Walter White of Breaking Bad is one of the most interesting protagonists in television history. He’s certainly a cunning character, but he also contains an incredible amount of depth. Audiences feel sympathy to a certain degree, especially in the first season (or at least the first couple of episodes). But the trickiest thing that Gilligan and his team pulled off is making Walt’s actions understandable. They’re awful actions, but audiences understand why he made them.
Of course, Walt’s story is ultimately a tragic one. And along the way, audiences may have learned a few lessons.
Don’t Cook Meth
Perhaps the greatest, and most obvious, life lesson of them all – don’t deal or make drugs. Of course, Walt feels like he has no choice. He’s dying, he has very little savings for his family, and they’re going to be destitute without him. He’s good at chemistry, and drug addicts are willing to pay top dollar for the good stuff. It’s a means to an end. Of course, cooking meth gets Walt into an amazing amount of trouble throughout the series and involves him in countless dangerous people and organizations. It may seem like an easy fix, but making and selling drugs is never the answer.
Rein In The Ego
Walt’s primary character flaw is his enormous ego. It can be seen in the very first season, as he believes (either rightfully or wrongly – it’s never really made clear) that Gray Matter wouldn’t exist or run properly without him. Of course, his ego doesn’t end there. Walt has a big head throughout the entirety of Breaking Bad, stemming mainly from his superior product and intellect. By season five, he’s outwardly demanding that people “say his name” as a show of respect. The thing is – no one likes his ego, and it often gets him into a world of trouble, both professionally and personally.
Get Health Symptoms Checked Out
Another life lesson we can learn from early Walter White – get health symptoms checked by a professional. At the beginning of the pilot, it’s established that Walt has been suffering from a cough. Skyler tells him to take echinacea, not knowing that it’s actually lung cancer. Audiences don’t know how long Walt was suffering from the cough, but the cough was nevertheless quite strong and persistent. People don’t often run off to the doctor to get every little symptom professionally screened and evaluated, especially for something as small and insignificant as a cough. But had Walt done so, it could have saved his life.
Put Aside Pride
If ego isn’t Walter’s biggest character flaw, it’s his pride. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having pride. Pride can certainly be a good thing, provided its aimed in the right direction and expressed for the right reasons.
Unfortunately, Walt’s pride often expressed itself in the form of open hostility. At the beginning of the story, Gretchen and Elliott outwardly express their desire to pay for Walt’s medical bills. Had Walt accepted their help, he could have saved himself the entire violent events of Breaking Bad. But he was too prideful and spiteful to accept.
Treat People With Respect
As previously stated, Walt’s pride and ego often expressed themselves in outward hostility and antagonism. While Walt seems rather friendly on the surface, he is a simmering cauldron of rage, pettiness, and jealousy. And when it boils over, he treats everyone with outright disrespect. Throughout much of the series, Jesse is the victim of Walt’s hostility and simmering rage. Other characters, including Gretchen, Elliott, Mike, Gus, and even to some extent Hank, all face Walt’s open disrespect to some degree. And if often comes back to bite him.
Don’t Get Too Ambitious
By season five, Walter thinks that he’s King of the World. Even the fans who most ardently supported Walt throughout Breaking Bad began seeing him as an unlikable villain by season five. And most of that stems from his unbridled ambition. Walt continuously wants more and more money, and he will do anything to attain it (including melting a child and treating his “employees” Jesse and Mike with open hostility and condescension). Naturally, Walt gets too ambitious and hostile – not to mention sloppy – and ruins his own life in the process.
Listen To People
Going hand in hand with Walt’s ego and pride is his complete inability to listen to people. Walt has a serious superiority complex, and he does anything he wishes. Often this comes at the expense of everyone else. There are numerous times throughout the series that Walt should just shut up and listen to someone — yet he doesn’t.
For example, Mike gives hazard pay to his “guys” in prison. Rather than just listening to him and understanding how the drug business works, he has everyone killed. This in turn gets him in with Jack and the white supremacists.
Constant Lying Will Only Get You So Far
Walt is a consummate liar. From the very beginning of the series, Walt is covering his tracks and openly lying to his family about his exploits. Of course, the lying doesn’t stop at his family, as Walt lies to pretty much everyone he comes across. In season four, he openly manipulates Jesse into helping him dispose of Gus. In most cases, the lying is meant to place Walt in a position of power. And it does. For a while. Naturally, all of his lies eventually come crashing down, and his life is utterly ruined.
Family Is Everything
As despicable as Walt is, he does contain a few redeeming qualities within him, including his devotion to family. While Walt makes and sells drugs for himself (and not for his family, as he so often suggested) and he does lie to his family on a near constant basis, he still shows incredible love for them. He loves both Walter Jr. and Holly (even going so far as to kidnap her), he protects Skyler when the authorities come calling, and he both pleads for Hank’s life and shows genuine remorse when he is murdered by Jack. Walter could have been a great family man had he not been so desperate and prideful.
Sometimes Life Just Doesn’t Work Out
Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way one had hoped it would. For Walter, he developed lung cancer, despite never smoking. He was bought out of Gray Matter for pennies, not knowing that it would blow up and become a massive company. His son was born with an unfortunate and ultimately expensive disorder, which prevented Walt from excelling to his fullest potential and forcing him to remain in the starter house. On many accounts, Walt was an unfortunate victim of fate and bad luck.