Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan said in a recent interview that the writers originally had planned for a much more violent, harsher, ending. If you haven’t watched the finale yet, I strongly recommend you do not continue this article until you have.
….you’ve been warned.
“We didn’t feel an absolute need for Walt to expire at the end of the show. Our gut told us it was right,” said Gilligan. “As the writers and I worked through all these different possibilities, it felt right, but I don’t think it was a necessity for us.
“There was a version we kicked around where Walt is the only one who survives, and he’s standing among the wreckage and his whole family is destroyed. That would be a very powerful ending but very much a kick-in-the-teeth kind of ending for the viewers. We talked about a version where Jesse kills Walt. We talked about a version where Walt more or less gets away with it. There’s no right or wrong way to do this job — it’s just a matter of: You get as many smart people around you as possible in the writers room, and I was very lucky to have that. And when our gut told us we had it, we wrote it, and I guess our gut told us that it would feel satisfying for Walt to at least begin to make amends for his life and for all the sadness and misery wrought upon his family and his friends.
“Walt is never going to redeem himself. He’s just too far down the road to damnation. But at least he takes a few steps along that path. And I think more importantly for him than that is the fact that he accomplishes what he set out to accomplish way back in the first episode: He leaves his family just a ton of money. Of course, Walt for years now has been looking through the wrong end of the telescope. … For years now, he thought if he makes his family financially sound — that’s really all he has to do as a man, as a provider, and as a father.
They’re going to walk away with just shy of 10 million in cash, because of Walt’s machinations with Gretchen (Jessica Hecht) and Elliott (Adam Godley). But on the other hand, the family emotionally is scarred forever. So it’s a real mixed message at the end. Walt has failed on so many levels, but he has managed to do the one thing he set out to do, which is a victory. He has managed to make his family financially sound in his absence, and that was really the only thing he set out to do in that first episode. So, mission accomplished.”
Gilligan then further discussed the version in which Jesse kills Walt: “We talked about Jesse taking Walt up on his offer to kill him or Walt turning around to find Jesse had a gun on him. We talked about every permutation we could conceive of, and we went the way we went ultimately because the bloodlust had been satiated prior to that moment by seeing Jesse throttle Todd (Jesse Plemons) to death. That’s what the writers wanted to see.
“Todd is actually in a weird way kind of likable, but he just had to go. Opie had to go. Ricky Hitler, as we like to call him. I think the whole world is better off without that group of characters. So having satisfied that, it felt to us like, ‘Jesse is not a killer.’ This poor guy has wound up having to kill over and over again.
“The first time he did it was to save Mr. White as well as himself, and it’s not a natural fit for him, and it’s something that’s stolen a big, important piece of his soul,” continued Gilligan. “And we thought to ourselves, ‘You know what? Let it end with Todd. Let that be the last person this kid ever kills. Let him go on from here to have a decent life.’
“And also, he’s got reason enough to kill Walt. He’s got reason enough to be murderously angry at him. But he had said a long time ago, in a previous episode, ‘I’m never doing what you tell me to do ever again,’ so when he says no and drops the gun and says, ‘Do it yourself,’ to Mr. White, it’s as much a refusal to do what Walt tells him. He’s just not going to make Walt happy anymore. It’s not about, ‘I’m not still angry enough to murder you.’ Rather, it’s, ‘You want this, and therefore I’m not giving it to you.’”
For more on the interview and what Vince Gilligan had to say about the finale, head on over to EW.