Emmys: 'Breaking Bad' Writer on "Overwhelming" Episode and Battling Vince Gilligan

Writing the best installment of a series isn't easy
Ursula Coyote/AMC

Moira Walley-Beckett devastated Breaking Bad fans last year with "Ozymandias," the episode that saw years' worth of storytelling come crashing together.

Her script featured deaths, broken relationships and shocking revelations. It earned her an Emmy nomination for penning what is widely considered the series' best episode. 

Walley-Becket, who is wrapping up filming on her upcoming Starz drama Flesh and Bone this week, goes up against Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan in the drama writing category at Monday's Emmys, where Gilligan is nominated for penning the show's series finale.

Vince Gilligan and most fans agree this was the best Breaking Bad episode ever. How did it fall to you?

Luck of the draw, my friend. We know in advance the order of the rotation of the writers and then we break the story. These plot points added up in my episode. I got really lucky.

What was it like when the episode finally aired and viewers were going crazy?

It was pretty overwhelming. Pretty much everything that every character had been dreading happened. People went crazy. It was startling to kill Hank.  

Jesse's fate was very tough to watch. Was that difficult to write?

Very much so — just to tie him up like a dog and have his spirit just broken, there really was nothing left to live for. He was just a dog on a chain.

Was there a part that was particularly painful to write?

Hank's (Dean Norris) death and Walt's reaction. Walt's willingness to give up all the money — the raison d'etre for everything he'd done in the past year. Also the moment we'd been waiting for, when Walt (Bryan Cranston) finally says, "I watched Jane die" and the remorseless way he says it, and the utter devastation for Jesse (Aaron Paul).

I think the hardest thing to write, if I had to pick, would be the phone call with Walt and Skyler (Anna Gunn). He's vile. He says these heinous things and it's hard to know what's true and what isn't. But he's using secret language, really. He's communicating with Skyler to let her know that he's trying to protect her and within that conversation she has to come to that understanding. That was very complicated to navigate.

The audience doesn't realize what he is doing until a ways into the conversation.

It was because some of what he was saying is true, and then he crosses a line that he has never crossed before with the insult. That's the tell for Skyler. And then we are privileged to see how saying these things is breaking his heart. It is just destroying him to say these things, and he has to. It was a really interesting strategy.

You worked with director Rian Johnson on this as well as "Fly," where you flirted with Walt admitting his role in Jane's death.

It was kind of great that I got to dance to the edge of him saying it in "Fly," and he would have said it for entirely different reasons back then. He would have said it out of profound guilt and shame and self-recrimination. He would have said it out of love. To come to it in "Ozymandias" and have him say it out of vile hatred — he basically murders him in that scene. Hank dies, and Jesse dies to a certain degree. It was interesting to have those two moments.

My Wonder Twin Rian — he is my partner in crime and just as responsible for "Ozymandias" in my mind. He realized it perfectly.

What can fans look forward to in your upcoming show, Flesh and Bone?

They can look forward to dark and strange. It's really intricate. It's a character drama in the great tradition of Breaking Bad, and it isn't what it appears to be on the surface. It is a long, twisted journey into really dark corners and dark materials.

Does part of you wish you were on the Better Call Saul set with your old Breaking Bad friends?

It's odd, I still feel a part of it. I'm still so close to the Breaking Bad posse and the writers who were on the show. I feel a massive connection, and it would have been great and Vince had asked me, to "keep the band together." He was like, "I understand Moira-Lou, you've got to go do your thing." I was always "Moira Lou" (to Gilligan). He is incredibly supportive. He's thrilled for me. He gets it, and I'm right there with them anyway in my heart. We are so tight. 

What's it like going up against Vince in the same category at the Emmys?

I'm there because of him. It's his show and I want him to win. It would be awesome to win, but it just sort of feels like it should be Vince — it's his! 

For more from "Ozymandias," check out our Q&As with director Rian Johnson, Hank actor Dean Norris and Gomez actor Steven Michael Quezada.

Email: Aaron.Couch@THR.com
Twitter: @AaronCouch