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In Breaking Bad, Walter says in the final season

I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really - I was alive.

But I don't think he ever did it for himself. At every point of continuing the Meth manufacturing there is always a threat to his life. (He needs to be alive for some time to earn money) or his family member's life. He always thought of his family rather than Meth.

But I am not sure why he says that to Skyler. Also I am not able to agree with some justification spread in the internet that he did it for himself

Is there any indication that he lied to Skyler?

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Welcome to Movies & TV! I think you ask an interesting question, but this site is not a good place for opinionated discussions. I took the liberty to rephrase it slightly so it does not ask for opinions, but fact. Please also take a look at the Help Center to learn more about how this site works. –  atticae Jun 6 at 20:04
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@atticae - There is room for opinion based answers as long as they can be answered within the show/movie universe. So something like this should be fine, but asking something like "How would Walt have provided for his family if he had refused to cook meth?" is not. –  System Down Jun 6 at 23:26
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@SystemDown My problem was only with the original wording. (Check the edit history) In its current state the question is totally fine. –  atticae Jun 6 at 23:58

4 Answers 4

Walter White is a complex character, and so are his motivations. I'm fairly certain that he started cooking meth to support his family. The idea of illegally profiting from his skills never crossed his mind before he was diagnosed with cancer. Before that, he was content with working in a humiliating second job to make ends meet. Early on, Walt calculates how much money he needs to leave his family in a financially stable state should he die, and spends much of his early career trying to achieve that goal.

But as his work progressed, his legend grew. The pseudonym Heisenberg he picked for himself for a one time event slowly began taking on a life of it's own. He was now known as the genius behind the nigh-mythical Blue Sky. His long dormant pride and ego started to wake up. Now, he was cooking meth to feed his ego and defending his image. He gets angry when defective Blue Sky is cooked by Jesse. His personality clash with Gus Fring causes a drug war that claims several lives.

By the time Walt wins the war with Gus, he is making way more money than he needs to support his family. He becomes a true drug kingpin whose first priority is creating profit. He has no qualms about murdering people who get in his way. Even his surrogate son Jesse is no longer safe from him.

Walter could have exited the life of crime he found himself in several times, but a combination of greed and pride have always stopped him. It wasn't until he realizes that he has far too much money than he could ever spend, that the truth dawns on him. He has been doing this for himself, and not for his family. So he decides to retire, but by then it's too late and Hank is on his trail.

TL;DR

No he didn't lie. Most of his career as a drug manufacturer is him flexing his long abused ego.

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Like he says in the episode Buyout, "Jesse, you asked me if I was in the meth business or the money business. Neither. I'm in the empire business." –  djmadscribbler Jun 6 at 23:50

I don't think he lied to Skyler. He was right, he did it for himself. I understood Walt's character as someone who could not achieve what he deserved for a long time in his life. Walt reveals this frustration to a psychologist during season 2 when he is lost and found and recovering in a hospital. I somewhat remember his dialogue. He says to the psychologist

I am a 50 year old man with lung cancer. I am an overqualified chemistry teacher teaching at high school. I have watched all my peers surpass me in every possible way. My teenage son has cerebral palsy. My wife is pregnant with a child we did not plan. And you are asking why I ran.

I think these lines were true and reflect Walt's sheer frustration in life. When he started the Blue Meth thing, he really felt alive as he became a man of high importance. Walt definitely had huge ego which was evident in later seasons. Also it should be noted that if he was doing it for the family he could have stopped long time ago. He had several chances but he did not. best chance was when Mike decides to hand over the business to another group, but Walt foils this attempt. Remember the famous dialogue when he tells Jesse that

he is not in meth business or drug business, he is in the empire business.

Walt may have started the whole thing for family but pretty soon his alter ego Heisenberg took over and after that it was all about himself. So he was definitely not lying.

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Walt was absolutely not lying. Throughout the show he's had many times where he could have backed out of the business, but kept going because he likes it. He has a huge ego, and for the first time he's respected (Jesse actually sees the art in what he does, which is something he is unable to show his students in his chemistry class who could care less about his passionate lectures.) And as Heisenberg he's powerful.

But if you need proof you just need to look at "Over" from Episode 2. In that episode, Walt has just found out his cancer is in remission. He's also just produced a huge amount of meth that he can now sell and pay any bills he may have (I believe that's what he eventually sells to Gus for half a million dollars.) Tuco's long gone, and at this point Walt has an easy exit from the business. He's accomplished his goal of paying for his treatment and helping his family. Nobody at this point is pulling him back in.

But Walt is unable to satisfy himself around the house, and when he sees the kid buying the ingredients for meth at the store, he goes up to him and says "Stay out of my territory." That is pure ego from Walt. He is proud of the blue meth, he's proud of his work, and he's proud of Heisenberg.

I think that was the moment Walt stopped providing for his family, and started providing for himself. Remember even from Season 1 he was getting much more sexual as a result of getting off of the excitement, and when drunk Walt often reverts to his Heisenberg persona. This is a man who was never respected, and finally is proving he's great and powerful. In the end, he tore apart his family with his work, which is contradictory to what he claims was his cause, but he needed to tell HIMSELF that he was doing it for his family. In the end, he finally admits to Skyler and himself that he was doing it for himself the whole time (Or in my opinion, at least since the episode "Over")

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This is the most truthful thing he's said to his wife in very long time. Altruistic acts are self-interested and there is no such thing as true altruism. Animals continually decide what best action to take to serve there own purposes. Failing to pass on his empire and as a father is unacceptable to Walter because he believes it one of his purposes. To underachieve this is to fail his own prerogative.

Understanding self-deception


 Sméagol: "And take it for me!"
 Gollum : "For us."
 Sméagol: "Yes, yes, we meant for us."

-LoTR

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