Aaron Paul, Bryan Cranston

The first half of Breaking Bad's fifth season may have ended with DEA agent Hank (Dean Norris) finally connecting the dots about his meth-cooking brother-in-law Walter White (Bryan Cranston), but that may not be Walt's biggest problem.

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Throughout the AMC drama's run, Walt has counted on his partner-in-crime Jesse (Aaron Paul) to stand by his side through good times and bad — even if Walt had to manipulate his surrogate son in the process. But perhaps the most important scene in the finale was the one between Walt and Jesse, as they remembered the "good old days" and seemingly said their goodbyes.

"That last scene had a very bittersweet feel, a very nostalgic feel to it, for me and for our writers," creator and executive producer Vince Gilligan told reporters Monday. "There was a more innocent time on this show, and they are thinking about that. And what they're essentially saying is that those days are over and they can never be returned to."

Indeed, at the end of that scene — during which Walt gave Jesse a duffel bag full of cash, his cut of the business even though Jesse walked away in the previous episode — Jesse revealed he'd been carrying a gun in his waistband in case Walt was looking to off Jesse as another "loose end." Although Gilligan concedes that Jesse still has a large role to play in the final eight episodes, he suggests a notable shift in their relationship.

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"Jesse is coming into his own," Gilligan said. "The partnership does seem to be fractured; there's no repairing the fracture ... He doesn't trust his former partner as far as he can throw him. ... Going forward it's less about the assistant or the acolyte attending to the master or the mentor and more about [former] partners on an equal footing. They are very much closer to being equals than they've ever been before."

Then again, will Walt even need Jesse? After all, once Walt saw the pile of money he'd made and realized his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) had no reasonable way to launder it, he told Skyler he too was "out." Is this just another of Walt's masterful lies?

"We can either take him at his word or not," Gilligan teased. "But I tend to believe, personally, he was telling the truth when he told her that. Have we witnessed him cooking his last batch? Hard to say. ... But it's looking like he's out of the business for sure."

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Perhaps hanging over all of Walt's recent actions, however, is the possibility that his cancer has returned. In the finale, Walt underwent a full-body scan, but the results of which were never revealed. Was there bad news that preceded Walt's change of heart with Jesse and Skyler? "We really try never to have a scene in our show that adds up to nothing," Gilligan said. "Every scene is important. [But] there were probably a lot of good reasons for Walt to walk into the kitchen and say to his wife, 'I'm out.'"

Although fans are eager to see Hank's reaction to learning Walt's secret, Gilligan isn't promising that the final eight episodes will pick up right where the show left off. Given the season-starting flash-forward that takes place on Walt's 52nd birthday, Gilligan said to expect a time-jump at some point. And as for how it all ends, Gilligan still hasn't got that exactly nailed down. But he promises showmanship before all else.

"We are going to swing for the fences in these final eight episodes," he said. "We now have freedom, carte blanche to ... really go for it and that is what we intend to do."

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And will Walt make it out alive or does he have to be punished? "He doesn't have to," Gilligan said. "People get away with murder every day. Someone in real life is getting away with murder as we speak. ... Walt could end no differently than that. He could get away with the whole thing.

"He's a bad guy," Gilligan continued. "But because he's smart and has worked hard and feels the things he feels so deeply, we grudgingly respect him ... Some days I'm rooting for him, some days I want to see him hit by a car. ... I guess the question more precisely becomes, 'How satisfying would that be? What would satisfy the audience at the end of it all?' [But] is the 'satisfying' way the right way?"

Breaking Bad returns for its final episodes in summer 2013.