Breaking Bad's Walter White is one of television's most iconic antiheroes, but creator Vince Gilligan thinks the character hardly deserves to be considered a hero, at all.
Gilligan reflected on the monster(s) he created in a wide-ranging interview with The New Yorker published Sunday, less than a week after Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul ended its six-season run. He revealed his feelings for Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, have shifted over the years, to the point that he now has little "sympathy" for the chemistry teacher turned drug lord.
"The further away I get from Breaking Bad, the less sympathy I have for Walter," said Gilligan. "He got thrown a lifeline early on. And, if he had been a better human being, he would've swallowed his pride and taken the opportunity to treat his cancer with the money his former friends offered him."
"He goes out on his own terms, but he leaves a trail of destruction behind him. I focus on that more than I used to."
The Breaking Bad boss explained that Bob Odenkirk's Jimmy McGill, who transforms into Saul Goodman over the course of Better Call Saul, makes a better choice than Walt.
"I'd like to believe that, unlike Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul has a somewhat happy ending," he said. "I think Jimmy rediscovers himself and gets back to his roots. He finds a little piece of his soul again ... There's redemption, of a sort. I don't think you see that with Walter White."
Now, nine years removed from the Breaking Bad finale, Gilligan feels the Heisenberg "spell wears off."
"Like, wait a minute, why was this guy so great?" said the creator. "He was really sanctimonious, and he was really full of himself. He had an ego the size of California. And he always saw himself as a victim. He was constantly griping about how the world shortchanged him, how his brilliance was never given its due. When you take all of that into consideration, you wind up saying, 'Why was I rooting for this guy?'"
After spending nearly 15 years in the world of good guys turned bad guys (and back again, in Jimmy's case), Gilligan is eager to pursue lighter fare: "For my next show, I'd like the lead character to be an old-fashioned hero, an old-fashioned good guy," he said.
"Fifteen years ago, when I was conceiving of Walter White, I looked around and thought, Well, what is current TV? It's mostly good guys," he continued. "But now I'm looking around, thinking, Gee, there's an awful lot of bad guys on TV, and not just on shows but on the news."
"It feels like a world of sh*theels now, both in fiction and in real life. I think it's probably time again for a character who doesn't go for the easy money. I'd be very happy if I could write a more old-fashioned hero, someone who is not out for themselves at every turn."
Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are available to stream on Netflix.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.