When it comes to master story-telling on TV, Breaking Bad is a top contender. Every single detail of not just the pilot but the series is meticulously chosen and placed to weave a near-immaculate show. The pilot — as any strong pilot should — sets up every piece we need and subsequently sets it in motion. How does the Breaking Bad pilot writer achieve this? Keep reading to learn more about one of the most iconic TV show pilots of all time. 

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Breaking Bad Pilot Script PDF Download

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Vince Gilligan Headshot StudioBinder

WHO WROTE Breaking Bad Pilot SCRIPT?

Written by Vince Gilligan

Vince Gilligan is a writer, producer, and director best known for creating Breaking Bad, and co-creating its successful spin-off, Better Call Saul. While he has a penchant for dark comedy, his work typically lives in the drama genre. He attended NYU Tisch, where he wrote the script for Home Fries, one of his first produced feature films. 



Here is the story structure for the Breaking Bad pilot screenplay:


We meet Walt (a brilliant high school chemistry teacher) and his family (including his pregnant wife, Skyler, and his wife’s brother-in-law, a DEA agent named Hank). Walt appears to be quite ill, and part of a lack-luster marriage.  

Inciting Incident

Walt passes out at the Caltech Campus. 

Rising Action

Walt learns he has cancer, and he’s got maybe two years to live. He doesn’t tell Skyler about his diagnosis right away, but he does yell at his boss, and ask Hank if he can go on his meth-bust ride-along. During the raid, Walt notices a former student (in the script, named Marion Dupree, but who later becomes Jesse Pinkman) at the house/secret meth lab. 


Walt makes Dupree an offer: they can team up and cook meth together, or he’ll turn Dupree in.

Build Up

Walt and Dupree strategize how and where they will cook meth together. Elsewhere, Marie (Skyler’s sister) notices something off with Walt, which Skyler denies. Walt drains his savings, and has a face-off with bullies who taunt his son at a clothing store. Walt begins to enjoy this new sense of power. 

Walt and Dupree make a batch of meth, and Dupree tells Walt that he’s an artist. Dupree tries to sell to Krazy-8 and Emilio, and they suspect him of betrayal. They kidnap him. 


Walt traps Krazy-8 and Emilio in the Winnebago, essentially poisoning them, but Krazy-8’s cigarette starts a fire. He and Dupree escape the fire (and unwanted attention from firefighters) within an inch of their lives. 


Walt’s just killed two people but made a lot of money from the deal. He returns home, and makes a move on Skylar. This is the new Walter White. 

Breaking Bad Script Takeaway #1

Breaking Bad opening sequence

Nothing can guarantee an audience’s return after watching a pilot, but one thing that comes close to guaranteeing their return is a thrilling opening sequence. The earlier you get someone hooked, the better, and the Breaking Bad pilot screenplay really starts with a bang.

We’ve imported the Breaking Bad pilot script into StudioBinder’s screenwriting software to take a closer look. Read along below: 

Breaking Bad Opening Scene  •  Read Full Scene

Not only is this teaser high-octane, it achieves something crucial for capturing the reader’s attention: it gives us a puzzle to solve. Who is this? What is this person doing? Why are they here, and what have they just done?

On top of that, the end of the teaser we are presented with loads of tension as two things happen: sirens approach our supposed protagonist, and he is holding a gun up at the direction the sirens are coming from. The puzzle intensifies: is this guy gonna shoot the cops?

Breaking Bad Pilot Script Walter in Medias Res StudioBinder ()

Walter White, Breaking Bad pilot

This teaser also offers a hint, through its intense shift in pacing, at what’s to come in this episode. The teaser opens on the cow pasture: it’s peaceful, quiet… then boom. A giant, retro Winnebago, clearly either chasing something, or barely escaping it (we soon learn it’s the latter). This lightning fast change actually acts as a foreshadowing of sorts. 

What we know to be one thing behaving in a certain way can quickly become something entirely new and terrifying. Of course, this is not the only instance in which the idea of change is referenced in the Breaking Bad pilot screenplay.  

Breaking Bad Script Takeaway #2

Breaking Bad themes

Most Breaking Bad fans are already familiar with the idea of the anti-hero, and how Walter White is a go-to example of one. Part of why that is relates to a powerful theme in the Breaking Bad series: change. 

Breaking Bad Pilot Script Walter White Breaking Bad pilot

Walter White, Breaking Bad pilot

Of course there is one concrete instance of symbolism for this theme, and it’s the fact that Walt is a chemist/chemistry teacher. We even wrote an entire article on the symbolism in Breaking Bad.

Obviously this is why he is so successful when cooking meth. But the thematic element of change is introduced in the pilot, as it should be, when Walt is teaching his high school chemistry class (see below). 

Breaking Bad Chemistry Class  •  Read Full Script

Does the above scene hint at his knowledge as a chemist and therefore foreshadow his brilliant meth cooking abilities? Yes. But it also tells us what this whole show is really about. We know Walt now, but who will he become as his life throws curveballs at him? This is of course best exhibited through his line “That’s all of life, right?” But if you’re looking even more deeply into this moment, Walt also offers us: “Growth, decay. Transformation.”

In one sense, you can argue that growth and decay are two different choices; just one or the other is possible, not both. But you can also argue that this hints at his cancer diagnosis; there is a growth, and it will lead to death. Regardless of the interpretation though, “transformation” punctuates the sentiment. Whether you view the line as a choice or a progression of events, the transformation will occur, and the rest of the pilot repeatedly emphasizes this.

Breaking Bad Script Takeaway #3

Breaking Bad’s pilot ending

One of the strongest aspects of the Breaking Bad pilot screenplay (after its opening scene) is in fact its ending scene. We’ve come to know Walt as a mousy, yet incredibly intelligent man, and now we’ve seen him become desperate, pushed to the very edge of what he can handle.

The ending capitalizes on this moment and shows us just how powerful and dynamic Walt is already becoming.

Take a look at the excerpt below before we dive in.

Breaking Bad Ending  •  Read Full Scene

The moment begins to shift with the stare in the darkness, an emotional beat which contains a confrontation of sorts. Skyler and Walt are really looking at each other, and what’s particularly intriguing about this moment is that they are looking but perhaps still not really seeing (at least Skyler isn’t, considering what Walt is hiding from her).

Within this beat, it’s clear that they are on the edge of a big moment, both in this specific scene and their lives overall. Here, the hook that will make the audience return for episode two is really starting to materialize. 

After this stare, Gilligan actually acknowledges the change in Walt (“A strange feeling comes over him,”) and gives that change motivation, detail, and emotion by showing a sort of recklessness; Walt feels thrill and fear at the same time. What’s especially notable about this beat though, is “for once.” 

Without those words, the moment would still be emotional and detailed, however, it further solidifies how momentous Walt’s actions are. This is a new thing for Walt, something he has never felt before in his entire life; what’s more, he’s about to act on it.

Breaking Bad Pilot Script Teardown Breaking Bad pilot ending

Breaking Bad pilot ending

Walt acts on these tumultuous feelings by making a move on Skyler, which in this moment is a pleasant surprise for her. But Walt’s choice here possibly hints at the fact that regardless of what he feels or goes through, he’s going to bring Skyler with him (or maybe “drag her into it” is a better way to phrase it). 

This ending scene continues a bit longer, though the bulk of the lead-up is our focus here; it’s a fantastic lesson in maximizing space on the page. Through a relatively small number of lines, Gilligan hints at where Walt has been (mentally), where he is going, and all the things he is feeling right now. In addition, it shows how it could affect those around him.

All the while, Walt’s behavior (which includes refraining from speaking) in this short scene still feels in character. These actions exhibit the “new Walt” and the tremendous character arc he has already experienced in this one episode, but the actions don’t feel out of character for him. Because of what we have seen him go through, we know that he has “earned” this moment and change. 

The Breaking Bad pilot script is a must-read for anyone interested in writing for series television because not only does it strongly detail the world, obstacles, and characters, but it has a clear strategy for how the season/series will proceed.

Each character has a motivation and it’s obvious their motivations set up massive conflict, even we don’t witness the conflict right now; we know it’s coming, so we have to keep watching as we wait for the other shoe to drop.   


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