Chemistry teacher-turned-meth dealer Walter White (
) is sitting on top of the world as
launches its fifth season Sunday, July 15, on AMC.
At the end of last season, Walt pulled off a complicated and audacious plan that killed off his terrifying nemesis Gustavo Fring (
Giancarlo Esposito) while re-establishing Walt's alliance with Jesse Pinkman (
Aaron Paul), his drug-making colleague and partner in crime. As Walt told his wife, Skyler (
Anna Gunn), with chilling simplicity: "I won."
But don't expect Walt to turn away from his journey to the dark side. For one thing, a panicky Skyler gave away most of his ill-gotten loot to her former boss, whose tax woes were about to draw an unwelcome light onto her and Walt's personal finances.
After all, Walt always has rationalized that he does what he does because he loves his family and wants to provide for them. But as longtime "Breaking Bad" fans know, there's something else as well, the naked ego and voracious pride this former milquetoast has found now that he has unleashed his deadly alter ego, whom he calls "Heisenberg."
PICS: 'Breaking Bad' Season 5
"Now he has defeated the greatest opponent he ever has faced, like
, the guy who was considered to be the best," Cranston, who has won three Emmy Awards for his work on the show, tells
. "And now, in this fifth season, Walt is finally owning it. He's not leasing his emotions anymore. He feels like he is the king. He is spreading his confidence and intimidation: 'This is what's going to happen, and I'll tell you why and when. I'm running the show now. I'm better than Gus Fring. If you were afraid of Gus Fring, or if you admired him, you haven't seen anything yet, because I'm the guy who killed him.' "
Fans no doubt will be happy to see Walt and Jesse working as a team again this season, after an extended period of Fring-enforced estrangement. Not only are Cranston and Paul, also an Emmy winner for his role, superb in their scenes together, but their prickly yet oddly warm relationship is very welcome in a show that often is violent and bleak.
"Walt has developed a respect for Jesse's abilities," Cranston explains. "The audience can see the puppy-dog aspect of this character, and so can Walt. He knows there's a fragility about Jesse, and that's great for drama. The fact that we are so diametrically opposite in our makeup -- educationally, generationally, what we've lived through -- lends itself to that odd-couple thing."
This being "Breaking Bad," however, that doesn't mean things are going to go smoothly for the reconciled partners.
"We form this team, and we're going to try to make it bigger and better," Cranston reveals. "But as we find out, and as is true with any organization, you're only as strong as your weakest link, and that will come home to roost this year: that there are some weak links, and when we have to expand to some extent, we get exposed."
AMC has given series creator and executive producer
Vince Gilligan 16 more episodes in which to wrap up the saga of Walter White, eight of them airing this summer, followed by the final eight shows in summer 2013. Gilligan is tight-lipped on storyline specifics, but he promises that fans of
Betsy Brandt -- who co-stars as Skyler's terrified sister, Marie -- will see the actress shine before this epic drama ends. That'll probably mean Marie finally will start to catch on to what is going on within her extended family.
"Yeah, that will very likely change at some point, although I have to be a little coy and not give you a date on that," Gilligan says. "Suffice it to say that before our final 16 episodes end, Marie will have some of her biggest and most emotional moments yet, and I confidently predict that Betsy Brandt will knock those scenes out of the park, actingwise."
"I feel like Marie and [her husband] Hank [
Dean Norris] are in a better place because of everything they went through in Season 4, and I am just so crazy about that story," Brandt says. "It's a really beautiful relationship, and it's wonderful that the audience gets to see that when all these other horrible things are going on. And I can tell you Season 5 is fantastic."
Given the show's merciless habit of snuffing characters unexpectedly, Marie could well be a widow [or worse] before the series ends its run. Cranston won't spoil any surprises, but he does confirm that the mortality rate doesn't let up in the new season.
"At the end of this season, there will be a major turn, and then we'll be back for the final eight next summer," he says. "It's just going to twist harder and harder and faster, then it will spin out of control. There are a few more fatalities coming up in this season, I can tell you that -- familiar faces, familiar people, going in interesting, odd circumstances, but plausible. Always plausible."