TV

What Is Ozymandias? 'Breaking Bad' Episode Title, Explained

09/17/2013 12:09 EDT
AP
This image released by AMC shows Bryan Cranston as Walter White, left, and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in a scene from "Breaking Bad." (AP Photo/AMC, Frank Ockenfels )

*** Contains spoilers. Do not read unless you've seen Season 5, Episode 14 of "Breaking Bad" ***

The latest "Breaking Bad" episode is certainly provoking some questions, and not just in terms of plot or development.

What, or who, is Ozymandias? And why is that the episode title?

To start, "Ozymandias" is a sonnet written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which was published in 1818:

I met a traveller 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.

(Hear Bryan Cranston recite the poem)

Aside from the desert and wasteland imagery, which is obviously applicable to the scene(s) in the desert with Walt and Jesse, there is clear reference in this poem to a fallen and disgraced leader, and the crumbling of a once-powerful empire.

In Season 5, Episode 14 of "Breaking Bad," Walt collapses into the desert sand, mouth agape, much like the disintegrating statue described in the sonnet. "Ozymandias" is a Greek transliteration of the name Ramesses II (also: Ramses II), who was the third Egyptian pharoah. He had one of the longest reigns of any pharoah, and was key to ancient Egyptian infrastructure, military and influence. At about 150 years after Ramesses' death, the Egyptian empire fell.

So even the mightiest leaders fall, and we're witnessing the horrifying decline of Walt on "Breaking Bad."

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