"Ozymandias" is the fourteenth episode of the fifth season of the American television drama series Breaking Bad, and the 60th overall episode of the series. Written by Moira Walley-Beckett and directed by Rian Johnson, it aired on AMC in the United States and Canada on September 15, 2013.
The title is a reference to the Percy Bysshe Shelley poem Ozymandias, drawing on the poem's theme of collapse following greatness; in a teaser trailer for the show's final eight episodes, the entire poem is recited by lead actor Bryan Cranston.
"Ozymandias" has been acclaimed since its initial airing as one of the finest episodes of Breaking Bad, and many critics regard it as one of the greatest episodes of dramatic television ever produced. At the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards in August 2014, Walley-Beckett won the Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series Emmy for her screenplay, and Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn won Lead Actor and Supporting Actress Emmys, respectively, for their performances in the episode.
A flashback to when Walt and Jesse first cooked methamphetamine in the Tohajiilee Indian Reservation shows Walt calling a pregnant Skyler and making up an excuse for why he will come home late. Skyler suggests the name Holly for their baby, which Walt finds agreeable. However, after Walt hangs up, himself, Jesse and the RV disappear.
At present in To'hajiilee, in the aftermath of the shootout, Hank is wounded with a bullet in his leg, Gomez has been killed, and Jack's gang is left unscathed. Jack orders some men to search for Jesse and prepares to kill Hank after cornering him. Walt begs Jack to spare his brother-in-law, offering Jack his entire $80 million fortune; he then asks Hank to swear that he will drop the investigation. Hank refuses to beg for his life, however, and says that Jack has already made up his mind. Jack then executes Hank, and Walt collapses to the ground in despair.
Jack's team uses Walt's coordinates to locate and unearth the seven buried barrels of money, loading six into their trucks but leaving one for Walt on Jack's orders after being persuaded by Todd, who sympathizes with Walt. They bury Hank and Gomez in the unearthed barrels' hole. Walt spots Jesse's hiding place and betrays him to the crew, reminding Jack that the hit on Jesse was never carried out. Jack's men prepare to kill Jesse, but Todd suggests that they first interrogate him to find out what information he supplied to the DEA. Before Jack's gang takes Jesse away, Walt spitefully reveals to Jesse that he was there when Jane died, and decided not to save her life. At Todd's headquarters, a beaten and frightened Jesse is detained in a cell. Todd escorts him in chains to a meth lab, where he is chained to a pulley in the ceiling, but otherwise allowed to walk freely. Jesse notices a surveillance photograph of Andrea and Brock as Todd instructs him to begin cooking.
Due to a bullet having punctured his fuel tank, Walt quickly runs out of gas while driving home. Abandoning his car, Walt rolls the money barrel through the desert until arriving at a house and buying the owner's truck. Meanwhile, at the car wash, Marie informs Skyler that Hank has arrested Walt. With Walt now apparently caught, Marie offers to support her sister and their family, but demands that Skyler give up all copies of the false confession video implicating Hank and tell Walt Jr. the truth. Walt Jr. refuses to believe that his father is a criminal; however, he then tells Skyler that, if it is true, she is as bad as Walt for going along with it.
Reaching home, Walt hurriedly begins packing as Skyler and Walt Jr. arrive and orders them to do the same. Walt promises to explain everything later, but Skyler assumes that he has killed Hank when Walt will not answer to his whereabouts. Skyler grabs a kitchen knife and slashes his hand despite his best attempts to talk her out of doing it. Walt jumps on top of Skyler in an attempt to take away the knife before she can attack again, but Walt Jr. pulls him off her and calls the police. Walt takes Holly and leaves with her in the truck, while a horrified Skyler tries running after him. Later, when alone with his daughter, Walt talks about getting Holly a new car seat. Holly tearfully utters her first word, 'mama,' several times, saddening Walt.
The police soon arrive at the White household, as does Marie. They tap into the Whites' home phone and try tracing it when Walt eventually calls. After Skyler tells him that she is alone, Walt accuses her of never supporting his criminal activities and says that he did all the work in building up the wealth for their family. Skyler is at first confused by his words and tone, but soon realizes that Walt knows the phone is tapped and that he is trying to clear her of her involvement in his business. When Skyler apologizes and inquires about Hank's whereabouts, Walt suppresses his weeping and announces that she will never see Hank again. Marie, realizing Hank is dead, breaks down in tears. When Skyler pleads with him to come home and bring Holly back, Walt tells her that he still has things left to do. He destroys his phone and leaves Holly at a nearby fire station with their home address written on a note. The next morning, Walt sits on the side of the highway where Jesse previously waited for Saul's new-identity contact. A red van pulls up and Walt packs in his bags and his single barrel of money, then rides off to his new identity just as a stray dog crosses the road.
The episode was written by Moira Walley-Beckett and directed by Rian Johnson. Walley-Beckett requested to work with Johnson because of their positive experiences together working on the third-season episode "Fly."
It aired on AMC in the United States and Canada on September 15, 2013. The song used in the episode is "Take My True Love by the Hand" by The Limeliters, which is a version of a folk song called "Times Are Gettin' Hard, Boys".
The episode title refers to the poem "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which recounts the crumbling legacy of a once-proud king. Over the course of the episode, most of the main characters fall to their knees out of grief, in comparison to the poem. At the end of the fifth episode of Talking Bad, Vince Gilligan emphasized the line: "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" in reference to Walt and his fallen empire. Bryan Cranston recites the entire poem in a 2013 trailer for the series.
This episode marks the final appearance of Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) and Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada). On Talking Bad, Norris said that Hank's death was shot in just one take. Hank was originally supposed to die at the end of the previous episode, but it was moved to "Ozymandias" for better pacing.
To preserve the drama of the scene in which Hank is killed, the show's producers secured special permission from the Hollywood guilds to delay showing the credits (which would normally appear immediately after the main title sequence) until 19 minutes into the episode.
The opening flashback scene was the last scene to be shot for the entire series. The crew waited to film the episode to allow for Cranston's and Paul's hair to grow more realistically. Although it was filmed months after the rest of the episode, Johnson was able to return to direct the scene.
When Walt holds Holly in a changing room, after taking her from his home, she looks at him and says, "Mama" several times. Producer Moira Walley-Beckett, who wrote the episode, said during an interview with NBC News that it was unscripted, but Cranston went along and the production team decided it was a moment of "movie magic".
"Ozymandias" received universal critical acclaim and was described by several publications as the series' best episode, as well as one of the greatest episodes of television ever produced. Critics praised every aspect including the acting by the cast (particularly Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, and Betsy Brandt), directing by Rian Johnson, and writing by Moira Walley-Beckett. By the end of 2013, TIME placed the episode number 1 on their list of "Top 10 TV Episodes of 2013."
Tom Mendelsohn of The Independent speculated that the episode may be the best ever written for television, stating that "the show's writers are positively Shakespearian in the thorough way they set about bestowing calamity on their characters. [...] After a slow start to the second part of this fifth and final season, in which the moving parts of this catastrophe engine were painstakingly set into place, the master plan was finally made appallingly clear". Seth Amitin of IGN gave the episode a full 10 out of 10 score and called it the "most gut-wrenching, twisted, horrific, and well-planned" episode of the series thus far and described it as "a capitalization on all of the built-up pieces that add up to a puzzle." Amitin additionally lauded the episode's directing and acting, stating that he could "taste" the episode's "cruelty and bitter tears". In Amitin's later review of Season 5B as a whole, he referred to the episode as "maybe the best episode of TV [he's] ever seen." James Poniewozik of Time magazine noted the significance of both phone conversations between Walt and Skyler, marking the beginning and the end of his journey, respectively. Kevin Yeoman of Screenrant saw the final phone conversation as an act designed to clear Skyler's name and kill off Walt's current identity, with the new one being Mr. Lambert (as seen in the flashforwards in "Live Free or Die" and "Blood Money"). Yeoman also noted that the fact that most of the harsh violent scenarios occurred off-screen did not deduct from the cinematic intensity. Maureen Ryan of The Huffington Post stated that the episode was indescribable and "the hardest episode of TV [she] ever watched", describing it as "mind-bendingly, soul-churningly devastating" and "sickening". Tim Surette of TV.com called the episode "terrific and awful to watch; a powerful piece of television that transcended fiction". He also compared the sight of Walt rolling the money barrel in the desert to a dung beetle. Nick Harley of Den of Geek stated that the episode was "the single greatest hour of television" he had ever seen.
On the Breaking Bad Insider podcast, Vince Gilligan revealed that he considers the episode to be the best of the series. Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter agreed with Gilligan, and noted that several events that the show had been building up to in past episodes finally came to fruition. On his blog, George R. R. Martin, the creator of the book series A Song of Ice and Fire (which was adapted to the critically acclaimed TV series Game of Thrones), called both the series and the episode "amazing" and noted that "Walter White is a bigger monster than anyone in Westeros", adding further "I need to do something about that". Drusilla Moorhouse, an online contributor to The Today Show's website, remarked how "nothing could compare to Walt's cruelty" when he revealed to Jesse the truth about his involvement in Jane's death, and described the episode as the destruction of Walt's family; however, she also noted Walt's selflessness when he "rewrote the history of [Skyler's] complicity" by making the phone call, and when he placed Holly in a fire truck to be safely returned home.
TVLine named the two infant actresses Elanor Anne Wenrich and Moira Bryg MacDonald, who both performed the role of Holly White in tandem, the "Performer of the Week" for their performance in this episode.
Mendelsohn has discussed the esteem in which fans also hold the episode by noting that it had received a perfect 10 score from over 12,000 reviewers on IMDb within less than three days, before dropping to 9.9.
Moira Walley-Beckett received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series for writing this episode. Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn both submitted this episode for consideration after being nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, with each winning their categories, as well.