When a person is confronted with their own mortality, there’s really no way of knowing how they could respond. Everybody reacts to impending doom differently, and yet it’s probably fair to say most people wouldn’t set out on quite the same path as Walter Hartwell White, the main character in one of television’s greatest accomplishments, Breaking Bad. After learning he has terminal lung cancer, the modest chemistry teacher lives out the program’s titular expression, gradually becoming the most feared and powerful meth dealer on the west coast.
Considering the breadth of his empire, White could hardly make the transformation all on his own. In addition to Walter’s family, who for a long time have no idea what he’s up to, the man also becomes deeply embroiled in a world of illicit activities, meeting a wild cast of criminals and conmen along the way. Given the highly volatile nature of what it is these people do, a good number of them find mortal terror much more immediate than Walter’s slowly worsening cancer. Only the most wily and competitive were able to survive the entire series, and only the biggest fans of the show will be able to name who they were. Test your own knowledge of Vince Gilligan’s masterpiece by answering the simple question: when it was all said and done, did these Breaking Bad characters live or die?
Despite the fact audiences meet Jesse Pinkman escaping from an apartment being raided by DEA agents looking for him, it doesn’t take long before we realize he’s just a messed up kid in way over his head. Pinkman isn’t anywhere near the ruthless criminal mastermind of his new friend Mr. White; he’s just trying to make some money and have some fun with it. Unfortunately, with Walter pushing him to do shocking things, Jesse slowly loses himself to rampant drug use in an attempt to cope, and it only gets worse for him from there.
During a party that was supposed to be for his brother-in-law Walt, DEA agent Hank Schrader almost instantly steals the show with tales of bravado relating to the capture of some low level drug dealers. Instantly, audiences learn a few things about Hank—he’s good at his job, proud of it, and sees no problem in stealing the spotlight when applicable. However, when his small time busts grow into a worldwide search for the feared Heisenberg, mental instabilities and a number of close calls have Hank wondering if he’s up for the job.
In the words of Jesse Pinkman, criminals like Walter White don’t need “criminal lawyers,” they need lawyers who themselves are criminals. As seen on giant billboards all throughout New Mexico, that’s where the fast talking jokester named Jimmy McGill comes in. Of course, he gave up that name years ago in favor of a much fancier moniker—Saul Goodman. Whenever people find themselves in legal trouble, they better call Saul, which is exactly what Walt and Jesse do as their empire grows. Unfortunately, this case might be a little out of Saul’s price range…not that Walt accepts that as an answer.
Learning he had cancer at the same time his wife had a baby on the way may have been what caused Walter White to break bad, but there was a lot more to his story that painted who he was before that. There’s also the fact White is an absolute genius, responsible for a chemical formula that made billions of dollars…for some friends of his, since he had to opt out of the company. This resentment deep within him, the slow burn from Walter White into Heisenberg makes a little more sense, but does it mean he can handle the results?
Through the events of Breaking Bad, there’s not a whole lot fans learn about how Mike Ehrmantraut become the terrifying hit man he is. All anyone really knows is that Mike was a cop in Philadelphia long ago and now finds himself a career criminal, first introduced as a cleaner for Saul Goodman. Soon, it becomes clear he also works for some much bigger players in the Albuquerque drug trade, making Mike a serious threat to Walter and his operation…unless of course Walt could some how get Mike on his side…or kill him trying.
Walter White was hardly the first mild-mannered every day schmo to decide he had what it takes to run a methamphetamine empire. Long before Walt came to power, there was Gustavo Fring, better known to friends and customers of his wildly successful Los Pollos Hermanos fast food chain simply as Gus. To the general public, Gus is an always smiling classic example of the American success story, a Chilean immigrant who became a self-made millionaire. In the drug trade, however, he’s known as a sadistic killer with an endless body count, making him a serious threat to anyone impeding on his turf.
Initially, Skyler White had absolutely no idea her husband was involved in the drug trade whatsoever. Sure, she soon was fed and believed a lie that he occasionally smoked weed purchased from a kid named Jesse, but the man also just learned he had cancer, so a joint here or there wasn’t that big a deal. Before long, though, the extent of Walt’s illicit activities put Skyler and indeed his entire family and risk, making it all too easy for her to realize something dangerous must be going on, forcing her into action.
As the doting purple-clad wife of DEA agent Hank, Marie doesn’t have much of a personality herself in her first few appearances on the program. For the most part, she gives boilerplate unwanted advice about how to be a good citizen, smiling and waving in the background Hank’s success. As it would turn out, this is all just a cover for Marie’s flagrant kleptomania, though that isn’t to say Marie doesn’t genuinely care about the people in her life, as well. Specifically, Marie deeply loves her sister Skyler, and grows increasingly worried about her husband’s strange behavior.
As fans of Breaking Bad’s brilliantly edited cooking scenes are well aware, the process behind making Walter White’s famous crystal blue persuasion is intensely complicated and scientific. Most viewers probably couldn’t write the formulas needed to make the illicit drugs (and that’s probably a good thing), but we nonetheless understand a whole bunch of chemicals are required to make them happen. For drug kingpins like Gus and Walt, that’s where Lydia Rodarte-Quayle of Madrigal Electromotive comes in. As luck would have it, Lydia is also pretty well connected, helping take these criminal empires overseas to new markets, as well.
Upon first glance, Todd Alquist was nothing more than an ambitious young criminal looking to aide Walter White’s operation in whatever way he could. It was little suspicious, maybe, but everybody has to start somewhere, even criminal masterminds, so Walt and Jesse took him along for a major operation. Almost immediately, Alquist revealed he was more of a sociopath than a budding thief, callously shooting dead a child who happened to wander by the scene. From there, Todd makes it known he also has an uncle with a small criminal empire of his own, which naturally comes into conflict with Walt’s.
Walter "Flynn" White, Jr.
Unlike Walter White’s wife Skyler, his teenage son Walter White, Jr. has no clue about his father’s extracurricular activities in the drug trade. Of course, as a growing boy, Walt, Jr. has a whole mess of stuff on his mind his parents just don’t understand either, like why exactly he wants to be called Flynn. Not that it really matters, as Flynn is content to simply ignore their quibbles and happily eat his breakfast in peace. How could this fragile young man’s world change if he knew the truth about his dad?
If appearances were everything, Skinny Pete probably would have been one of the first characters on Breaking Bad to die. No offense to the man, but his style could at worst be described as heroin chic, and he’s unsurprisingly he was heavily involved with how his good friend Jesse got tangled up in the drug business. That said, Skinny is mostly trying to clean up his act, although not entirely, considering he still sells Jesse’s meth on the way home from Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Of course, this heavily increases his own chances of relapsing, either into drugs or the criminal world in general.
Every cop needs a partner, and DEA agent Hank Schrader has his good buddy Steven Gomez, or as he calls him, Gomey. Acting as Hank’s right hand man from day one, Gomey is always willing to do whatever research or field work his partner is incapable of doing, using the full resources of their department to find their target. Once it’s clear said target is Heisenberg, Gomey’s role in the operation increases significantly, as he becomes perhaps the only person in the world Hank can trust.
Hector "Tio" Salamanca
DING! All kingdoms eventually will fall, and for Hector Salamanca, the downslide has literally been crippling and incapacitating in a deeply physical manner. Confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak due to a stroke, the once feared and brutal Mexican drug kingpin is forced to communicate with his nursing home attendants by ringing a bell. The only reason Hector’s former enemies haven’t killed him is to prolong his suffering, and perhaps because an insane nephew is protecting him from afar, at least as Breaking Bad begins.
Long before Walter White was a chemistry teacher married to a woman named Skyler, he was a college student studying the field and dating a gal named Gretchen. Her maiden name isn’t known, because Gretchen and Walt didn’t last long together, as she moved on to a man named Elliot Schwartz and soon married him. Gretchen and Elliot also formed Gray Matter Technologies together on the success of research Walter had done, which made the couple billionaires. Unfortunately, Walt was left in the dust, and his resentment towards Gretchen inspired his criminal madness.
A student of habit in need of a leader, Jesse Pinkman was always following others when making his worst choices. Prior to Walter White, Jesse was hanging out with Emilio Koyama, who likewise goaded him into helping out with his meth empire. Koyama was nowhere near the cook Mr. White would become, though, let alone the criminal, getting arrested in the very first episode of the show. Once Koyama posts bail, there could be trouble for his former partners, unless their history as childhood friends meant there were no hard feelings.
Brandon "Badger" Mayhew
Jesse and Skinny Pete seemed like pretty close buds, but no comedy trio is complete without a total goofball like Brandon “Badger” Mayhew keeping things lighthearted in spite of their dark circumstance. No matter what danger is afoot, Badger would rather relax, smoke some weed, and talk about his latest attempt at Star Trek fan fiction. Get him started on it, and before long everyone will forget there’s a whole drug war going on around them. Honestly, the kid was better off as a mascot for the local bank than he is as part of the extended Walter White criminal empire.
Not all criminals are necessary villains. Obviously, Walter White and everyone he works for are bad guys in literal black hats, making it easy to spot their foul intentions, but there are also blue collar crooks like Ted Beneke who muddy the waters a little. Beneke is Skyler White’s boss at Beneke Fabricators, where she serves as an accountant helping him commit serial tax fraud. Unlike Walter’s greedy motivations, though, Beneke is doing it to keep the company alive and save everyone’s jobs…or so he says.
Had Jane Margolis never met Jesse Pinkman, her life may have gone a whole lot differently. Granted, the same thing might be said about other friends she made prior to Breaking Bad introducing her, as all we really know is that Jane was a recovering heroin addict at the time she and Jesse met. Given Jesse’s own horribly addictive personality, it isn’t long after shacking up that Jane relapses, introducing Jesse to a whole new dangerous drug along the way. If only they had stopped at smelled the flowers instead.
Jesse sure knows how to pick them. If nothing else, at least Andrea Cantillo seems to have genuinely put her past as a recovering meth addict behind her, attempting to move on as a single mother to a young child. Unfortunately, those old habits are hard to shake entirely, leading to the revelation her young brother killed one of Jesse’s friends, a connection he initially finds difficult to handle. Andrea remains strong and clean from drugs, however, giving Jesse someone to come back to again and again, which could prove extremely dangerous to her and her son Brock.
Ultimately, the world will never know why violent killers fall into their lives of crimes in the real world. No motivation could ever quite explain countless murders, not even the one held by Mike Ehrmantraut as he delves into the criminal underworld. From the very beginning, it’s clear Mike is doing it all for the benefit of his granddaughter Kaylee, who he plans to leave millions of dollars to upon her 18th birthday. Whenever Mike gets the chance, he also steps away from the hustle and bustle of drugs to play with Kaylee, even if doing so could put her in danger.
Christian "Combo" Ortega
It’s possible to learn a whole lot about a budding gangster by how they come into their gang name, and Christian “Combo” Ortega both does and doesn’t fit this trend. On the one hand, it’s clear the man loves food, specifically Combos, the delicious pretzel based snack food produced by the Mars candy company. Beyond that, all we know is that Combo was friends with Jesse, and that Combo didn’t find anything immoral about stealing his mother’s RV and selling it to Jesse and Walt when they needed a place to cook meth.
Proudly calling himself a nerd and stating his true goal is to brew the perfect cup of coffee, Gale Boetticher made Breaking Bad fans wonder how the hell a guy like that could become part of a meth empire. Of course, they all said the same thing about chemistry teacher Walter White, and Gale certainly had his scientific brilliance in common with the one who knocks. To Gale, science itself is beautiful, turning meth production into a true art form. The question remains, however, whether or not such a gentle soul could last in such a dark world.
Intimidation isn’t always about looking big and scary. Perhaps more importantly for Saul Goodman’s hired muscle Patrick Kuby, there’s also a whole lot of improvisation and nuance required for the job, as different people are intimidated in different ways. For example, all Kuby needs to get Bogdan Wolynetz to sell his car wash or onlookers to move along without interfering during a train robbery is quick thinking and a fast mouth. Plus, with a partner like Huell Babineaux, the physical intimidation factor is pretty much covered.
Don Eladio Vuente
Believe it or not, men like Walter White and Gus Fring are virtually small fries when it comes to the true extent of the illegal drug trade. Neither men come near the expanse of real life cartels, though Breaking Bad does give viewers a glimpse at what it would be like if they did through the lens of Don Eladio Vuente. Every major drug dealer in the show can somehow be traced back to Eladio’s product either as a rival or distant associate, which makes him the most beloved, hated, and powerful man in the game, all at once.
In a world where the most vicious drug dealers spend their day to day life as restaurateurs and chemistry teachers, truly vicious psychopaths like Tuco Salamanca are a rare breed. That’s good news for everyone else, because Tuco’s unpredictable nature could pose a giant threat to everyone who so much as stands in the same room as him, and that includes Tuco himself. It doesn’t help that he’s seriously addicted to his own product, although that it what always causes him to spare Walt and Jesse’s lives—they make the best stuff on the market.
Anyone who thought Todd Alquist was a sadistic bastard had another thing coming when he finally introduced Walter White to his uncle, white supremacist gang leader Jack Welker. It immediately became clear where Todd inherited his sociopathic behavior as Uncle Jack happily committed whatever atrocity Walter White asked of him and his associates, gleefully masterminding a plan that took the lives of 10 prisoners throughout three separate prisons all in the span of two minutes. And that was just the beginning. Once Jack started making plans without Walter, it only got more destructive from there.
One of the saddest elements of Walter White’s life is that his job as a chemistry teacher alone isn’t enough to support his family, which is why becoming a meth dealer was such an easy choice for him. Compared to his second job as a cashier at a car wash, the drug trade didn’t look so bad. Gus Fring might be a menace, but at least he’s not a total jerk like Bogdan Wolynetz, the original proprietor of the A1A Car Wash and thus Walt’s boss.
At least one of Walter White’s pre-meth gigs wasn’t that bad. Bogdan might have made life at the car wash a living hell, but the chemistry teacher also had a delightful young woman named Carmen Molina he called his Vice Principal. When Walt was diagnosed with cancer, Molina was one of the most understanding voices around, having worked with him for years and also knowing Walt, Jr. as a student. Unfortunately for Molina, Walt reacts to everything in strange ways, reacting to her kindness in a rather odd manner.
All right, so Patrick Kuby proved why appearances weren’t everything for a bodyguard, so here’s Huell Babineaux to make the exact opposite point. Big, bulky, and physically intimidating in every sense of the phrase, the one thing Saul Goodman’s clients wouldn’t except Huell to be is fast, which proves invaluable to his side job as an expert pick-pocket. On the downside, Huell also has a condition not unlike narcolepsy, causing him to fall asleep and miss out on some crucial job details…not that he’s any less imposing while unconscious.
Poor, beaten down Francesca Liddy has been Saul Goodman’s secretary for an extremely long time once Breaking Bad begins. Despite the long working relationships, she’s not too pleased about him calling her H.T., and the fact we can’t explain that expression without censoring one of the words should explain why (we will say the “h” is “honey”). In any event, Francesca gradually picks up some of Saul’s criminal instinct along the way, successfully conning his clients for a little extra cash whenever she sees the opportunity.
Only Breaking Bad would call upon viewers to contemplate the mortality of a wholly innocent six-year-old boy like Brock Cantillo. The son of single mother Andrea Cantillo, poor Brock was slightly involved in the drug trade from before he was even born, with his mother battling a meth problem and his young uncle Tomás on the way to becoming a pre-teen dealer. It gets worse for Brock when Jesse Pinkman enters his life and treats him and Andrea as the people he holds most dear, putting their lives in serious jeopardy.
Sadly, Breaking Bad never gives fans the whole story on Old Joe, and it doesn’t seem like Better Call Saul will do anything to fill in the gaps. All viewers really know about the guy is that he works at a local junkyard, has a pretty strong grasp on the law, and is equally adept at the electric engineering that goes into operating a gigantic magnet. Oh, there’s also the fact Old Joe is more than happy to assist Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in their illegal activities seemingly just for fun, always keeping it light with jokes and fun expressions.
Forget about Saul Goodman’s small time intimidators Huell or Kuby and whatever ideas they put in our heads about what an enforcer should be. In a New Mexico crowd, Victor blends in even better than either of those two, and there’s nothing scary at all about him on a physical level. Once viewers learn a little bit about his role as Gus Fring’s most trusted henchman, they realized Victor could be one of the most ruthless criminals of all. More than that, he’s also a genius, quietly plotting how to ice out Walt and Jesse from the day they meet.
Gus Fring is far from the only local kingpin in Don Eladio Vuente’s vast cartel, nor is he even at the top of the food chain. Above Gus are men like Juan Bolsa, who negotiates plenty of meetings between Vuente’s most lucrative associates to ensure everyone gets along and no one loses their head. Naturally, this puts Bolsa in considerable and almost constant danger himself, though his calm, professional business-like veneer never fades from his confident face. Of course, were Eladio’s protective influence to disappear, Bolsa would be in for the fight of his life.