At the end of the very last episode of Breaking Bad, Walter picks up Todd's phone and answers Lydia's call. He tells her that he poisoned her with ricin.

Why did he do that? Knowing that she'd been poisoned, Lydia could get medical help and survive the poisoning.

4 Answers 4


Ricin is extremely toxic. It has an LD50 (the lethal dose for 50% of people exposed) of 30–40mg per kilogram when ingested (its much much more dangerous when introduced to the body in other ways). Guessing Lydia's weight at around 50kg (110 lbs) would lead one to think the LD50 would be no more than 2g of ricin.

It has a military-developed antidote, which has had only limited trials in humans. Ricin is a chemical subject to the Chemical Weapons Convention, in the same schedule as nerve agents Sarin and VX. (All this information gleaned from Wikipedia)

Walt also only told her when she'd already begun to experience symptoms, so less likely to recover even if treated. Even if she sought attention and gave them this information it seems unlikely that she would recover. Even if she's not been given a lethal dose, survivors of ricin often suffer from long term organ damage, so she would have a pretty miserable and presumably shortened life even if she does survive.

I think Walt probably weighed her slim improved chances of survival, against the pleasure of knowing that she was aware who had done this to her.

I considered an answer like @Keen's too — perhaps she would not go to a hospital in fear of the attention, but I think this is less likely, even the risk averse would put fear of death above prison.

  • I adjusted the figures for the LD50 - as its considerably less toxic when ingested.
    – iandotkelly
    Jan 28, 2014 at 19:24
  • As much as I like trying to approach things scientifically, the scientific approach does not hold water. If we subscribe to science, then we have to subscribe to it all the way, and if we subscribe to it all the way, Lydia was never poisoned to begin with, since ricin is a protein the hot tea would have denaturated.
    – RegDwight
    Jan 28, 2014 at 23:07
  • @RegDwight Perhaps not, actually. While the ISO 3103 standard cup of tea must be steeped at 80 degrees C, the usual preferred drinking temperature is only about 55 degrees C. Ricin appears to be relatively stable at temperatures below 60 degrees, from this paper. Jan 28, 2014 at 23:25
  • @iandotkelly Oral LD50 is 30-40mg per kilogram body mass. Lydia is 5'2" and certainly looks light, so she'd be under 50kg, so we'd have to say at most 1.5 to 2 grams for LD50.
    – Glenn Lane
    Jan 28, 2014 at 23:44
  • @GlennLane - aha - you are correct, this is much more. 2g for an LD50 is quite a lot - and presumably Walt would want a better than 50% chance? 2+g of material in a cup of tea is quite a lot to expect without being noticed.
    – iandotkelly
    Jan 29, 2014 at 1:12

Ricin poisoning, particularly in a dosage designed to be fatal, is almost always fatal. Look what happened to Brock, and that was a controlled dose of Lily of the Valley: Significantly less potent.

Walt waited long enough for the Ricin to gestate inside Lydia (which wouldn't have taken long at all); Walt is nothing if not meticulous about 'the little details'.

He told her because he wanted her to know she was going to die, and that she was killed by his hand.

Perfect revenge, all Lydia could do was spend the last moments of her life smothered by the fear of inevitability.

  • Yes, this seems to be "Perfect revenge".
    – A-K
    Jan 28, 2014 at 20:12

She could not get medical help, and this is why Walt told her. By telling her that he poisoned her with ricin, this meant she would not be willing to seek medical attention, since this would attract police attention (see what happened with Jesse told doctors that Brock was poisoned with ricin). She's extremely risk-averse and would never want to attract the attention of the police. Ergo, by telling her that it's ricin, Walt knows that this dooms her to die without getting the medical help that would save her from dying, but doom her to prison.

  • 2
    Maybe Lydia would prefer to stay alive even if that triggers a policy inquiry? I concur that she is risk-averse, but death from poisoning is a huge risk as well, is it not? Maybe poisoning is a bigger risk than a police investigation?
    – A-K
    Jan 28, 2014 at 19:18
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    @AlexKuznetsov - It's still an impossible situation that he has put her in. Either way she is done for. At that point Walt knew he was a goner, so he wanted to give a final F U to Lydia. Jan 28, 2014 at 19:21
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    I'm not sure Lydia would have opted for certain death over possible (however likely) imprisonment.... Jan 28, 2014 at 19:27

He told her because it's a TV show, and telling her that she's going to die is far more dramatic. The truth is, "By ingestion, the pathology of ricin is largely restricted to the gastrointestinal tract, where it may cause mucosal injuries. With appropriate treatment, most patients will make a full recovery." In reality, she could have just gone to the hospital.

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