Breaking Bad features some of the most complex and multi-layered TV series characters ever. The allure of the show lies in the fact that the main character, Walter White, is neither all-good nor all-bad. He is just an ordinary man who underwent a major change when he found out he has only a few years to live, which is pretty common. However, most people don’t decide to dabble in the criminal underworld, ruled by methamphetamine. He was driven by self-delusion and years of pent up frustration.
His transformation into Heisenberg brought about some of the show’s saddest moments. Fans generally found themselves rooting for the anti-hero, even though they hated his guts at the same time.
Redeeming: He Was Belittled By Everyone
When the show first began, Walter White was docile, subservient, and depressed. While his family functioned just fine, there was no room for his wants and needs in his marriage. Skyler bossed him around and controlled every aspect of his life. Then there was Hank, his brother-in-law who always took subtle jabs at Walter for not being a manly man.
His own family didn’t really respect Walt. They saw him as a passive and harmless man; the kind of a man we all felt sorry for.
Hate: He Is A Liar
Walt’s capacity to lie is astounding. In the first two seasons, he often lied to Skyler by pretending he is some clumsy schmuck who always gets stuck in traffic. Since she didn’t think much of her husband, she bought it. There were several times that she should have left him, ideally in the season 2 finale. Walt lies in every single episode in one way or another. He often tells white lies and withholds the truth as well.
Redeeming: He Is Incredibly Smart
Walt is one of the smartest chemists in the world, as was pointed out in the pilot already when we saw his Nobel Prize plaque. He had so much potential, yet had to work as a high school teacher to support his new family.
When an opportunity arose that he lives to his fullest potential, Walter grabbed it with both hands and wouldn’t let go. It might not be a purely moral decision, but it is understandable.
Hate: He Has A Huge, Yet Fragile Ego
Before we all jump aboard the pity-train on Walt’s behalf, we have to consider that Walt actually had a chance at living a completely different life. He was engaged to Gretchen, a fellow chemist from a wealthy family. Together with his colleague Elliot, they created Grey Matter that later on brought Elliot and Gretchen millions.
Walt walked away from Gretchen himself because he couldn’t bear feeling less adequate than his millionaire girlfriend. It goes to show that Walt has a huge ego. Let’s not forget how hard it was for him to launder his meth money through his son’s charity website.
Redeeming: He Wanted To Provide For His Family
Walt wanted to cook meth because he saw on the TV that there’s a lot of money in it and he wanted to leave something behind for his family. He was not too enthusiastic about it at first, but once the money started pouring in, he genuinely started loving his new job.
This redeeming quality went away pretty fast. When Walt realized he was in remission, he went on to punch a paper towel dispenser because he knew that he can no longer pretend that he is doing what he does for his family but rather because he likes it.
Hate: He Is Manipulative
The dark side of his acute intelligence manifests as his talent for manipulation. His biggest victim is Jesse, who is too trusting and naive to see through Walt’s intentions.
From little inspirational speeches (“I’m a blowfish!”) to elaborate schemes involving murder (poisoning Brock and blaming Gus to get Jesse back on his side), Walter White is the most skillful manipulator in the Breaking Bad universe.
Redeeming: He Cares Deep Down
After seeing Walt abuse and manipulate Jesse time and time again, he shows a glimpse of what could be called compassion and care every once in a while, making us believe that Walt is not all that bad after all. He let Jane die to save Jesse from becoming a fully-fledged junkie and even called him “son” when Jesse broke down in his arms.
Walt cared about Jesse all the way back in high school. Jesse’s mom told Hank that Walt was one of the few teachers who took a special interest in Jesse. In the end, Walt saved Jesse from the Neo-Nazis.
Hate: He Is A Murderer
If we compare the two anti-heroes of the Breaking Bad universe, Walt’s transformation to Heisenberg was much starker than Jimmy McGill’s to Saul Goodman. It took Walt more than a day to kill Krazy-8, his first victim. He hated to do it, but he understood that he had no other choice. When Jane died, he cried actual tears. As time progressed, Walt stopped dwelling on murder as much.
This is a man who poisoned a child and shot our beloved Mike Ehrmantraut for no reason at all. According to breakingbad.fandom.com, his kill count amounts to 201. It goes without saying that the majority of these deaths were an indirect consequence of his actions.
Redeeming: He Has Nothing To Lose
Walt acts the way he does because he has nothing to lose. When he realized he is dying, he started standing up for himself and developed his signature intimidating stare that scared off everybody from junkies buying meth supplies to Saul Goodman. This man spent all of his life sleepwalking, lacking passion and drive.
When he entered the drug business, it’s as if he came to life again. He had nothing to lose but his short life. The most problematic thing about that is that he chose to drag down Jesse with him.
Hate: He Has No Problem Betraying People
Jesse and Walter’s relationship ultimately led to them betraying each other. While we can understand Jesse’s reasons for betrayal – he wanted to stop Heisenberg and confessed his own crimes as well – it’s much harder to justify why Walt gave Jesse away to Neo-Nazis. They were clearly cruel people who clearly don’t treat snitches kindly.
His tragic partner Jesse went out on a limb for Walt so many times, even though he was right about being reluctant about it: they started doing business with Tuco, Jesse’s friend Combo died because Walt pressured him to expand the territory, Jesse lost his aunt’s house because they cooked there and he killed for Walt. And how does he repay him? By giving him away to absolute psychopaths.