Red, white, and – blue? When studying colour ruins TV

Followers of this blog and my research will know that I’m into looking at the significance of the colour triad red, white, black, and how it crops up across human history in art, architecture, myth, legend and other places like a leitmotif. It’s everywhere and means many things.

Spoilers for Game of Thrones and Ashes to Ashes below the line.

Studying this colour triad *spoils* things. For example, it was obvious to me that Jon Snow was seriously important when he bled his red blood into the snow surrounded by crows at the close of Game of Thrones series five. Come on, it’s a massive mythology trope, these three colours in that pattern mean the person is Very Import and and probably possessing of perfect attributes.

Image result for jon snow death

Dear Jon Snow, you died in too symbolic a manner and I was spoiled for your resurrection and significance to the plot. 

But recently I’ve been thinking about colour palettes in other media, and remembered how I knew Something Was Going On when watching the final series of Ashes to Ashes in 2010. I had noticed that, in basically every shot of every episode in the final series, that the colours white, red, and blue were very prominently featured, sometimes the *only* colours present. This bugged me for the entire series, and made me theorise all sorts of nonsense, until I settled that it likely had something to do with the Union Jack, and perhaps some time that made it significant, like a jubilee?

Image result for ashes to ashes series three screencaps

What’s red, white, and black blue all over? Most of series three of Ashes to Ashes, that’s what.

By the close of the series it was revealed that Gene Hunt, perhaps the least likely guardian angel in the history of literary fiction, was the locus of a kind of Fiddler’s Green for coppers, where his strong personality and sense that he’d gone before his time kept him around to help other officers who’d died in the line of duty come to terms with their death and finally be at peace. Psychopomp in a lounge suit, bringing them to the other side. In a pub. Which sounds fantastic to me.

What did this have to do with the colour palette?

Gene Hunt was killed by being shot on Coronation Day, 1953, in a room full of flags and photos of the young Queen, and buried anonymously in a field. The recurring theme of the colours red, white, and blue were pointing to his hold over the limbo-world wearing thin due to outside influence in the form of “devil” Jim Keats and fellow dead-cop Alex Drake’s poking about into his mysterious history; the trauma of of his death (that he admits he can only sometimes barely remember, along with his “real” life) becomes personified by the world around him. His bloody end, and importantly the location it happened in, is bleeding out into his carefully-curated world. It’s the spirit of place of his death vs the strength of will of his own persona fighting over the afterlife.

At the time this vindicated my “look everything is only *these* colours!” ramblings, and I appreciated the series all the more. Colour palettes are used in film and television as a shortcut to convey many things, and this one, being very close to my beloved red/white/black obsession, struck a chord. I realised that if I had watched this series now, mid-way through my work into colour, I would have viewed it slightly differently. Not only would I have know that Something was Going On, I would have suspected that it had something to do with the significance and mythological nature of Gene Hunt. Colours in the preceding series, Life on Mars, were also obviously significant – the bold, bright, rich colours of the scenes in “1973” contrasted to the dull, washed-out world of 2008. A more obvious meaning, and one that offered less clues to the true nature of “1973” and the characters within it – Sam Tyler had just fallen out with his over-organised, paperwork filled, loveless life in 2008, and the action-packed afterlife had more appeal; enough for him to commit suicide to return to it. Colours here told of two worlds separated by emotional attachments to them, but offered no hints as to what they actually *meant* – unlike Ashes to Ashes’ vital visual clues.

The moral of the story is, clearly, that academia can lead to spoilers for your favourite television shows. Watch with care.






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