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Review: The Walking Dead 8×12 “The Key”

Negan was having a very bad day in this week’s The Walking Dead, with several factions out for his head on a plate, while back at Hilltop, Maggie had to decide whether to look a gift horse in the mouth when she received an unexpected visit from some new faces.

Rick and Michonne’s return to Hilltop was a rather quieter affair than expected. Rick and Daryl had a moment, with Daryl sort of apologising for going against Rick’s plan at the Sanctuary, but instead of Rick being mad at his pal for disobeying orders, he ended up agreeing that they should have taken all the Saviors out instead of seeing them as people. Poor Carl will be turning in his grave, and he’s only been in it five minutes! Luckily, Michonne seems to be trying to uphold the poor kid’s last wish, but more of that later…

Rick and Daryl decided to go out and take the fight to the Saviors, but they took separate vehicles, conveniently allowing Rick to t-bone Negan’s car in an apparent suicide mission. Negan, you may remember, was leading a posse to Hilltop to enact his genius plan to infect a few of Team Rick with zombie guts and let them turn or die of undead ick. This latest showdown between the mortal enemies lacked any real scares, primarily because we know there are still four episodes to go this season, so it was unlikely either man was going to meet his end just yet. Plus we’ve seen these two come to blows many times at this point, and Rick’s hand to hand combat skills are getting worse each time. It was fun to see ‘psycho Rick’ – with little left to lose – on the offensive, with Negan in physical peril for once, and I enjoyed just how upset he became at Rick handling his Lucille. There must be more to that hunk of wood than meets the eye. But the odd writing and terrible fight choreography in these scenes made them farcical, although I think we can all admit to doing a little seal clap when Rick set Lucille on fire and started smashing things with a flaming bat.

It’s clear by now that Negan doesn’t want Rick dead – as demonstrated by his bartering – and that Rick very much wants Negan dead despite his son’s insistence that Rick find a way to move past his hatred. I found myself wishing for an OTT Batman and Joker ‘you complete me’ moment while this ham-fisted brawl was going on. Both characters have so much more potential than an infinite loop of incompetent attempts to shoot each other. I was desperately hoping for some psychological complexity, along the lines of the burgeoning relationship we saw between Negan and Carl, and that something genuinely shocking would happen. A mortal wounding, a surprise truce, hate sex – anything! But of course, both men managed to escape a burning, zombie infested building (which makes Carl’s death seem even more of a kicker by comparison), only for Rick to find Negan gone. It was revealed at the end of the episode that Negan had actually been kidnapped by Jadis, but again, it seems obvious that he will escape her wrath by offering up Simon, who – thanks to Rick – he now knows wiped out the Heapsters.

Speaking of Simon, he had grand designs regarding the future of The Saviors after finding Negan’s wrecked car and the boss man missing. Pairing him up with Dwight made for an interesting dynamic, as Simon was unaware of Dwight’s transgressions, and Dwight believed Simon was up for founding a more peaceful community in light of Negan’s apparent death. It wasn’t until they found their way back to the Sanctuary and Simon addressed his people that his true intent became clear – total annihilation of Hilltop and the allied communities. This power shift means Dwight’s will have to decide whether he risks warning Maggie’s people before the attack, or whether he tries to re-intergrate with the Saviors now he thinks Negan is no longer a threat. I’m hopeful that Dwight will try to thwart Simon, as he seems to have developed some sort of moral compass over the past season.

With the men embroiled in power struggles and trying to murder each other, it was down to the women to think about rebuilding the future. We’ve seen Maggie wrestle with being a leader over the weeks, her innate goodness occasionally threatening to buckle under her desire for vengeance and her need to keep control of the community under increasingly trying circumstances. This week, she was torn between Enid’s mistrust, fuelled by the knowledge that Carl effectively died trying to help a stranger, and Michonne’s need to keep her promise to the dead boy. Michonne’s rationale was a little thin – just because Sidiq turned out to be a medical student and therefore useful, doesn’t mean everyone they encounter will be of benefit. But at least she is trying to get back to the old ways of giving people a chance. After all, pretty much all of Team Rick were strangers at one time, which the show seems to forget nowadays.

Enid’s black and white take on the situation was just baffling, and did little to elevate her character in my opinion. She’s young and grieving, but hopefully the writers will find a way to flesh her out sooner rather than later. Thankfully, Maggie decided to take a route somewhere between Enid’s way and Michonne’s, and met with the mysterious Georgie and her two sidekicks. Rather than acquiescing to their bargain though, she took them back to Hilltop to ascertain what they were about with Rosita and her gun supervising.

Georgie was intriguing at first glance. Impeccably dressed and smart, she is the most peaceable and authoritative woman we’ve encountered since Deanna. Initially, Georgie asked for records and food in return for ‘the key’, but on seeing Hilltop facing famine, she revised her terms and gave Maggie food and the key in exchange for just the records, on the condition that the farming community start rebuilding infrastructure and working towards self-sufficiency, despite the fact Maggie had basically kidnapped her. The key, as it turned out, was a kind of instruction manual for rebuilding civilisation, and while it seems unlikely that knowing how to build a windmill or an aquaduct is the only thing holding the Hilltoppers back, Maggie’s promise to try sounded a hopeful note for the future beyond war with the Saviors.

“The Key” was a pretty enjoyable episode which teased some interesting developments to come, but was let down by a lack of stakes in the combat scenes. There’s clearly more battles to be fought ┬ábefore the season is done, but at least we can glimpse the possibility of a future beyond it at this point.

Final Grade: C

+ The opening scenes were so gory I had to look away in places, and this is a horror show after all.

+ Jerry got some lines! Hooray!

+ It was good to hear Daryl say some actual words too. Most of his character’s emotional arc is conveyed through monosyllabic grunts, so a little monologue was refreshing.

– Even in a burning building full of zombies, the Rick and Negan fight felt like low risk posturing.

– Enid is currently competing with Tara for most unlikeable character.

– I wanted ‘the key’ to contain something a bit more cataclysmic than building instructions.

Extra Thought: It seems so unlikely that someone as apparently trusting as Georgie would have survived for so long (especially being flanked by someone called Midge!) Almost a deus ex machina figure, could there be more to her than meets the eye, and is she linked with the helicopter we saw a while back?

What did you think? Was “The Key” a source of enlightenment, or just a bit rusty? Sound off in the comments, or over on Twitter!

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Katie Young

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