UK TV review: The Walking Dead Season 10, Episode 20 (Splinter)
Neil Brazier | On 22, Mar 2021
One of the biggest criticisms of the past few bonus episodes of The Walking Dead was that they didn’t drive the larger narrative forward in any way, being too self-contained and including too many new characters that we have no attachment to. While Splinter does share many of those problems, the one big difference is that this episode has consequences outside of its runtime.
Picking up where we left them, Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Princess (Paola Lázaro) are captured and separated by the strangely clad stormtroopers at the train yard and held prisoner, awaiting interrogation. After a somewhat lacklustre three episodes, Splinter knocks it out of the park with an incredible, character-driven, tense and claustrophobic chapter.
Trapped in a train car and having no idea what is going on with her newly found friends, Princess starts to panic, clawing at the walls to try and escape, getting the titular splinter in the process. Just like that splinter that won’t come out, things start to get frustrating and more painful for Princess and this brings out a side of her that we’ve not seen before – and with it a vulnerability. She fights with her emotions, as if she has an angel and devil on either shoulder, wanting to do what is best, but what is best for her and best for her friends are two different things.
Having been critical of the series before for its focus on traumatic tales, the difference here is that we are fleshing out a character who we have already met (and fallen in love with) rather than guest stars (Mays and Leah) or new “red shirts” (Maggie’s group). It helps that the character of Princess is charismatic and that her storytelling is not only encapsulating, but she also creates imagery so vivid it is like we are spiralling out of control with pain and guilt with her. You’re on her side, desperate for her to find a way out of her situation and a happiness within herself.
To further compliment the acting masterclass, the sound and lighting effects during her confinement accentuate the story being told as well as create a serious sense of claustrophobia akin to the 2010 Ryan Reynolds movie Buried. We can see the pain behind Princess’ eyes as they’re highlighted by the crack of light through the boards of the wall. The shadows are at work again when we see some of the stormtroopers unmasked, the interrogation officer’s face in darkness, perhaps signifying the evil intentions he has? The music is somewhat creepy, especially as Princess keeps reliving the moment of their capture over and over again in her head and how her actions may have caused their predicament. All of which helps to make this episode stand out over the others.
Unlike the other bonus episodes, Splinter feels like it could be part of the main series run, something the others have been sorely lacking. There might not be much in this episode if you’re only after the undead – instead, you get a different type of horror as Paola Lázaro takes you on a harrowing journey of abuse and PTSD. Splinter is what a character centric episode should be; it gives us a little taste of what else is to come for our survivors, and has a fun twist to it too.
The Walking Dead Season 10, Part 3 is available on FOX UK. Don’t have pay TV? You can also stream it live and on-demand legally on NOW, for £9.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial.
Entrails and innards (spoilers)
In hindsight, our review of Find Me now looks to be incorrect. In that episode we thought Leah may have been a figment of Daryl’s imagination, and while that still may be the case, it seems unlikely that the series would do two episodes like that in such close proximity to one another. For Splinter takes place mostly in Princess’ head.
In Find Me, the visual clues were so subtle, they might not even have been there, yet in Splinter, the clues are so blatant that this is all in Princess’ head but you don’t put the two together until the reveal. It is entirely plausible that Princess missed a hole in the train car wall, it was dark after all. It also seems highly likely that Ezekiel would manage to escape. But upon reflection, Ezekiel was acting very differently to the one we know. After he attacks the guard screaming “no one is going to hurt me anymore”, it is revealed that Ezekiel was a falsehood and Princess’ past trauma has escaped her in violent fashion.
From her history lesson, we learn that Princess didn’t have the greatest time growing up, her own mother choosing an abusive man over her daughter and Princess being blamed for the cruelty she suffered. We know that Princess has been living on her own for the majority of the time since the fall. Her concept of time has vanished, not knowing her exact age and even saying that a week is a lifetime in the apocalypse (is this the first time this word has been used in the series?). She’s been alone so long, trapped in her own metaphorical train car, that now she actually is boxed up, she starts to get lost in her head. Her coping mechanism of naming all the US State Capitals alphabetically doesn’t seem to help.
During her escape, Princess struggles with freeing herself or going back to her friends. It is here that she has another talk with “Ezekiel” who has taken on the role of one of her family members. With Ezekiel are two walkers, dressed up just like Princess might have done for fun back when she was living on her own. It provides a little chuckle in an otherwise distressing episode.
Splinter doesn’t just feature the one hallucinogenic twice, but a second. Once the splinter has been freed from her finger, Princess unshackles the pain of her past and finds a new calmness. She apologies and agrees to cooperate with her captors, just wanting to see her friends. The stormtrooper allows her to seem them. They are outside the train car, on their knees with bags over their heads. We only see this for a second as a bag is then thrust over Princesses’ head and the episode ends. Another cliffhanger, another wait to see what lies in store for these heroes, but it makes you want more and that’s the point.
Are these stormtroopers friends of Stephanie, the girl Eugene has been speaking to on the radio? Or were the survivors just in the right place at the wrong time? Eugene tells Princess that Stephanie and he have a rapport and that if they were in any real danger she would have told them. But we know that they were late and that Stephanie would be in trouble had anyone known she was talking to Eugene. Therefore, these stormtroopers may belong to the same group and now it is up to Stephanie to save them.