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A Guide to Each Breaking Bad Death and How Sad It Was

Photo: Ursula Coyote/AMC

Breaking Bad is a show about morality. And mortality. And masculinity, and the American Dream, and the horrors of aging, and the uselessness of the war on drugs. It’s a show about greed and fear and power. It is not, however, a show about grief — which is surprising given just how many characters on the show die. (It’s a lot!) Most of the deaths, though, aren’t played up for sadness’s sake; they’re there so other characters can feel fear or feel empowered. Death and misery go hand-in-hand on the show, but less so death and traditional sadness.

Except for every once in a while, when Breaking Bad goes full-on weepy, and suddenly all the other ambient pain on the show becomes focused into a single moment. A single OD. A single resigned gaze. Let’s look back through all the deaths so far on this show and consider how heartbreaking they are. [Spoilers for everything including the most recent episode from here on out.]

Dies in: The pilot
Heartbreak level: Zero? Are we horrible if we say zero?
Emilio’s death isn’t there for us to mourn over Emilio, it’s there for us to learn just how serious Walt is about making meth. Emillio was Jesse’s original drug buddy, and he became the first victim of poisoning on the series when Walt gassed him and Krazy-8 in the RV. (Later, Walt and Jesse destroy the body with acid.)  Emilio’s death is our first sign that Walt isn’t just making a few dangerous choices under duress. He has a frightening natural affinity for those dangerous, deadly choices, and he makes them with a detached calm.

Dies in: ” … and the Bag’s in the River,” season one, episode three
Heartbreak level: Moderate.
The opposite of Stockholm Syndrome is sometimes called Lima Syndrome, when captors develop sympathy for their victims. That happens to Walt, and to a greater extent to the audience, as Krazy-8 sits in the basement, helpless, pathetic, describing himself as a family man, and rejecting sandwich crusts.

No-Doze and Gonzo
Dies in: “A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal,” season one, episode seven, and “Seven Thirty-Seven,” season two, episode one 
Heartbreak level: Low and slightly higher, respectively.
No-Doze is just the first of many characters on the show to be killed by his boss (this time, Tuco), but poor Gonzo dies as the “world’s dumbest criminal” by Hank’s estimation, after injuring himself while trying to bury his friend.

Dies in: “Grilled,” season two, episode two 
Heartbreak level: Zero.
The earlier a character on the show died, the more likely it is that their death wasn’t sad. BB has invested more in its characters as the show’s gone on, and early introductions, like Tuco, didn’t have quite the emotional depth as, say, Mike. We’ve all seen enough shows and movies to know that tweaky drug traffickers will probably die, so Tuco’s end didn’t even come as much of a surprise.

Dies in: “Peekaboo,” season two, episode six
Heartbreak level: A little sad.
Decrepit, child-abandoning Spooge gets his head crushed under a stolen ATM, and as much as it plays like a borderline farce, the rest of the episode is incredibly sad. Jesse and Walt — and the show’s story lines in general — are pretty far removed from day-to-day meth heads and the squalor and sadness meth addiction can bring.

Dies in: “I.F.T.,” season three, episode three
Heartbreak level: Low, but with a gasp.
We’d already seen the informant’s severed head on top of a tortoise, so it was a pretty safe bet that something bad had befallen Tortuga himself. Still, a machete beheading gets our attention.

Dies in: “Mandala,” season two, episode eleven
Heartbreak level: Medium-husky.
Drug-dealer Combo reappears in flashbacks in season three, and we learn that he was sort of a fun guy, at least a fun enough one to give Jesse an RV. But his death is almost more tragic for his killer than for him — the image of little Tomás holding the gun is more overwhelming and heartbreaking than Combo face-down in the street.

Dies in: “Phoenix,” season two, episode twelve
Heartbreak level: Extremely high.
What’s worse: Doing something bad, or not stopping something bad? Actively murdering someone, or not doing anything to prevent someone else’s death? On BB, the strange answer seems to be that the lack of action is the more reprehensible choice. We’ve seen Walt kill people, endanger people, threaten people, and yet Jane’s OD — which Walt witnessed but didn’t cause in any concrete way — is the one that leaves us thinking, Oh God, how could you?

The 167 passengers on the Wayfarer 515 and JM 21 flights
Die in: “ABQ,” season two, episode thirteen 
Heartbreak level: Dare we say “sky high”? No. We’ll just say “high.”
The sadness here, again, comes not from the dead —  none of whom we meet —  but from their (accidental) killer, Jane’s bereft father, Don. Walt’s corruption stretches farther than he could ever have predicted.

The nine Mexicans on a truck, plus the driver
Die in: “No Mas,” season three, episode one
Heartbreak level: Nil.
In compiling this list, it’s becoming very clear that BB isn’t that big on sad, tragic deaths. If anything, most of the deaths on the show are just backdrop — desensitizing both viewers and characters to the concept of murder. The Salamanca twins kill ten people all at once, yet it barely registers as sad.

Bobby Kee
Dies in: “Sunset,” season three, episode six
Heartbreak level: Zero.
The Cousins strike again, this time axe-murdering a cop before the opening credits.

Dies in: “One Minute,” season three, episode seven
Hearbreak level: Shush! Too stressed out for heartbreak.
Hank and the Salamancas aren’t the only people in the parking lot. Marco Salamanca takes out a random passerby before setting his sights on Hank.

Marco Salamanca
Dies in: “One Minute,” season three, episode seven 
Heartbreak level: An icy, bald nothing.
You mess with Hank Schrader, Hank Schrader messes right back. At the end of one of the most tense, exciting sequence in TV memory, Hank manages to take down half the deadly duo sent to kill him.

Leonel Salamanca
Dies in: “I See You,” season three, episode eight
Heartbreak level: An icy, bald, slight something.
Leonel and Marco were, to this point, interchangeable, but imagine being the twin who survives. Barely. And then gets killed in the hospital. It’s a tiny bit sadder than being the twin who dies at the scene.

Tomás Cantillo
Dies in: “Half Measures,” season three, episode twelve 
Heartbreak level: Weepy.
Tomás’s death is made tragic rather than just sad by seeing Andrea’s reaction to it. Her little brother isn’t the only kid involved in Gus’s drug ring, but he’s the only one we’ve seen and the only one we have any reason to care about. Even if he was a wee child murderer, too.

Nameless rival dealers
Dies in: “Half Measures,” season three, episode twelve
Heartbreak level: Nothing.
No matter how evil their actions or how terrible their behavior, when it’s Walt and Jesse versus Other People, we’re always rooting for Walt and Jesse. That’s how the show works. Plus these deaths are a tiny bit darkly comic because Walt’s in his pathetic Aztec while he’s running people down.

A group of cartel assassins
Die in: “Full Measure,” season three, episode thirteen 
Heartbreak level: None.
Mike’s ruthless efficiency is suddenly endearing and charming, not just scary. One minute, he’s buying balloons with his granddaughter. The next, he’s using those balloons to help him slay his foes. Multipurpose tools!

Dies in: “Full Measure,” season three, episode thirteen
Heartbreak level: Medium.
Gale’s death isn’t heartbreaking in and of itself. Rather, Gale’s killing is heartbreaking because of what it means for his murderers: Jesse really is that easy to manipulate, and Walter really is that manipulative. At least we’ll always have “Major Tom.”

Dies in: “Box Cutter,” season four, episode one 
Heartbreak level
: A blood-soaked little twinge.
Gus silently slits his throat in front of a quaking Walt and Jesse: another instance of a boss killing his subordinate. (Might this all be foreshadowing of Walt eventually killing Jesse?) BB kills lots and lots of people, but more often than not, the deaths aren’t the ends in and of themselves: Gus might want Victor dead, but what he really wants is to scare the shit out of Walt and Jesse. It’s No-Doze all over again, except this time with an insane bloodbath.

Los Pollos driver, two cartel assassins
Die in: “Bullet Points,” season four, episode four 
Heartbreak level: None.
Remember what we said about becoming desensitized to murders?

Another Los Pollos driver, and two Los Pollos guards
Die in: “Cornered,” season four, episode six
Heartbreak level: None.
Do you still remember?

Max Arcinieaga
Dies in: “Hermanos,” season four, episode eight
Heartbreak level: Substantial.
He was Gus’s hermano from another madre, his (maybe) lover, his business partner, and his BFF. And Gus had to watch him die at Don Eladio’s hand.

Anonymous Gus henchman
Dies in: “Bug,” season four, episode nine 
Heartbreak level: Not heartbreaking at all.
If you get in the ring, you’re gonna get punched. And if you work for Gus, you’re probably going to get killed.

Don Eladio
Dies in: “Salud,” season four, episode ten 
Heartbreak level: Negative ten. If anything, it was heartwarming.
Fuck Don Eladio! And his gross parties! Leave it to Gus Fring to orchestrate the grandest poisoning fiesta ever.

Gaff and the rest of Don Eladio’s associates
Die in: “Salud,” season four, episode ten 
Heartbreak level: Negative five.
Not as heartwarming as Don Eladio’s death, but not sad, either.

Dies in: “Face Off,” season four, episode thirteen 
Heartbreak level: Negligible.
Don’t get us wrong: Gus’s death was incredible, and the series might never find a better foil for Walt. But Gus’s facemelt isn’t sad. Dramatic, sure. Shocking, indeed. But we didn’t shed a single tear.

Hector “Tio” Salamanca
Dies in: “Face Off,” season four, episode thirteen 
Heartbreak level: Surprisingly high.
Hector’s one of the show’s memento mori, a piteous former henchman now reduced to ringing a bell and being emotionally tortured by those around him. He goes down swinging with the only thing he can still control. Ding ding ding ding ding. He’s a bad guy who did a lot of bad things to a lot of people, but he spent his final years in agony. That’s sad! It just is.

Dies in: “Face Off,” season four, episode thirteen 
Heartbreak level: Just one notch up from nothing.
We care about Gus’s death. We care about Tío’s death. Tyrus … was also killed in that explosion.

Two guards from the laundry lab
Die in: “Face Off,” season four, episode thirteen 
Heartbreak level: Zero.
Nameless Gus employees are pretty much disposable.

Peter Schuler
Dies in: “Madrigal,” season five, episode two
Heartbreak level: Franch.
Possibly the most creative death BB has ever had, used here to kill off the head of Los Pollos Hermanos’s parent company. If you’re gonna kill yourself, at least have a whole bunch of tater tots and dip first.

Dies in: “Madrigal,” season five, episode two 
Heartbreak level: None.
Hey, at least he died at home. This is why we don’t conspire to kill Mike, kids.

Chris Mara
Dies in: “Madrigal,” season five, episode two 
Heartbreak level: None.
Anyone who thinks they can out-smart Mike is in for a rude awakening. Or … the opposite of rude awakening. Murdering. They’re in for a polite murdering.

Drew Sharp
Dies in: “Dead Freight,” season five, episode five 
Heartbreak level: Serious.
If not for Jesse’s panicked “No!,” it might have seemed like no one at all cared about Todd murdering a child. Lots of innocent people have been hurt by Walt’s evil schemes, but maybe none so innocent or so hurt as the kid on the bike.

Mike Ehrmantraut
Dies in: “Say My Name,” season five, episode seven
Heartbreak level: As high as this show’s ever managed. Yeah, even sadder than Jane.
When Mike first appeared on the show, he was sort of a goon, a standoffish fixer without much of a heart. And then … well, the show did what it does and made us interested in him and his emotional scars and his staggering criminal smarts and especially in his wonderful one-liners. (It helped that it seemed like he genuinely did want the best for Jesse.) His final words were Let me die in peace, though it’s hard to believe he actually did.

A Guide to Each Breaking Bad Death