Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Walking Dead 'Splinter' Ending Explained

Contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 10, episode 20 — "Splinter"

The Walking Dead has been using its extra batch of season 10 episodes as an opportunity to give fans a more intimate look at some of its characters. None have been quite as up-close or personal as the latest: the 20th episode, entitled "Splinter."

Actress Paola Lázaro gives an incredible high-wire performance in this Princess-focused episode, which locks viewers in a boxcar with the eccentric and resourceful survivor. This setup allows The Walking Dead to give its audience a deeper insight into Princess' complex and, dare we say, splintered personality. Even if you've found Princess' extreme effervescence to be a bit much in the past, you're likely to leave the episode with a deeper appreciation for the character.

After a helpful recap from Eugene (Josh McDermitt) about his mission with Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) and Ezekiel (Khary Payton) to make contact with the group his long-distance crush Stephanie (Margot Bingham) is a member of, "Splinter" jumps right in where we left of last time. The Alexandrians and Princess are in a train yard surrounded by soldiers wearing futuristic-looking white armor and wielding heavy-duty weaponry.

While the soldiers order everyone to drop their weapons and surrender, Princess lunges for one of their knives, causing a scuffle that leads to Yumiko being knocked out. The soldiers throw each member of the group into a separate boxcar, and as soon as Princess is alone, she begins to spiral with guilt, replaying her botched attempt to grab the knife over and over. She feels that she's let her new friends down, and now she's determined to help get them all out of this situation.

Let's unpack The Walking Dead's "Splinter."

Princess is at war with her own instincts

Almost as soon as she's put into the boxcar, Princess begins to look for a way out. She manages to talk to Yumiko and Eugene in the adjoining boxcars, and they both tell her that the best course of action is to just wait out the situation. Though Princess wants to put faith in her friends, being locked up and at the mercy of a group of people she doesn't trust is a nightmare for her.

At one point, Princess tries to pull apart some wooden boards and gets a splinter in her finger. This leads her to remember a story from her pre-apocalypse life. While speaking with Yumiko, Princess reveals that when she was a kid, she got a splinter in her finger that got infected because she didn't let it heal properly. Her step-father blamed her for the injury and treated her abusively, while her mother did nothing to protect her. The splinter that Princess has in the present day becomes symbolic of the instincts she's developed because of her traumatic childhood. She has trouble accepting her friends' advice because those instincts are constantly telling her she needs to flee. Like the nagging pain of the splinter, they pull at Princess' attention and get her distracted.

Eventually, a guard arrives and takes Princess away to be interrogated. Earlier, while she was speaking with Eugene, he implored her to just go with the situation, as he still believes the soldiers will ultimately help their group. But while one of them demands that Princess tell him information about herself and the Alexandrians, she can't let go of her instinct to resist. She refuses to give straight answers and is sent back to her boxcar.

Ezekiel arrives, but things aren't quite what they seem

Back in her makeshift prison, Princess gets a welcome surprise: Ezekiel throws open a panel on the roof and smiles down at her. The two regroup, and Princess preemptively apologizes for botching the interrogation, saying, "I didn't tell them anything, but maybe I still messed up."

Throughout the episode, we've seen her in a cycle of rumination and overthinking. Princess knows exactly what her goal in the situation is — to escape and help her new friends — but she's feeling a thousand conflicting instincts about how to do that. Not knowing how to help is making her doubt herself to the point where she thinks everything she does is a failure.

A guard interrupts the pair, and Ezekiel swiftly knocks him out. With the tables turned, Princess and Ezekiel interrogate the man. He tells them they shouldn't worry, and that there's a reason for the extreme precaution the soldiers are taking with them. "We're careful because we have a lot to lose," the guard says, referring to the community these soldiers originated from. He also assures the two that the motto of their community is, "For the benefit of all and for all that seek solace at our gates."

But when the guard has the chance, he tries to gain the upper hand in the situation. Ezekiel pounces and begins beating the man senseless. In a deep rage, he begins yelling, "No one is going to hurt me anymore!" It sounds strange coming from Ezekiel's mouth, because it's a line that fits more with Princess' character. And that's because Ezekiel didn't actually say it at all. In fact, he's not even there.

Princess makes the ultimate decision

After dissociating for a moment, Princess snaps back into the present and realizes that she imagined the entire scene with Ezekiel. She's the one who was beating the guard. She takes the guard's rifle and flees the boxcar with the intention of running away from the train yard altogether. However, as she's trying to squeeze under the fence, Princess experiences memory-flashes of the bonding moments she has shared with this new group of friends. Even though her instincts are telling her to escape, she doesn't want to abandon them.

However, before Princess can turn back, Ezekiel appears to her again — along with a couple of walkers dressed in jaunty train conductor outfits, a clear reference to the undead dioramas Princess used to set up to make herself feel less lonely. Ezekiel tells Princess to forget the others and save herself. In this vision, he's clearly appearing to her as a manifestation of the instincts she's developed due to the trauma in her past. Although Princess is lonely and craves friendship, she's also ready to bolt at the first sign of real trouble. As Ezekiel assures her, "You're good on your own."

Princess looks down at the splinter in her finger, but this time, she doesn't let it pull her back into her past. Although she has conditioned herself to survive on her own, she feels a genuine connection with the Alexandrians and doesn't want to let her instincts get in the way of fostering it. Ultimately, Princess decides to go back.

Are the soldiers friend or foe?

Back in the boxcar, Princess apologizes to the guard for her behavior earlier, telling him, "I'm not crazy, if that's what you're thinking. 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. But, like, maybe that's the only sane response to an insane world."

She frees the guard from his handcuffs. As she does, the splinter in her finger comes out. This seems to be symbolic of Princess finding a way to quiet the things that have been distracting her throughout her ordeal. While she's not totally rejecting her instincts, she's focused in a way that allows her to trust the advice of her friends without overthinking things to the point where she causes more trouble.

But almost as soon as she's offered this symbol of trust, it is tested in an extreme way. When Princess asks the guard if she can see her friends, he opens the boxcar door and reveals that they are all standing in the train yard with black hoods over their head. The episode ends with the guard putting a hood over Princess as well.

Was Princess wrong to ultimately go against her initial instincts? The strength of this episode is that it puts the viewer in her mindset. We've heard time and time again that the soldiers are merely taking extreme precautions to protect their community, but how do we know that it's not all a lie? It feels very probable that we won't get a clear answer until season 11, although fans of the comics likely already have an idea: that these soldiers are part of the Commonwealth, a massive web of communities comprised of more than 50,000 members, all overseen by Pamela Milton, aka the Governor. The Commonwealth isn't like other survivor groups, clearly: They've got a class system that separate its members, pre-apocalypse jobs for its members to take, sports arenas, concert stadiums, high-tech equipment, and their own army guard, headed up by Officer Mercer ... who we already know will be a part of The Walking Dead season 11, played by Michael James Shaw. 

It feels likely that the people Princess interacts with in "Splinter" will play a big role in the series' upcoming 11th and final season — but, as with most things in The Walking Dead universe, the truth about their actual motives most certainly won't be as straightforward as this episode makes it seem.