Breaking Bad: The Appeal of Walter White

Aristotle thought of the earliest concepts of the tragic hero.
Aristotle, unfortunately, would have conceded that Walter has a strong ethos.

How is it possible for an audience to watch a television character deceive, steal, and kill for five years and still root for him? To answer the question, Aristotle, who says that “there are three things, besides demonstrations, which an audience believes. These are intelligence, virtue, and goodwill,” has an answer (Golden 73). However, even Aristotle has his limitations. Modern psychological research also explains the audience’s appeal towards Walter White. He justifies what he does by saying that everything is for his family. The audience believes him because he demonstrates character (integrity), intelligence (capacity to act), and good will (others’ perceptions of your intentions as good), thus, continues to root for him.


Walter White does not have integrity; his moral character is shady. Nevertheless, he appears to show integrity, and that is enough to believe his justification. According to Golden (talking about Aristotle), someone’s character is the “speaker’s integrity judged by the apparent truthfulness of the statements he or she made” (73). And that is the main difference, between appearance and reality, Walter White seems truthful, and the audience believes him. He appears to be a good high school teacher, a good husband, and a good father, so there is no reason to turn against him. He is innocent until proven guilty. His son, on a website he created to help fund his father’s cancer treatment, describes him as “amazing, and funny,” and “after [their] family, chemistry, and teaching kids, is what he loves the best” (“Walter White”). By presenting a good teacher, father, and husband façade, and being reinforced by his son, Walter White establishes his character and integrity.

Moreover, the audience believes Walter because there is a truth bias. The truth bias states that everybody assumes friends and family are telling the truth instead of lying. In a research study, half of the participants paired with friends and the other half with strangers. Both friends and strangers lied to the participants, but the results showed that people were more accurate at detecting deception by strangers than by friends (Floyd 424). People scrutinized more the strangers’ messages than friends’ messages because the truth bias, the tendency to believe people are truthful in nature, was stronger with friends than with strangers. If Walter White appears integral, his son, his wife, and the audience believe him. He is innocent until proven guilty. There is no reason to turn against him, so the audience believes his initial reasoning.


Walter White is not only intelligent, he is a genius, which makes him a more believable character. As his son said: “he’s annoyingly smart. I mean, super brainiac annoying” (“Walter White”). In one of Walter’s genius moments, he and Jesse got stranded in the desert with no water, a dead battery, and a dead cell phone. In a desperate attempt to survive, Jesse challenges Walter to “think of something scientific” (Catlin). Then, Jesse suggests to “pick some of these chemicals and mix up some rocket fuel,” or even build a “dune buggy” (Catlin). Even with the idiotic suggestions, Walter comes up with a solution: to create a battery with money change, “washers and nuts and bolts and screws and whatever little pieces of metal we can think of that is galvanized” (Catlin). Genius.

His idea works, and they survive the desert. Walter’s intelligence and capacity to come out of the most difficult situations make him an enviable character. Not only in Aristotle’s mind but in American pop culture, intelligence is valuable to someone regardless of the way he or she uses it, i.e. every anti-hero in television. Not only Walter, but characters like Dexter, Tony Soprano, and even Dr. House are as intelligent as a super-evolved dolphin descended from dolphin Stephen Hawking. The audience loves it. These characters, due to their intelligence, are always ahead of the game, and the audience is in for the game. The audience is ahead of other characters along with Walter, so they feel just as intelligent. It does not matter if their intelligence is for evil or to survive because the audience recognizes his genius, and, in turn, goes along for the ride. The audience recognizes Walter’s intelligence, feels as intelligent as him, and loves him for it.

Good Will

Between the good Walter and the evil Walter, our minds go with the first impression.

Finally, Walter White shows good will, which is what holds the good relationship between the audience and him together. Walter’s moral justification for his criminal life is to provide for his family. He has cancer, no health insurance, and no money to leave to his family, so becoming a drug dealer to make easy money and leave it to his family is the logical choice for him. Whether his real intention for becoming a criminal is his family or not is irrelevant because a character’s good will is “judged in terms of the listeners’ best interests,” and the listeners’ best interests are to root for the character they already like (Golden 73). In the same way as integrity, Walter appears to have good will, so the audience goes with it.

Walter first establishes his integrity and intelligence, among other things, which forms a bond between the audience and him. Then, he establishes his good will by saying that all that he does is for his family. At this point the audience has two choices to make: he is either telling the truth or not. If the audience believes him, then they can continue to watch the show without moral regret, but if the audience decides that he is lying, then they have to either continue watching a liar commit crimes, or stop watching. Thus, it is in the listeners’ best interests to follow Walter’s logic. Walter’s “good will” is what holds everything together.

Beyond Aristotle

Although Walter White is a fictional character, the way the series portrays him and the way he makes decisions show those of a real human being. And here, Aristotle reaches his limitations. Even though Aristotle was a great thinker, and some would even call him an early psychologist, his understanding of human nature is not as insightful compared to the knowledge gathered by modern psychology. The understanding of evil, and how people make decisions is better explained by psychologists such as Steven Pinker than by Aristotle. Nevertheless, Aristotle explains why we like Walter, but not how we like him. Breaking Bad is truthful in its representation of human decision-making, and with the help of modern psychology, the understanding of Walter goes beyond Aristotle.

But first, if Walter White reflects real people, there are characters in life that show character, intelligence, good will, and some type of evil behavior, and yet be liked. So, let’s look at Hitler. Now, breathe. It might be hard to imagine Hitler as a human being today since Hitler equals evil in popular culture. But Hitler “had a point of view, and historians tell us that it was a highly moralistic one” (Pinker 495). From his point of view, he saw “Germany’s sudden and unexpected defeat in World War I and concluded that it could be explained only by the treachery of an internal enemy” (Pinker 495). Of course, he was wrong, but he appeared to have goodwill: “a moral vision in which heroic sacrifices would bring about a thousand-year utopia” (Pinker 495). He was a good and charismatic public speaker, and he was also an intelligent man.

The façade that Hitler used to commit treacherous acts is like Walter’s own appearances. Of course in the spectrum of evil acts, Walter does not get near Hitler, but both “evildoers always think they are acting morally” (Pinker 494). One is doing it for the financial betterment of his family and the other of his nation. Both are great strategists, and as long as they meet their goals, they do not hesitate to act. Finally, they try to appear integral, when in fact they are not. Photographs of Hitler holding a baby, or playing with kids are not uncommon. Just as Hitler appeared to have, in its time and to his followers, moral character, Walter White appears moral to his most rabid fans. Breaking Bad appeals to the audience because it gives a moralistic goal to his fans.

The Audience Lets Evil be Evil

Aristotle states three characteristics to prove ethos; Walter White follows them. By showing character, intelligence, and then holding it together with good will, Walter White does not become another criminal, he is a righteous man doing everything possible to help his family, just like Hitler. If the audience does not believe his claim, then his righteousness falls into pieces. Yet, the audience believes him. The audience roots for him. He poisoned an innocent kid, yet the audience does not seem to care. The audience wants him to get away with it. The audience lets Walter be evil; justifies his evil. His evil is not a mysterious force that tempts him from the underground but a man killing for his family, a criminal who needs money to survive, a Walter White with a strong ethos. Evil is mundane. Nevertheless, the audience has the power to shatter his righteousness into pieces, but the audience, quite blindly, justifies his actions. The audience lets him be evil. The audience shouldn’t justify evil. The audience shouldn’t let evil be evil.

Works Cited

Catlin, Sam, and Vince Gilligan. “4 Days Out.” Breaking Bad. AMC. Albuquerque, New Mexico, 3 May 2009. Television.

Floyd, K. (2009). Interpersonal communication: The Whole Story. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Golden, James L., Goodwin F. Berquist, and William E. Coleman. The Rhetoric of Western Thought. 9th ed. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Pub., 2009. Print.

Pinker, Steven. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York: Viking, 2011. Print.

“Walter White.” Save Walter White. Web. 16 May 2016.

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  1. I used to love Heisenberg but lately I’ve become quite uncertain, in principle.

  2. He is someone who NEVER looks like he’s acting … it’s just utterly real with him.

    Then the range he can do – from restrained non-acting, to hysterical and rage-filled – and then to do that with that level of charisma, to create such interesting characters, his monologues … and by this point you’d think “okay, but he’s just going to cast a shadow over his co-stars”

    He gets the best performances you’ll ever see out of them – they look as good as him … Best actor in the universe … and incredibly good in Malcolm in the Middle, but it’s easy to miss

  3. I did question myself after rooting for him to kill Gus. But it was the cartoony humour that made it acceptable to like Heisenberg.

    • ismael676

      Yes, for it was when (spoiler) he poisoned Brock. In an intellectual level, I knew that was utterly wrong, yet I wanted him to thrive and get away with it. It was weird and fun at the same time.

  4. Emily Deibler

    Excellent work! Though I haven’t seen all of Breaking Bad (one day my Netflix queue will be empty…one day…), I’ve always been a fan of Bryan Cranston’s acting.

  5. I truly appreciate you connecting Aristotle with an element of contemporary pop culture. Not often enough are relationships established between philosophers of the past and characters created for modern entertainment.

    • ismael676

      Right, it just amazes me how Aristotle was right on point. Every other field would have outgrown someone as old as Aristotle, but he just got it right quite early.

  6. This is an excellent article that does much to revive an interest in ancient philosophy. However, I do have a somewhat tangential comment. You claim that:

    “Of course in the spectrum of evil acts, Walter does not get near Hitler…”

    I wouldn’t be so quick to jump on board with this conclusion. To take just one point of account, just how many thousands of lives did Walter ruin in a very direct way by designing, manufacturing and distributing his blue meth? To be sure, there is no exact equivalence between Heisenberg’s meth empire and the total war of the 40s or the Final Solution and its haunting implementation. Yes, these latter are examples of significantly greater evil. But is it true that Walter’s evil “does not get near”? Perhaps it is my own peculiar view, but it seems to me that there is a kind of diminishing returns curve for evil-doing.

    • ismael676

      Thanks for your comment.

      Interesting point. Even though I wouldn’t grant that Walter gets near with Hitler in levels of “evil,” (he “affected thousands of lives” while Hitler affected millions and reshaped the political global landscape) I don’t have a problem if you think that way. The reason being that it doesn’t affect the conclusion.

      The reason I compared Heisenberg with Hitler was because Hitler epitomizes evil. If even the “most evil” human being (I know this is debatable, but nobody would disagree that he is up there) was likable, then someone who is not at the same level of evil, yet it is evil, can surely be likable. My point was to compare that both characters believed they had moral righteousness on their side. So, if you think that Heisenberg, in fact, gets near Hitler, I am happy about it.

      Thanks for your comment.

      PD: To debate if they get near or not, I think we would eventually end up disagreeing whether which type of ethics, Utilitarian or Kantian ethics, has more value. The end or the act, which has more value?

    • It is true to say there is no way to equivocate the actions of (made up) drug criminal with those of a genocidal dictator… This is why I think it was weird for the writer of this article to make the comparison in the first place. It’s a comparison, as a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, that I find personally offensive. I don’t understand our society’s fascination with rating evil things – especially fictional things – on a scale of 1 to Hitler, because it is truly diminishing to those who suffered at the hands of a real person.
      But, for the sake of argument, let’s say we can compare them. I think it’s inarguable that “Walter does not get near Hitler” in terms of how evil he is. No one is arguing that Walter’s actions aren’t evil, nor that he didn’t cause a great deal of suffering to the people in his (need I say it again, fictional) world. But it is utterly ridiculous to try and scale those actions in relation to someone who is responsible for the deaths of millions of people and for nearly annihilating more than one cultural group.

      Angry Jewish girl, out.

  7. I think there is a point at which the audience is no longer supposed to root for Walter. In fact, there is a point at which he stops rooting for himself. In season 3 (?) he tells Jesse that he’s lived too long. He remembers the night that he let Jane die, and says that he never should have left home. “Oh, if I had just lived right up to that moment,” he says “and not one second more. That would have been perfect.” I think Jane’s death is also the point at which he becomes a full-blown psychopath, and thus no longer heroic.

    • ismael676

      Right, but that is subjective. At a point in the series, I don’t know which one, I lost respect for him, but not everybody did. I met people who rooted for him till the end, and if given the opportunity to choose Walter’s fate, they would have made him survive and thrive. While researching for this article, I found a comment that was interesting. A guy on the internet said: “ok, he make a kid get sick. That is a crime, probably a misdemeanor, but I don’t know for sure, it was a plant, not a synthesized chemical compound,” as to justify his actions. The thread goes on and on, but this person would defend Walter’s actions with all his heart. He still rooted for him till the sick end.

      I am with you, but various members of the audience disagreed.

  8. Benedict Hadley

    I think Walter White’s character works in the same way as Henry Hill in GoodFellas or Tony in the Sopranos. They value there own family’s security over everything else, but with Walter he is also consumed by his own success. As his meth business became bigger and bigger, at what point should he have stopped? As he said in the last episode, he “enjoyed” doing it.

  9. Great article! The correlation between Walter White and Aristotle was very insightful!

  10. This is an intriguing analysis. Your point that “the audience is ahead of other characters along with Walter, so they feel just as intelligent” particularly stood out to me. I tend to think that the key factor in whether a viewer will root for a given character is the degree to which they are able (and willing) to identify with that character. In Breaking Bad, much of the story is focalized through Walter’s perspective, so naturally we as an audience are made to understand the motivations and desires that influence his actions throughout the series, morally reprehensible though they may be. For instance, in the pilot episode alone we are given a clear portrayal of a man who is brilliant, has a family he loves, but has failed to live up to his potential and feels that he has ended up clutching the short end of the stick. In short, Walter starts out as an underdog. I would argue that the pervasive popularity of his character is a testament to our automatic, unconscious tendency to compartmentalize: emotional attachment to/identification with a character can override our disapproval of immoral behavior we would otherwise condemn. Ironically, our ability to empathize with Walter dulls our reaction to the damage he does.

    • ismael676

      Hi Julia,
      Thanks for your thoughtful response. I completely agree, and as I said, once the audience likes the “family man,” we either keep watching and we keep liking him, or we just stop watching. Those are the only two ways to get rid of the Cognitive Dissonance. Few people watched till the end while hating Walter. Those who hated Walter, I would assume, just stopped watching the series. Those who were around until the end “had” to like him, otherwise, they would be in a state of Cognitive Dissonance, and we don’t work that way.

  11. Bickford

    Hail to the King


  12. Nakesha

    Nice to see TV showing more morally ambiguous characters. Far more engaging, you really feel a connection at times.

  13. Breaking bad is excellent but I thought he was phenomenal in Malcolm in the middle that I couldn’t see him as anyone else. I never understood for years why he was never a bigger deal as an actor. His success in breaking bad is the least he deserves.

  14. Council

    Amazing actor. Walter White has marked me more than any other T.V. character – rooting for someone who’s essentially an evil killer/drug dealer leaves you questioning your own morality. There are not many actors who could pull off what he did.

    • The ambivalence it brought out in us, the audience, was fascinating! But for me, I think when he let Jesse’s girl die was a turning point, as in ‘How can I carry on rooting for this guy..?!’ (Even though you knew her days were numbered the minute she started to play hardball with him) That was one of the most powerful scenes.. in a series that had so many incredible scenes.

  15. This was well done! I feel that Walter’s despiration expecially later in the series has a connection to the aidiences own anxieties, in a way that we root for Walter to problem solve and fix his problems, as we as the human race are desperate to fix our problems ourselves, whether or not it is on a selfish level.

    • This was well done! I feel that Walter’s despiration especially later in the series has a connection to the aidiences own anxieties, in a way that we root for Walter to problem solve and fix his problems, as we as the human race are desperate to fix our problems ourselves, whether or not it is on a selfish level.

  16. Coriander Slander

    I think also the confidence his family has in him is something that allows an audience to get on board. Whether we like it or not, there is an entire side of Walter his son and his wife do not imagine exists or cannot imagine exists because he has kept it hidden by making the right choice.

    In reference to the early scenes when Walter has the guy tied up downstairs who he talks to and feeds a sandwich to upon viewing these moments an audience thinks they are watching a powerful man be compassionate towards a lesser criminal when we are really watching Walter develop a flexibility he never knew he had: he can delude himself into thinking he controls justice and reason and revenge. He keeps the man downstairs because he tells himself the alternative is too great; the shattering of the illusion would be too catastrophic if people knew he was a drug dealer and so on and so forth. He is a coward.

    • ismael676

      Thanks for your response. I think I can get on board with Walter being a coward. Your earlier point goes right through the “truth bias.” With people we are closer, we are more likely to believe their lies because we don’t expect them to lie to us. In a similar way, I don’t know if there is a term for it and I haven’t looked if there is actual evidence, we are biased towards those that we like. Those who are family, friends, etc. are good people, right? Otherwise, they wouldn’t be our friends. Most friends and families of some criminals are surprised when they hear the news. How could he do that? He looked like such a good man. However, when they are strangers, we are more likely to think the worse of them.

  17. Antebellum

    It’s an interesting analysis, but at the same time, I can’t help but disagree a little bit based on my own experience. I rooted for Walt in the beginning because what he was doing wasn’t honestly that bad – illegal, yes, but he did have the justification of needing a lot of cash, quickly. It’s the escalation of his behaviour and the transformation of his character over the course of the show that really changed him into this evil person. He didn’t really start off as evil, but changed to become that way.

    As well, I found myself rooting for him to get caught at the end, and started rooting for the other characters instead of him. When he hit the level of child killing and so many of the other awful things he did, I couldn’t bring myself to support him any longer. That might not be the case for every viewer of the show, but I just think it opens up an interesting counter point to your opinion that the show directs the audience towards letting Walter White “be evil”

    • ismael676

      Thanks for your response.

      Two things. I don’t think we disagree that much. On to your first point. I agree that not every member of the audience rooted for Walter until the bitter end. I was one of those who stopped rooting for him; I wanted him death. Any other end wouldn’t have been satisfactory. However, I would ask: at what point did you stop rooting for him? He killed his first man on the pilot and choked to death the second on the third episode. For me, it was really easy to take the “high road” of self-righteousness and condemn Walter, yet I justified his first killings. He hadn’t any other option, right? I let Walter be evil. Since the pilot, I could have bailed, but I didn’t. I justified. I rooted for him. Then, it became harder to root for him, but for many wasn’t. That is the danger. We justify evil mostly when we don’t realize it.

      This is the second thing. It is not that the show, I would argue, directs the audience towards Walter being evil, but the other way around. The audience lets Walter do his evil stuff, not the other way around. On the debate whether the sender or the receiver of a message it’s at fault for persuasion, I fall on the side that it is the receiver of the message, the audience, who has the power to not be persuaded. As I said earlier, we could’ve bailed on Walter from the Pilot. He killed a man, yet we justified his actions. That’s what I meant when I said that the audience let Walter be evil.

      Again, thanks for your comment.

  18. Makes me curious to watch this show.

  19. Thank you, for two great show- Hal and Walter White.

  20. Jacquie

    One of the best fictional character creations ever to grace our screens. He was more than that though. An everyman who through human ingenuity and intelligence gains it all. No situation was beyond him.


  21. Arlyne Naylor

    He is one of the best actors out there on TV for sure.

    When little teenage me was watching Malcolm in The Middle I had no idea Cranston would end up having such a role and pulling it off so well.

  22. This is an interesting piece about the moral capacities of Walter White. In general, I’m fascinated by the fascination for Breaking Bad — I too fell under its sway. But it always strikes me that the primary motivation for the whole series is that Walter White does not have access to universal health care — his need to finance his own cancer treatments drive the action from the outset. As a Canadian, I find this quite poignant.

    • ismael676

      Thanks for your comment.

      Like the meme that went around saying that Breaking Bad would have lasted a 20 minutes visit to the doctor if it were in Canada.

  23. I miss Walter. I put off watching the last episode for over a week, as I didn’t want it to end.

  24. This article seems to me to be worded wrong. Using Aristotle to explain the fascination that fans of the show have with Walter White is more of a thought experiment than it is an answer to the first sentence. If you’re holding a hammer, Walter White probably looks like a nail, too.

    There are many sides to a character that make him appealing, but popular anti-heroes are nothing new. The most obvious answer to why people sympathise with Walter: perspective. They’re being told “his” story. We’re used to feeling connected the main character, one way or another. You might not like Dorian Grey (The Picture of Dorian Grey) or Alex (A Clockwork Orange), but you feel for them all the same. Only in the least imaginative Hollywood films, only in the most formulaic pop fiction do you see purely evil antagonists.

    Then, Walter fulfils a relatable fantasy: man who is bored of his everyday life and family, man who has nothing to lose anymore and does things he would never imagine doing. Most people get heart palpitations just by looking at a “no entry, staff only” sign on a door and imagining themselves opening it, and walking in.

    I won’t even address the fact that you staple “evil” on the character, as if there was no nuance, as if everyone doesn’t commit minuscule acts of “evil” every day without thinking or caring.

    My question is: what is gained by using Aristotle to explain Walter’s charm? What interesting conclusions do you draw from this? (genuine question, let me know).

  25. Piper CJ

    I guess I disagree. I was actively rooting against Walter White.

    I interpreted the base of “Breaking Bad” was the reformation of our concept of bad. Walter began as a person deemed as socially good. He was a middle-class, educated white man with a family and a stable job. Jesse was socially deemed as bad, a do-nothing, a burnout, no family, no socially acceptable trajectory. The “breaking” comes from forcing us to think outside of our preconceived notions of good and bad, and root for the morality in Jesse and against the evil in Walter.

    The bad guy was the protagonist, and I’m not the only viewer who hated him.

    Aforementioned point considered, the show was brilliantly named.

  26. Interesting read. I also think that people root for Walter because the most of the people he’s up against (e.g. Tuco, Gus, and especially Uncle Jack) are much more ruthless and “evil” than Walter himself, or at least they appear to be.

  27. He is the best actor that has ever graced this planet. Scrub that, the Universe.

  28. I would follow him anywhere – especially to a clappedout RV in the New Mexico desert!

  29. Thank you for an interesting article. I, however, did not respond to the show in the way that you describe. I lost interest in Walter straight after he stood by and allowed Jane to die. I actually wanted him to get caught because there were so many instances where it became clear that he was mechanically repeating the motivation ‘I’m doing all of this for my family’ to justify all manner of actions that had nothing to do with his family. At one point in the show (I forget precisely which season), it becomes abundantly clear that he wants to be Heisenberg because he misses the power that comes with that persona. The more the show develops the more you realize that he harbored deep-rooted resentments towards the couple he was in business with and felt completely emasculated by what had happened in that interaction. At one point Walter confesses that he checks the stock in the company daily, thus brooding over how much he lost out when he sold his stock such a long time ago.

    You mention particular traits that he displays, and then add that these serve to make him very real as a character. Now, I’m not denying that he comes across as a realistic character – I think he does. But in my mind that isn’t enough to make a good show. By the end of the show it is clear that there is almost nothing Walter won’t do, which means that he has no moral code guiding him in any sense. The “bad guys” in the show ‘The Wire’ clearly commit crimes, but most of them still have a code of some sort – a line that they won’t cross (think of Omar). Many of those characters have “heroic” moments (think of Bodie), and this is what keeps me interested. I think the recent interest in “anti-heroes” has gone a bit too far. Traditional “anti-heroes” like Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre are dark and brooding but still moral in some sense. I think that’s missing in many characters these days, and in my mind it makes for a boring show. The only reason I finished Breaking Bad was because my boyfriend wanted to and he even wishes that he’d given up on the show sooner.

  30. Interesting read. In the series finale (“Felina”), Skyler says to Walt that she doesn’t want to hear him say that he ‘did it’ for the family anymore, to which he replies: “I did it for me.” Do you think this is Vince Gilligan trying to challenge his ‘good will’?

  31. Andreas

    Breaking Bad was a great drama and will go down in history as great TV so long as you remembered that Walter White was a sociopath. They can be very interesting people you know.

  32. danielle577

    Walter White is the epitome of the “anti-hero.” He is a character audiences can relate to; they are able to find some redeeming qualities; the aspect of family draws viewers; his battle with cancer affects others; but most abundantly powerful is his absolute level of desperation. This is a man with no money, no “backbone,” and garners no respect. He is diagnosed with cancer and his main concern–which is a horribly real aspect of life–is how he will pay for his treatments. At one point, he considers forgoing treatment and surgery due to the cost of healthcare. On that note, healthcare is another extremely relevant topic that audiences relate to. As the show progresses, he becomes increasingly difficult to relate to and support. He does become truly evil and figuratively acts like a cancerous agent eroding all those who come in his path.

  33. The reason audiences rooted for him, even until the end, lies in the title. We enjoy watching someone break bad and descend into evil.

  34. Very shallow analysis…absence of wide context, selective arguments…Author forgets that man’s main goal was providing for family long before Aristotle and is till now….Comparison with Hitler have no sense, since every man priority is his benefit and\ or benefit of his family. Illegalness is question of system and historic circumstances. You, probably don’t look at bartender as a criminal now, but 100 years ago he was a criminal….and finally…will you kill if someone is about to kill you or your family? My opinion is that people like and roots with WW not because they approve evilness but because they identifies with WW. We all are living and working (legal jobs) in the system which can decide that you shouldn’t be cured (punishment for not paying insurance in right amount), which defines what is legal and illegal at the moment, and murder in self-defense is not recognized by low (since you work in illegal field). So I think that you missed the point of show and by criticizing audience for not thinking right, show your own incompetence to think out side the box (system) asking all wrong questions in order to answer why audience (shouldn’t) let evil be evil. Also, people are never good or bad…they are always good and bad.

  35. I loved Breaking Bad. I keep telling people who haven’t seen it that the story has very little to do with drugs. It’s a story about good versus evil, good versus good, and evil versus evil. It’s a story about the compexity and unpredictability of human nature. Very well written review. I enjoyed it.

  36. This analysis is great. As a teacher, I find that I was drawn to his struggles early on. And once I had identified with this character I was able to accept his slow spiral into his “evil” Heisenberg. I cheered for him at times. And then I started to think, wait how can I cheer for this evil? The writing. This was written so well that I started to cheer for the villain and boo the good guys. This show shifts what we are taught at the core – that good guys are good and we need to cheer for them and bad guys are bad and should be destroyed.

  37. I agree with a lot of these points. For me what made him interesting was the complexity he added to the drug trade. Obviously there are good people dealing and doing drugs but it’s something I have to consciously think about. Breaking Bad was so much cat and mouse but who was the cat and who was the mouse kept switching. This switching and role reversal, I think, is what made Breaking Bad so interesting and Walt’s juggling act of family and career passion.

  38. Tigey

    I see WW’s appeal as a victimized Everyman.

  39. In my opinion, Walter White is a classic antihero. Many of us identify ourselves with him and I can understand why there are those who justify his acts, regardless of the set social norms.

  40. First off, I love this article. While reading it, I began to think about the role of the protagonist. Is there something about the protagonist that makes us root for them? I have seen my share of protagonists that I don’t particularly agree with, or like, but I still find myself celebrating when they succeed and getting stressed when it looks like they won’t (I’m thinking about Piper Chapman here). There is something about seeing the world from someone’s point of view that makes you want them to succeed. Maybe we, as consumers of stories, like protagonists who are morally ambiguous because they live the dangerous life most of us can only dream of. Maybe we all want to be a little bit bad.

  41. It makes sense now, why the audience justifies Walter White’s actions even though those actions are questionable at times. Great article!

  42. I think that the reason why people were cheering him on , even though his actions were ridiculous at times, was because we knew his intentions were good at the end of the day. He was doing everything he had to do to leave his family money and he was selfless in that aspect.

  43. BigPenguin

    Awesome article. I think the appeal of Walter

    White is that many people would do be more like him in many ways if the fear of consequences were removed and that makes him highly relatable.

    Not saying we would all go out killing people but if the fear was removed as it is when Walt first gets cancer people would behave very differently, of course it would probably be very bad for man kind in the long run!

  44. I stopped rooting for Walter White early on in the show. His actions speak of a man possessed, not of a man obsessed.
    Walter is the epitome of pride and continually showcased all that he embodied throughout the series. He alone is responsible for the complete destruction of his entire immediate family’s lives, and all so that he could be the “best.” Walter White is a prime example of what pride can do to a person and how far pride will take us. I wish he’d have died much sooner than he did, despite Cranston’s brilliant performance.

  45. minylee

    This article began engagingly with a compelling question that escaped me. How do we create bonds, or not, with fictional figures, especially protagonists with an evil streak? Invoking classical philosophy particularly grabbed my attention, dusting off Aristotle. At least illuminated by this piece, how we empathize with byproducts of works of fiction is not so different with real folks walking amongst us. Worth noting is the article’s structure. Compact and tightly framed around Aristotle, it is logically if not largely accessible. As a fan of Breaking Bad, I can see the three categories – character, intelligence and goodwill – befit the appeal for Walter White. Of the most insightful parts of the article relates to Walter’s intelligence and incorporating truth bias. The concept that the omnipresent and omniscient audience connects with Walter’s foresight is worth further exploring as a general theory beyond this show. As an audience, we’re certainly several steps ahead of the supporting cast, but I wonder how much we’re actually in sync with Walter’s machination. Relevant to how surrounding characters believe in Walter as a virtuous father, teacher and friend, the author implies he is in fact a wolf in a sheep’s clothing. Though I question if Walter is pulling the wool over our eyes as an audience. Does Walter become corrupted by circumstances? Yes, but was he corrupt from the start? I would beg to differ. The series chronicles this transformation of how we’re all susceptible in justifying our actions or means, however morally dubious, for a righteous end. If you were to watch the pilot of season one and skip the oceanic middle to the show’s finale, it concludes with Walter breaking a subtle wistful smile knowing that he accomplished his ultimate feat.

  46. I would say Walter White is a modern version of the American dream. Back in the day, people would be happy by just having a job, a decent pay, and a balanced life. Walter White had this.

    But it is that ambition in dormant state that kept him visibly unsatisfied. Now in days, younger generations, or as we like to call them, millennials, are not happy with the previous qualities. All we want to do now is have a bigger sense of purpose and feel alive. And Walter White is a perfect example of that generational transformation in society.

  47. Very interesting comparisons being made. I have given this topic a lot of thought myself (the audience letting Walt get away with anything) and you have described and explained it perfectly!

  48. When I watched this show (over and over) I often paused and wondered why I was hoping Walter got away with the things he did. It’s only after did I realise that he is truly one of the most evil characters ever created. This article explained it all perfectly.

  49. Jessica Hart

    Hi, I am writing my dissertation on audience allegiance to Walter White, I would love to feature some of your opinions. Are you able to get in contact with me and send across your real name so that I can reference you properly?

    • Ismael Quinones

      Hi! That’s amazing, I’d love to hear more about your project. I am Ismael Quinones and I am at @ismaelquinones on Twitter if you want to talk about it. I wrote this when I was an undergrad and I’m actually starting my PhD next semester!

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