Blue methamphetamine is the product and cash is the currency, but the fuel that powers Walter White’s drug empire on Breaking Bad is blood. When creator Vince Gilligan‘s modern crime masterpiece returns for its final suite of eight episodes this Sunday, it’ll be the final stage of the journey for kindly schoolteacher Mr. White – and the murders committed by Walt, his allies and his enemies have served as signposts along the way. Some are spectacular, others subdued, but none are simply sensationalistic: each killing reveals something about the killer, the victim or the world they inhabit. Read our list of the show’s 10 most memorable murders to see which kills made the cut.
You never forget your first. Walter White's first step down a long, bloody road came under kill-or-be-killed circumstances. Forced during his first drug deal to reveal how he makes his superior product to Emilio and Krazy-8, two associates of his partner, Jesse, who have every intention of killing him once they find out the secret, Walt mixes up a lethal chemical cocktail in the back of his RV and seals them inside. This leads to both the frantic, gas-mask-and-tighty-whities high-speed flight down a desert highway that kicks off the series, and to his more gut-wrenching killing of a captive Krazy-8 later on (after he realized the poison didn't do the trick). Emilio, however, was the first person to die for the misfortune of meeting Walter White – and far from the last.
Gus Fring was always the strong, silent type: Why should that be any different when he's in the process of murdering someone? Following his right-hand man Victor's failure to stop Walt and Jesse from assassinating genial genius Gale Boetticher, Gus calmly, methodically puts on a hazmat suit, extends the blade of a box cutter – and slides it not across the throat of the guys who defied him, but of the henchman who was proclaiming his loyalty until the very end. Gus needed Walt, who needed Jesse, so they both lived; muscle is replaceable, so Victor had to go. Take a look at enforcer Mike Ehrmantraut during that scene as he frantically tries to figure out whether to point his gun at Gus or Victor and you'll see that he got that message loud and clear.
The poolside massacre of Gus' old employer and current rival Don Eladio was Breaking Bad gone Godfather – a grand-scale act of operatic violence on a show that usually keeps it simple and squalid. But Gus has always felt like an advanced alien among the bumbling blue-slingers surrounding Walt and Jesse, so the whole poisoned-tequila ruse played beautifully. The culmination of a decades-long revenge scheme against the man who murdered young Gus's partner (the other hermano in the Chicken Brothers business), it raises the idea that everything Gus did – even the very act of going into business with Walt, the man responsible for the death of cartel honcho Hector Salamanca's nephew, in the first place – was designed to get him to this moment. (Walt himself would orchestrate a similarly Corleonesque massacre soon enough, ordering simultaneous hits on members of Gus and Mike's network throughout the New Mexico prison system.)
That shot where a big car or bus comes out of nowhere and plows into someone in the middle of your screen has been something of cliché since Mean Girls. But when it's used this effectively, who cares? Terrified that a confrontation with the dealers responsible for the death of Jesse's friend at the hands of his girlfriend's younger brother will cost Jesse his life, Walt swoops in to save the day – by running them over with his car, hopping out, picking up a gun, and finishing the job by hand. It's as methodical a murder as Walt has committed yet. "Run," he tells Jesse, who really should never have stopped doing so – that would have saved him from paying Walt back by executing Gale in the following episode.
Death by ATM? Bet you never saw that one before. From the acid bath of Season 1 to "Face Off" in Season 5, Breaking Bad has never shied away from gore, and the killing of junkie stick-up man Spooge by his outraged girlfriend is one of its most singular splatter moments: She tips the stolen cash machine he's trying to open over on to his head, squashing it like an overripe melon. It's a throw-your-popcorn type image, but it also leads directly to a character-defining moment for its eyewitness, Jesse: before fleeing the scene, he makes sure that the addicts' adorable kid won't have to see the horror himself.
I know what you're thinking: Who? We never get to know, not really, and that's part of the tragedy. Drew Sharp is the name of the dirtbike-riding little boy who stumbles across Walt, Jesse, Mike and Todd's great train robbery in the desert, and pays for it with his life. Slapped on to the end of an exhilarating heist, his death was devastating – an indication of the kind of man Walt's new hire Todd really is, the final straw for Jesse (whose genuine love for children holds true now just as it did when he saw a kid orphaned by an ATM), and the moment at which Walt's ends-justify-the-means/what's-done-is-done platitudes are revealed for the monstrous excuses they really are.
The murder of Mike, the grandfatherly fixer who reluctantly helped Walt set up his nascent drug empire, is a study in contradictions. It's Walt's single nastiest, most vindictive, most pointless kill – he shoots Mike in the gut because the man pissed him off, pretty much. There's no justification in terms of protecting someone or something important, and Walt himself even tells Mike before he dies that he's realized he could have gotten the information he was after some other way. But the death itself is almost serene, with Mike slumping over quietly after sitting and staring at a sun-dappled river for his final moments. Granted, he had to growl "Shut the fuck up and let me die in peace" to earn that last half-minute of rest.
Breaking Bad's most thrilling action sequence? Its answer to the big Dan Dority/Captain Turner streetfight in Deadwood Season 3? The most suspenseful shootout of all time? Yes on all counts. Tipped off by a voice-distorted Gus Fring that the sharp-dressed, silent, stone-cold Salamanca brothers were on their way to execute him for his killing of their cousin Tuco, Hank Schrader fights for his life in a crowded parking lot with any weapon at his disposal, from guns to his SUV. The staging of the showdown – in such a banal suburban environment – made it both nightmarish and, thanks to all those car-obstructed blind spots, almost unbearably tense to watch, even when the badly wounded DEA agent improbably comes out on top.
First things first: If you think Walt didn't kill Jane, the young tattoo artist whose affection for Jesse knocked her straight off the wagon, you're in the wrong reading group. One look at Mr. White's face as he watches Jane choke to death on her own vomit following a post-blackmail bender with Jesse says it all: he knows he's responsible for the loss of her life, and he's making the choice deliberately. Sure, he's got reasons beyond self-interest – he's terrified for his family, and he legitimately believes Jane could cost his young friend Jesse his own life in turn through their shared addiction. But ultimately he's presiding over the end of a life in order to save his own skin. And he knows it.
The kill that launched a thousand GIFs. As Walt's ice-cold antagonist since the middle of Season Two, Gus Fring needed a fittingly spectacular send-off, and that's what he got. At the culmination of an elaborate plot that required winning back his estranged partner Jesse's sympathies (by poisoning his girlfriend's kid) and enlisting the aid of his old enemy Hector Salamanca, Walt succeeded in taking down a kingpin with an improvised explosive rigged to a wheelchair in a nursing home. Like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, the Chicken Man kept on strutting for a minute – just long enough to show the audience that half his face had been blown off in the explosion before collapsing. But the blast's most lasting fallout may well have been Walt's chilling proclamation after the fact, indicating he's now every bit as much of a monster as Gus ever was: "I won."