From Krazy-8 to Tuco to Uncle Jack and his band of neo-nazis, Breaking Bad had no shortage of intimidating villains over the course of its run on AMC. That said, nothing can compare to the iconic presence of Gus Fring, nor his explosive demise at the end of Season 4. The whole scene and set-up felt like the natural and proper end for his arc, but Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan said finding the best and most logical way to kill such a great villain proved incredibly challenging. Gilligan opened up while discussing the show's 10th anniversary and explained:
Oh man, that took forever! The trouble is, when you're telling stories, when you're writing a story about formidable foes, you want them to be as smart as possible. And Gustavo Fring almost took on a life of his own. He was almost supernaturally smart and we figured, who better? The smartest guy on this show up til now has been Walter White, and we love the fact that we had inadvertently come up with a character who's even smarter than Walt. . . . The temptation when you're really desperate and the clock is ticking is to have your genius bad guy character do something stupid. But you feel really terrible at heart when you're pitching those kind of ideas because you say to yourself, any dumb mistake that the bad guy makes lessens the good guy's brilliance and the good guy's fortitude and all that kind of stuff. So, we made a promise to ourselves: 'We gotta keep this guy smart all the way to the end.'
It's entirely arguable that Gus Fring was always smarter than Walter White, and that he was better at engaging in criminal activity than the impulsive meth cook. That created obvious problems in Season 4, because in creating such a smart and all-around talented villain, Vince Gilligan and his crew inadvertently developed a character whose death was incredibly difficult to plan out. This led to the writers questioning the possibility of Gus making his first real mistake on the show, but the team ultimately concluded that he needed to remain the crafty, calm, cool, and collected bad guy all the way through his kingpin tenure on the AMC series. Not only so Walt's victory would feel worthwhile, but also so the legacy of Gus Fring wouldn't be tainted in retrospect.
Eventually, the decision was made to tackle the situation by making the showdown less about Walt and Gus and more about Gus and Hector Salamanca, who was brilliantly retrofitted as Gus' nemesis. Vince Gilligan continued in his chat with Uproxx and explained how creating that tension between the two men established a blind spot in Gus' typically logical and practical reasoning that allowed him to be exploited and exploded, saying:
So we came to create this whole backstory about how much Gus Fring hated Hector. And we created that long after the first episode, during which we saw Hector and Gus together. It came later, that backstory of this loathing Gus Fring had for Hector Salamanca, as a device, as a way in to allowing Gus to make a mistake, and let Walt get too close to him. In a weird way, a lot of the most emotional character-driven beats throughout the life of Breaking Bad were created for very meat and potatoes logistical reasons, which I find kind of funny in hindsight.
The result of that narrative breakthrough? A suspense-soaked death scene to rival anything else that Breaking Bad had given audiences leading up to that (literally) explosive Season 4 finale, and one that also maintained Gus Fring's integrity and intelligence.
This is far from the only time in which Vince Gilligan and his team had to find a way out of a tight narrative spot during Breaking Bad's run. The creative team often caused a number of "logistical" problems for themselves, such as the dilemma of how they would pay off the Season 5 machine gun tease in "Felina," or how Walt and Jesse could escape the RV when cornered by Hank Schrader in Season 3. Through it all, the team managed to pull it off with award-winning results, and with Better Call Saul now carrying the Breaking Bad torch, we will hopefully see many more mind games and narrative puzzles in the future.
If you're a fan of Gustavo Fring, then you will have to wait and see what else Vince Gilligan and his team can cook up for the character now that Better Call Saul reintroduced the man behind Los Pollos Hermanos. We will keep you posted with more updates related to Better Call Saul's fourth season as more details are made available, but for now, check out our midseason premiere guide to see what other shows are gearing up to debut within the next few months.