Frank Ockenfels/AMC
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July 13, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT

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.”

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Walter White descends into the criminal underworld.
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