It is difficult to believe that 2023 marks 10 years since Breaking Bad’s final season aired on our screens. The series, following a chemistry schoolteacher who is diagnosed with an inoperable lung cancer who decides to cook meth to provide money for his family, became a renowned television success.
Across its five scintillating seasons, it featured some of the greatest characters and most intense moments that the medium has ever seen. It also has a litany of brilliant quotes, ranging from hilarious lines of dialogue to imposing monologues which have only grown more iconic in the years since Breaking Bad finished.
10“I’m in the empire business.” – Walter White
Season 5, Episode 6 (2012)
Perhaps the perfect snapshot audiences get into Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) vindictive personality, his “I’m in the empire business” quote showed how selfish he really was. With Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Mike (Jonathan Banks) eager to sell the stolen methylamine, Jesse must confront Walter to tell him the buyer will only make the deal if Walter’s share – worth $5 million – is included.
Jesse highlights how Walter’s goal was always to make money fast, and that $5 million was far more than he ever hoped to make, but Walter refuses. Monologuing about his past life, Walter hints at his envious disdain for his past associates at Gray Matter and all but announces that his meth operation has become about much more than money.
9“No more half-measures, Walter” – Mike Ehrmantraut
Season 3, Episode 12 (2010)
As a no-nonsense enforcer for Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and later Walter White, Mike Ehrmantraut was often a surprising voice of reason. With Walter facing a difficult crossroads, Mike sheds some insight from his past life as a police officer.
His story details a repeat domestic abuser whom Mike tried to scare straight, only for his conservative warning to fall on deaf ears as the thug beat his girlfriend to death two weeks later. The closing of his monologue, simply stating “no more half-measures, Walter”, emphasizes Mike’s cynical worldview, but also highlights that going easy on people isn’t an option in their world.
8“I watched Jane die.” – Walter White
Season 5, Episode 14 (2013)
Breaking Bad was always a series that had its comedic elements, many of which came from the unlikely though lovable partnership between Walter and his former student Jesse. A major thread in the show’s final season though was how that relationship soured, with Jesse’s intent to bring Walter down leading to a spiteful feud between the two.
Walter’s sickeningly cold-blooded confession to Jesse about how he watched his girlfriend overdose and did nothing to prevent it proved to be the absolute final straw in the two going from colleagues to bitter enemies. It also gave audiences an emphatic reminder that Walter White, despite starting the show as a likable though flawed character, had become a cruel and evil villain.
7“This is my own private domicile, and I will not be harassed… b*tch.” – Jesse Pinkman
Season 3, Episode 6 (2010)
In a series full of power-hungry, cut-throat criminals, Jesse was often something of a lovable relief. A surprisingly good-natured meth-cooking drug dealer, Pinkman was often defined by his kind demeanor which hid beneath his crude presentation, however, Aaron Paul’s performance will be forever remembered for his truly iconic use of the word “b*tch”.
A highlight of his foul-mouthed hilarity came when Hank (Dean Norris) was trying to break into the RV while Jesse and Walter hid inside. Walter tells Jesse what to say to prevent Hank from barging in on them. Jesse added his own inflection to the famous line, with his hesitant “b*tch” the perfect exclamation point.
6“A man provides.” – Gustavo Fring
Season 3, Episode 5 (2010)
With Giancarlo Esposito’s magnetic presence, Gustavo Fring quickly became a fan favorite even as one of the series’ most imposing villains. A significant reason for that came from the way in which he spoke, with his calm, calculating demeanor almost always on display, but rarely more compelling than when he tried to convince Walter to work in his lab.
With Walter having his own doubts linked to family issues, Gus taps into his core motivations with his dialogue about how a man must provide for his family even when he isn’t appreciated. It proves to be an effective speech too, as Walter agrees to work for Gus later in the episode.
5“Just because you shot Jesse James, don’t make you Jesse James.” – Mike Ehrmantraut
Season 5, Episode 3 (2012)
The latter seasons of Breaking Bad saw Walter develop a knack for letting his ego get away from him, something few characters were able to sort out as succinctly as Mike. With a deal done, Walt, Mike and Jesse are sorting out payment and Walter states his disapproval of the allotment shared.
Commenting on how it is less money than they got when they worked for Gus, Mike, with his flawless, deadpan expression, uses his Jesse James analogy to give Walter the lay of the land. The blunt yet pointed remark alone was enough to tell Walter – and audiences – that any plans he may have had of taking over Fring’s empire would not yield success.
4“All I can do is wait… for the cancer to come back.” – Skylar White
Season 5, Episode 4 (2012)
By season five, Walter had become a domineering, controlling, bullying villain who wielded intimidation as one of his most brutal tools. Skyler (Anna Gunn) was regularly the poor person on the receiving end of Walter’s manipulative torment, as evidenced when he berates her for wanting to keep their children away from him.
As Walter stands over her, picking out every hole in her idea, she finally concedes that she is a coward who can’t outmatch him, but that her best hope is to wait for his cancer to return. The line has a shocking effect, not only on the audience but on Walter as well as he is left speechless, realizing how loathed he is by even his own family.
3“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really… I was alive.” – Walter White
Season 5, Episode 16 (2013)
The premise of Breaking Bad revolves around Walter trying to raise money for his family as he succumbs to cancer, something which is honorable enough in theory, but not quite the full extent of the situation. Throughout the series, White goes from being a timid teacher to a ruthless criminal mastermind with no moral compass.
While White presents himself as a tormented figure forced into a life of crime, he eventually reveals that this dedication to his empire wasn’t as selfless as he claimed. In the series’ final episode he finally confesses to Skyler that his illegal activities were ultimately for himself and the gratification he got from them.
2“Say my name… You’re god-d*mn right.” – Walter White
Season 5, Episode 7 (2012)
Walter’s self-absorbed persona was often something that made him a protagonist as unlikeable as he was compelling, but there were some moments when it worked an absolute treat. In the seventh episode of season five, Walter, Jesse and Mike are trying to form a partnership with a Declan’s (Louis Ferrera) gang.
Walter makes his pitch, flaunting the quality of his product as his major asset before announcing that he killed Gustavo Fring. Goading his rival into stating his name, he implores “say my name” to which the response is “you’re Heisenberg.” Walter’s follow-up became one of the most famous moments of the series.
1“I am the one who knocks.” – Walter White
Season 4, Episode 6 (2011)
Walter White was never short of a great line (as this list has quite clearly suggested), but there was one quote of his that stood tall above the rest. With White’s colleague shot dead in his own apartment, Skyler voices her concerns to Walter in a heated exchange that one day it will be their family being attacked.
Walter’s response is a ranting monologue of his invaluable contribution to his drug operation and his belief that he will never face such a threat. The full quote from the monologue runs as “a guy opens his door and gets shot, and you think that of me? No, I am the one who knocks.”