The Walking Dead: Ep. 1020 – Splinter
Warning: Review contains spoilers!
Splinter’s pre-credits scene takes viewers back to A Certain Doom’s cliffhanger, when Eugene, Ezekiel, Yumiko and Princess, on their way to rendezvous with Stephanie, were confronted and captured by the mysterious soldiers in those on point Storm Trooper inspired outfits. Fans of the comics recognize the troopers as part of the Commonwealth, a previously undisclosed community. How they will be handled on the show however remains to be seen.
During their takedown at the railyard, Yumiko is injured, and the quartet gets separated. Princess is thrown into an empty rail car causing her claustrophobia and anxiety to kick into overdrive. What follows is a heavily Princess centric episode detailing the traumas of her past and how they’ve shaped her into who she is. Realizing that Yumiko is in the railcar next to her, Princess reaches out and offers to find a way to get to her. Tearing away at the damaged wood of the railcar’s wall Princess delves into her past after Yumiko advises against trying to reach her.
The episode’s title comes from an event from Princess’ past. Trapped in a situation similar to the one she finds herself in now, she recounts how she got a splinter that subsequently became infected. An abusive stepfather and a neglectful mother litter her past, no doubt contributing to her current struggles with anxiety. Princess’ fears only grow larger when Yumiko falls silent, and the voices of the Commonwealth troopers and the sound of chains emanate from Yumiko’s railcar.
What makes Splinter effective is the decision to tell the story from Princess’ perspective. Isolating her in the dark and having the other characters off screen mimics her sense of claustrophobia and elevates the viewers anxiety when unseen things happen. Paola Lazaro is excellent riding a wave of emotions from concern, to fear, elation, sadness and anger. It’s even more impressive when you take into account that the majority of her shots are closeups and for the most part has to rely on her eyes and voice for her performance.
Princess’ reliance on being a loner comes into conflict with the rest of her crew. After finding a way out of her railcar, she runs into Eugene who admonishes her for trying to escape. Princess’ concerns are with helping Yumiko but Eugene reasons that his communications with Stephanie suggest that things are more positive than they seem. What Eugene is afraid of is that any trust that he may have been able to build up during his chats with Stephanie may be dashed by Princess’ attempt to liberate them.
Trust, or lack of it looms large in Splinter. When Ezekiel shows up in Princess’ railcar looking for a way for them all to escape resistance comes from a surprising source. A rough interrogation and Eugene’s council shifts Princess’ perspective and when Ezekiel overpowers a Commonwealth guard things become even clearer. The physical and emotional abuse that Princess has had to endure has parallels with the trauma Ezekiel has endured with the fall of his kingdom. Even though seeing isn’t believing, both have had supposedly safe spaces crumble around them and the scars, while healed over still remain.
The twist that makes Splinter special reveals the incredible trauma Princess has been forced to endure. It has shaped her world, fragmented her mind and gives the episode’s title even more significance. Light on walkers and gore, the real violence comes from the evil that men do and the long-lasting effects those actions have. Addressing the ravages of the apocalypse on mental health has always been a part of the show but Splinter has probably done it best.