'Breaking Bad' 'Granite State' Episode Explained: Sympathy for Walt, Todd's Weird Smile & More

Breaking BadSo how's everyone feeling after last Sunday's Breaking Bad? Kind of melancholy, maybe? A little confused about whether you were supposed to hate Walt's guts or feel sorry for him or some weird combo-plate of those emotions?

According to longtime Breaking Bad writer Peter Gould, the "Granite State" episode was deliberately intended to mix up how we feel about Walt. Gould also dished on how it felt to kill off another character, what was going on with Todd's smile during a pivotal moment, and how the final moments featuring Gretchen and Elliot from Grey Matter will play into the final episode.

(Spoilers for last Sunday's Breaking Bad ahead!)


Here are the highlights from Peter Gould's interview with The Hollywood Reporter:

"Granite State" was written in the hopes of regaining audience empathy for Walt:

As we were working on it, we said, "Gee, if we can get people to root for Walt or take Walt's side, that would really be an accomplishment." In the previous episode, you have Walt being as villainous and evil as we've ever seen him. In this episode he reaches the end of that. He enters into this frozen hell, this dead end where nothing he does makes any difference. When a character suffers in a way that feels real, it's very hard to not to feel a little bit of empathy sometimes.

It definitely worked for me -- I ended up feeling all sorts of complex emotions for Walt during this episode. Sympathy, then disgust during his phone conversation with Flynn, then sympathy again when Flynn screamed at him to just die already.

Speaking of, Bryan Cranston had to completely reshoot that devastating conversation with Walt Jr.:

It was an incredibly painful scene to write as a father, to write that begging. He's begging for some little sliver of meaning in his life. Breaking Bad shoots on film, and that scene with Bryan on the phone is a big scene. R.J. Mitte came to the set to be off camera with him. It was beautiful. Then we sent the film to Los Angeles and an airplane ran over it. We still have the crushed cans. Bryan had to get back into that makeup, and he had to get his head back into that and do that whole damn scene all over again. (…) All the dads on the set were getting misty-eyed over it. The father-son relationship has been an emotional touchstone on the show for me since the beginning.

Andrea's death scene was fueled by Aaron Paul's performance:

I wrote that it was an explosive reaction. With directing, I want to see what the actors bring to it first before I start messing with it. The great thing about having creative, brilliant actors like Aaron Paul is that they feel deeply. Aaron spends a lot of time with his script. He spends a lot of time thinking about where his character is and where his character is going to be. He analyzes the script, as does Bryan. His reaction was so explosive and heartbreaking that I was all about getting it on film. Originally in that sequence, there was a little bit more with him at the beginning. There was a piece where he was watching Todd approach Andrea's house. We found his reaction was so strong and so powerful that we wanted to save it until just before the shooting.

The surprising explanation for Todd's weird smile while the Nazis were watching Jesse's confession tape:

Todd's missing a piece. I think he genuinely likes Jesse. He genuinely respects Skyler, but he's going to do what he's going do. In a weird way, he's the guy Walt thought he wanted Jesse to be way back when, when he wanted Jesse to go get their money [that was stolen from Skinny Pete] and "do what's necessary." Jesse Plemons is a very creative, smart actor who works very, very hard. He had some real inspiration. One of my favorite moments was in this first scene in the episode where they're watching the tape of Jesse talking about Drew Sharp's death. Jesse calls Todd a "dead-eyed Opie peace of shit." I look over at what Jesse Plemons is doing and he's chewing this food and giving a little smile. It's like he's thinking, "I like Jesse. Jesse remembered my name." The rage doesn't touch him.

Ooh, this is fascinating to me, because I totally read that scene as Todd smiling over the memory of killing Drew Sharp. This actually makes more sense, given the strange nature of his personality.

Why they chose Robert Forster as Saul's "disappearer":

When we were talking about the character in the writer's room, we literally called him Robert Forster. Our reference to the part was Max Cherry from Jackie Brown. Then, lo and behold, when our casting people reached out to him, he was willing to do it. Vince and I got on a phone call with him and told him about the part and he was willing to rearrange his schedule. It was really a thrill. He brings with him an air that tells you so much about the character. He plays such a huge role in the episode, so we really needed a powerhouse actor to put next to Bryan Cranston.

Why the Charlie Rose interview with Gretchen and Elliott will be so important for the finale:

It's hard to talk about because it leads into the next episode. There's no question seeing Gretchen and Elliot waved a red flag in front of Walt. What he's actually thinking there, you can make a lot of assumptions. It'll be really interesting to talk about after everyone's seen the finale. I think people are going to see it in a different light.

This is an interesting tease, because I think most people assumed he reacted the way he did because he was pissed he wasn't recognized for his contributions to Grey Matter. It sounds like maybe there's more going on than meets the eye, and if the finale plays out like most Breaking Bad episodes, we could guess all day but never be able to predict exactly what's coming.

Did the Breaking Bad writers succeed with making you feel empathy for Walt in last Sunday's episode?

Image via AMC

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