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The Walking Dead 10.20 Review – ‘Splinter’

March 22, 2021 | Posted by Katie Hallahan
The Walking Dead - Splinter Khary Payton as Ezekiel - The Walking Dead _ Season 10, Episode 20 - Photo Credit: Josh Stringer/AMC
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The Walking Dead 10.20 Review – ‘Splinter’  

This week on The Walking Dead, Eugene, Ezekiel, Yumiko, and Princess are captured by the stormtroopers, and Princess deals with her fear and conflicting thoughts on how to handle the situation in a way that leaves her questioning what’s real and what’s not.

The plot! After the away team group is grabbed by the stormtrooper-esque soldiers, they’re all thrown into empty train cars, separately. We stick with Princess, who is immediately feeling scared and isolated, but soon finds a crack in one wall that looks just barely into the next car over. She can hear Yumiko, who has suffered a head injury and is struggling to stay awake, and tries to keep her awake by telling her a story of her youth that shines a light on the abusive family she came from. Yumiko tells her to do what the soldiers tell her, to not make trouble. Yumiko is taken by the soldiers, and the following day Princess finds a nailed on panel on the other end of the car. Using this to step outside, she’s able to talk to Eugene in the car coupled to hers. He also urges Princess to get back to her car, to not give them any reason to not be trusted, as he believes that Stephanie didn’t lead him astray. Princess goes back and is taken for interrogation herself–which includes being stripped, washed or rinsed, and then actually interrogated. She answers a few things but keeps asking what’s happened to Yumiko and if she’s okay, and eventually her interrogator calls her a bitch, hits her jaw hard, and sends her back to her car. She finds that Eugene is gone when she next checks, and as she despairs over what to do, Ezekiel pulls open a roof hatch and drops in, having apparently also gotten loose. They talk about what’s going on, debate if they should trust these people or not, with Princess this time thinking they should work with these people, not make things worse, reiterating what Eugene and Yumiko said to hear, while Ezekiel is arguing that they need to do something. Their talk is interrupted when a soldier comes to bring her food, only to be punched out by Ezekiel. They try to get answers, but Ezekiel ends up beating the hell out of the guy, which leads to Princess realizing that he isn’t there at all. It’s only her and the soldier, and every interaction she’s had with her friends since being locked in has only been in her head. She cuffs the soldier and almost runs off on her own, but has another talk with Head!Ezekiel in which she says no, they came back for me, I’m going back for them. She frees the soldier, answers his questions and finally sees her friends for real–all with bags over their heads in the yard, hands tied behind their backs and armed soldiers guarding them, just before a bag is dropped on her head as well.

Our first step inside Princess’s point of view was fascinating. First, Paola Lázaro continues to do an amazing job as Princess. She’s perfectly captured the nervous, manic, cheerful, vulnerable, fill-the-room personality of Princess in a way that’s nuanced and believable. She’s full of the kind of bluster that can be convincing at first but can also easily be seen as the cover-up it is. And when we get the insight into Princess’s life before now, it’s not hard to understand why she is the way she is.

It’s clearly her nature to be friendly and cheerful, but it’s also there because she’s been starved for affection and love, especially of the familial variety. With a physically abusive stepfather and a mother who sided with him instead of protecting her own daughter, Princess has also had to be a survivor since long before the Apocalypse hit. In addition to that, we learn her mother left her, probably sometime after the apocalypse started.

Going back to when we first met her, she told the Alexandrians that she hadn’t seen anyone in over a year–and also that she hadn’t ever hallucinated before, but she didn’t seem to think it was impossible that she might! But now we learn that she’s been on her own, really, for much, much longer, abused by and left by multiple people she loved and trusted. And now, she’s so scared of this group leaving her that’s she haunted by the thought she might do something to screw this up and make things worse. So worried that her new friends are all manifesting as hallucinations with whom she is debating what she should do, who they can trust, and what will help or hinder their situation. Her thoughts dwell on the fight when they were all taken and how things went wrong, seemingly, after her own failed attempt to get one of the soldier’s guns. It was only then, in her view, that Yumiko tried to get to her and got the butt of a gun to the head. It was only then that the soldiers said to separate them all. To Princess, who spent her formative years being punished and abused for things not her fault and outside of her control, this one small action must be the reason it’s all going to shit now.

The fact that other small parallels to that abuse show up can’t help the matter–the splinter she gets trying to escape a small, enclosed space. The brutal hit to the face, in roughly the same place her stepfather hit her and fractured her jaw. All while these questions that don’t make sense to her are being asked of her. It would be a traumatic situation for anyone, but for Princess it hits those established triggers right on the head. And no doubt the not-real conversations she has with Yumiko and Eugene are ones she had with herself as a kid: don’t do anything, don’t say anything, don’t make it worse. Opposing that is her fierce spirit, her loyalty, her strength and her more adult perspective that she should stand up for herself and her friends. That comes in when she imagines Ezekiel, who wants to fight back in a way that is very unlike the man we as viewers know. When pressed with physical violence again, she’s ready this time, maybe too ready, given how viciously she beats the guard before it clicks that it’s not Ezekiel at all but her who’s doing this.

It’s interesting that she would hallucinate people she’s just met, but beyond the uninteresting reason that casting is limited due to COVID restrictions, it does make some sense when you think about what we’ve learned about her. She’s had very few people in her life who stuck around. In her talk with Head!Ezekiel by the gate, she points out that these people came back for her, even after she screwed up and put them in danger. They came back and gave her a chance, they invited her to come with them. These are the first people in a long time, maybe the first people ever, to do that. To accept her as who she is, mistakes and all, and instead welcomed her genuine spirit. So she’s not going to be the one who walks away from them.

Unfortunately, the soldiers may or may not be so deserving of their collective trust, as after Princess answers the questions and frees the soldier, he reveals her friends with bags over their heads, hands tied, looking practically like they’re about to be executed. I get that this new group may have some standard operating procedures and all, but they sure could use a measure more of mercy and empathy in said procedures. There are some things the rookie soldier says that raise questions, like him being on probation, how he’s not that high up in the chain, how he’ll be screwed for getting beat up by her. But with his turn at the end, it’s hard to know how much of that was true at the same time, though the motto he quoted about a refuge for all who come to their gates sounds real. Either way, it’ll be a while until we find out, it seems!

So, what did you think of the episode? Of getting to know Princess better? When did you click to the fact that these interactions were all in her head? (For me, I started to wonder partway in, but when Ezekiel showed up, I was pretty certain it wasn’t real.) And what do you think of this new group?

Lastly, some fun trivia I picked up from Talking Dead: This was the first ever episode of The Walking Dead where no one, not even a walker, was killed!

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
I really enjoyed this episode. We get a look at the new group we're dealing with, what they're like, how they operate, while also getting an in-depth look at Princess. Who she is, what she's been through, how her mind works. She continues to be a unique and interesting character, amazingly acted by Paola Lázaro, who carries this episode beautifully.