One of the very best television shows in recent memory was undoubtedly AMC’s Breaking Bad. The moral grayness of the series' main character becoming a true villain was a huge draw, but there’s no denying Breaking Bad would not have been nearly as successful without a solid foil for Walter White. DEA Agent/Brother-in-law Hank Schrader filled the role so fantastically that it’s impossible to imagine the series without him. According to show creator Vince Gilligan, however, it was only a lucky fluke of timing that saved Hank from being killed off way back in Season 1.
Here's Vince Gilligan sharing the big reason why Hank survived to thwart Walter White in the long term, from an interview on the Kevin Pollack Chat Show:
We had a nine episode order, we were two-thirds of the way through Season 1…I was so nervous; I’d never run a TV show before…We were writing and shooting and editing in a vacuum, no one had seen the show yet, and I really had the feeling that I needed to throw the kitchen sink at it, that the writers and I needed to get every bit of drama…The writer’s strike came along, and we didn’t get to do our last two episodes. We had to end our season one with seven episodes instead of nine. And, our ninth episode that year, we were seriously leaning toward killing off Hank. I was afraid we wouldn’t be holding people’s attention.”
Breaking Bad was a pretty fantastic show from start to finish, and it’s almost difficult to believe that Vince Gilligan and Co. didn’t have a master plan in place from the very beginning. It just didn’t feel like a show that could be made up on the fly, and it’s a testament to Gilligan’s abilities as an executive producer that everything ran as smoothly as it did. Who could have guessed that an unplanned writer’s strike shaving a couple of episodes off of a season could have so completely altered the course of the series?
Of course, credit must go to the actors as well as Gilligan. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul have gotten plenty of well-deserved praise and award recognition for their roles as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, but Dean Norris as Hank Schrader helped to elevate Breaking Bad from entertaining to unforgettable. Hank’s death scene in Season 5 is one of the most gut-wrenching of the entire series, and it’s a credit to Norris that viewers were hoping against hope that Hank would somehow escape being murdered by the neo Nazis after his partner had already been gunned down.
Hank may have ultimately gotten killed off, but he also got the most epically heroic moment in all of Breaking Bad, and we can only be eternally grateful that the writers chose 2008 to go on strike, allowing Hank Schrader a couple of years of reprieve.