Star Trek: PIcard: Who Are the Romulan Tal Shiar and Zhat Vash?

The second episode of Star Trek: Picard debuted this week on CBS All Access. The episode, titled "Maps and Legends," saw Jean-Luc Picard investigating Romulan activities on Earth. In the process, we learned a bit more about his Romulan companions, Laris and Zhaban, The investigation brought up some old Romulan enemies, the Tal Shiar, and some new foes, the Zhat Vash. If you need a refresher on who the Tal Shiar are, we're here to help, and we're also here to examine what we know about this mysterious new group, the Zhat Vash. SPOILERS for Star Trek: Picard episode two, "Maps and Legends," follow.

The Romulan Star Empire has been a rival to the United Federation of Planets since the Earth-Romulan war that took place in the 2150s, shortly after the end of Star Trek: Enterprise, which resulted in the creation of the Romulan Neutral Zone. Though the war ended in 2160, the animosity between the Federation and the Empire survived for another century, into the era of Star Trek: The Original Series and seen in episodes including "Balance of Terror" and "The Enterprise Incident." Another century after that, during the era of Star Trek: The Next Generation, there were still tensions between the Romulans and the Federation.

It is during this era that we first learn of the Tal Shiar's existence. They're first mentioned in the Next Generation episode "Face of the Enemy," which is also their only mention in Next Generation. They play a much larger role in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine during the Dominion War.

As Laris mentions in "Maps and Legends," the Tal Shiar are thought of as the Romulan secret police. Due to its clandestine nation, it was sometimes compared to Section 31, though the Tal Shiar put as much emphasis, if not more, on policing citizens of the Empire as it did on furthering the interests of the Empire throughout the galaxy. But like Section 31 (at least during the era of Star Trek: Discovery), the Tal Shiar acted almost entirely independently from traditional Romulan military command, reporting only to the highest levels of the Romulan government.

But Laris reveals in this episode that there is a myth that says the Tal Shiar is a front for an even older and more secretive organization, the Zhat Vash. The group is thought of as a fairytale told to scare children and new Tal Shiar recruits, but Laris has reason to believe they're real.

She says that Zhat Vash is a term used in Romulan culture for the dead, the best keepers of secrets. The Zhat Vash exists to protect a secret, and that secret has something to do with a deep-seated loathing of all synthetic life, which is why Romulan society doesn't employ artificial intelligence or androids.

So what is the secret? That remains unclear, but the Zhat Vash seems to have taken an interest in Bruce Maddox and his work creating new androids such as Dahj and Soji Asha from Data's neurons. It's also curious that the Romulans are working on a derelict Borg cube, exploiting its technology when they typically have no use for cybernetics. This hatred of artificial life may explain why they're so cold towards the ex-Borg that they free from assimilation.


What do you think is the secret the Zhat Vash is protecting? Let us know in the comments. New episodes of Star Trek: Picard become available to stream Thursdays on CBS All Access.

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