Spoiler Warning for Season 8, Episode 12 of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed.
When “The Walking Dead” gets crazy, it gets insane. While the “All Out War” story arc may be dragging a bit, this episode proves that the show is at its best when it mixes strong character development and interactions with intense action. This is the best episode of Season 8 and is a prime example of “The Walking Dead” done right. Rick and Negan finally come face-to-face as Maggie explores a new mystery that presents itself, all the while Simon plots to take over control of the Saviors. With a battle raging on, the seeds are planted for an expansive future that will carry the story forward for years to come.
The cliffhanger of the previous episode teased Negan’s new element of eliminating his enemies: biological warfare. “The Key” begins with a sequence showing the Saviors at the Sanctuary preparing their weapons by dipping them in walker guts and blood. Dwight is welcomed home by Negan in an awkward conversation that showcases the slight uneasiness that Dwight clearly feels about his place among the Saviors. With the weapons armed and ready, Simon and Dwight lead the forces out…but Negan decides to tag along in his own car with Lucille, who has been bloodied up herself. While the specifics of just how exactly the “walker-infected” weapons will work, it’s clear that Negan is totally excited at the prospect of Rick’s group being caught off guard by this new tactic. The question remains of whether it will work or not as characters have previously been shown to get walker blood into wounds with no consequences. Will a plot hole be opened up if this method winds up being successful?
Rick and Michonne arrive at the Hilltop and once again, the rest of the group’s reactions are mostly glossed over. There’s really no scenes of Maggie, Carol, or anyone else coming to their comfort or paying their respects, a recurring issue wherein several of the main character just don’t interact; this was a huge missed opportunity to have an amazing conversation about the shared losses between Maggie and Rick. Nonetheless, there is a touching reunion between Rick and Judith that allows the viewers and characters to breathe for a moment. At the Hilltop cemetery, Rick takes a moment to spend time with Glenn and Abraham before Daryl arrives and opens up his regret for going rogue at the Sanctuary. This is one of the best moments in the episode as the bond between Rick and Daryl is shown fully with both checking in on each other’s well-being and planning to move forward together; Rick acknowledges the fact that Daryl is responsible for getting Judith and the rest of the Alexandrians to the Hilltop safely. They also decide to head out and search for any signs of Negan and the Saviors, along with the scouts that Maggie has placed nearby. The dynamic between these two characters is never tiresome to watch as they both understand and care for each other in a way that transcends friendship; they are brothers, through and through.
While traveling, Simon picks Dwight’s brain about Negan’s current leadership style in the war. Viewers are fully aware that the trust between Negan and his right hand man is dwindling fast, but Dwight isn’t yet privy to that information. Simon mentions that Negan isn’t hard enough on the communities, noting that Rick, Maggie and Ezekiel adapt and fight back. While driving through a town, Simon spots a vehicle speeding through an alleyway on a collision course with the Savior caravan; he doesn’t mention it and the driver is revealed to be Rick, who slams into Negan’s car, going rogue from his own mission with Daryl. Both Dwight and Simon pretend to be worried as Rick chases after Negan in a “Fast and the Furious”-style high speed pursuit. Without his fearless leader present, Simon decides to barricade the Saviors in an area while he and Dwight go after Negan, leaving Arat in charge while he’s gone. The scene cuts to the aftermath of the car crash, where both Negan and Rick seem to have collided and lost control of their vehicles. However, the chase is only just beginning as Rick exits his car and fires several rounds from his rifle at Negan, forcing him into a building. While it is a bit odd that the actual crash wasn’t shown, the intensity of the moment is enough to forgive this minor quip. Rick and Negan facing each other in a multi-stage battle is just too epic to fully convey.
The showdown between Rick and Negan in the Mid-Season Finale was somewhat of a letdown due to the fact that it felt slightly rushed, but this episode allows the fight between the two leaders to be a major event within the story. After a few near-hits between the two men, Negan ends up at the top of a staircase and Rick ends up out of ammo…but he still has his hatchet, which he throws and misses. Negan falls from the top of the staircase to the ground floor of the building as walkers flood the entrance, losing Lucille in the process. In the darkness, Rick and Negan taunt each other, bringing up the other’s failures in leadership as they hunt one another; this scene is reminiscent to the scenes between Andrea and The Governor at the warehouse in Season 3’s “Prey.” Rick ultimately locates Lucille and uses Glenn’s lighter to set her on fire, letting Negan know that he will allow him to say a final goodbye to her with a kiss. The two physically brawl as Rick slams several walkers with inflamed Lucille, creating an additional threat as the undead burn. Negan ultimately escapes and Rick chases after him, but the tyrant is nowhere to be found. Fast-forward to the shocking final scene where it is revealed that Jadis has captured Negan and is now driving him somewhere (this is a “TWD” cliffhanger done right). This long-awaited battle is definitely a thrill that also progresses the plot forward as Rick drops the bombshell that Simon killed all of the Scavengers, something that Negan is disappointed to learn. Andrew Lincoln and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are always fantastic on their own, but they are a powerhouse of a duo when together.
This episode really dives deep in the mindsets of Simon and Dwight. As mentioned previously, Simon begins dropping hints to Dwight about his distaste for Negan recently, but he really pushes things further as he questions whether or not there is any sense of rebellion in Dwight. Obviously, Dwight has to maintain his cover, but he does let Simon know that he has felt burned (pun intended) by some of Negan’s choices, particularly those relating to Sherry. They eventually come across the crash site and Simon proposes that they end their search and tell everyone that Negan is dead, something that Dwight decides to go along with, not fully aware of the situation playing out with Rick. In a sequence that is just damn beautiful and aesthetically-pleasing, Dwight tosses a lit cigarette onto the spilled gasoline of the crash, setting off an explosion and symbolically solidifying his acceptance of Simon’s plan. These two characters have such a fascinating dynamic and it is only furthered when you realize that they are basically fighting for the same thing at this point, even if their overall goals are different. Just as a side-note, this scene features a walker that is fully nude, a first for the series and a fun display of Greg Nicotero and his team’s creativity; this was something that was announced prior and wasn’t focused on much in the actual episode, but it’s always exciting when fresh ideas are brought to life in the show.
“The Key” opens up a plethora of new story avenues with a single introduction. At the Hilltop, Rosita and Maggie have a conversation about moving forward after loss (a rewarding scene considering these two characters have rarely ever interacted before), but spot a recently-placed stake of crates just near the tree ridge. They bring them in and read a note that is attached, offering up a trade if they place food and vinyl records in the crates and meet at coordinates they have marked. Both Maggie and Enid express their concern that this is a trap, but Michonne offers up a different take and links it to her gut feeling to trust Aaron back in Season 5 when he offered to bring them to Alexandria. They ultimately decide to seek out the mystery, but Maggie makes it clear that they will be prepared in case it goes wrong. Trust is a tricky thing in the apocalypse and this dilemma is one that is present almost constantly, but this offer feels different right off the bat. Maggie, Michonne and Enid drive to the meet point, where a van is parked and two women stand guard. A feeling of uncertainty, much like the arrival at Alexandria, is present as a woman dressed cleanly and professionally steps out of the van and introduces herself as Georgie (Jayne Atkinson). Evoking a look and demeanor similar to that of Deanna, the mysterious leader explains that she has an offer for Maggie and the Hilltop. While Deanna turned out to be a saving grace, viewers know that just because someone seems kind, it doesn’t mean they actually are; Dawn, Gareth and Mary are just a few examples.
The character of Georgie is jarring and slightly off-putting initially as she announces that she has knowledge to trade, that of which she has shared with many others. Rosita appears and holds the trio at gunpoint as she and Enid pat down the women and search for weapons. Maggie and Enid both shut down all of Georgie’s offers to trade this knowledge for the records and food, but Michonne steps in and tries to change their mind. Maggie announces that the group will be brought back to the Hilltop as hostages until they can figure out what to do. In her office, Maggie talks with Michonne about the offer and Enid arrives to share her take; she’s wrought with emotion as she goes up against Michonne, who mentions Carl and his wish to work with others, noting the fact that Siddiq was brought into the fold and is now a valuable member of the community. Michonne manages to convince Maggie to take the deal and they meet with Georgie, who decides to only take the records and instead give the Hilltop a significant amount of food; she also hands over the knowledge, which is a large book of instructions for constructing windmills, aqueducts and other useful infrastructure. Georgie tells Maggie that she can see that they are good people and that the Hilltop will be a large and vibrant community one day; she will return at some point, not necessarily soon, to further their relationship and provide more information about where she comes from. Obviously, viewers have been conditioned into being distrustful of new faces, but it is hard to not be curious as to what exactly Georgie is all about.
“The Key” is exactly what “The Walking Dead” should be. There is whirlwind action that balances perfectly with rich character development and interactions between major players. By utilizing the majority of the main cast, this episode feels full and accomplishes a ton. It’s also just plain refreshing to have certain characters talk to one another like Rick/Daryl, Maggie/Michonne, and Rick/Negan, especially since many of them are regularly separated. Greg Nicotero’s directing and the writing of Corey Reed and Channing Powell deserves absolute praise; this episode features a significant amount of realistic dialogue, something that has been taken over at times by overly-poetic monologues that don’t always fit. The performances from Andrew Lincoln, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Lauren Cohan, Danai Gurira, Steven Ogg and Katelyn Nacon also help to make this episode stand out. The further expansion of “The Walking Dead” Universe is thrilling and opens up a world of possibilities for the future of the show and the franchise as a whole. Fans are already speculating that Georgie belongs to a community called the Commonwealth, which is part of the “New World Order” arc of the comics, beginning in Issue 175; if this is the case, this introduction may serve as a tease and Georgie may not be seen again for quite some time. Could she and her guards be who Rick saw flying in the helicopter earlier this season? What does Jadis have planned for Negan? Will the Saviors launch their attack on the Hilltop?
Be sure to tune into “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.