Walter White is one of the most complex and interesting protagonists in television history. In fact, what makes Breaking Bad so endlessly endearing isn’t just the exciting story, but the wonderful character work on display. Walter White is of course a monstrous character, but the audience understands every single decision that he makes. In many cases, some may even agree with him.
And, as is the case in all great morality-based dramas, there are no “easy” answers. Walt is often placed in horrible predicaments, essentially forcing him into undertaking the actions and decisions that he does. He made many great decisions throughout the show… and many bad ones, as well.
Greatest: Teaming Up With Hector
Walt is a very smart man, and he has an incredible read on people. This talent culminated wonderfully in season four, when Walt decided to partner with a reluctant Hector to take out Gus.
Walt knew that Hector had history with Gus, and he knew that his hatred of Gus overshadowed his hatred of Walter. He approached him with a plan – hide a bomb in Hector’s wheelchair and allow Hector to hit the fuse, killing both himself and Gus in the process. The plan obviously worked like gangbusters, and Walt walked away the victor.
Worst: Deciding To Cook Meth
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: deciding to cook meth is arguably the dumbest thing that Walter ever did. Yes, it provided his family with financial security, but it also completely ruined their lives in the process.
It introduced Walt to a dangerous criminal underground – an underground which often intruded into his private home life. By the end of the series, both Skyler and Walter Jr. are in some pretty dark places, Hank is dead, and Marie is a widow. Cooking meth brought the extended White and Schrader family nothing but grief and tragedy.
Greatest: Poisoning Brock
By all accounts, poisoning Brock was a horrible and detestable action. It was at this point that audiences began to turn against Walt and see him as the villain.
However, there’s no denying that it was a genius chess move. Walt poisoned Brock with lily of the valley, had the ricin lifted from Jesse, and framed Gus in the poisoning. By doing so, he perfectly flipped Jesse’s loyalties and got him plotting against Gus once again. Of course, this plan eventually backfired directly into Walter’s face, but at the time, it won Walt the victory against Gus and his empire.
Worst: Turning Down Gretchen & Elliott
Walt’s pride was the death of him. In the early part of the series, Walt is nothing more than an underachieving high school chemistry teacher bogged down by family and financial responsibilities. When cancer comes around, he has no money to pay for the treatment.
Enter his old friends and business partners, Gretchen and Elliott. Gretchen openly offered to pay for Walt’s cancer treatment, an extremely generous offer that could have spared the White family a ton of torment and death. But Walt being Walt decided to turn it down on the basis of pride.
Greatest: Getting Skyler Off The Hook
“Ozymandias” is one of the greatest episodes in television history. It’s riddled with fantastic and tragic plot developments, but there’s also a lot of great character work found within. After Walt goes on the run, he decides to let Skyler off the hook as his accomplice.
Of course, Walt could have easily implicated Skyler in his drug business and had her thrown in prison. But Walt is a devoted family man if nothing else, and he decided to take full responsibility for the business. It was one of the most beautiful moments of the entire series.
Worst: Falling For Jesse’s Ruse
Walt was probably the smartest person throughout Breaking Bad, both on an academic and “chess move” level.
But he got very sloppy once he became King, and everything came crumbling down due to one particularly stupid decision in season five’s “To’hajiilee”. Jesse sends Walt a picture of the money barrels, and rather than thinking it through, Walt decides to act on pure emotion and panic. It gets him caught by Hank and Gomez, and the entire Empire crumbles.
Greatest: Returning Holly
“Ozymandias” features another fantastic bit of character work for Walt. Walt kidnaps Holly and takes her on the run with him, but he later changes his mind after a particularly heartbreaking moment in a restroom.
While changing Holly, Holly says “mama” and looks around in a disturbed and frightened manner. Walt’s face drops with the instant realization. He decides to leave Holly at a fire station with his home address – a particularly beautiful and touching decision that proves Walter still had a heart and a conscience.
Worst: Leaving Gale’s Book In The Bathroom
When it comes to Walter’s absolute dumbest moments, nothing beats leaving Gale’s book in his bathroom. Of course, Walt had no idea that Hank would happen to pick it up, flip to the correct page, read the inscription, and connect the dots.
But a book given to him by his meth-producing co-worker really isn’t something he should have had lying around. Of course, Walt doesn’t realize this, as he is now King and both his pride and hubris have risen to extraordinary levels. He believed he was untouchable.
Greatest: Car Turret
One of Walt’s greatest creations, and one of his smartest problem-solving decisions, was the climactic car turret. Knowing he would be frisked before entering the compound, Walt decided instead to outfit his car with a massive machine gun in the trunk.
With the press of a button, the gun sprayed bullets through the trunk and throughout the compound, killing nearly everyone inside. The best part about this is that it is entirely possible, as was proven on MythBusters.
Worst: Working With Neo-Nazis
Of course, Walt wouldn’t be in that predicament in the first place if he didn’t decide to work with literal Neo-Nazis. By season five, Walt’s head was absolutely enormous.
Rather than dealing with Mike’s prison guys and their “hazard pay,” Walt decided instead to hire Neo-Nazis and have them all killed in a Godfather-esque extermination. It worked, and the hazard pay was no more. But it also landed Walt within the world of violent white supremacists, and everyone knows how that turned out.