Why did Walt smoke a cigarette?

Walt smoking a cigarette is a symbolic moment in the hit TV show Breaking Bad. As the protagonist Walter White transforms into a ruthless drug lord, his smoking represents his moral descent and growing darkness. But why did Walt choose to smoke in that particular scene? What is the deeper meaning behind this cigarette? Let’s explore the context and significance of Walt’s fateful smoke.

What Led to Walt’s Cigarette Scene?

Walter White started as a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher who turned to manufacturing methamphetamine after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Desperate to provide for his family, Walt teamed up with former student Jesse Pinkman to cook and sell meth under the name “Heisenberg.”

As Walt delved deeper into the drug world, he became increasingly corrupt and dangerous. He killed drug dealers, manipulated people, and lied to his family. Walt convinced himself these actions were justified for his family’s sake, but he grew darker and more ruthless.

A major turning point was letting Jane Margolis die of a heroin overdose. Jane had gotten Jesse addicted to heroin and threatened to blackmail Walt. Walt watched Jane choke to death on her vomit during an overdose and did nothing to save her. This moment proved just how far Walt had fallen morally.

After Jane’s Death

Walt continued operating his meth business with Jesse. But Jesse, racked with guilt over Jane’s death, spiraled into heavier drug use.

Walt’s wife Skyler learned the truth about his double life and demanded a divorce. Walt desperately tried convincing her to stay, to no avail.

With his marriage and family life shattered, Walt had only his drug empire left. He felt increasingly alienated from humanity and morality. Walt’s darkness was now in full force.

This context explains Walt’s mindset leading up to the pivotal cigarette scene. He had lost his marriage, family, and humanity. All he had left was power as a drug lord.

The Cigarette Scene

In season 3, episode 6 (“Sunset”), Walt meets Jesse in his car to discuss their meth operation. Jesse, high on heroin, is unfocused and jittery.

Walt expresses annoyance at Jesse’s drug use interfering with their business. He lights up a cigarette in Jesse’s smoke-filled car.

Jesse asks Walt when he started smoking. Walt replies, “Today.” After a pause, Walt says menacingly, “Never give up control. Live life on your own terms.”

He puts out the cigarette on Jesse’s car ashtray, leaving a scorch mark. Jesse stares silently ahead, intimidated.

This scene mirrors their relationship dynamic. Walt dominates Jesse, using intimidation and violence to control him. The cigarette represents how Walt takes what he wants without concern for others.

Cigarette Symbolism

The cigarette symbolizes a few key themes about Walt’s transformation:

  • Control – Walt lights up precisely when angry about losing control of Jesse. The cigarette shows him exerting control.
  • Independence – Walt rejects outside influence, stating he lives by his own terms.
  • Rebellion – He starts smoking despite societal standards and his own health issues.
  • Corruption – Walt corrupts himself morally by smoking, ignoring health concerns.

For Walt, the cigarette means taking control on his own terms, without care for consequences. This mirrors Walt’s larger approach to the meth business.

How the Cigarette Scene Develops Walt’s Character

The cigarette scene provides critical characterization about Walt’s moral decline. Let’s analyze aspects of Walt’s character development:

Walt’s Loss of Morality

Smoking demonstrates how little Walt cares for morality anymore. He smoked around Jesse despite Jesse’s recovery from heroin. And Walt himself had lung cancer, yet he smoked anyway. Walt is so consumed with control and power that he ignores moral concerns for Jesse’s and his own health. The cigarette visibly symbolizes Walt poisoning himself with corruption.

Walt’s Self-Centeredness

Walt smoking solely because he wanted to, with no regard for how it affected Jesse, shows his self-centeredness. He even burned Jesse’s car with the cigarette, marking the car with his presence. The abusive undertones highlight Walt’s egocentrism. Walt does what he desires without considering consequences.

Walt’s Isolation

Walt claims to live on his own terms, independent of influence. This shows his isolation from society’s norms. Walt alienates himself – he ignores moral standards and lives by his own corrupt rules. The cigarette represents Walt isolating himself with corruption, separating further from humanity.

Walt’s Craving for Control

The cigarette scene emphasizes Walt’s obsession with control. When he feels powerless over Jesse’s drug use, Walt seeks to reestablish control by intimidating Jesse. He wants to dominate Jesse, to have unchecked power over his partner. Even if getting control means harming Jesse, Walt pursues control at any cost. The cigarette both enacts that control and symbolizes Walt’s relentless craving for it.

How Does the Cigarette Reflect Walt’s Arc in Breaking Bad?

The context of Walt’s cigarette reflects his overall arc on the show:

From Teacher to Drug Lord

In early seasons, Walt is a teacher and family man disgusted by the use of drugs and violence. Ironically, he becomes a powerful meth kingpin. The cigarette shows how much Walt has changed – now a drug lord flouting standards without care.

From Morality to Corruption

At first, Walt believes he is protecting his family by producing meth. But he grows more corrupted by greed and power. The cigarette conveys that descent into immorality. Walt poisons himself both literally and symbolically.

From Controlling to Out of Control

Walt desires control over the uncontrollable – his cancer, bills, family’s future. But his methods create chaos. The cigarette scene shows Walt trying to control Jesse and their operation, while spiraling morally out of control himself.

From Togetherness to Isolation

Initially, Walt has a united family and commitment to provide for them. But his lies isolate him, costing his marriage and honesty with Skyler and Walt Jr. The cigarette symbolizes Walt’s self-imposed lone wolf status.

How Does the Cigarette Reflect the Show’s Themes?

Walt’s cigarette also epitomizes larger themes within Breaking Bad:

Corruption’s Allure

Walt justifies his corruption as being for his family. But he grows to enjoy the criminal power. The cigarette represents how alluring darkness can be – Walt compulsively partakes despite the risks.

Rationalizing Immorality

Walt spins lies to rationalize his actions. The cigarette shows Walt buying into his own rationalizations – that smoking is justified because he is living life on his own terms.

Masculinity and Control

As a man with cancer and a low-paying job, Walt wants to feel powerful. Cooking meth and dominating Jesse feed Walt’s masculine desire for control. The cigarette scene reinforces how masculinity and control motivate Walt.


Walt irrationally engages in self-harm, like smoking despite having lung cancer. This reflects people’s capacity for self-destructiveness when chasing desires like power. Walt poisons himself slowly both physically and morally.

Conclusion: Why the Cigarette Is a Compelling Metaphor

Walter White’s cigarette perfectly crystallizes his character arc and the show’s themes into one symbolic prop. That makes the cigarette an insightful metaphor.

Specifically, the cigarette represents:

  • Walt’s moral corrosion from a teacher to ruthless criminal
  • His selfishness and isolation from family
  • His inflated desire for control and dominance
  • The alluring yet self-destructive nature of corruption

This single cigarette reflects Walt’s entire descent over the course of Breaking Bad – from moral family man to lonely, power-hungry kingpin. We witness Walt poison himself both literally and symbolically, spiraling deeper into immorality and alienation.

That’s what makes Walt’s smoke break so iconic. In just one subtly powerful scene, the cigarette conveys volumes about Walt’s transformation and the show’s central themes. We may never know why some people abandon morality for power. But Walt’s cigarette provides thought-provoking insight into that mysteriously human phenomenon.

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