‘Ozymandias': What Does That Breaking Bad Episode Title Mean?

The namesake poem for the latest installment of 'Breaking Bad' is nearly two centuries old

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Last night wasn’t the first time Breaking Bad has used a ten-cent word for an episode title (see: last week’s mouthful, “To’hajiilee”) but, for those who didn’t pay attention during English Poetry 101, it may have been the most confusing.

The episode was called “Ozymandias” — but what’s an Ozymandias?

“Ozymandias” is best known as the title of a famous sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley, first published in January of 1818; you can hear Bryan Cranston recite it in full above (in a promo for Breaking Bad, natch) or read at the link included in TIME’s recap of the episode.

(READ: TIME’s recap of ‘Ozymandias’)

The poem tells the story of a traveller who has seen an ancient monument in the desert. The giant legs are all that remains standing of what was once a statue of a king — “Ozymandias, King of Kings” — and there is no sign of the civilization he once ruled, although the inscription on the pedestal indicates that the stone king once surveyed great enough works to drive terror into the hearts of his enemies. The mighty one has literally fallen, and so has everything he accomplished.

Shelley, however, did not invent Ozymandias, who was a real, historical person.

The inspiration for Shelley’s poem was a description given by Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian from the first century BCE. Diodorus spent time in Egypt and Rome, and wrote a history that ranged from mythical Greek history to the time of Julius Caesar. Diodorus’ work includes a recounting of exactly the scene described by the poem, involving a statue of the 13th-century-B.CE. Pharaoh called Ozymandias (who may be better known to Egyptology buffs as Rameses the Great, supposedly the Pharaoh of the Exodus story) on which the inscription indicated that Ozymandias was “King of Kings” and that his greatness was manifest in his works.

Nor was Shelley the only 19th-century Englishman to write a poem about Ozymandias. In fact, Shelley’s own sonnet was the result of a sonnet-writing contest (fun times!) with his friend Horace Smith. Both poems were published in The Examiner in early 1818, but Smith’s — “On A Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below” — has not endured in the way Shelley’s has.

But what does this all mean for Walter White?

The sonnet reminds those who have grown mighty that, no matter what they create or how confident they grow, time will tear them down. Though Ozymandias’ power is gone, the “passions” and “cold command” sculpted in his facial expression endure. With only a few episodes of Breaking Bad left, time is short, which means this is probably a bad sign for Walter (or at least for Heisenberg); it’s hard to imagine that some other character might be the Ozymandias stand-in, especially given the use of Cranston’s recitation to promote the final season of the show. As some interpretations of the sonnet point out, the great man’s face still looks as if he thinks his power remains, not knowing that everything he created is gone. On the other hand, the sculptor’s legacy truly lasts: everything the king made is gone but the artist, though long dead, endures through his work.

So get to work, Breaking Bad conspiracy theorists: is there a sculptor here? If yes, who?

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31 comments
LarryWaybright
LarryWaybright

Empires rise, empires evolve but eventually empires fall.

And so it is for Walter White. W.W, was never really destined nor prepared to run an empire so his was short lived.

His empire rose from the sands of new Mexico and it has fallen in the sands of New Mexico. 

Or has it? This series has been impossible to predict what would come next and who but the writers know how it will finish.

Pinkman has been enslaved by Todd but remembers Walt's admonition, "Respect them chemistry".

I suspect that Jesse will concoct a bomb and destroy the NeoNazi's clandestine meth lab before the finale.

But that is about the only risky prediction I think I'll attempt for now.

mugginsMcG
mugginsMcG

I have always loved this poem, and it fits Walter perfectly. Walter's Hubris!   The notion of a tragically flawed and brutal hero, a mouse of a chemistry teacher evolving into this monster; a monster with an intellect and brilliance who cannot foresee his ultimate demise, and the ruination of all those that surround him.  It is a tragic series of Shakespearean magnitude.  Such a classic. So apt that it is ending badly for all concerned.  I love it!

mooseworks
mooseworks

Walter, who started this all to provide and care for his family, will end up alone with his 6 million and no family of any type. Jesse will blow up the meth lab to save his "family" from having to worry about the uncle ever harming them and will die a hero's death. Skylar will probably go to jail and hate him for the rest of her life. The baby will end up in foster care. His son will be estranged and hopeless. His sister-in-law hates him for killing her husband, and Hank is dead.  What he started out to accomplish has all gone tragically wrong... altho I do like the idea of this turning into the beginning of Malcolm in the Middle!!

SusanKeaton5
SusanKeaton5

You know this show is consistently brilliant and has arguably delivered it’s finest episode yet. This is how a final season should be!  http://bit.ly/169jMIT

MichaelDTate
MichaelDTate

Ozymandias killed like 4 million people on Manhattan Island and blamed it on Mr. Manhattan to stop World War 4 from happening

read Watchman, to get the details


DashingMrJay
DashingMrJay

Walter is his own worst enemy....he used everyone around him to gain power. And now his demise is imminent.  Can't wait for these last 2 episodes......

GailMoore
GailMoore

If you don't know the poem, read it.  Then you'll know what it means.

Mr_Mycool
Mr_Mycool

The artist here might be Bryan Cranston or even Vince Gilligan. The W.W. character will soon be gone but this masterpiece work of television will be studied and admired for a long, long time.

MichaelACRebey
MichaelACRebey

Ozymandias is also the antagonist of Alan Moore's masterwork "Watchmen". In Alan Moore's story Ozymandias is a superhero that comes to the realization that the only way to save society is to bring it together through a giant cataclysmic event that would unite humanity. Ozymandias's only miscue was forgetting about the one true superhero in the world, Dr. Manhattan. Watchmen was pure genius.

dhaime
dhaime

Walter is going to go down exactly the way Gus Fring went down. He's even paralleling how Gus reacted when his business partner was shot - Gus fell on his side by the pool in horror, and so too did Walter White when he saw Hank killed. 

Then they both agreed with their perspective parties (cartel/Nazis) that they were square, when in fact they were not. Gus went back to kill the cartel, and so too is Walter. But Walt worked with Hector Salamanca to take down Gus. I think Walt is going to be the 'Hector' in the situation by working with Pinkman. Walt will sacrifice himself and blow himself up like Hector blew up in order to take down Lydia, Todd, and Uncle Jack. Pinkman will get away. 

albertrhesus
albertrhesus

I don't know who the sculptor is, but that barrel at the end looked lie the stump of a leg. It was all that was left of Heisenbergs greatness.

PsychoSchmitt
PsychoSchmitt

All of us...whether the figurative drug users of America who served up the demand that drove Walter to power or the literal TV viewers who drove the renewal of this series. We created the King. Without us, he wouldn't have existed.

rulingsword
rulingsword

A lot of people have called Hitler an Ozymandias.  Maybe Todd and the Aryan Brotherhood will continue the work of Hitler and now Heisenberg.  

LuisFlosi
LuisFlosi

It is hard to think of who the artist could me. My thoughts are:

1- Todd, for continuing Walt's work

2- Jesse, for being Walt's right arm

3- Skylar, who could write a book on Walt, translating the statue from the poem into the book, and Skylar being the artist who will endure even thoigh the subject, Walt, has decayed.

LuisFlosi
LuisFlosi

It's really tough to decipher who the artist could be, so that coulf mean there is none. The ones thay come to mind are: Todd, who could carry Heisenberg's work; Jesse, Walt's right arm; or maybe even Skyler, who could end up writing a book on Walt from her point of view, the statue translatef into a book and the artost as Skylar

funkytaco
funkytaco

Spoilers follow.

The Ozymandias reference has to do with the pants that flew off the Winnebago in Season 1, Episode 1. When Walter is rolling the barrel to the Native American's house, he passes by the pants, crusted and weathered in the desert. This is the Ozymandias reference - Walter is now the fallen king.

HammerStamp
HammerStamp

@MichaelDTate I did but you obviously didn't. The ending you are describing is the FILM ending. The book's is very much different.

MaxPrice
MaxPrice

@funkytaco I saw the pants! I feel educated after this episode now. I wonder what other hidden things are in the episodes.

samooch
samooch

@LarryWaybright I'll venture another risky prediction.

We've all seen that no nonsense weapon  in Walters trunk in the flash forward.

Walter has lost it all as some would say he well deserved to.

There's nothing he can do to alter the past and absolutely no future forseeable.

If he is looking for a final Redemptive (noble?) act, what better way to go out than in an old fashion Mexican standoff Suicide mission taking out as many in the Meth trade as he can (Depending on who he decides and is able to call together in one place). Perhaps a summit called by Hesenberg?

What a fitting Ironic way for Walter to meet his end, thus striking out at the very world that  brought out this  Evil in him.

A "Say Hello to my little friend" moment if you will.

Remember the scene where he and Walt Jr. are watching Scarface and both come right in on cue with that line?