Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

'Breaking Bad': Is a Shelley reference a hint about future plot developments?

The next 'Breaking Bad' episode is titled 'Ozymandias,' which is also the name of a Percy Bysshe Shelley poem that reflects on the fleeting nature of power and glory.

By / September 14, 2013

'Breaking Bad' stars Bryan Cranston.

Ursula Coyote/AMC/AP


With “Breaking Bad,” his wildly successful cable TV series about Walter White, a dying high school teacher who begins selling crystal meth to build a family nest egg, producer Vince Gilligan has been giving some poetry classics a heightened profile in the popular culture.

Skip to next paragraph

Recent posts

Gilligan’s affection for Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” was the subject of an earlier “Chapter and Verse” post here.

The 19th-century bard’s masterwork figured into a major plot development when Walter’s brother-in-law Hank, played by Dean Norris, realized that Walt’s copy of “Leaves of Grass”  was evidence of Walt’s crimes.   

Now, with Sunday’s upcoming “Breaking Bad,” episode, titled “Ozymandias,” Gilligan has given the nod to another great poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Sunday’s episode takes its name from one of the most famous poems by Shelley, the celebrated English poet who lived between 1792-1822.

In “Ozymandias,” a desert adventurer recalls coming across a deteriorated and long-neglected statue of a once-great ruler named Ozymandias. The statue bears a chilling message relayed in the poem’s last stanza:

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away."

You can read the full poem and some biographical information about Shelley here.

Shelley’s poem is widely revered as a compelling reflection on the fleeting nature of power and glory. The poem got renewed attention after the 2003 invasion of Iraq that ousted Saddam Hussein from power, which prompted the tearing down of Saddam’s huge statue in Firdos Square. Video footage of the incident inspired lots of comparisons between Saddam and Shelley’s fictional Ozymandias.

In naming Sunday’s episode of “Breaking Bad” after Shelley’s doomed ruler, Gilligan has hinted that Walt, too, is going to continue to see his empire collapse before his eyes.

Although Gilligan has been tight-lipped about crucial plot developments for the final episodes of the show, fans of the series can watch this clip featuring Bryan Cranston, who plays Walt, performing a dramatic reading of Shelley’s poem.

What would Shelley think of his hipster status as a creative element in “Breaking Bad”?

We can only speculate, although Shelley, described by “The Norton Anthology of English Literature” as “a radical conformist in every aspect of his life and thought,” might have gotten a kick out of keeping company with Walter White.

Danny Heitman, a columnist for The Advocate newspaper, is the author of “A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.”


  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer


What are you reading?

Let me know about a good book you've read recently, or about the book that's currently on your bedside table. Why did you pick it up? Are you enjoying it?

Doing Good


What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!