Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Why Breaking Bad's Main Character Isn't Walt

In AMC's hit drama Breaking Bad, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) evolves from a mousy high school chemistry teacher into a ruthless drug kingpin. Walt's decision to dive head first into the criminal underbelly of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is what ignites the explosive action of the show, and he continues to make choices that are fateful for everyone associated with him until the bitter end.

Walt is not the only character who experiences true change in Breaking Bad, though. Some fans have even argued on Reddit that it is actually his beleaguered sidekick Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) whose narrative arc is the most meaningful in the end. Though creator Vince Gilligan initially intended for Jesse to be a one-season character, he ends up outlasting even Walt, and even becomes the focus of the movie epilogue El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

So is there any merit to the idea that it is Jesse, instead of Walt, who is the real main character in Breaking Bad? Let's take a look at a couple of reasons why that theory might just make sense.

It is Jesse who continues to grow throughout the show

There is no doubt that Walt experiences a seismic shift in personality in Breaking Bad, and that the very title of the show is a nod to his sudden pivot to a life of crime. It doesn't take long for Walt to become a hard-nosed methamphetamine boss, though, and once he fully realizes his capacity for violence and mayhem, he doesn't retreat from his hardcore Heisenberg persona. There are incremental adjustments here and there — with bouts of paranoia, jealousy, grief, and lots of tactical brilliance — but his foot rarely leaves the proverbial pedal once he accelerates to a life of greed and anti-heroism.

Jesse, on the other hand, continues to experience elemental changes from start to finish. In the beginning, he is reckless and unsophisticated, but still mostly innocent. He later experiences severe lows from his personal losses and guilt, and occasionally, he has brushes with contentment and optimism, before he is clobbered by tragedy again. Like Walt, Jesse is a completely different person in the end: whereas money is Jesse's main motivator at the outset, once the true cost of its acquisition becomes clear, he literally throws his cash away. Though many of Jesse's highs and lows are reflexive to what Walt is putting him through, Jesse's series-long journey to moral clarity and righteousness, and his ultimate rejection of Walt, makes him a worthy foil — and possibly a more fully realized character.

Jesse becomes the endgame ... even for Walt

Over the course of Breaking Bad, Jesse is both friend and foe to Walter White, and sometimes even family. Though Jesse is just a means to an end for Walt in the beginning of the story, he soon becomes the most important person in Walt's life, for better and for worse. Some of Walt's most devastating decisions can even be owed to his feelings about Jesse, from letting Jane (Krysten Ritter) die to protect Jesse from his addictions, to poisoning Brock (Ian Posada) to re-win Jesse's allegiance against an enemy, to his last act of storming the white supremacist compound where Jesse was held prisoner. Though Walt implies that he considers Jesse to be a nephew, he also often regards him as a nemesis, and it is Jesse who earns the final showdown with Walt before he dies, not his family or other rivals.

One could easily argue that the real beauty of Breaking Bad is how Walt and Jesse become eternally bonded but also polarized, constantly orbiting one another like the atoms Walt taught about in his halcyon days. In that case, the two characters would at least be on equal footing in terms of importance. If you consider the fact that their series-long dance ends with just one man left standing, however, perhaps Walt's final sacrifices proves that Jesse was the show's true centerpiece after all.