The Walking Dead showrunner on that big Princess twist
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead titled "Splinter."
Something didn't quite add up during Sunday's "Splinter" episode of The Walking Dead. Picking up right where what was originally the season 10 finale ended, "Splinter" showed what happened next to Princess, Eugene, Yumiko, and Ezekiel after they were surrounded by white-armor clad stormtrooper-looking soldiers at the train yard meeting spot designated by Eugene's radio buddy Stephanie.
The episode then focused on what happened immediately in the aftermath to Princess, who was thrown into a train car (never a good place to be on The Walking Dead, incidentally). Through conversations (either face-to-face or through walls) with her new friends, we learned about Princess' devastating past, which included her being physically assaulted by her stepfather. That trauma came back into play later as we watched Ezekiel brutally assault one of the captured soldiers, only to then realize it was actually Princess — who confessed to suffering from ADHD, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and "crushing loneliness" — that was beating the soldier and that she had been imagining the interactions with her traveling companions all along.
Princess eventually cut a deal with the soldier, answering the questions she had refused to answer before and giving him his weapon back — only to then see her friends with bags over their heads, and then one placed on hers as well. Where are they off to next? Turns out it may not be where comic book readers familiar with this story arc think. That's according to showrunner Angela Kang, who shared more insight and intel on the installment.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, was I the only one getting flashbacks to train car A at Terminus while watching this?
ANGELA KANG: Absolutely. It's so funny because this train station idea comes from the comic book. They go to this old rail yard and it definitely felt like Eugene — anytime he's in a train car or train station — he'd be a little bit like, "Oh my God!" It was weird for me because we haven't done this much around trains in a while. Then there's more to come later...
Where did the idea come from to delve into both Princess' past and her mental illness?
With Princess, there was this very practical thing that ended up happening, which is that when we were filming these episodes, we didn't fly our European-based actors here because at the time we started prepping, the epidemiologist was like, "Well, air travel across the country, there's ways to mitigate the risk, but anybody who doesn't have to fly right now really shouldn't."
So the decision was made to leave Eleanor [Matsuura] and Nadia [Hilker], who hail from the U.K. and Germany [and play Yumiko and Magna], at home until we could get a little more of a handle on what was going on, which sucks because we love Eleanor, and she desperately wanted to come back to work. But we made a decision for safety reasons. It wouldn't have made sense to not have her in the episodes and it didn't make sense to not deal with that grouping at all. We felt like we wanted to touch on them, but how do you do that and just leave a member of the foursome out of the episode other than via voice and the effect shots?
And we're like, the way you can do it is if you make the story about a POV. It's got to come through a character's individual experience because then you can live it through what they are seeing, hearing, and experiencing. Since Princess is the newest of that group, we thought what a great time to dive in more with Princess. Paola [Lázaro] is great. I think the audience, anytime we have a new character, they're hungry to know more about them and live through their experience.
So then the writers started working on it and had this wild pitch for the twist at the end, which I was not expecting, but which I thought was really interesting. So [the Princess idea] came about from production limitations [then became] a practical reality of, "Well, what do we want to talk about?" And then, "What can we learn about her without getting ahead of what we have planned for season 11?" And so it sort of makes sense to illuminate a little bit more about who she is and where she came from, and the challenges she's faced as somebody who has had to live by herself for a very, very, very long time, and the things that has done to her mental state.
I saw Paola Lázaro, who plays Princess, with you on Friday Night in With the Morgans talking very openly about growing up with ADHD. I know everything in terms of the production process and shooting these episodes was different and writers couldn't be around as much, so were you all able to have conversations with Paola about her input on Princess' mental state and how to show that on screen?
I've talked to her a bit about ADHD. I absolutely adore Paola. She's so wonderful and she's got this real openness of spirit, so even in the first conversation I had with her before I cast her in the role, she went deep. We had a very deep conversation and I was like, "All right." She's got the emotional availability that we need for this role, as well as being very funny and bright. But the character, in our conception of her, has a lot of things going on. I think we wanted somebody who could play that depth, so we absolutely talked up the fact that she is ADHD.
My son is diagnosed ADHD as well, so I think there's something to that that's very meaningful, but it's also like this is somebody who's gone through so much trauma before the apocalypse, but also within the apocalypse and is in a very, very stressful situation. So, I think with Princess, we're always kind of playing like we know she's got this active imagination. She's the one that tied up the walkers into these little scenarios, so in this episode, I think she's made up this whole scenario like is it some kind of an episode. Is it just something that is her way of coping with being examined naked while being asked these really intrusive questions?
We sort of wanted to leave that open. And with Paola, she always has really smart questions, but she's also very much a problem solver on her own, so we kind of gave her the episode and she ran with it in a lot of ways, which I think was really exciting. She just makes very, very interesting acting choices on screen and connects to material in a deep way, and really dives down.
What's it like when you're crafting a story where you don't necessarily want to tip the audience off to what you're doing with Princess imagining these voices and faces, but you also have be able to backtrack it so it all adds up later once the pieces are put in place?
The interesting thing [about] this episode — and Khary Payton [Ezekiel] has talked about this, too — is where it all starts to fall apart is in the scene with Ezekiel. He just is acting a little bit un-Ezekiel-like, and so even when it was being pitched to me, I was like, "I don't know if he would say this line. That doesn't seem quite right." I had a lot of notes on the scene. And then once they revealed why, I was like, "Okay, I get it, but now let's go back and make sure that we're tipping it at the exact moment that we want to, and not from the first moment of the scene necessarily."
So we went through [the episode] multiple times to try to figure out, "Do we think we are holding the illusion well enough?" and then finding those moments with little clues where it's starting to break. There are things that if you go back and look, it's like, "Wait a second, why was it so easy for her to get from one train car to another?" Even in the way that the episode is shot, it's very, very subtle, but the stuff that is "real" is shot one way, and then the stuff that is fantasy is with a little bit of handheld shake, which we don't always use. It's very subtle, but there are just ways like that where it differentiates itself.
The big thing that we wanted was [for Princess to have] a skill: She's actually very good at studying people and understanding human nature. So in a way, I think she has a good read upon this group that she's with, even though she hasn't known them very long. However, it's not like a hundred percent accurate either. We'll get to an episode in season 11 where there are moments when she's like, "Huh, that didn't go exactly the way I thought it did."
Princess totally beat the crap out of this soldier. I guess the closest comparison to the state she's in now would maybe be Morgan in "Clear." Since I'm guessing proper medication is pretty scarce at this point, is this something we need to monitor moving forward in terms of Princess?
With Princess, we're still having all those conversations. I think she has these things that she's dealing with and the apocalypse makes it difficult to manage, or at least it's different. Like my son is on ADHD medication and it's it's not exactly like she's been doing that. In the apocalypse, she hasn't been able to talk to a therapist about her depression or her PTSD, so there's just a lot that's going on with her. And as with all of our characters who are dealing with the trauma that they're having to live through, that is part of their story, but it's not the only thing that defines them. So it's just it's part of the emotional underpinnings of her that we'll explore in various ways as time goes on.
This captured solder tells Princess this is all just protocol and alludes to the fact that things will be better once they go through this questioning just to make sure they are on the up and up. Should we believe him?
That it's all on the up and up? He's in kind of a bad situation himself, so I think there are elements that you'll find to be true, but of course, everybody's got their own perspective on things, certainly Princess. She's no idiot and I think she believes him enough and that means something, but that doesn't mean things aren't complicated. I mean, it's a bunch of people in these scary suits. It certainly doesn't feel good.
I have a feeling I know where they're being brought to, but what do you want to say about where Eugene, Ezekiel, Yumiko, and Princess are heading to next with those bags over their heads?
I will say they're heading somewhere and it may not be exactly what people are picturing at first, so those who know the comics... there may be stop along the way. I'll say that.
What's coming up next week?
The next episode is called "Diverged" and we're going to check back in with Daryl, Carol, and Dog. This starts in the aftermath of the fight that they had at the end of "Find Me." In a lot of ways, this is a lighter-toned episode, as they're both working through their thoughts and emotions by being busy and taking care of some things that need to be taken care of that manifest in different problems that they wind up [with] as they are split up. Hopefully, it'll just be these fun stories about these two with the dog playing his own role in it as we see them in the aftermath of what was a very, very painful conversation for the two of them, and we see where they're at with each other.
Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.