Last week, The Walking Dead gave us a surprisingly good bottle episode featuring Gabriel and Aaron navigating humanity as the world tries to recover from the zombie apocalypse. This week, we dive back into one of the series’ primary storylines and see what’s been going on with Eugene, Ezekiel, Yumiko, and Princess since they were captured by soldiers from the Commonwealth.
As always, this recap will contain plenty of spoilers.
After a much more detailed recap than we usually get, the episode opens with our group being aggressively taken into custody by the soldiers in white body armor. Princess attempts to take one of the guard’s weapons and fails, resulting in both her and Yumiko getting roughed up.
The group is then separated and imprisoned in different train cars. While looking for a means of escape (and suffering from severe claustrophobia), Princess tears part of the wood siding off her train car wall, allowing her to speak to Yumiko in the next one over. She also suffers a wicked bad splinter.
*Side Note: ROLL CREDITS!
To keep Yumiko from falling unconscious due to a concussion (courtesy of the soldiers), Princess tells her an embarrassing story from her childhood that started with her getting a splinter, as well. The tale ends up evolving a very personal and heartbreaking account of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather.
When Yumiko eventually passes out, the soldiers come in and take her away. Princess screams for them to tell her what they’re doing, but they only yell at her to shut up before carrying her friend away.
The next morning, Princess finds a loose board on the side of her train car and manages to escape. Once she’s outside, however, Eugene (speaking through a grate is his car) urges her to get back before the guards do another check. Even after she tells him about Yumiko being taken, Eugene insists that the guards intentions must be good since they are likely from the same group as Stephanie.
After Princess manages to evade one of the patrols, Eugene finally convinces her that they need to comply with their captors — not just for their own safety, but in case they need allies to help their people back home against the Whisperers. She then climbs back into her train car, which is entered moments later by a guard who demands she come with him.
Princess is taken into a locker room-turned-processing center where she’s forced to strip naked, shower, and be examined for bites, all while the cut from splinter on her thumb gets even worse.
After putting her clothes back on, she’s sat down at a table and interrogated by one of the soldiers. Instead of answering his questions (where are you from, why did you come here, etc), she repeatedly demands to know how Yumiko is. The soldier unconvincingly assures her she’s fine before asking for information about her friends.
When Princess responds by aggressively insisting they prove that Yumiko is okay, the solider smacks her across the face and knocks her out.
When Princess wakes up, she attempts to apologize to Yumiko (despite not knowing if she’s in the next car) for starting the fight that got them both hurt. She then hears something outside and uses the loose board to go outside. When she looks into Eugene’s train car, however, it’s empty.
Princess then gets back inside her own car just in time to see Ezekiel open the roof hatch. After motioning for her to stay quiet, he jumps down and the pair embrace. Princess notices that he’s wet, which Ezekiel confirms was from a pre-interrogation shower he was forced to take, as well.
After he suggests that they escape together, Princess insists they remain until they know where Yumiko and Eugene are. Things take a turn for the awkward when he refers to the others as his friends, causing Princess to feel like an outsider again. After a conciliatory exchange, she accepts his apology while he accepts her plan to stay until they know what happened to the others.
When a guard comes into the car to give Princess a meal, however, Ezekiel goes rogue and knocks him out.
While Princess laments the position Ezekiel has put them in, he takes the soldier’s gun and wakes him up. To her credit (and in an odd bit of role reversal), she works as a peacemaker, keeping Ezekiel from hurting the man further while firmly demanding he tell them if Yumiko is okay. The solider acts surprised when they imply his people would hurt someone. He then cites their creed…
For the benefit of all and for all who seek solace at our gates
…before assuring them that if they remain calm, his people can help them. When Ezekiel and Princess demand he tell them what will happen after they’re moved from the train cars, the soldier say he’s simply a “grunt” and doesn’t know. He also claims to be a “rookie” and that his gun isn’t even loaded.
The surprise of this dubious revelation distracts them enough that the soldier is able to crack Princess over the head. Ezekiel fights back and begins wailing on the guy, prompting Princess to plead with him to stop before suddenly realizing that Ezekiel was never there and she was actually the one attacking the soldier. Is if that weren’t weird/Fight Club-y enough, she also sees that the wood she’d been chipping away (that gave her a splinter) and the loose board she used to climb out to Eugene’s train car were hallucinations, as well.
*Side Note: Yeah, I rolled my eyes pretty hard at all this, too.
Princess takes the soldier’s gun and begins running from the train car. Just as she’s about to escape under a nearby fence, she thinks about her friends and hesitates. This leads to another hallucination featuring two walkers and Ezekiel spouting a bunch of nonsense about the how others don’t care about her and that she’s better on her own. Princess responds by pointing out that they came back for her before and leaves to rescue them…sort of.
Princess first goes back into her train car and tells the soldier who saw her speaking to an invisible person (while beating the crap out of him) that she’s not crazy. She then blames her behavior on claustrophobia, which doesn’t explain the hallucination she had outside, but whatever. The unconvinced soldier asks if Princess would be willing to undo his handcuffs, which she agrees to. The splinter comes out while she’s doing this, which is obviously supposed to be a metaphor, but works as more of a marker that this episode is finally almost over.
Princess then offers to answer all of his commander’s questions, but says them to him instead. He thanks her, takes his gun back (which she willingly gives over) and says she’ll now be able to see her friends. When he opens the door, they’re all standing together with black bags over their heads. Before Princess can process what’s happening, a bag is put over her head, as well.
What’s most frustrating about this episode is that despite an intriguing premise and a great performance by Paola Lázaro, it’s still pretty bad. Lázaro gives it everything she’s got, but there’s only so much a good actor can do with a poor script.
For starters, the story ends almost exactly where it started. All four of our protagonists have been captured, there’s no Stephanie in sight, and viewers who haven’t read The Walking Dead comic still have no idea where the soldiers are from.
Then there’s the ridiculous Fight Club twist that makes absolutely no sense. I get that Princess has been established as being a little loopy, but the full on hallucinations were a bit much–especially when one resulted in her somehow overpowering an armored and heavily armed guard who had eyes on her at all times. Even if he really was a “rookie,” just about anyone would need more than an imaginary friend to help them out of that jam.
And speaking of the guard, why the hell would Princess hand him back his gun? Sure, she wants to try and make things right, but both Fake and Real Ezekiel would tell her that’s a catastrophically bad move.
The only thing that was enjoyable/moving from this episode was when Princess opened up about her past. Unfortunately, much of the impact from that was diminished by the painfully cheesy encounter with Fake Ezekiel and his walker train crew buddies. I also thought her exchange with the interrogator was a little much, although once again Lázaro made the scene work better than it had any right to.
Combine all that with the long stretches of nothing happening, and this is by far the weakest episode of The Walking Dead‘s Season 10 extension, which is really saying something. I know we’re all pinning our hopes on the Negan episode being great, but let’s also hope that “Splinter” is as bad as it gets.
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