So with at least another year before we're likely to see the final season, here are some thoughts on how the characters might pan out. They've talked about wanting to give the characters good endings but what are these endings to be?
I'm not inclined to believe most of them will die, except Mike as he's already dead and of course at some point I reckon we'll see some kind of montage showing the body count of BCS characters who die in BB which is a fairly prodigious list - Hank, Gomez, Domingo, Hector, Gus, Schuler, Tyrus, Victor, the cousins, Gale, Tuco, Lydia, Bolsa, Eladio... and that's just the ones we know about! Of course, BB killed off Hank and Walt and that precedent is there for characters like Kim, Nacho and Jimmy. But I also think in some ways, Hank's ending was actually positive for him in that he died a hero having solved the case of his life. If he'd lived, his career would have been over, his family in pieces... for the man who was terrified of the violence that came with his job, he ultimately did die the man he thought he was. This is a show about characters keeping going and trying to come to terms with the past.
Nacho... if his dad dies, it's going to be very bleak. But if Nacho dies, it's going to be very depressing for his dad. Plus, if he dies in some grand, redemptive gesture, does that really fit the show's themes about how hard and awful it is to climb your way to respect? I do feel like Nacho has a Jesse path ahead of him... he's going to go through hell but live. In some ways, if his dad is dead, it means he no longer has a moral compass to orientate himself and needs to figure out a way forward on his own... but I don't know how we'd see that.
Mike... man, what is a good ending for Mike given that we know he dies and is then "vanished"? I reckon the whole thing is planned. The person flipping at the right time, the non-Saul lawyer being involved... it feels like there's room here to retcon this so that Mike actually plans his own exit, perhaps drawing Walt's attention so that Saul can do something. I don't think his actual death was intended but I think it was probably, by this point, factored in. Also... is leaving a massive great pile of blood money in a box for Kayleigh really the way he comes back from "breaking" his boy? It feels more like the smoking gun that's been left on purpose because the DEA know he's involved but can't prove he's involved. Maybe, like the Dave Clark play, the DEA have been given all the information they need only for a key weakness in the case to be exposed later on causing the case to topple like a house of cards and allowing Kayleigh to keep at least something.
To me, the scene that needs to happen for Mike with regard to Kayleigh is the one Walt had with Skyler in "Felina": "I did it for me." I doubt it could be with Kayleigh herself unless by a letter which isn't the show's style generally (although it might make a nice mirror to Chuck's). However, multiple times, Mike has run away from opportunities to support Kayleigh and Stacey - blowing off the support group, blowing up at Kayleigh - and has levelled himself out by earning money in their name. Was this what she needed or wanted? Like Matty, Kayleigh is an innocent who puts Mike on a pedestal. Does Mike subconsciously want Kayleigh to think badly of him as a kind of punishment?
Howard... I really like Howard but then I really liked Hank who was similarly set up as the character you'd dislike but shown to be quite a warm and decent person. I think the show can't end before Jimmy and Kim metaphorically (and, god knows, maybe literally) burn HHM to the ground. I'd kind of love to see Howard able to pick himself and start again as he always wanted to do and show that resilience, that he can still be happy and not carry a grudge and continue to learn and grow. But for this ending to be earned, he'd really have to go through some hell first and I'm not sure whether they're as interested in Howard any more as a character in his own right... just like Marie who really ceased to have any role of note after she learned of Hank's death.
One sidenote... the show tries to be timeless and Vince Gilligan talked about not wanting the show to be too topical. However, a subconscious backdrop to "Breaking Bad" at the very start was the financial crash and the idea that people were struggling. Of course, it was conceived and probably shot before the credit crunch so I don't for a second think it was an intentional link but nonetheless I think it added a frisson of relevance to Walt's situation. I wouldn't normally expect this to factor in one iota to BCS except for two things... one, Kim's experience in banking and the centrality for all these seasons of the growth of Mesa Verde. If we collide into the BB timeline, we're also going to collide into a much tougher, more cutthroat situation for Mesa Verde. Secondly, Peter Gould also wrote "Too Big to Fail" about this very era so it's territory he knew well. The downside is still that the show has a long record of using intrinsic motivations near-exclusively -- even Walt's lack of money was superseded as his primary motivation by the end of episode 4. However, they do sometimes use bad luck to heighten an already-dramatic situation (e.g. Ted's trip).
Kim... I've always thought she ends up working with the elderly. At first I thought the fact that she took Jimmy's contact list in the S3 finale was a clue but I'm not sure she can come out of this still a lawyer. I could see her working in an old people's home though. Dirt poor but fulfilled.
And then there's Jimmy - what's a satisfying ending for him? It seems to me that Jimmy's original sin was when he was saved from prison. He even says in the S1 finale that the Chicago sunroof was when it all went wrong and that's what he's been paying for ever since. But he never paid for it. Chuck saved him but then felt a kind of ownership and the more Jimmy tried to repay that debt, the further he travelled from who he really is and ironically the more Chuck despised him. Of course, if Chuck hadn't saved Jimmy, Jimmy would doubtless have slipped further into criminality at a much earlier stage. Still, if Jimmy is to have a redemptive ending (and I feel that is where it's going), it needs to be on the back of having gone much further S5 Gene to seek redemption. Perhaps having some grand play that would clear him of all BB charges and then letting the opportunity pass because he does, ultimately, deserve to pay for his crimes. Luckily, because the show is set so far back in the past now, it would be quite possible to flash forward to the 2020s and have Jimmy coming out of prison having served a decade or more (though with so many crimes, it's difficult to imagine him ever getting free if he made an honest and full confession). On the other hand, an externally-imposed method of redemption doesn't seem like these writers... I almost wonder if Gene will emerge from hiding to discover that the case against him has collapsed somehow, giving him his life back. With no Chuck and possibly no Kim, no ability to practise law and no need to hide, what would a tabula rasa Jimmy make of his life? I can't see his crimes vanishing though, even with some Kim magic, which means if he's not in prison, can he genuinely seek redemption for crimes he's still running away from?