The black and white version of the Walking Dead Pilot episode successfully evokes the look and feel of a live-action comic. There is something very strange about seeing a modern TV show that is done completely in black and white. You know it’s from our own era, but the lack of color gives the show a very timeless quality. This lack of color adds significantly to sense of desolation and isolation Rick must feel now that he’s living in this post-apocalyptic world. It also adds to the spookiness and the overall morbid tone of the show.
You’d think that by removing the color it wouldn’t make the pilot that much more impactfu—“They’ve taken out the color, so what?”—but it really does. It adds something unique to the overall tone and feel of the show. When all you’re left with is a black and white palette, evocative soundscapes, and a little bit of dialogue, you get a much better feel for the show and a better understanding of who the characters really are. Once Rick stumbles up the hospital’s main corridor, and the audience sees the doors marked “Don’t open; dead inside”, you realize that this episode truly is the graphic novel brought to life, from page to screen in a way that the colorized version just couldn’t achieve.
An early scene where Rick is almost fatally shot by a fugitive is a lot scarier because you can’t see exactly where he’s been hit. You don’t have that visual cue of “Oh, there’s red right there, that’s where he’s bleeding.” All you can see is Shane pressing on his injury to stop the bleeding. It makes it more disquieting because you’re not entirely sure how bad things are. You’re just left to wonder. The viewer is used to having those visual color cues, but the lack of color really doesn’t detract. It makes it sadder because you instinctively know without that color saturation the gravity of what has occurred, and keeps occurring. The colorization just makes the world of The Walking Dead look more like it’s a part of our own world.
We’d argue that the black and white is most effective in this episode during scenes of extreme violence and gore. The lack of color actually has a bigger impact in violent scenes. One of the best examples of this is during the scene when Rick has just woken up in the now-abandoned hospital, and discovers a woman’s corpse lying in the hallway, completely eviscerated. During this scene there is a fluorescent light behind Rick’s head that keeps flickering on and off. The flickering of the light builds much needed tension, and is much more effective in black and white than it is in color. The lack of color brings an urgent sense of desperateness, a world gone to hell. The blood, devastation and destruction in the hospital becomes much more eerie and frightening when the audience is solely reliant on a very limited shade palette.
There is something about black and white that forces the viewer to pay more attention, to notice the little details that might otherwise be missed. The episode’s content is not spoon fed to the audience. You, the viewer, have to pay attention and figure out for yourself what it all means. Therein lies the brilliance of the black and white episode. Like its graphic novel predecessor, it’s there to entertain us, but it’s also there to make us think about what we’ve just experienced.
Black & White Pilot Observations:
- Why is Shane wearing a number 22 pendant? You can see it at the 52 minute mark when he’s talking with Laurie in the tent. Was this a sign of things to come in Season 2?
- If the little zombie girl’s reasoning and humanity has been wiped away by the virus, how does she know to pick up her teddy bear?
- The scene where Rick rides into the now-abandoned Atlanta on his horse is much more epic in black and white.
- Was anyone else a little freaked out that bald zombie bus guy looked like Billy Corgan?
What did you think of the black and white version of The Walking Dead pilot?