Early on in Breaking Bad, it is revealed that Walt and Gretchen had a history together with Elliot in the construction of their company "Gray Matter".

However, one day while on vacation with Gretchen, Walt started packing and abandoned everything to do with that life, including Gretchen, his significant other at the time.

What caused this sudden change in personality to give up everything that he loved in exchange for seemingly nothing at the time?

  • I think that question will be answered b/c VG said all questions will be answered. I think why Walt left is a crucial question as to why he became who he became. Why did he leave a company he helped create and then reject an offer to come back. I think something big happened at Grey Matter which started him on the road to become Heisenberg. Moreover, VG was interviewed by Charlie Rose and Charlie let slip that he was in the last episode which VG said that was a big spoiler. Why a big spoiler? I think b/c Charlie will play himself and there are only two characters in the show he would interview
    – user5765
    Aug 13, 2013 at 0:59
  • 3
    Gretchen had a thing for Pontiac Azteks... Walt realized she was just interested in his Pontiac Aztek, so he dumped her and the billion dollar company.
    – user7414
    Jan 1, 2014 at 22:13

5 Answers 5


The question is answered very well here in an AMC blog posting an interview with the actress who played Gretchen:

Q: What’s it like have Bryan Cranston curse at you?

A: Oh man, he’s a good actor. But it was easy because Vince Gilligan told us exactly what went down between the characters off screen: We were very much in love and we were to get married. And he came home and met my family, and I come from this really successful, wealthy family, and that knocks him on his side. He couldn’t deal with this inferiority he felt — this lack of connection to privilege. It made him terrified, and he literally just left me, and I was devastated. Walt is fighting his way out of going back to that emotional place, so he says, “F— you.” - actress who plays Gretchen AMC blog


  • 5
    This is the best answer. I think the down votes are due to lack of context up front. I have edited it.
    – ktamlyn
    Sep 24, 2013 at 17:16

The exact reasons surrounding Walter leaving Gray Matter were never covered during show's run. The only in-show information to go on is from the Breaking Bad Wikia page for Grey Matter:

...he [Walter] was dating his female lab assistant, Gretchen ("...and the Bag's in the River"). For reasons not yet explained, Walter suddenly left Gretchen during a vacation with her family, leaving her and his research behind ("Peekaboo").

Further details were then hinted at during the season 5 episode ("Buyout"), when Walter discussed leaving Gray Matter with Jesse. He shares his story about how he sold his stake in the company for $5000 while trying to justify why they shouldn't be selling out their current operation. This scene showcases his embarrassment over leaving his ideas and his creations behind and clearly demonstrates his regret in leaving but doesn't allude further into the details of why.

  • Thought so, currently re-watching now that the date of the final part has been announced.
    – Tablemaker
    Apr 19, 2013 at 14:03
  • I hope very much that in the final half of season 5 that many of these loose ends are tied up! I do agree that a re-watching is in order, it's been quite a while since the last episode.
    – user1887
    Apr 19, 2013 at 14:05
  • Something stated by Odenkirk (Goodman) that the finale will tie up "all loose ends".
    – Tablemaker
    Apr 19, 2013 at 14:07
  • 3
    That sounds like lots of melting people in acid to me!
    – user1887
    Apr 19, 2013 at 14:10

According to show creator Vince Gilligan and co-showrunner Peter Gould in a new interview with The Huffington Post:

The real reason White left Gray Matter, which serves as part of the motivation for the character’s dark turn, has remained a mystery, but while chatting with The Huffington Post about “Yo Soy Saul,” an original song created for “Better Call Saul,” show creator Vince Gilligan and co-showrunner Peter Gould also finally opened up about one of the biggest unanswered questions from the series:

“Breaking Bad” actress Jessica Hecht, who plays Gretchen, mentioned in an AMC Q&A that Walt left the company and their relationship because he felt inferior. Gilligan confirmed this was true to HuffPost, saying, “She’s correct, and that’s what I explained to her and to [Bryan Cranston] before they shot that big scene between the two of them where they were at the restaurant.”

The scene Gilligan is referring to takes place in the Season 2 episode “Peekaboo.”

“It ends with him being so nasty to her saying, ‘Fuck you,’ and then she leaves tearfully,” said Gilligan. “In my mind, the interesting thing here — and I always kind of hate to nail it down so explicitly — but let’s put it this way, most viewers of ‘Breaking Bad’ assume Gretchen and Elliott are the bad guys, and they assume that Walt got ripped off by them, got ill used by them, and I never actually saw it that way.”

Gilligan explained that the truth is more nuanced. It all stemmed from White’s feeling of inferiority while spending time with Gretchen’s family.

“I think it was kind of situation where he didn’t realize the girl he was about to marry was so very wealthy and came from such a prominent family, and it kind of blew his mind and made him feel inferior and he overreacted. He just kind of checked out. I think there is that whole other side to the story, and it can be gleaned. This isn’t really the CliffsNotes version so much. These facts can be gleaned if you watch some of these scenes really closely enough, and you watch them without too much of an overriding bias toward Walt and against Gretchen and Elliott,” said Gilligan.

Gould added, “I think the interesting thing is not exactly what happened but the fact that Walt hasn’t let it go over all these years. He has no perspective on himself. He gets to the point where all he can really do is try to justify everything that he’s done.”


Walt and Gretchen were an item. Elliot teams up with them to start Gray Matter. Gretchen cheats on Walt with Elliot. Heartbroken and betrayed, Walt leaves Gretchen and Elliott and, in the process, all of Gray Matter.

The show never spelled it out clearly, but there were enough hints to point to what seems an obvious and believable reason as to why Walt left.

  • Though I've just read the answer directly above my own and I suppose, if that is what Vince himself said, that there is your answer. Though I still favor my own guess, especially if Walt's sense of betrayal is to be justified (ex. "cheer up, beautiful people. this is where you get to make it right."). The company becoming so popular without him, and their lack of crediting Walt with creating the secret to Gray Matter, don't seem "betrayal" enough, though with Walt's love for his blue meth, you can imagine the relationship he developed with his Gray Matter creation was pretty personal.
    – Seth
    Oct 10, 2013 at 18:01
  • 1
    "Gretchen cheats on Walt with Elliot." This is not true, there's no evidence of this.
    – BCdotWEB
    Mar 19, 2016 at 15:07
  • 1
    Not only there is no evidence that Gretchen cheated on Walt with Elliot, but she seemed still hurt when reproaching Walt that he left her, which she shouldn't be if she had cheated him.
    – DaG
    May 31, 2016 at 13:22

Walt felt that Elliot and Gretchen betrayed him, that they were "artfully maneuvering [him] into leaving [his] own creation."

In the series finale of Better Call Saul "Saul Gone", Walt himself explains what he believes is the reason he left (emphasis mine):

Walter White (to Saul Goodman / Jimmy McGill): When I was a graduate student, I started a company with some... At the time, I thought they were my friends.
Our goal was to commercialize discoveries that I had made.
And... at a certain point... I stepped away.
I thought I was doing the gentlemanly thing. But little did I understand that they were artfully maneuvering me into leaving my own creation.
And had I stayed, oh... [Sighs] Well... I wouldn't be down here with you.

The scene was set at the same time as Breaking Bad S05E15 "Granite State" when Saul and Walt were at the vacuum cleaner repairman's bunker. The context was that Saul asked Walt about Walt's regrets.

  • IMHO you are misinterpreting this scene. This is merely WW twisting an event to fit his story, part of the lies he is telling himself. It is not intended as an explanation of why he left that company, and it doesn't even describe an actual event; it is intended to show WW's twisted mind, much like how he lies to himself about his meth production ("to care for my family"). Only in his final confrontation with Skyler he admits the truth.
    – BCdotWEB
    Aug 16, 2022 at 7:13
  • See also the final lines from the quote in my answer: “I think the interesting thing is not exactly what happened but the fact that Walt hasn’t let it go over all these years. He has no perspective on himself. He gets to the point where all he can really do is try to justify everything that he’s done.”
    – BCdotWEB
    Aug 16, 2022 at 7:15
  • @BCdotWEB I did not offer my own interpretation on the reason Walt left. I'm saying what the reason is from Walt's point of view, on what he felt was the reason he left. Since the exact reason wasn't mentioned directly in Breaking Bad, it's worth adding Walt's point of view (which he reveals in Better Call Saul) on the matter. Aug 16, 2022 at 7:35

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