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Watch Out for the Aztek: The Most Shocking Moments in 'Breaking Bad' History

By Daniel Carlson and Sarah Carlson | Seriously Random Lists | September 28, 2013 | Comments ()


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Breaking Bad is many things: dark drama, darker comedy, pulp thriller, and profound moral meditation. It’s also been one of the most surprising and shocking series of the past few years, thanks to the writers’ willingness to go in daring or uncomfortable directions as they explore the worst possible outcomes of the characters’ actions. It was hard to winnow this list down — sadly, we left off the moment where a tweaker’s head is crushed by an ATM — but these are still some of the most shocking moments in the show’s history:


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The surprising effects of hydrofluoric acid
Having a moment like this early in the series’ run set a gory, darkly comic tone for everything that followed. Because yes, it’s revolting that a half-eroded lump of human torso would melt through a bathtub and crash through the ground below. But it’s also a little funny, in a sick way. (Right? Tell me I’m not alone in this.) — Daniel Carlson


The bad death of Krazy 8
This was the moment that started it all, really. Walter White got it in his head to cook crystal and cheat the system, but he didn’t truly start walking his path to damnation until he committed his first murder, strangling Krazy 8 in Jesse’s basement with a bike lock. He knew his own life was in danger — Krazy 8 had fashioned and hidden a weapon from a plate shard, after all — but that didn’t make it easier. It’s a gruesome scene, and the beginning of Heisenberg. — DC


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Tortuga on the tortuga
Guest stars aren’t gonna make it long on any show, but on a show like Breaking Bad, you know they’re likely to meet a bad end, as well. Case in point: Tortuga, a drug runner played by Danny Trejo, who offered information about the cartel to the DEA in exchange for some serious SkyMall privileges. Tortuga met his end graphically, beheaded by the men he was trying to betray, who set his severed head on a tortoise with a message for the DEA. But the real surprise was when a DEA agent picked up the head and triggered a massive explosion, killing an agent and triggering Hank’s eventual return to the ABQ. — DC


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The messy end of Jane Margolis, and Walt’s ultimate confession
Walt doesn’t set out to hurt Jane. At this point — the final episodes of season two — Walt had mainly only developed his Heisenberg snarl, not so much his Heisenberg tendency to rationalize the killing of those whom he considered a threat. Not saving Jane as she choked on her own vomit changed not only Walt, but our perception of him. Sure, she posed a problem for him thanks to her relationship with and sway over Jesse. But there’s no crying “self-defense” when the victim is innocent and unconscious. So he watches her die, the first of several deaths on his head that occurred not by his hand, but with his blessing. Three seasons later, there isn’t much left for Walt to say to Jesse, whom he’s written off as a rat and as the person responsible for Hank’s death. Cruelly, he reveals his secret to Jesse. We already knew it, but just like Jesse, we can only listen in horror. — Sarah Carlson


The unfortunate end of Wayfarer Flight 515
The cold open teases throughout the second season were appropriately ominous — burned toys and wreckage in Walt’s pool, body bags, and even a pair of glasses that looked like Walt’s — but the revelation of their source was more shocking than most viewers would have predicted. It was all in line with the series’ pulpy but real examination of cause and effect, too: Walt lets Jane die, Walt causes her father untold grief, Walt stands under the wreckage as her father screwed up at his job as an air traffic controller. — DC


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The Cousins vs. Hank
The Salamanca twins are two of Breaking Bad’s most terrifying villains, all dead eyes and silk suits and axes. Viewers watched the two men traveling up from Mexico and leaving a trail of bodies in their wake as they sought to avenge their cousin Tuco’s death. But poor Hank doesn’t see them coming until they are in the same parking lot as him, a phone call with a one-minute heads up his only warning in season three’s “One Minute.” What emerges is a classic action film-style shoot-out between the three that ends with our DEA hero riddled with bullets and left for dead. This is our first real taste of seeing favorite characters hurt by Walt’s actions, and it is unsettling. — SC


The revenge of the Aztek
The series arguably went up a notch in Season Three, taking a cue from the apt title of the penultimate episode of the season, “Half Measures.” Here, viewers were hit with shock after shock, from the murder of Andrea’s young brother (and the killer of Combo), Tomas, to Jesse’s spiral of grief and drugs and his decision to confront the murderers. As Jesse faces certain death, Walt blazes toward the offending drug dealers in his Pontiac Aztek, mowing them down as Jesse watches, wide-eyed. Walt makes sure both are dead, turns to Jesse, and says “Run!” He’s taken two lives to save one, a startling, thrilling, and morally confusing turn of events. — SC


The killing of Gale Boetticher
As season three’s finale, “Full Measures,” came to a close, it wasn’t clear if Jesse would pull the trigger on Gale in a move to save Walt’s life. Returning for season four, we learned that’s what happened, an act that sends Jesse spiraling. Gale is such an endearing and pathetic character that Jesse’s race to kill him and Victor’s race to catch Jesse before he kills Gale is a painful exercise. We don’t want to lose Jesse, and we can even sympathize with his instinct to protect his partner. But Gale’s murder is an act we can’t whitewash. — SC


The effects of a box cutter on human flesh
Gus Fring is a fascinating villain thanks not only to his calm demeanor and restaurant owner cover persona but to how different he is from Walt. The latter will try to reason his way out of anything, and in “Box Cutter,” he is full of explanations for his and Jesse’s actions killing the drug dealers. He just doesn’t know when to shut up. Gus, on the other hand, doesn’t speak. He cooly removes his jacket and tie, dons protective gear and proceeds to slice open the throat of one of his body men, Victor. The death is violent and jarring and confusing, but Gus delivers a message Walt unfortunately never fully came to grasp: this is a game of kill or be killed, and reason doesn’t have to be a factor. It’s for the ruthless. — SC


The death of Gustavo Fring
Leave it to Walt to find a way to have his enemies kill each other. The bomb that took out Hector Salamanca and Gus Fring at the end of the fourth season was the kind of politically savvy masterstroke that solidified Walt’s position (however temporary) as the king of southwestern meth. The shock of the moment came when Gus apparently still had enough of his wits about him to saunter into the hall and straighten his tie before realizing that half his face was missing and that he should probably just go ahead and die. An appropriately outsize ending to the man who remains the show’s most compelling villain. — DC


The Lily of the Valley
Walt started out sneaky and only got more manipulative over time, but the stinger at the close of the fourth season that it was Walt who poisoned Brock with his Lily of the Valley plant was something else entirely. The fourth season had ended messily and in a fog of anger and betrayal, but the casual push in on the plant’s name tag, and the realization of all that implied, was fantastic. — DC


The killing of Drew Sharp
This was the beginning of the end. Walt, full of pride at having outsmarted and defeated Gus Fring, doubles-down on the business instead of walking away and brings Todd along for the ride. Todd seems fairly harmless, mostly all talk about his uncle with prison connections. In season five’s “Dead Freight,” however, once confronted with Drew Sharp, “Opie Hitler” (as Vince Gilligan has dubbed him) proves uncontrollable. Perhaps more upsetting than watching Todd shoot and kill Drew Sharp, an innocent kid who witnesses the crew rob a train for methylamine, is the haunting opening of the next episode, in which Drew’s dirt bike is dismantled and dissolved in acid. We don’t see it, but we all know Drew’s body was next. Nothing is ever the same. — SC


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The killing of Mike Ehrmantraut
Walt probably already had a mind to take out Mike by the time the events of season five’s “Say My Name” rolled around; he steals the gun from Mike’s bag, after all. But it is Mike’s pointed summation of Walt’s faults — his pride and ego that wrecked everything — that set off his inner Heisenberg. In a surprise move, instead of calculating his actions, Walt is all emotion here, turning on Mike in a fury and shooting him. Walt immediately looks shocked at what he’s done, but soon he is back to looking for reason in the chaos — that it all could have been avoided if only everyone had listened to and obeyed him. And we mourned the loss of a character who seemed impenetrable. — SC


The killing of Hank Schrader
Hank. Poor Hank, who started out as comic relief made of pure machismo and gradually evolved into the best, most dogged agent around. The man who used to make casually racist jokes and bottle his own beer, and who ended up shot to death in the desert even after he got his man. He had the cuffs on him and everything, and it still wasn’t enough. Ending “To’hajilee” in a shootout was a punch in the gut, and even though we hadn’t seen it yet, Hank’s fate was set, and “Ozymandias” saw it through. It felt inevitable, and it was all the sadder and somehow more shocking for it. That’s one of the series’ powers: you know what you’re about to see, but you hope it will be anything else. — DC


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The killing of Andrea Cantillo
The list of lives taken in Breaking Bad is long, but the murder of Andrea in this past week’s episode, “Granite State,” has to be tied with the murder of Drew Sharp for the most tragic of deaths. She wasn’t involved in the business. She didn’t need to die. Todd coldly shooting her in the back of the head, after saying it was “nothing personal,” is simply to teach Jesse the lesson that he’s a prisoner. A restrained Jesse can only watch from a nearby car, banging his head on the window, screaming.Todd dispassionately takes her life in one of the series’ most heartbreaking scenes. — SC



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Mark M

    The box cutter scene was probably the most shocking scene of the series for me. At this point, the audience knew Gus Fring was a bad guy, but not how bad. Gus played the perfect gentleman/villain. He was polite, calm, and collected, whether he was visiting hank in the hospital or threatening the lives of Walt and Jesse.

    To see how calmly Gus picked up that box cutter was appalling, and showed the monster that he was.

  • knockloud

    I seem to find, at least with people I know, that Walt strangiling Krazy 8 is the point of no return for the series, specifically the moment where Walt is digging through the trash desperately trying to find that lost piece of plate. That's when people buy in to what the show is going to be or cash out.

    Though it was Jane's death that made my mom, my 64 year old BB watch partner, finally say out lout "He's a bad man."

  • I think the plane blowing up was what made my husband give up on the show. And I'll admit it made me like it a lot less. It just seemed so ridiculously over the top, and that's considering the fact that there had been a head on a turtle not too long ago. I know, I'm a heretic, blahblah, but it just didn't sit right with me at all. I still really like the show, but it's one of the things that kept me from loving it.

  • I started watching Breaking Bad to see what all the fuss was, and fell in love when that dissolved bathtub/body crashed through the ceiling. The only thing that kept me from puking was that I was laughing so hard. And THIS is why we FOLLOW directions, kids.

  • Thor

    True story: the first thing I ever saw of Breaking Bad was the Cousins vs. Hank. I just flipped to a rerun on AMC one day and was riveted, even though I had no idea what was going on.

  • I was flipping channels once and came across a scene of a group of teens sitting in a dorm room talking about how one of their moms had died. It was brilliant. As I kept watching I realized, "Wait. This is that Buffy Vampire thing?!?" I was hooked from then on.

  • IngridToday

    This is why I love Breaking Bad. When people die it's matters. Even if the characters are never mentioned again, what happened has changed the person.

    It's all about cause and effect. Instead of some shows were a death is meant to be shocking and then quickly forgotten by the rest of the cast (True Blood/Dexter).

  • chanohack

    I'm with you. The deaths matter, and they show us parts of the story that maybe wouldn't normally be included, but it's brilliant storytelling. We knew Drew Sharpe got shot, and we knew he'd probably get melted, but to see it actually happen, and to see the reactions of the men doing it really brought home how horrifying his death was. We knew Jane died, we knew Jesse would find her in the morning, but to show it, and then show Mike the cleaner, and then show the paramedics and the body bag and Q her dad... it's the opposite of lazy storytelling, and I love it.

    I felt the same way about the scene in Hank's disciplinary meeting after he beats up Jesse and they ask him to put his hands on the table to take a picture-- it's not an exciting scene, but so telling. Hank must have been humiliated, and seeing his reaction and the detailed consequences of his actions is fantastic.

  • Thor

    The most startling thing is how few characters actually have died when you think about it compared to other shows. The first really big character to die was probably Hank to be honest. Every other major death was from a character introduced season 3 or later.

  • chanohack

    OR JANE.

  • Thor

    No, she falls under that second category. Most people don't remember that she was only in 10 episodes, two of those flashbacks. She wasn't in season 1 or in any season after 2.

  • chanohack

    Second category? I know exactly which episodes she's in.

  • Thor

    The second category in my comment. Jane is not a main character. She is a side character. It's a testament to how well-written she is that we think her death was a major one, when in fact in the scope of the show it was a blip on the radar.

    Hank is in almost 60 episodes. He is the only major character to have died so far. The other major characters (the first category) are Marie, Skyler, Jesse, Walt Jr, and Walt. Those introduced in the pilot.

    My point being that most other big dramas kill off a major character in the first season to show their fans they mean business. The Sopranos, The Wire, Lost, The West Wing, etc all take out someone major in the first season. Not Breaking Bad. They waited until the 3rd to last episode for the huge gut punch. That's why it's the best show on television.

  • chanohack

    Jane's death was a major one, even if she was only in ten episodes. The first season only had seven episodes, so, by your own definition, it COULDN'T have killed off a "major character" in the first season, because all of them wouldn't have been there long enough to BE major characters (which apparently means more than ten episodes). Season 2 is only 13 episodes long, so for the entirety of seasons 1 and 2, Jane was in half the episodes. That's a major character.

    Saying Hank was in 60 episodes is beside the point. At the time Jane left the show, he could only have been in about twice the episodes she was in. Obviously he's a more central character than Jane. But that doesn't mean she wasn't important.

  • Thor

    A few things wrong with that: They originally had Jesse dying in the first season, which was 10 episodes long. Then the writer's strike happened. They had to end the first season with the 7th episode, which, if you go back and look, doesn't even end on a cliff hanger or anything. Then they got fan response about Jesse and decided to kill Tuco off in his place. So the real first season is actually when Walt first cooks to Tuco's death.

    And there's nothing wrong with me comparing Jane to Hank. The show has to be taken as a whole. You can't just consider the first 2 seasons to strengthen your argument. There are more than 2 seasons. That would be like arguing a character is major because they are featured in the first 30 minutes of a movie and then killed off. They aren't major.

  • chanohack

    I'm saying that Jane was a major character at the time she was killed, so her death was important because it was the death of a major character. The absolute end of season one doesn't change the fact that Jane was in half the episodes of seasons one and two.

    You movie analogy is fitting, but I'd argue that yeah, major characters CAN be killed off in the first 30 minutes-- I don't really see how that makes your point.

    I guess we'll just have to disagree on this-- maybe it makes a difference if you actually start a series at the beginning.

  • freetickles

    Wasn't Emilio, not Krazy-8, Walt's first murder?

    As for Victor, I agree with most of what you say but his deal wasn't without reason - he'd been seen at the scene of Gale's murder and would be a way to connect the murder back to Gus, which was why I always assumed Gus killed him (not to mention to send a message to Walt).

  • knockloud

    Emilio was technically the first kill, but it think that one's really self defense, heat-of-the moment shit. Walt makes a clear decision (arguably also self defense) to kill Krazy 8, even after bonding with him.

  • Thor

    Correct. The first kill was the guy he killed with the chemical reaction in the RV. Though, Krazy-8 was the first time he killed someone he knew intimately.

  • Ted Zancha

    Looking through this, it is a startling reminder of how far this show has come. And even more, it shows the real damnation of Walt. How anyone could look at this list and still want Walt to live or be victorious on Sunday is surprising.

    I mean really, besides Tortuga, look at the lives Walt has taken (whether it be directly or indirectly). And this isn't even close to all of the bodies. I think you could even include his orchestration of the murder of all of this prisoners in a few minutes on this list. And that was all set to (if a remember correctly) a happy tune.

  • Helo

    I think we're past the point of Walter being victorious. Even if he does live, it doesn't mean he's won, hell, depending on how Gilligan and Co. set things up, having him live might be the worst possible outcome for Walter.

    Heisenberg, on the other hand................

  • Ted Zancha

    I think that would be a devastating ending for Walter. Losing his family, money, power and reputation/legacy. That would destroy him and make all of the above death have no point.

    As for Heisenberg, I love that at the end of last week, he started to "break bad" again. His ego and name were challenged. Heisenberg is back. And I hope to see him destroyed.

  • Helo

    Have you seen The Shield through to completion? (just to know if I can go in depth with certain parallels; if you haven't, I'll sidestep it.)

  • Ted Zancha

    I have not. But it's a show I want to watch seeing as I will be losing a great show this Sunday.

    I just spent my down time catching up on The Wire. And wow. I see how that show has influenced Breaking Bad in many ways.

  • Helo

    We both have some homework then, I haven't finished The Wire, but I can certainly see how it has influenced the writer's room in certain aspects. But yeah, even if what I'm thinking about The Shield doesn't hold water after Sunday, Walter White and Vic Mackey have a LOT in common.

    I'm not going to speculate, but... I think the fate of Jesse Pinkman is where the heft of the emotional payoff is going to be, whatever that may be. And I'm willing to bet that Pinkman's fate will go hand in hand with whatever is in store for Walter.

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