“I’m gonna give you that one, Rich, because I love you so much. Yes, Walter White is dead.”
To which, all we have to say is…meh.
Of course Walt is dead. The last time we saw him he was bleeding to death from a gunshot wound on the floor of a Nazi compound. We didn’t see Walt’s lifeless body being zipped into a body bag or engulfed in the flames of a cremation chamber, but that’s an insane standard of proof to accept that a character is dead in a show that doesn’t depend on supernatural plot devices. Why would Walt’s death need to meet a higher standard?
Fans of the show debating Walt’s fate before that episode were engaging in interesting conversations about what might be, but those who continued to do so post-finale were trying in vain to fill a vacuum by not accepting what ha clearly happened.
To understand the hollowness of Gilligan’s “news,” consider how another lauded series from the golden age of television ended.
“Made in America,” the final episode of The Sopranos, ended with the titular family getting together at a diner. Waitresses take orders, cooks cook, customers come in and out. A sense of unease pervades the scene, and a couple of customers start to look suspicious.
But we literally do not see if anything happens. Tony looks up for a second and then the music and picture cut out, leaving a silent, black frame, a truly ambiguous ending that opens up conversations about the entire show.
Similar conversations happened about Breaking Bad, but they were partially swallowed up by the “Is Walt dead?” discourse, which is kind of a shame. It’s a binary question, unlike pretty much every other one posed by a show that was as deep and interesting as they come.
So the news here isn’t that Walter is dead, it’s that Gilligan is for the first time publicly stating that he’s dead. He’s doing so on the eve of El Camino, a pretty savvy move from a marketing perspective.
There are lots of great reasons to see El Camino. It’s the product of a brilliant creative mind, Brian Cranston is probably going to appear in a flashback, and it’s an expansion of the rich world of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Learning Walter’s fate is not one of those reasons—because we’ve known it for years—but if that was the only reason you wanted to see El Camino you are going to be disappointed.