With the final four episodes of Breaking Bad looming last fall, Vince Gilligan hinted, “A great many chickens will come home to roost for Walt.” And, sure enough, in “Ozymandias,” the third-to-last episode of AMC’s harrowing, Emmy-winning meth drama, many of said chickens knocked down the front door of his house and made themselves comfortable in his living room.
During that hour of punishing and mesmerizing television, Walt (Bryan Cranston) would lose much of his blood money and most of his family (except for his baby daughter, whom he kidnapped in a moment of desperation), the latter being the reason that he supposedly turned to a life of meth kingpinnery in the first place.
More than a few moments in “Ozymandias” turned out to be memorable seat-grippers. “My name is ASAC Schrader, and you can go f–k yourself!” Or the angry, agonizing, loaded phone call that Walt made to Skyler (Anna Gunn). Or Walt giving up cowering-under-a-Chrysler Jesse (Aaron Paul) to the neo-Nazis. But EW awarded the No. 1 slot in our 50 Best Scenes of the TV Season feature to the one in which a panicked Walt arrives at the house and tries to get Skyler and Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) to pack and run with him, but instead winds up in a brutal confrontation with his wife, and watching his admiring son finally see the light (or rather, darkness) and turn against him, prompting him to grab Baby Holly and flee. On the one-year anniversary of the episode’s airing, we asked Moira Walley-Beckett (who won an Emmy a few weeks ago for writing “Ozymandias”), and the director, Rian Johnson (who has since been named as the writer-director of a tiny, low-budget indie drama titled Star Wars: Episode VIII), to share their memories of pulling off the crushing, tension-soaked scene that fractured this family for good.
WALLEY-BECKETT: It was an extremely complicated scene to write. There were many discovery moments. It was somewhat operatic: many little crescendos and decrescendos. Each character, Walt, Skyler, and Walter Jr., has a different objective in the scene because they each have a different piece of the puzzle. Confusion abounds. Conflict arises. And over the course of the scene the penny drops for each of them in an absolutely devastating way. The scales drop from Walter Jr.’s eyes and he finally sees his father for who he really is. Skyler comes into understanding that Walt killed Hank and consequently she tries—literally—to cut the cancer that is Walt out of their lives. And Walt, in the aftermath of the knife fight with Skyler, observing his wife and son huddled, united against him, helplessly utters his useless mantra, “We’re a family….” as he watches them slip away from him forever.
JOHNSON: The toughest moment as I remember it was before the fight, when Walt admits that Hank is dead and Skyler believes this means that he killed him. The whole scene turns on that line “I tried to save him!” and we did it over and over again trying to find the right way for it to come out. It was Bryan who felt that instead of an accidental blurted admission it should come out as a burst of uncontrollable primal anger. He was right. Not only did that reading feel honest in the moment, but it reminded you on a gut level what Skyler is protecting her family against when she picks up that knife.
WALLEY-BECKETT: We rehearsed the scene, and Anna and I discussed the dialogue after she picks up the knife and says, “Get out… Enough.” Because of our conversation, I added a line for her, ”Don’t say one more word.” We both felt strongly that this had to be said. It was extremely important for Skyler to address the web of lies Walt had continually spun around their family, and this factored powerfully into her emotional state in that moment after all the talking and convincing he’d been doing. It played great because Walt really doesn’t believe she’ll hurt him. And he makes the mistake of saying just one more word…
JOHNSON: The knife fight itself was actually the easiest part of the scene to shoot. And just in terms of the work on set, it was a fun break from the emotionally grueling scenes of catharsis that fill the rest of Moira’s brilliant script.
WALLEY-BECKETT: Bryan and Anna were total troupers during the fight. We rehearsed the choreography of the struggle and when we shot it they nailed it take after take after take. It was an exhausting scene for them physically and emotionally. It was a heckuva day.
Check out a few behind-the-scenes photos from the episode (credit: Moira Walley-Beckett):