Throughout the entirety of Breaking Bad, two characters stand out as worthy of the “kingpin” title because of how intelligent and calculating they are. That would be Walter White himself and Gustavo “Gus” Fring. Both are villains and mortal enemies due to how ambitious and cautions they can be in the drug trade.
For some, Gus might even be a better and colder version of Walter but the fact that the latter defeated him puts this evaluation under scrutiny. That’s why we’re here. Because there can only be one iconic drug kingpin in the Breaking Bad franchise. Is Walter smarter than Gus or is it the other way around?
GUS FRING: He’s A Self-Made Millionaire/Billionaire
Gus was no doubt in the millionaire range at the height of his operation back in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Heck, with all the assets combined– including the fast-food chain, Madrigal, and other enterprises, he could probably pass off as a billionaire.
The fact that Gus was able to make it this big and even sustain it without turning any heads. He was able to do it for years with the Juarez Cartel leeching off his back for the majority of it. It makes Walter’s $80-100 million after a year’s labor pale in comparison to what Gus has achieved in the few years working with Gale Boetticher.
WALTER WHITE: He’s An Actual Scientist
While Gus might have been a better businessman than Walter, the latter was considered a rockstar in his own field and is generally acknowledged as a genius in chemistry. In fact, Breaking Bad implied that Walter’s smarts could have netted him a Nobel Prize.
If only he had stuck with his strengths and didn’t let his pride eat through him, he would have owned Gray Matter Technologies and might even be competing with Gus for net worth. Walter really could have made something great for the world using his intellect if only he wanted. Even those who don’t know him too well regard him as a genius after seeing just a bit of his work.
GUS FRING: He Built A Massive Drug Network
Walter might have created the purest methamphetamine on Earth but his best creation in the show ends there. It’s not really that impressive in hindsight, considering it’s just druggie chow. Gus’s portfolio of wonders, on the other hand, is more outstanding. His accolades span multiple businesses and industries.
These include an underground meth lab, a laundromat, a poultry farm, a fast-food chain, an overseas electromotive company in Germany, a private jet, etc. The man could have made his own private army if he wanted. All of those only serve as a front to his drug business. At best, Gus’ drug empire’s earnings trickled down economically and even created “jobs” for people. No doubt he’s made a bigger impact to the world than Walter.
WALTER WHITE: His Quick Wit
Whereas Gus’ genius is mostly seen in his long-term strategy, Walter’s is a healthy combination of tactical and strategic. Walter knows how to play the long game and also knows when to think of out-of-the-box solutions for unforeseen consequences.
Even when caught with his pants down (literally and figuratively), he always comes up with something. The best example of this was when Hank nearly caught both him and Jesse red-handed in the RV. Walt’s quick thinking saved them both. Sadly, it’s impossible to compare how Gus would have reacted in a similar situation because he likely would never find himself in such a problem because…
GUS FRING: He’s The Most Cautious Man Alive
No other person in Breaking Bad is more calculating and more careful than Gus. In fact, his closest equivalent apart from Walter would be Charles ‘Chuck’ McGill from Better Call Saul when it comes to logical conduct. Gus is simply too cautious for his enemies that even the violent Juarez Cartel couldn’t touch him.
Additionally, his judge of character is near-faultless — even when he bit the bullet by working with Walter, he still ensured a backup because he knows just how ambitious and unstable Walt was. One could even wonder just how exactly is Gus able to sleep with how much paranoia and shrewdness he has that even his most trusted employees are under surveillance.
WALTER WHITE: He’s Better At Improvising
In addition to wiggling out of a really bad situation or even a death sentence, Walter also has a talent for tapping into his genius on demand. He just knows the right thing to do in a sudden unfavorable situation. There was that time where both he and Jesse got stranded in the middle of the desert and Walter created a battery from scratch.
When push came to shove, Walt also saved Jesse’s life using nothing but his 2004 Pontiac Aztek… with a little help from Newtonian physics, of course. Who could also forget that Mercury Fulminate that managed to bring Tuco Salamanca to heel?
GUS FRING: He Never Gets Angry
Here’s one of the biggest differences between the two bald druglords of Breaking Bad. Gus is simply more mature than Walter and handles emotions better. He never loses composure (even in death) and never lashes out. Even slitting his own employee’s throat was a calculated move (Victor was essentially spotted at the crime scene) and elicited no visible reaction from him.
Gus is too collected and rational that he makes the middle-aged Walter look like a teenage punk. It’s worth noting that Walter’s outbursts and impulsiveness have resulted in disadvantages and negative outcomes such as getting beaten up by Jesse and even Mike Ehrmantraut’s death.
WALTER WHITE: He Doesn’t Need Henchmen
Since he does seem more tactically resourceful than Gus, Walter also tends to leave the important tasks for himself. He shoulders anything from confronting Tuco to even scaring some potential competition in his territory.
As it stands, Walter would seem more independent than Gus, cancer and all. He even took out all of Jack Welker’s gang just by himself with nothing but his smarts and a jerry-rigged machine gun. Gus, menacing as he is, seems to prefer to not get his hands dirty and let all his underlings do all the manual labor.
GUS FRING: He Wiped Out The Juarez Cartel
On top of building his own drug manufacturing and distribution empire as well as creating his own business ecosystem, Gus also took out what appears to be the most dominant drug cartel in Mexico: the Juarez Cartel. This was his real goal, with his drug empire that all but eclipsed the cartel merely being the icing on the cake.
Not even Walter could have pulled off such a dangerous task let alone live. The most menacing gang he could take out was Welker’s Neo-Nazi group and even he paid for it with his life. Those guys are kids compared to the might of the Juarez Cartel.
WALTER WHITE: He Killed Gus
Still, one cannot forget Walter’s highlight in Breaking Bad: killing Gus. This was Walt at the top of his game. Technically, it was Hector Salamanca who pulled the trigger but the plan was Walter’s so he gets the credit.
Walter took down the guy who took down bigger fish than either of them in what looks like a rock-paper-scissors game. Regardless, it’s a testament to how dangerously intelligent Walter can be and how even Gus can’t anticipate some of his moves.