When Breaking Bad left off last summer, tenacious DEA agent Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) was hot on the trail – and, er, toilet – of meth maker Walter White (Bryan Cranston). And when the revered drama returns with the second half of season 5 (beginning Aug. 11 on AMC), what should we brace for? Among other things, maybe a bit of self-reflection from the cancer-stricken chemistry teacher who transformed himself into a lethal drug kingpin with the help of high school dropout/partner Jesse (Aaron Paul).
“We often said in the writers’ room that if Walt had a superpower, it would be not his chemistry knowledge or his ability to cook crystal meth but his ability to lie,” series creator/executive producer Vince Gilligan tells EW. “Walt has been the world’s greatest liar, and I think the person he lies most capably to is himself. So in these final eight episodes, perhaps the lies will cease to find traction and the scales will start to fall away from Walt’s eyes. And when that happens, will Walt really begin to realize who he is? That’s a question that we asked ourselves a lot in the writers’ room this year.”
Of course, Walt won’t have too much time for navel-gazing, as he’ll need to keep his eyes on his brother-in-law Hank – in addition to other adversaries. “There will be antagonistic relationships aplenty,” promises Gilligan, adding: “Walt’s got plenty of fight left in him. And he’s got plenty of forces to fight. You met some of them. Others you haven’t.”
Should viewers brace for a high body count? “As the movie title goes, there will be blood,” answers Gilligan. “To my mind, that’s not the most interesting thing. It’s the emotional moments and the character moments. … We’ve got some stuff that I think is going to be truly satisfying and truly shocking and jarring. It does not always center on moments of violence.” And these moments will come flying at you at “breakneck speed,” he warns: “I have surprised myself at how much story there was left to tell and how quickly we tell it. You need to really settle down on the couch and pay close attention because it’s going to come at you fast and furious in the final eight episodes.”
Gilligan is both cautious and upbeat when it comes to discussing that highly anticipated finale. “We worked long and hard to ensure that these final eight – and, in fact, the very last episode – would satisfy an audience,” he says. “I am guardedly optimistic that we have achieved just that. And furthermore, trying to be as coy as possible, trying to give away as little as possible, I feel like this ending represents on some level, however small, something of a victory for Walter White. Read into that what you will. And try to be as open-minded as possible when you watch this episode, because it may not indeed feel like a victory. Or maybe it will. … I feel good about where it all ended up, and I can’t wait for people to see it.”
Asked for one last cryptic hint about the homestretch of episodes, Gilligan says: “Sometimes you see meth labs in the darndest places.”
For more on Breaking Bad and 12 other must-see summer TV shows, check out this week’s issue of EW.