Princess (Paola Lázaro) fights captivity and past trauma in Splinter.
Princess (Paola Lázaro) fights captivity and past trauma in Splinter.
(Photo: AMC / The Walking Dead)

This review contains major spoilers for episode 1020 of The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead has always been about the various forms of trauma.  How living through an apocalypse scars you, and how scars obtained prior to the apocalypse helps you survive it.  In a Princess heavy episode, we are introduced to a new group that have a penchant for dressing up like sci-fi movie soldiers.  With matching armor, this new group, the Commonwealth, is clearly organized and resourceful.  Out of the gate Princess fights the soldiers.  Yumiko attempts to intervene, and she gets the shoulder end of a rifle to the face for her trouble. In the aftermath, Princess must deal with past trauma and her situation.

Railway Car of Convenience

The soldiers throw Princess into a railway car and lock her in.  Princess quickly establishes a connection to a groggy Yumiko in the next car.  Worried about Yumiko’s concussion, Princess picks at the hole in the wall between her car and Yumiko’s next door and tells the tale of a splinter she got as a child when she had picked at a similar board.  Princess tells Yumiko about her abusive childhood, and how her mother had failed to deal with Princess’ infected hand from the splinter.  It is a little alarming that Yumiko does not have much of a response to this story of trauma.   

Before long, sci-fi soldiers haul Yumiko away.  Princess notices a plywood board in the opposite corner, and she pries it off the wall.  Behind the board is a hole to the outside.  Princess slips outside and looks through the grate of the next car at Eugene.  All logic and reason, Eugene urges Princess to stop fighting and play along with the soldiers.  Eugene maintains that he has faith in the woman he had befriended on the radio.  Based on past experience, Princess disagrees, but at Eugene’s insistence, she relents and returns to her car rather than make a run for it.

A mysterious soldier interrogates Princess.
A mysterious soldier interrogates Princess.
(Photo: AMC / The Walking Dead)


When the soldiers return for Princess, she demands to see Yumiko.  All the soldiers offer is a Silkwood type shower and thorough body review for bite marks.  While Princess continues to demand to see her friend to confirm that Yumiko is okay, one soldier insists on an interrogation.  Princess offers few answers beyond the fact that she had been in Pittsburgh during “the fall.”  Frustrated, the soldier backhands Princess across the face, and he sends her back to her railway car.

Princess exits through the hole at the back of her railway car to talk to Eugene, but he is gone.  Unsure what to do, Princess returns to her car.  There are loud thumps above.  A hatch on the roof opens, and Ezekiel jumps inside.  Ezekiel provides fatherly comfort.  When Princess notes that the soldier had smacked her cheek in a spot that had previously been fractured, Ezekiel softens.

“No one is going to hurt you anymore.  Not while I’m here,” Ezekiel vows.  Princess flips her arguments, and now Ezekiel is the one advocating that they should run.  When Princess maintains that they need to rescue Eugene and Yumiko, Ezekiel yells that they are his friends.  Hurt, Princess lowers her head.  Ezekiel apologizes, and he says he acted out of fear.

When a soldier delivers a plate of food, Ezekiel knocks the man out.  Ezekiel uses the soldier’s handcuffs to bind the soldier, and then remove his helmet.  A round of good cop, bad cop ensues, and the soldier argues, “Maybe we’re not the bad guys.”  Ezekiel goes very bad cop, and Princess begs Ezekiel not to beat the man to death.  In flashes, Princess sees the truth.  There is no Ezekiel.  Princess looks at her bloody hands, and she makes a break for it.  After a brief conversation with a hallucinated version of Ezekiel and his best walker buddies at the fence line, Princess decides that she can’t leave her new friends behind.

Ezekiel (Khary Payton) drops into Princess' rail car.
Ezekiel (Khary Payton) drops in to talk to fellow captive, Princess.
(Photo: AMC / The Walking Dead)


Mental health is not a subject that has been addressed much on the show.  Sure there has been sociopathy and plenty of PTSD from trauma, but not a lot of talk about other conditions.  I can’t imagine anyone in this world that would not have some level of depression, but clinically diagnosed issues, and chemical imbalances in particular, are not issues that could be treated in an apocalypse.  There have certainly been characters with mental illness, but this is not a world with the luxury of any form of treatment.

Princess is a bit of a wild card in more ways than one.  Princess is a new character, so we don’t know what her baseline is for behavior.  When introduced, Princess was living alone.  Was the isolation making her unstable?  Or was Princess always a little erratic?  This episode hints at a past full of abuse and misery, but it also suggests that on top of that, that Princess has some underlying mental illness.

What we’ve learned about Princess is that she is desperate not to be alone any more, but not so desperate that she is willing to trust just anyone.  At the same time, we also learned that Princess doesn’t understand when and how to trust other people.  In her past, Princess’ family had cast her aside and abused her.  Princess still wants to trust, and she still does not know who to trust other than herself. 

Still, Princess has acquired some affinity for Yumiko, Ezekiel, and Eugene, and from the moment Princess is locked in a railway car, her drive is to both protect and reunite with her new friends.  Throughout the episode Princess opens up to Yumiko about her abusive stepfather and indifferent mother, and she allows Ezekiel to comfort her through the recounting of her pre-apocalypse trauma.  But after beating the soldier, Princess looks at the railway car and realizes that there is no hole into Yumiko’s car or one at the back that leads outside.  None of that was real.


But what is real?  What is only in the mind?  Princess readily admits that she has issues.  “I mean there’s the ADHD, the anxiety, the PTSD, the depression, the crushing loneliness and the active imagination that helps me cope with all of that,” Princess confesses.  

When Princess rattles off the state capitals to calm her nerves, it is clear that she has learned tools to deal with her anxiety and past trauma.  Like most people in this world, some of Princess’ problems could have been derived from the apocalypse itself.  “Maybe that’s the only sane response to an insane world,” Princess says.  Just like some of Princess’ mental issues were a sane response to her abusive childhood.  

But is this all about mental illness and trauma?  The other possibility is that the soldiers dosed Princess with a drug.  As well equipped soldiers, they are likely to have some training in interrogation techniques.  Could all that Princess imagined have been part of her disorders?  Or did the soldiers use Princess’ trauma coupled with medication to break her and get answers?  The soldier Princess beat bloody certainly seemed to know what he was doing.  In the end, we are just as confused as Princess, and we will have to wait for our own answers.

Worth Watching?

Definitely.  I’m kind of enjoying the little character studies we have been getting in the back half of this season.  This one worked particularly well as what we learned about Princess was so tied to the plot.  On top of that, the episode moved quickly.  With a little mystery, a little backstory, and a little confusion, I am finally intrigued by the new community.  Even if the Commonwealth soldiers are dressed a little like the bad guys from Spaceballs.

Odds and Eggs

  • Was anything the soldier told Princess true?  How much of it was in Princess’ head?
  • Walker of the Week:  Train Conductor Walker – Assuming he choo choo chooses to eat brains
  • The Commonwealth soldiers have three lines on the arms of their armor which mirrors the three circles of the Civic Repulic
  • Does the splinter define where Princess’ hallucinations begin and end?

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