Two days from now, some very Bad things are going to start happening again. When AMC’s cunning and stunning Breaking Bad returns for a fifth and final season on July 15, you will experience a Walter White (Bryan Cranston) that has crossed over to the dark side, a menacing meth lord who’s now a shell of his former chemistry teacher self. “This season is just terrifying,” says Aaron Paul (a.k.a. Walt’s partner Jesse Pinkman) tells EW. “And it’s all really coming from Walter White. He is a scary, scary, scary man. You know last season, ‘I am the one who knocks’? That is who he is. He’s frightening and manipulative. He’s such a puppet master. And he has us all on his little strings, and he’s just toying with us.”
To learn more about the first eight episodes of this farewell season (the last eight air next year), pick up a copy of this week’s EW — and scroll down for some bonus quotes (SPOILER ALERT) from cast members as well as series creator/executive producer Vince Gilligan.
On the first part of the final season
BRYAN CRANSTON: We’re doing what Breaking Bad does, which is answer a question and ask three more. Answer one. Ask three. It just keeps growing exponentially, which is fascinating and justifiable and dramatic.
DEAN NORRIS (Hank): It’s explosive. I never thought we had filler episodes before when we had 13 episodes, and now it’s like every scene, every episode, all the moments of the story are in high gear. There are a lot of things they’ve got to wrap up, so it really feels like a greatest hits album on every episode.
BETSY BRANDT (Marie): At the beginning of this journey I described Breaking Bad as a dark comedy. And now I describe it as a very, very, very dark comedy.”
On the season premiere
VINCE GILLIGAN: Things at the very beginning of season 5 seem to be pretty good for Walt until he makes a realization of a loose end that he left untied that is going to cause him grief.
BC: I love how the first episode of Season 5 is intellectually stimulating, whereas the first episode of Season 4 was violently stimulating.
On the Jesse-Walt relationship
VG: This friendship, if you can call it that, becomes more and more important to Walt as the show enters its final 16 hours.
AP: Whatever morals Walt had before, they’re all out the window now. And Heisenberg, his alter ego, is taking over, and you barely see Walter White in there anymore. Jesse really looks up to Walt, and he cares for Walt, and he wants to protect Walt. But he doesn’t really know how to anymore. It’s a struggle to keep their relationship intact.
BC: Jesse and Walt are back together, they’re working in tandem again. Jesse’s gotten to the point where he knows the business so well and can cook on his own. Now he is a true partner as opposed to still having to be taught and mentored, so it’s good. But this is Breaking Bad. Not Breaking Good. So the likelihood of things staying good is bad.
On Walt’s descent into darkness
BC: It’s the disintegration of character. Because character is developed by a person determined by the choices that are made under pressure. It could be good character or bad character. And Walt always prided himself on being a man of good character. And we realize now that that’s not true at all. It was deceiving because on the outside it looked like he was.
VG: He desires to feel like a big man. And he’s very proud of himself that he has bested Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), one of the most brilliant, cunning chess players that was ever out there. And now he finds himself in a similar position at the top of the heap. And the question is: What does it take to remain at the top of the heap? And why would one want to be there in the first place, given some of the demands of the job?
On Mike the cleaner (Jonathan Banks), who will join business forces with Walt and Jesse
JB: [Vince] has given me, in many ways, the role of a lifetime. Tell me a better character in his late fifties or sixties on television than Mike. How cool is Mike?
VG: He’s a samurai without a master… It takes a bit of doing on Walt’s part but Mike is a practical man who needs money and will do what needs to be done for his family. In fact, he may well be a better family man in his own way than Walt is.
BC: At times they’re like The Three Stooges. At other times, a fairly well-oiled machine.
On Todd (Jesse Plemons), a seemingly thoughtful young man who is hired to work with Walt & co.
JESSE PLEMONS: He’s really dependable, he’s really focused, but at the same time kind of unpredictable.
AP: There is so much going on beneath the skin of Todd… I went up to the writers and was like, “I swear to God, if you even have a wink of an idea that Todd takes Jesse out, I will be so pissed.” He’s really so fun to watch, and I love getting lost in these scenes with him.
NEXT: “She’s spiraling. It’s like she’s pinned and wriggling against the wall.”
On the previously referenced German corporation Madrigal, which plays a significant role this season, and Lydia (Laura Fraser), one of its executives who worked with Gus
VG: Picture a transnational conglomerate that has a hand in everything from international shipping and logistics to manufacturing and fast food restaurants…. In the early going, as with most other elements of Breaking Bad, what you see on the face of things is not necessarily the truth. The truth may be bigger or — and very often is the case — smaller.
BC: It will seem odd at first, yet in this world that we’ve expanded, greed has no boundaries.
VG: [Lydia] is nervous about her place in the world… She is unlike any other character we’ve seen on the show.
On Skyler, Walt’s wife
VG: For whatever feelings of weakness or for fear for her children, she takes another path. And the path she takes is not one of self-aggrandizement, as is the case for Walt.
ANNA GUNN: [Her children are] all she’s got left now and that’s all she’s fighting to protect now. She’s spiraling. It’s like she’s pinned and wriggling against the wall. Who put the pin in her? Walt did. She can’t get free. She’s doing what she can from that position, which isn’t necessarily a whole lot sometimes. But she’s a tough lady as we’ve come to know, and she’s got things up her sleeve as well.
On Hank, Walt’s brother-in-law/DEA agent who’s back on his feet and the case
DN: He’s dealt with his kind of depression. He starts basically as the hero because he was correct. He’s completely vindicated… [But] everyone else thinks it’s the end of the deal just because Fring’s gone, and Hank doesn’t buy that… He’s been proven right with this Fring thing, so now he’s really crazed to make sure he finds the guy.
VG: He knows who he is, and he is a a sleazy rascal, a reprobate, and he doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on morality. And yet the more we get to know Saul, there’s not so much a turn as a realization on the viewer’s part of just how the sands have shifted under everyone’s feet and Saul is perhaps a little more moral than we would think he is. He’s perhaps a bit more troubled by who Walt is and what he has become than we might expect.
BO: Saul wants to be richer than Trump. But I think that when the stakes get too intense, Saul isn’t so sure he needs all the money in the world.
On the looming end
AP: I don’t want [the writers] to spoil anything for me. I’m such a huge fan of the show as well, and so when I get a script, I read it front to back, and I take my time with it. I soak it up, I milk it, because each script that we get, that’s one less that we get to read. It’s so sad right now, I got to tell you.
BC: The end is near for the show. And we do feel very much like this is living thing. And just like when I was on Malcolm [in the Middle] and I hammered into those boys: “Enjoy where you are. Enjoy this moment in time. This is rare. Own it. Live it.” Certainly I did that because I was older on Malcolm and now I’m even older on this, but there hasn’t been a moment where I’ve taken this for granted. We’ve done things together. We’ve explored. We’ve traveled. We’ve had fun nights together, and it’s been a great ride.”
VG: Finally, we’re getting some clarity in the writers’ room as to what the final episodes will contain and how they will play out… I’ve always had hopes and dreams for how the characters would wind up. But we also try to stay as flexible as possible because you come upon things along the way and stories present themselves to you. Characters present themselves to you in a way that’s different than you have in your initial mind’s eye… We have a road map for where we want to go, but we also try to think in terms of: If we find an interesting side road to take a detour on, we should be open to that.