[MAJOR Spoilers for Breaking Bad]
Breaking Bad is not only widely regarded as one of the greatest television shows of all time – it is quite literally the most critically acclaimed and highest rated show of all time. It was added to the 2014 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records as the holder for “highest rated series.” Its famous fifth season has a highly coveted 99 score out of a possible 100 on Metacritic, a website that aggregates reviews from leading critics across the globe. By the time the series finale aired, it was the most-watched show on TV.
Since its finale, Breaking Bad has become culturally ubiquitous. Watching it is an experience you never forget – the compelling and real characters, the morally ambiguous choices and their consequences, and the visceral slow-motion train wreck of watching peoples’ worlds fall apart and their attempts to save them. Breaking Bad is unique in showing characters you began by liking grow increasingly dark until you despise them, and conversely, characters you hated in the first seasons evolving into your favorites by the finale. It is a nerve-shredding emotional roller coaster of a series that all began so simply, with humble everyman chemistry teacher Walter White being diagnosed with lung cancer and in subsequent seasons being consumed by the criminal underworld, slowly transforming into the monster known to the world as “Heisenberg.”
But its plot was never completely set in stone. In fact, it could have all ended very differently.
In a recent interview on the latest episode of the Kevin Pollack Chat Show, Breaking Bad series creator Vince Gilligan revealed that he was originally going to kill off the character of Hank Schrader, Walter White’s DEA agent brother-in-law, at the end of Season 1. In fact, it was only the lucky intervention of the 2007–08 Writers Guild of America strike that saved Hank’s life.
In the interview, the full audio of which is available below, Gilligan speaks of the production of Breaking Bad‘s first season and recalls the mindset at the time regarding Hank’s fate.
“We were writing and shooting and editing in a vacuum, no one had seen the show yet, and I really had the feeling that I needed to throw the kitchen sink at it, that the writers and I needed to get every bit of drama,” said Gilligan. “The writers strike came along, and we didn’t get to do our last two episodes. We had to end our season one with seven episodes instead of nine. Our ninth episode that year, we were seriously leaning toward killing off Hank, Walt’s brother-in-law, played by Dean Norris, in that first season… I was ready, willing to throw the kitchen sink at it, because I was afraid we wouldn’t hold people’s attention.”
The murder of Hank is a major turning point of the plot of the final season of Breaking Bad and perhaps the most important and shocking character death of the entire series. It’s mind-boggling to think how different Breaking Bad could have been if the strike hadn’t happened. Without a doubt, the entire course and feel of the show would have been altered without Hank as an unwitting foil for Walter.
It’s also difficult to imagine how different Breaking Bad might have been had it not been for the tension brought by the character of Hank, without the constant anxiety caused by Walter being the brother-in-law of a DEA agent, while at the same time trying to become a meth-cooking drug kingpin. Hank continuously investigated and thwarted Walter’s plans during the series, even if he wasn’t aware of his true identity as Heisenberg until near the very end. Finally, it is hard to imagine the end of the series without Hank’s gut-wrenching murder by neo-Nazis.
We can only be grateful that events unfolded the way they did. Breaking Bad most likely would not have become the phenomenon that it is without the interplay of the different characters, especially the hidden war between Walter and Hank.
[Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images]