“Breaking Bad” will meet its undoubtedly tragic end this Sunday, after a two-part final season that brought the AMC drama its highest ratings yet and had fans obsessing over every contextual detail of the show, hoping for insights into the finale. We’ve recently lost some beloved innocents (RIP, Hank and Andrea), and it's a pretty good bet there will be more casualties before it’s all over -- probably not just among the bad guys. “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan has promised that that the ending will be bloody, and that it will wrap up the loose ends in the story -- which is hard to believe, given how many loose ends remain as we approach this Sunday night’s “FeLiNa.”
Much has been made of the opening scenes in the Season 5 part one and two premieres: The first, “Live Free or Die,” found Walter White, armed with a fake New Hampshire ID and a full head of hair, celebrating his 52nd birthday over breakfast at a Denny’s somewhere in or around Albuquerque, New Mexico. Walt meets with a gun dealer there who gives him keys to a car with an M60 in the trunk in exchange for an envelope full of cash. Anyone who is caught up on Season 5.2 now knows that Walt was ready to give himself up after a heartbreaking, defeating phone call to Walt Jr. in New Hampshire, but changed his mind and hightailed it back to New Mexico after he saw his former Gray Matter Technologies partners trashing him on the “Charlie Rose” show. And in the Season 5.2 premiere, “Blood Money,” Walt returns to his abandoned home to retrieve a vial of ricin from its hiding place behind an outlet plate in the master bedroom, suggesting that Walt needs more than one weapon because he may have more than one person in his crosshairs.
While it's tempting to mine these flash-forward scenes for hints to how the story will play out, we’ve seen from past seasons of “Breaking Bad” that these sequences don't offer clues as much as they dangle symbols before us, the meaning of which can only be determined after we've seen the story unfold, not the other way around. Take Season 2's anachronistic cold open. Who would have guessed that a one-eyed stuffed animal floating in the pool meant that Walt had let a young woman die, causing her grief-stricken air traffic controller father to make a fatal error that would result in a mid-air collision and kill hundreds of people? The purpose of that sequence was to lay the foundation for menace and mayhem, and to gratify engaged viewers with a “eureka moment” in the season two finale, when the air disaster occurred. Because the closer you watch “Breaking Bad,” and the further back you are able to remember, the more you will be rewarded.
One of the theories that the Season 5.1 premiere spawned has already been debunked: That Walt had killed Skyler. In the past, Walt has adopted characteristics of those he’s killed -- removing crust from his sandwiches like Tuco, putting his whiskey on the rocks like Mike, fashioning a towel into a cushion when kneeling over the toilet like Gus. Some interpreted Walt’s adoption of Skyler’s maiden name (Lambert) as an alias and his arrangement of bacon slices into his age like she would do as evidence that he had offed his wife -- which at this point seems unlikely, if not impossible.
It feels safe to say that by Sunday night at 10:15 p.m. EST we will know who the M60 and the ricin were meant for (if the ricin was meant for anyone), and why Walt chose Lambert as his alias. But I doubt we'll look back and kick ourselves for missing telegraphed signs in the way Walt arranged his birthday bacon. Unlike “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner, who seems supremely interested in outsmarting his audience, Gilligan wants to satisfy his. To do that, he’s going to have to answer a lot of burning questions. But the most-pressing question of all as we anticipate “FeLiNa” is: Who else will die, and how? Here are the top candidates for a violent end, along with our theories about how and if they will be killed.
Lydia has cheated death before, and her luck should be running out right about now. Love her or hate her (I kind of love her), Lydia deserves to die as much as any other character on “Breaking Bad,” what with her habit of casually ordering executions in between sips of stevia-infused tea. Right now, Lydia is more vulnerable than she’s ever been before: As the apple of sociopath Todd’s eye, she might be his only weakness. Walt, Skyler and Jesse all have good reason to want Todd dead. Walt wants his money back, Jesse (presumably) wants revenge, and Skyler doesn't want Todd to return and deliver on his threat.
Lydia has managed to survive so far by the power of her peculiar brand of feminine charms, and it would certainly be a fitting end for her if she sang that siren song all the way into an early grave. It's easy to imagine that Lydia will be used as collateral: When you're dealing with someone like Todd, you need all the leverage you can get. Personally, I'd love to see a scenario where Walt pulls a “Give me my money or the lady gets it,” and Todd gives it up in exchange for Lydia's life. But then he demands payback in the form of forced captivity wherein Lydia must live out her days with him on a neo-Nazi compound. A Skyler vs. Lydia showdown would also be excellent (as long as Skyler wins).
I really hope Skyler doesn't die, but even if she does, I just don’t see it being by Walt’s hand. What reason would he have to kill her now? Looking back over their fraught relationship, there’s only one thing that Walt could reasonably hold against Skyler in the long term -- the $622,000 payoff to the IRS on behalf of Ted Beneke, her boss and paramour. Theoretically, Walt could argue that had Skyler not given that money away, the Whites would have been able to start a new life far away from Albuquerque, as Walt had planned, and Hank would still be alive, and no one would be going to jail. But not only is that water under the bridge now, Skyler had very good reason to want the IRS off Beneke’s back -- because Skyler and Walt would have been next in line.
If Skyler doesn’t survive “FeLiNa,” it will likely be because she sacrificed herself for one or both of her children. Unless Marie snaps and strangles her to death.
Marie has always been a “Breaking Bad” wildcard: As vivid and developed as her character is, we never quite know what she’s going to do next. And there’s still a ton we don’t know about her. What’s with the kleptomania and the identity inventions? Why is everything purple? Why did she and Hank never have kids, considering how much she seems to love them?
Marie’s unrealized maternal instincts are a bit concerning. With Hank gone, her childbearing prospects are significantly diminished (assuming that she in fact wants children of her own, which hasn't been explicitly addressed). She already tried to take Holly from Skyler once; now that her sister is under criminal investigation and her brother-in-law is responsible for her husband’s presumed death, there’s no telling what Marie will do to get back at the Whites and “protect” Holly and Walt Jr. She’s definitely not above doing something crazy -- something that could make her the target of law enforcement herself. Possible death scenarios include suicide; a random car accident; a standoff with law enforcement after she takes Holly and Walt Jr., hostage; being stabbed by Skyler when she tries to kidnap Holly.
Walt Jr., and Holly White
I think they will both live. They can’t kill off the children. They can’t!
Todd, Uncle Jack and the Aryan Brotherhood
Will Todd go down in a hail of gunfire or will he survive to carry on Walt’s twisted legacy? I just don’t know -- I can easily imagine either scenario. Uncle Jack is definitely going to die, though, as will some of the rest of the gang.
Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz
Walter White sure does seem to have plans for his former business partner and his ex-girlfriend -- their appearance on the “Charlie Rose” show, during which they said that Walter’s only contribution to Gray Matter Technologies was in the name, appears to have prompted Walt to hightail it back to the West Coast, just minutes after he had decided to turn himself in. There's clearly some unfinished business there. But I don’t see what he would get out of killing Elliot or Gretchen Schwartz, unless there's still something we don’t know, which is certainly possible. Historically, Walt only kills people when they pose an imminent threat or represent an obstacle to something concrete. He’s a vain man, but his vanity alone has never caused him to kill before. Then again, he’s nearing the end of his life, so maybe the rules have changed.
If you had asked me a week ago, or two weeks ago, or six weeks ago, I would have said that Jesse Pinkman is a goner. I already thought Walt was going to snap his neck during that hugging scene in the desert, and there’s been more than faint suggestions that Jesse is suicidal (including the scene from “Granite State” in which Jesse literally kicked a bucket while suspended from above). But with Andrea tragically, viciously gone, it’s a whole new ball game. Jesse is a stand-up guy, and there’s no way he’s going to let Brock become an orphan. Jesse will live.
The million-dollar question is really more about the "how" than the "if": We’ve all been preparing for Walter White’s death since the very first episode of “Breaking Bad.” It would be shocking if he didn’t die in “FeLiNa." At the very least we should expect the stage to be set for an imminent death from cancer. In fact, it pretty much already is: Whatever treatments Walt has been getting in the New Hampshire cabin aren’t working: he’s lost weight but not his hair, and his eyesight is going -- a sign that the cancer has spread to his brain. One way or another Walt’s days are numbered. But I suspect when he does go out he will go out on his terms. Remember, Walt was ready to put a bullet in his head once before, and now he has a better idea of how to use a gun. But whether Walt takes his own life or lets someone else do it for him, he’s not going to go out before the barrels of money are exactly where he wants them to be. That’s what this is all about, after all.
The “Breaking Bad” series finale will air on Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.