What happens next: ‘Breaking Bad’ Season 5: Walter White’s Fate Revealed?

AMC announced the renewal of its acclaimed series Breaking Bad this weekend, adding that the 5th season would be its last. Throughout its run, the show has garnered critical and viewer acclaim, and has been instrumental in AMC’s rise in the original programming scene.

Breaking Bad‘s fifth season will consist of 16 episodes – three more than we saw in seasons 2 – 4 (season 1 was only 7 episodes) . The extended order should give the writers some extra room to wrap up the series. The final episodes will begin airing in mid-2012.

The show has been a critical hit, winning six Emmy awards in three years. Series lead Bryan Cranston (who plays mild-mannered-school-teacher-turned-ruthless-meth-maker Walter White) has won Outstanding Lead Actor for an incredible three years running. The Season 4 premiere on July 17th scored an impressive (by cable standards) 2.6 million total viewers.

Creator Vince Gilligan had this to say on ending the successful series:

It’s a funny irony — I’d hate to know the date of my own last day on earth, but I’m delighted to know what Walter White’s will be (episodically speaking). This is a great gift to me and to my wonderful writers. It’s knowledge which will allow us to properly build our story to a satisfying conclusion… I’m lucky to get to work with them on sixteen more episodes, and I will always be grateful to both AMC and Sony Television, who from the beginning, believed in our show and supported me creatively and professionally. We have been able to take risks with Breaking Bad which would not have been possible on other networks.

If the drama onscreen has been compelling, it’s been nothing next to the behind-the-scenes events at AMC as of late. Budget issues led to rumors of a network change for Breaking Bad earlier this month. This followed a protracted negotiation for AMC’s flagship series Mad Men and a scandalous shake-up for The Walking Dead‘s production team – both reportedly due to AMC’s wishes to lower costs.

Some may balk at ending such a well-received show after only five years, and it would certainly be possible to extend it for at least another few seasons. The decision probably sprung somewhere between AMC’s continually tightening purse-strings and Breaking Bad writer/producer/director Vince Gilligan’s desire to end the series on a high note.

As a fan of Breaking Bad and its characters, I must say I’m excited to see the series end on a definitive and intentional timetable. Too many excellent shows are drawn out long past their sell-by date, ending on a protracted and sour final season. In the case of Breaking Bad, at least, viewers will be treated to a complete (and hopefully satisfying) story.

Breaking Bad is five episodes into its fourth season at the moment. The season 4 finale should air in mid-October.

Breaking Bad airs Sunday nights at 10PM on AMC.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @MichaelCrider