Is Walter White from Breaking Bad intended to be a sympathetic character? I'm just asking this myself because I don't do so. But have a lot of respect for the character.

My personal point of view is that lying is a pretty bad attitude and I'm judging my social connections by this. But I also noticed a lot of people don't expect it in as strict way as I do. So I'm asking this under the view of him being a liar.

  • Sympathetic is a complicated association. I think it's possible to be sympathetic to a character without liking them. You can sympathize with Walter White while disapproving of his actions.
    – Wolfkin
    Apr 25, 2016 at 4:07

2 Answers 2


There are countless articles and interviews from the show's creator Vince Gilligan on the character of Walter White. This one for example:

Gilligan confesses surprise at the residual affection which has built up among viewers for White, even as the lies – and the bodycount – have spiralled.

"I have kind of lost sympathy for Walt along the way," says Gilligan. "I find it interesting, this sociological phenomenon, that people still root for Walt. Perhaps it says something about the nature of fiction, that viewers have to identify on some level with the protagonist of the show, or maybe he's just interesting because he is good at what he does. Viewers respond to people who are good at their job, even when they are bad."

That the empathy endures – and the show works at all – is down to Cranston, the former Malcolm in the Middle star (and Seinfeld's dentist) who first worked with Gilligan on a 1998 episode of The X Files.

"We needed an actor to play a character who was very dark and nasty but at the end of the hour you had to feel sorry for him," remembers Gilligan, who worked in various capacities on seven series of The X Files, alongside its creator, Chris Carter.

Everyone is going to draw their own conclusions about whether they sympathize with WW, but I think its evident that Gilligan didn't intend for this to be such. It is a testament to good writing and top quality acting from Cranston that, at the end of the day, we still feel bad for him and root for him, in spite of his evil acts.


Whatever Gilligan says, I think the character is meant to elicit some sympathetic or empathic reactions from the audience. We wouldn't be interested in him if the character wasn't designed that way.

Early on we have a great deal of sympathy as he is an ill, underpaid teacher facing a bleak future and we don't know how he will provide for his family. We follow his choices. We understand his bad choices as his circumstances make them, at least at the start, credible and don't leave too many alternatives. We wonder how his choices will play out over time: what else will he be prepared to do and how will he respond to the downward spiral he seems to have been forced into.

Sure, he starts to change. He becomes less downtrodden as the Heisenberg element of his character grows and becomes stronger. But somehow we still sympathise because we know where he started. As the level of evil acts grows he might lose some of our sympathy (I mean we don't want to be like him and we know he is doing bad things) but we start to respect him instead. We still care about what happens to him. Besides, he is nothing like the most evil person in the show so we still have relative sympathy for the battles he fights against even more evil people.

To hold our attention for the full run is a great piece of writing as this is much harder with characters doing obviously bad things. But since the universe he is in is filled with even worse people, he is the character we identify with. In fact he becomes a true antihero in the same vein as "The Man With No Name" in the Clint Eastwood movies (a man we root for despite him being a killer for hire: we support him because he does some good despite being a character we would normally classify as a bad guy).

By the end his character may not deserve our sympathy, but he gets it because he is the least bad in a land filled with even worse characters and he does some good things even though he also does many that are evil.

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