is down to its excellent cast of characters, with Bryan Cranston’s Walter White arguably being the pick of the bunch. Over the course of the show’s five seasons, viewers are able to witness Walt change from a mild-mannered chemistry teacher into a criminal mastermind; not only through his terrible actions, but also the things that he says. There are some excellent lines in Breaking Bad that really help to capture and emphasize the character’s gradual and shocking transformation. With the show’s scintillating spin-off series Better Call Saul now over, there’s never been a better time to relive some of the best Walter White quotes that can be found throughout the Vince Gilligan universe.
18 “I Prefer To See It As The Study Of Change”
Walt’s view on chemistry not only provides his students with a better understanding of the subject material, but it also serves as an excellent piece of foreshadowing when it comes to his character development throughout the course of the series. Like the chemicals that he spent most of his life studying and discussing, the once impassioned educator finds himself in various states throughout the show’s five seasons, some of which are incredibly volatile.
The scenes showing Walt teaching are somewhat scarce when all’s said and done, which is perhaps to be expected given that Breaking Bad is primarily about cooking meth rather than educating America’s youth. That’s not to say that they don’t play an important part in the series though, with each one serving to highlight Walt’s initial mild-mannered nature and his genuine love for chemistry. The former may slip away from him over time, but the latter sticks with him right through to the end.
17 “Smoking Marijuana, Eating Cheetos, And Masturbating Do Not Constitute Plans In My Book”
Walt becomes incredibly possessive of Jesse fairly on in the show and seeks to control him whenever possible. Sometimes, this is accomplished through belittling Jesse’s lifestyle choices or lack of ambition, while occasionally he does so with lies. In the Season 2 episode 4 Days Out, he actually uses both, first mocking his cook partner’s typical schedule before telling him that the methylamine they stole is losing its chemical potency.
What Walt never seems to understand is that Jesse doesn’t get the same sense of purpose from cooking meth as he does, nor is he cut out for a life of hard crime. On more than one occasion, he shows that he’d much rather live a normal life than be a drug dealer, first through his relationship with Jane and then later on with Andrea. This causes Walt to feel threatened, which is what ultimately leads to his fateful decision as the season draws to a close.
16 “You’re An Insane, Degenerate Piece Of Filth, And You Deserve To Die”
Tuco Salamanca serves as the main antagonist during the first arc of Breaking Bad. His love of violence and short fuse make him incredibly dangerous, to the point where Walt and Jesse decide that he needs to be taken care of. In their defense, he probably did as it was likely a case of them or him in the long run. However, Tuco’s death serves as a hallmark moment and his character as a good benchmark for what constitutes evil.
By the series’ final act, Walt has become every bit as bad as Tuco, if not worse. His product feeds the addiction of countless people all over the world, which in turn leads to an immeasurable amount of crime. Children die due to his actions, and while he does clearly regret this, he does very little to prevent it from happening again. In fact, he goes out of his way to poison a child just to manipulate Jesse, which may well be a line that even Tuco would not have crossed.
15 “I Sleep Just Fine”
The prospect of being diagnosed with a terminal illness is a terrifying one for most, but, in Walt’s case, it serves as something of a release. At least that’s what he tells Hank, anyway, in a powerful and moving speech in which he reveals that, prior to contracting cancer, he had lived most of his life in fear.
The amount of time that viewers get to spend with pre-Heisenberg Walt is fairly limited in the grand scheme of things, yet it’s more than adequate to show the drastic change in his personality throughout the series. In many ways, his death sentence liberates him from his fear and empowers him to become a more assertive and more carefree man.
14 “I Only Had You In My Heart”
One of Walt’s very best monologs comes in the opening minutes of the series, during which he records a video confession on an old camcorder. At this point, those watching have no idea what it is that he’s actually confessing to nor why he’s standing in the middle of the road in his underpants. In many ways though, it tells viewers all that they need to know about Walt.
The two-minute-long message not only paints a picture of a man who loves his family deeply, but also shows the remorse and fear that Walt is feeling due to his actions and the impending consequences. As the episode continues, the events leading up to the confession are gradually revealed and its context slowly begins to make more sense to viewers.
13 “There Will Be Consequences”
The more that Skyler learns about her husband, the more their relationship deteriorates. She hates what he has become, but her love for the man that he used to be creates a conflict of interest that she struggles to overcome. Following Hank’s death, however, she finally puts her foot down which leads to Walt taking Holly and Walt Jr. calling the police.
Though angry at the time, Walt calms down and realizes that things have gone too far, and so calls the family home in the hopes of clearing Skyler’s name. His threatening phone call, which he knows the authorities will be listening to, completely exonerates Skyler, casting her as the victim of an abusive psychopath rather than the willing accomplice that she so often was.
12 “Stay Out Of My Territory”
While out shopping for some primer, Walt happens to run into a tweaker gathering up the ingredients needed to cook meth. He notices that the man has the wrong matches and so offers him some friendly advice. As he continues on his way, however, Walt has a change of heart and heads outside to confront the man. What follows is a tense standoff between Walt and the tweaker’s partner in which Walt warns the pair to stay out of his territory.
Though seemingly insignificant, this moment is an interesting one, as, in many ways, the rival cooks evoke memories of Jesse and Walt when they were first starting out. Walt’s decision to threaten them is also reminiscent of Tuco; a man who Walt once called “an insane, degenerate piece of filth [who] deserve[s] to die.”
11 “Because I Say So”
After emerging victorious from his showdown with Gus, Walt is completely consumed by his Heisenberg persona and starts to believe that he’s truly infallible. Thankfully for Jesse, Mike has other ideas and does his best to question the tyrant at every turn. Though this doesn’t stop Walt, it does help Jesse to see the truth of the situation.
After executing their plan to destroy Gus’ laptop, Mike begins to point out potential holes in the plan. Walt proceeds to dismiss them all offhand and asserts that everything worked out just as he had intended. When asked how he could possibly know that, he suggests that his word is absolute, leading to a stunned silence and a telling look between Jesse and Mike.
10 “Say My Name”
Walt’s Heisenberg persona is constantly growing stronger throughout the show’s early seasons, but it’s not until season five when it becomes strong enough to fully take over. Having spent so much of his life afraid, it’s at this moment that Walt finally realizes that he doesn’t need to be scared any longer.
The way that he dictates terms to Declan is something that he would have never dreamed of doing prior to his run-ins with Gus. Knowing now the things that he is capable of though, Walt feels comfortable enough to assert his dominance and remind his competitor exactly who he’s dealing with.
9 “I Am The One Who Knocks”
While Walt certainly knows what he’s capable of, Skyler still sees him as the same pathetic pushover that he was before he started cooking. Of course, it helps that at this point there’s still a lot that she doesn’t know about her husband. As a result, that she’s terrified about what might happen to the White family is completely understandable.
After hearing her out, however, Walt decides that it’s time to set the record straight. As he so aptly puts it, he is the danger now and has absolutely no intention of ever being a victim again. It’s here that Skyler finally comes to realize what her husband has become and begins to further distance herself and her children from him.
The final two episodes of season three are amongst the best that the show has to offer, but the standout moment comes right at the end of the penultimate one. High on substances and desperate for revenge, viewers can only watch as Jesse slowly ambles closer towards his own demise. Then, out of nowhere, Walt’s trusty Pontiac Aztek flattens the two rival drug dealers. He gets out of the car, puts a bullet in one of the dealers’ heads, and utters just one powerful word to his partner.
Having previously been warned by Mike that there would be no more half measures, Walt’s actions are an indication that he’s finally realized that he’s going to have to get his hands dirty if he wants to survive. What’s more, it shows just how much he cares for Jesse and that he’s willing to risk both his life and his freedom in order to keep him safe.
7 “I Won”
When Walt first agrees to go into business with Gustavo Fring, he’s given the false impression that he’s entering into a partnership. As season three unfolds, however, it quickly becomes apparent that this is not at all the case. Walt and Jesse are more like Gus’ slaves than his partners and both can be replaced if need be (well, providing the other continues to cooperate, that is).
After Gus decides that he has had enough of Walt and starts grooming Jesse as his replacement, Walt and his family find themselves in great danger. Skyler is terrified of what could happen, but Walt seems to see it more as a game or some kind of battle of wits. This idea is solidified not long after when he tells his wife that he “won”.
6 “I’m In The Empire Business”
There comes a point in the story when Walt has made more money than he could ever realistically hope to spend. Rather than riding off into the sunset, however, he continues to cook despite no longer needing to do so. This confuses Jesse, but Walt’s explanation reveals that his motivations have now changed.
Money is still important to him, but building something bigger than himself now seems to be his primary aim. It’s this drive to be the best that explains a lot of Walt’s actions during the final few seasons of the show, although the sad reality is that after his relationship with Skyler falls apart; it’s all that he really has left.
5 “I Could Have Saved Her”
Walt’s decision not to intervene when Jane began choking has some rather catastrophic consequences. As well as the horrific plane crash caused by Jane’s grieving father, it also leads to Jesse falling into a deep depression. Given the negative influence that she was having on him though, there’s an argument to be made that her death may well have saved his life.
Why exactly Walt chooses to confess to his partner isn’t entirely clear. He may have wanted to hurt Jesse because of his betrayal or maybe he knew that Jesse still harbored feelings of guilt for her death. Whatever the reason, it was an incredibly powerful moment and yet another example of how Walt often toys with his supposed partner.
4 “If You Believe That There’s A Hell”
Perhaps one of the more blatant examples of how Walt bends Jesse to his will can be found in the seventh episode of season five. With his partner beginning to question why the pair are still cooking meth and also grieving the death of yet another innocent child, Walt completely tears him down.
Not only does he remind Jesse that cooking meth is the only thing that he’s ever been good at, but he also points out that while Todd’s actions were bad, both he and Jesse have taken their fair share of lives. He certainly doesn’t go as far as condoning what Todd did, but he does try pretty hard to sweep it under the rug.
3 “Tread Lightly”
Prior to Hank’s moment of realization, he and Walt had enjoyed a great friendship. Sure, they probably weren’t the kind of guys who would have been friends had fate and familial bonds not brought them together, but both men made a real effort to make things work. What’s more, there’s also a great deal of mutual respect between them.
When the pair suddenly find themselves at odds though, the atmosphere changes in an instant. Hank vows to bring Walt to justice, but his brother-in-law takes things a step further by issuing a thinly-veiled threat. He’d likely have never followed through with it, but that he could even utter those words at least made us question it for a moment.
2 “F**k You And Your Eyebrows”
Bogdan was written in such a way that it was incredibly difficult not to hate him. He treated his employees like slaves and showed a complete lack of compassion following Walt’s cancer diagnosis. It’s for that reason that Walt’s resignation from the car wash was so enjoyable for viewers.
For all the hate we harbored for this diabolical boss, there was very little that we the viewers could do to express it. Thankfully, Walt was on hand to put him firmly in his place, and that he finally acknowledged those caterpillar-like eyebrows was just an added bonus.
1 “I Did It For Me”
Throughout the entirety of Breaking Bad, Walt justifies his actions by telling himself that he’s only doing it for his family. While this may have been true when he first ventured into the world of crystal meth though, his motivation clearly changes as he gradually becomes hardened by his new surroundings.
By the time the show’s final season rolls around, the Walter White we once knew has completely transformed into a remorseless criminal and it’s only then that Walt changes his tune. It’s more like a moment of realization than a confession though, with Walt finally accepting that his actions were driven by self-gratification rather than providing for his family.