The Walking Dead has produced a great deal of hay with their six bonus episodes after the pandemic-shortened season 10. As opposed to performing a great deal of world-building or doing a lot to push into land best covered in season 11, they have doubled down on personality bits. Maggie, Daryl, Aaron and Gabriel, and now Princess have all come into focus, letting the show’s creative teamwork on digging in their personalities, instead of supplying much elaboration on large world-building events. I can’t speak for everybody else, but for me, those episodes have been the best kind of bottle episodes. They’re creative, despite being included in small areas, and they’ve provided critical enrichment for characters, filling in time gaps without forcing an entire story arc to grind to a stop for a side-quest.
In regards to Princess (Paola Lazaro), the character herself made a direct impact. She’s flashy, she’s funny, she’s a massive character in a little frame, and she’s somehow equally receptive with her backstory and reticent to show her true self. Sure, she’s funny and talkative, but how much of this gets beyond the surface? For most people, that is a defence mechanism; for Princess, it might be the only way she can cope.
Paola Lazaro was given a difficult challenge when she was cast as Princess. She must take a later-season personality on The Walking Dead and get people to put money into her understanding that the show is chugging towards spinoffs, films, and an ending. It is a challenge for any actor, but if anybody can pull that off given episodes like this, it’s Lazaro. She manages every bit of this incident brilliantly, being both funny and sympathetic without creating Princess to anything other than a survivor in the process. It is amazing stuff, and this incident flew for me because of her arresting performance. She has charm to spare, and charm to beat the band, and it is good to have a performer of her quality with this show inhabiting a character which, in the incorrect hands, would be worse than a joke.
It’s a challenging character handled well by the celebrity, also this week, given that most of her acting is performed with people’s voices throughout the walls of this boxcar she is imprisoned in, the amount of difficulty is even greater. Princess, panicking, reciting state capitals as she paces around her ersatz jail cell. Her sole interaction is yelling through the walls in a densely populated Yumiko, or sneaking out of this pit at the back of her mobile to speak to Eugene through the metal grate in his wall. As she speaks to people, she shows a great deal about her desktop while scheming to get all of them away from this mess Eugene could have walked into together with his long tail romance. Princess is ripped. Does she listen to Eugene and cooperate in the hopes that this is only some kind of shakedown technique, or does she listen to Ezekiel and himself and make a break for freedom?
Princess carries the episode, sprinkling in small stories from the way she grew up in an abusive home, tying everything back to a splinter in her finger she can’t eliminate. The script, from Julia Ruchman and Vivian Tse, manages sensitive material superbly, and while Princess’s delicate mental condition is handled with much more tact than might be expected on a series such as this. She’s ruined, certainly, but not as much by her previous as one may expect in the typical cable drama. If anything, her past has given her the comping mechanics she needs to survive her present, even though she does wind up talking to individuals that aren’t there and imagining ways out of her predicament that doesn’t exist until she beats up her guard and takes his weapon.
The devil on her roof and also the angel behind the metal grate weren’t the real Ezekiel and Eugene, but her very own imagination. Her concern for Yumiko is real, but also doubles as her concern for himself voiced in a more healthy way for Princess mentally. Ultimately, she isn’t simply choosing how to act in this single situation, but how she is going to act ahead. Princess is picking between self-preservation at the price of what is left of her mind or throwing her lot in fully with Yumiko and the remainder of her friends and potentially losing her entire life because of someone else’s choices.
The very best thing about the hallucination situation is that we’ve seen comparable coping mechanisms before. Rick had his disconnected phone call. Morgan had his writing on the walls. Surviving in this world compels people to locate ways to not lose their grip entirely, and if this means Princess has discussions with no one while trapped in an old railroad car, then so be it. The show is done very well, with some good match cuts between Ezekiel, blood on his head, and Princess, blood at precisely the same routine onto her face. It is not hinted at, but in retrospect, it appears fairly convenient for Princess to have a boxcar with two unprotected entrances and exits, one as dramatic as possible throughout the roof. However, manager Laura Belsey never tips her hand, and Ruchman and Tse’s script retains the whole escape as plausible as anything at the post-apocalypse could be.
“Splinter” moves fast, seeming to pick up steam in the latter half of the episode. From the time the incident ends and Princess agrees to cooperate with her captors, it is as much of a jolt to the audience as it’s her if she receives the black purse therapy. Darkness takes the show and the end credits start playing, apparently out of nowhere. It requires a little bit to get going, but when it kicks in, the incident is engrossing and supplies a lot more feel to the talkative Princess and her unique survival tactics.
Despite being 10 seasons older, there are still a little bit of life in The Walking Dead. Possessing new variations on familiar themes, and bringing on fresh talent in front of and behind the camera, can do this to get a long-running cable series. The endgame is coming, but there are still stories to tell on the way. If nothing else, Princess has a lot of stories.