This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 10 Episode 15
Here in the United States, I’ve been working from home for three weeks. I’ve gone to grocery stores and to pick up take-out meals, usually about once a week, but except for those few limited escapes and the occasional walk around my neighborhood (keeping appropriate social distance), I’ve been inside. I work, hang out, then I go to bed within the same four walls. Even for someone like me, who loves canceling plans and staying home, it’s getting to be a bit much, so I completely understand just why Princess (Paola Lazaro) makes such an immediate, aggressive attempt to make friends with Ezekiel, Eugene, and Yumiko. She’s lonely, she’s been talking to no one but the walkers she’s used to make dioramas, and humans are social creatures by default.
No one’s built for solitude. Monks might take vows of silence, but they’re not alone; they work and live alongside other monks. Princess has been truly alone for so many years that by the point the traveling party runs into her, she thinks that they might be her first-ever hallucination. They’re not, but she’s so desperate to talk that she’s willing to do just about anything to make sure she gets as much socialization time with her new friends as she can.
That’s completely understandable. It’s been less than a month and people are already starting to chafe under quarantine; to be trapped in an entire city alone for years without ever seeing another living person and without the excitement of a dead person to re-kill? It sounds like hell, and it’s easy to see why Princess Juanita Sanchez immediately starts rattling off at the mouth to the point where even Eugene is taken aback by her loquaciousness. It’s really fun to see Eugene and Ezekiel, both blessed with the gift of gab, completely silenced by the torrent of conversation coming from one person.
It’s a funny plot line, watching this single character overwhelm the others by force. Paola Lazaro immediately makes an impression, on the characters and the viewer, simply by her bright personality and fast talking. It’s also fun to see Josh McDermitt and Khary Payton put into the straight-man role, reacting to this other character. Eleanor Matsuura is positively surly by comparison, and a perfect serious counterpoint to Lazaro’s bubbliness. She’s a lot, but it’s the sort of “a lot” that someone like Eugene can see himself indulging in, and the sort of performative confidence that Ezekiel used to put together the Kingdom back when he was the original Tiger King.
No doubt Princess was talkative before the apocalypse, but the prolonged isolation has made her all the more gabby. She’s an interesting counterpoint to a couple of other characters that spent a long time alone, Morgan and Beta (Ryan Hurst). Morgan, as we all saw, holed up in a tiny cabin and was obsessed with killing walkers—everything had to be clear—and Beta, holed up in what appears to have been an abandoned mental hospital, has become obsessed with following Alpha, even after her death. Morgan was obsessed with safety, Beta became obsessed with being one with the horde, and Princess has become obsessed with, of all things, making friends with the first three people she’s seen in a long, long time, leading them on a winding path through the city, into a minefield, and out again just to have a few more minutes of conversation…to keep the fun going, as she says to Ezekiel.
At no point in Kevin Deiboldt and Julia Ruchman’s script does Princess ever feel malicious or even untrustworthy. She’s certainly a wild-card, but she seems friendly and eager to please, if a bit scatterbrained after prolonged isolation. In particular, her line about having rusty social skills seems to sum the character up almost as much as her stained purple fur coat and her over-sized goggles. Princess is simply, to put it most precisely, quirky, without being twee.
To have Eugene see her as a kindred spirit, right down to the strained pat on the arm he gives her, is a brilliant bit of writing and a lovely bit of physical work from McDermitt. Eugene clearly wants to hug her, but like Princess, he’s not exactly great at making friends, so the best he can do is an awkward series of pats on the arm that lasts just a beat too long. McDermitt is brilliant at little touches like that, and Paola Lazaro does a great job at keeping Princess’s smile glued to her face while her eyes are positively desperate to not screw up what might be her last chance to make friends.
Of course, in The Walking Dead, sweet rarely comes without sour, and while Princess and the gang might be able to turn a mine field into physical comedy, Aaron, Alden, Daryl, and the rest have abandoned their home in Alexandria to go on the run from the inevitable Whisperer retaliation, retreating to a hospital tower to hide out and wait for the danger to pass while Aaron and Alden track Beta and the new horde he’s amassed. Laura Belsey does a beautiful job of allowing the assembled group of walkers to be absolutely massive, dwarfing anything seen on the show since the gravel pit walker horde in season six.
It’s spectacle, to be sure, and it establishes the threat for the survivors hiding in the Tower and the survivors holed up at Oceanside, while giving ample opportunity for Daryl and Judith, Lydia and Negan, and Carol and Kelly to have nice little character moments. Daryl taking on a fatherly role for Judith will no doubt set hearts fluttering, and Negan and Lydia’s argument-turned-sobbing fit is a beautiful, brief expression of how grief is processed, even by people not particularly close to their parents.
Evil or not, your mother is still your mother, as Negan points out. While the late Alpha was ruthless, violent, and dangerous, she was also capable of being reasoned with. Beta, not so much. He’s completely unreasonable, he’s beholden only to the whispers in his head, and he’s at the head of a horde the likes of which Alpha only dreamed of. Even if he didn’t still have followers, he’d be dangerous just based on sheer numbers, but with the casuals departing Beta’s flock, only those with the most faith will remain. No one fights harder than a true believer.
Having an army of walking, hungry corpses to soak up bullets and run interference really helps a lot, too. The survivors in the tower are outnumbered and out-gunned. The high ground can only do so much. Unfortunately, thanks to the COVID-19, the lead-up to the finale has become an unplanned cliffhanger.