I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“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.
-Percy Bysshe Shelley
Admit it. After this promo for the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad aired, you scrambled to your old English lit textbooks and scrutinized the hell out of Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” just waiting for the episode of the same name to air. The poem’s major themes coupled with the image of the weathered, beaten-down porkpie hat in the trailer did not bode well for Walt. Vince Gilligan saying this in an interview with TV Fanatic added an extra sense of ominousness to the episode (emphasis mine):
I think these last three episodes, not to overstate it, and you could say this about the last eight, but with these last three in particular you need to install a seat belt on your sofa, you need to wear a crash helmet and a diaper. [laughs] I tell ya, this next episode (entitled “Ozymandias”), I think for my money, is the best episode we ever had had or ever will have. It was written by Moira Walley-Beckett and directed by Rian Johnson.
I think people are going to have trouble breathing after this thing airs. It’s tremendous and it’s a great, great hour of television and I’m as proud as I can be of the two episodes that air after that one and both of them are a hell of a wild ride, too. I couldn’t be more proud of these final eight episodes or these last three episodes. I think they’re going to leave us with some sleepless nights.”
Needless to say, there was a lot of hype going into this episode, maybe a little too much. To say “Ozymandias” lived up to it, though, would be a severe understatement. If by “trouble breathing” Gilligan meant “holding your breath for an hour and biting off all of your fingernails and turning your Twitter feed into a constant flow of ‘OH MY GOD HOLY SHIT’ tweets and STARING OPEN-MOUTHED AT THE TELEVISION FOR 30 MINUTES AFTER THE EPISODE ENDED,” then yes, he was right.