by Transmute Jun
Warning: this review contains multiple spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 10, Episode 20.
The Walking Dead has explored the concept of mental illness before. Lizzie killed her sister, Meeka, because her mind couldn’t grapple with the concept of people living after death. Rick talked to his dead wife on the telephone and saw her walking around the prison. Carol has gone through many periods of depression and intent focus on certain goals, causing her to make numerous irrational decisions. Morgan had so many personality changes due to trauma in his life that viewers were never certain which way he was going to swing. Yet this week’s episode focused on the long-term mental effects of the zombie apocalypse, in a way that had not previously been addressed.
Princess has been living alone for a long time, to the point that she isn’t even certain of her own age. She was a teenager at the time the dead began to rise, and while she was old enough to protect herself, she was young enough to be permanently scarred by what she experienced. Add to that the lack of human contact for so long, and it is understandable that she is used to speaking to herself and imagining others speaking to her. Human beings are naturally social animals, and isolation is often a punishment (such as solitary confinement in prisons). Princess was alone for so long that she was thrilled and immediately accepting when she came across Ezekiel, Eugene and Yumiko. She has only known them for a week, but she bonded with them nearly instantly, and was willing to give up the home that she had made for herself in an instant, if only to be able to stay with others. Viewers who have been isolated under COVID restrictions and lockdowns for the past year probably do not find it difficult to empathize with Princess’ frame of mind.
Knowing all of this, it is completely understandable that Princess reverted to these kinds of coping techniques when she was physically abused (as she had been by her stepfather as a teenager) and isolated. Yet the extent of Princess’ imaginings was not evident until the moment the writers chose to reveal the schism in her mind. Princess’ more aggressive side (that wanted to escape) was represented by Ezekiel, with the logical and hopeful portion embodied by Eugene. Yumiko’s voice fueled Princess’ fears, while Princess herself held onto the most vulnerable side of her personality. The episode’s title, Splinter, referred not only to the splinter in her finger, but to the splinter in her thoughts. Princess said that the splinter was driving her crazy, and that she had previously had one that had gotten infected. Yet the splinter came out when she was able to fight off the frightened imaginings of her mind and she had the opportunity to escape. Princess chose to go back because she couldn’t leave her friends behind, and ultimately, that is what righted the misalignment in her mind and allowed her to do the ‘right thing’.
Of course, the underlying question in all of this is the intentions of these soldiers. To some extent, their approach is understandable. They are the protectors of a community that has had bad experiences with ‘first contact’ before. This is something the people from Alexandria could understand, having been burned in the past, and having closed their doors to outsiders after their experiences with groups such as the Saviors and the Whisperers. Aaron’s comment in last week’s episode that he felt that it was time once again to go out and look for new people to join the community was telling, and it is easy to imagine the Alexandrians being on the other side of Princess’ interrogation.
Yet this new group is far more organized than the Alexandrians, and clearly has more of a plan. They have a set location to ‘greet’ newcomers, give them a shower (Are they afraid of body odor?) and ask them questions not dissimilar from the ones Deanna asked when Team Rick first arrived in Virginia. Even the bags over the heads could be explained if these soldiers only wanted to keep the location of their group’s home a secret. It’s almost enough to allow viewers to think that this bunch of Stormtrooper-wannabes might be good guys… until they are shown being so aggressive, overly rough with Yumiko and smacking Princess hard enough to crack her jaw. Perhaps someone just had an ‘itchy trigger finger’, or maybe it was indicative of a less tolerant, more totalitarian society, where rules must be followed at all costs. Viewers will likely have to wait until Season 11 to learn more about this group, and their intentions toward Eugene’s team.
One interesting thing to note: this is the first episode in Walking Dead’s history where no one died, not even a walker. And technically there weren’t even any walkers (since the two Princess saw with Ezekiel were in her mind). The fact that the episode was compelling without these ‘standard’ aspects (and that I didn’t even miss them while watching) of the show is notable.
Last week’s episode was disappointing and depressing, highlighting Gabriel’s continual mental decline, yet this episode was more hopeful, showing Princess overcoming similar thoughts regarding the trustworthiness of others. I am optimistic for the remaining two episodes of this extended season.
For those who play the AMC Walking Dead mobile games, this week’s Walking Dead: No Man’s Land season episode shows Princess and ‘Ezekiel’ fighting walkers on both sides of the fence (to escape the train yard). Walking Dead: Our World is running a Princess Splinter event, where playing Princess encounters with Yumiko, Eugene or Ezekiel will allow players to unlock Princess as a playable character.
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