Tickle Me Red: The Significance of Color in The Walking Dead (and Breaking Bad)

Extra little warning/disclaimer today: This post not only contains SPOILERS for The Walking Dead, but for Breaking Bad as well!!

If you are a Breaking Bad fan, and also a fan of examining shows on a fairly detailed level, then I’m sure you’ve heard all about the significance of color that was painstakingly maintained throughout all 5 seasons.

6070273_origBreaking Bad is a show that explores the evolution of one man: Walter White (whose last name also happens to be a color). As Walter so eloquently states in the pilot episode, his life, like the chemistry he loves, is “the study of change.” This change is emulated not only through Walter himself, but through the characters who surround him and the colors they wear as the story progresses. This website provides an amazingly detailed color chart that tracks the outfits worn by the main characters throughout the series, reflecting their internal changes/foreshadowing external events: http://tdylf.com/2013/08/11/infographic-colorizing-walter-whites-decay/

And while that level of dedication to color and its significance may not be achieved in every show on television, it is certainly an important motif within The Walking Dead, particularly in season 5 in reference to the color red.

In Breaking Bad, the color red was a way to symbolize aggression and violence (which is why Jesse Pinkman wore a lot of red in those first few seasons). In The Walking Dead, there is a similar connotation associated with the color red, and it appears in several key scenes throughout the series, beginning near the end of season 4. The first instance is that of the red boxcar that Rick’s group is forced into by the people of Terminus; the people who planned to…ermm…eat them. I’d say that’s some pretty violent intent. And in relation to this, when Rick’s group is being questioned as to the location of their weapons by the leader, Gareth, Rick references an machete with a red handle that he promises he will use to put Gareth in the ground. And lo and behold, another brutal, vicious scene doused in literal red occurs when Rick makes good on that very promise just a few episodes later.

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Perhaps the most significant instance of the color red occurred in the season 5 finale with the reoccurrence of a red balloon. Rick first spots the balloon grasped firmly in the hand of a child as he walks along the streets of Alexandria. It reappears again, this time floating through the air. And this time, Rick is in the process of beating Pete (Jessie’s abusive husband) to a bloody pulp on the sidewalk.

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The release of that red balloon directly coincides with Rick’s release of his anger and aggression, and as it floats away, so do the last dredges of the people of Alexandria’s innocence.

Some point to the idea that this ‘red’ motif has been building for quite some time now, perhaps as far back as season 3 when Morgan (the man who initially saved Rick’s life at the beginning of the apocalypse) made a crazed speech about the fact that all he saw was red. So perhaps the appearance of the color serves to point to Morgan’s eventual return in addition to fleshing out some of the emotions and actions of our beloved characters as they battle this brutal world and attempt to find peace in a sea of red, red, red.

Double whammy. (And here’s the video for that amazing speech:)

And here’s another little kernel of significance to think about for those Breaking Bad and TWD fans (BE WARNED: BIG SPOILERS FOR BREAKING BAD START NOW):

In both The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, when someone takes a life, they shave their head. We see it in the first season of Breaking Bad when Walt kills Krazy 8. Jesse shaves not long after killing Gail. Mike Ehrmantraut is bald from the beginning, seeing as he’s already been in the game a while when we meet him. And in Gus’s flashback, before he’d really entered the drug world, he had a pretty nice mop. However, the Gus Fring that we know (the one fully embedded into the violence and ugliness of the drug world) has a much closer crop. He’s still got some hair though, perhaps as part of his front to convince the rest of the world that he’s still a decent guy.

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 9.12.34 PM  episode-8-gus-fring  vs   ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Similarly, in The Walking Dead, Shane shaves his head right after shooting Otis in the leg so that he could make his escape (while Otis ‘distracts’ the walkers with his death). To me, this is a literal representation of the idea that when you kill another man (or woman), you lose a part of yourself in the process. It is interesting, then, that characters like Rick, Daryl, and Carl have maintained some nice, long locks as the seasons have progressed. Sure, on a practical level this makes sense: not much demand for a barber in the middle of the apocalypse. But maybe it also signifies something about these characters: the idea that as the world falls into chaos, these men have managed to adapt and find their way in this new world, discovering parts of themselves that they never realized existed until now.

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Tickle Me Red: The Significance of Color in The Walking Dead (and Breaking Bad)

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