Porter told WSJ that he knew he had his work cut out for him in composing a theme that would seem equally appropriate to Breaking Bad‘s first season, which was relatively light in tone, and later seasons, which he knew would be going to some pretty dark places. “When I wrote [the theme music], I was trying to come up with a thematic statement that encompassed the show,” he explained. “[Series creator] Vince Gilligan would admit that he didn’t know that much about where the story was going to go. He did know that the backbone was Walter White’s descent and devolution from being a milquetoast run-of-the-mill guy to being this very hardened and darkly driven character. I wanted to give a glimpse of that destination, which the viewer would hear every time they watch the show. In the first season, the theme may have seemed a little darker and bolder than the show actually was.”
The full version of the theme runs one minute, 18 seconds, and it primarily uses a hollow-bodied, wood and metal guitar called a dobro as its twangy, Southwest-flavored lead instrument, along with sparse percussion and synthesized strings. You can check it out on YouTube, but if you’ve watched every season of Breaking Bad, you’ve heard it before — at the tense conclusion of “Granite State,” the series’ penultimate episode.
“[I had] been biding my time, looking for a moment where I could introduce the theme into the story itself,” Porter said. “We had considered using it at the end of season four, when Gus [Fring] is finally removed from the picture. We tried it there as an experiment, but it felt like there was too much closure.” Ultimately, the composer said that it felt right to use the extended theme at the moment Walter decides to return to New Mexico, for a specific reason. “I viewed this moment as the one where we realized that the transformation in Walter’s character is complete,” he explained. “The two halves that we witnessed so much, the milquetoast and the Heisenberg guy, have melded into one.”