Breaking Bad has been lauded as possibly the greatest TV series to ever hit the airwaves. Whereas most shows are predicated on keeping the characters in the same place for as long as possible, Vince Gilligan wrote a show whose designing principle was change. When he pitched the show, he famously told producers that he wanted to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface, with the twist being that the violent tendencies of Scarface were simmering inside Mr. Chips all along.
Every few episodes, Breaking Bad would floor viewers with a jaw-dropping, unforgettable moment that changed everything. So, here are Breaking Bad’s 10 Most Shocking Moments, Ranked.
Walt’s first kill
The pilot episode of Breaking Bad is one of the best of all time. It established the rich characters, dense plotting, and intense trajectory that the show would follow for five seasons. It had to set up the premise of the series, telling audiences how a mild-mannered chemistry teacher ended up in the meth business by way of a cancer diagnosis and a reawakened bank of unfulfilled potential powered by a massive ego.
By the end of the pilot, Walt is officially a murderer. To be fair, the guy he kills was going to kill him, so it was in self-defense, but it’s still surprising.
Walt watches Jane die
Jane was one of the smartest characters in the Breaking Bad universe, and one of the few to actually stand up to Walt. When she found out he was withholding money from Jesse, she blackmailed him for the pay-out. After a chance encounter with Jane’s father at a bar, Walt went over to Jesse’s house and found that both he and Jane were passed out on the bed following a heroin binge.
Two passenger planes collide over Albuquerque
All throughout the second season of Breaking Bad, the episodes opened with a bleak prologue foreshadowing something terrible, like a charred teddy bear floating in the Whites’ pool. In the season finale, it became apparent what that something terrible was.
After Walt allowed Jane to die in her sleep, her father Donald was horrified. He turned out to be an air traffic controller, and he was so emotionally devastated by his daughter’s demise that he screwed up his job and caused two 747s to crash into each other in mid-air. Debris and human remains rain down over the White household
Breaking Bad got a lot of comedic mileage (no pun intended) from the fact that Walter White drove a 2004 Pontiac Aztek. A drug lord driving such a suburban car was nothing short of hilarious. But the Aztek was also sometimes used to juxtapose Walt’s dad-ness with his abhorrent criminal actions.
This moment, in which Walt rams his car into a couple of gangsters to save Jesse’s life and then shoots the surviving one in the head with their own gun, is a perfect example of that. This stunning climax of the episode “Half Measures” concluded with Walt simply looking up at Jesse and saying, “Run.”
Gus loses half his face
Despite the fact that it was foreshadowed a couple of seasons earlier when half of a teddy bear’s face got scorched by the plane crash, Gus Fring losing half his face in a wheelchair explosion was one of the most shocking moments in Breaking Bad history. The show’s writing staff used to love hiding spoilers in the episode titles.
This episode was called “Face Off,” ostensibly because it was the one in which Walt would finally face off against Gus, but with the hidden meaning that Gus’ face would literally come off as Walt rigged Hector’s wheelchair with a bomb and killed him.
Todd murders a child
Vince Gilligan made Breaking Bad as a contemporary western. It wasn’t set in the Old West, but it was set in the desert and featured outlaws doling out frontier justice. In season 5, there was even a train robbery sequence as Walt, Jesse, and co. hijacked a ton of methylamine from a cargo train.
The robbery was a success – the gang got off scot-free with all the methylamine they needed – but an innocent kid on a dirt bike witnessed the whole thing. Without a second thought, Todd cold-heartedly drew his gun and shot the kid dead. Jesse, who has a well-established soft spot for kids, was heartbroken.
Hank figures out Walt is Heisenberg
Season 5’s midseason finale “Gliding Over All” ends with a real bombshell. Just when things seem to be going well for Walt, Hank goes to the bathroom in his house and stumbles upon his dark secret. He fumbles around for some reading material and finds the copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass that Gale gifted to Walt.
Hank finds Gale’s note in the front that reads: “To my other favorite W.W. It’s an honor working with you. Fondly, G.B.” Suddenly, Hank puts the pieces together, remembering an earlier conversation with Walt in which he jokingly confessed to being Gale’s friend “W.W.,” and he realizes that the drug kingpin he’s been chasing all this time has been his own brother-in-law.
Skyler attacks Walt with a knife
The series finale “Felina” had plenty of adrenaline-fueled, earth-shattering moments, but perhaps Breaking Bad’s best episode came a couple of installments earlier with “Ozymandias.” Kicking off with Hank’s brutal death and Walt telling Jesse that he watched Jane die as he’s dragged off to become a meth slave, “Ozymandias” really went into fifth gear when Skyler attacked Walt with a knife in front of their children.
She waved the knife around and he thought she was bluffing, but then she actually slashed his hand and a gut-wrenching fight broke out in which either of the characters could have actually died. Neither of them did, of course, but with the story at boiling point, the audience couldn’t be so sure.
Walt abducts Holly
Walter White had to make perhaps the toughest decision of his life when he called Skyler and angrily confessed to his crimes. He knew that it would burn all bridges with his family and solidify their hatred of him, but he also knew that the feds were listening in and this way, he could absolve his wife of her involvement in his meth operation.
Before this, he got into a fight with Skyler and ended up fleeing the house with Holly in tow. Skyler looked distraught as she chased Walt’s car down the street because her baby was being taken from her. Walt ended up leaving Holly at a firehouse to be returned to her mother, but the fact that he even had the impulse to abduct her is pretty shocking.
Walt, Jr. tells his father to drop dead over the phone
There are a number of jaw-dropping moments in Breaking Bad’s series finale, “Felina,” from Walt’s machine-gun killing spree to Jesse using his chains to “Jabba the Hutt” his most ruthless captor, Todd. But an arguably even more shocking moment arrives at the end of the penultimate episode, “Granite State,” when Walt calls his son, Walt, Jr., at school, for one last conversation.
He just wants to apologize for everything he’s put his son through and give him a way to get the money he earned for the family. But Walt, Jr. isn’t interested. His final words to his father are: “Why don’t you just die already? Just die!”