This is a spoiler-free review of Episode 12 of Season 8. Already seen the episode? Read on below for full spoilers.
In the previous episode, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) promised us a “big day tomorrow” as he and his Saviours prepared to scar, not kill, members of the Hilltop with their new bio-weapons. They plan to teach them a lesson, the same lesson they’ve taught them more than once before – fall in line or fall to death. While Negan doesn’t completely live up to his promise, The Key is a much healthier episode than its predecessor, offering intrigue at both the Hilltop and among the Saviours, but still suffering from predictability.
Negan and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) are destined for a fight and a conclusion to their rivalry, but as has become the standard practice for The Walking Dead, big clashes and shocking endings are reserved for season finales. Which is why it’s surprising to see the two come face to face with four episodes still to go. Their encounter does provide entertaining viewing and the moment Rick finds light in the darkness elicits such joy we are overcome with a feeling that this just might not be what we are expecting. But that feeling doesn’t last and knowing that this isn’t the season finale tarnishes their confrontation from being something spectacular.
Never completing their visit to Maggie (Lauren Cohan) at the Hilltop, Simon (Steven Ogg) takes command of his troops when their leader is otherwise engaged. He is keen to continue his push for power and that means finding an ally – so he turns to Dwight (Austin Amelio). Unaware Dwight has already turned his back on the Saviours, Simon offers a promising proposition: they could just “move on”. The interaction between the two is icy, pinched with tension, as Simon exposes his true intentions for the Saviours. They’re both hiding secrets that would see them face the iron, or worse, should they be exposed – a sign they both still fear Negan, even if they disagree with his behaviour.
A mysterious new face has appeared at the Hilltop, offering them “the key” to the future and surviving the zombie apocalypse. These aren’t the visitors we were expecting but provide a surprising welcome relief to just another fight. Jayne Atkinson – from House of Cards, no less – has appeared as Georgie, with her two irritating companions by her side. Just who she is remains a question for another day (and the spoilers below), but she represents hope even if it takes Maggie another annoying flip-flop to see that. Just like the previous episode, Maggie starts out taking one viewpoint, but after an episode of self-reflection, she changes her mind. This is starting to get irritating and will likely backfire on her eventually.
Her indecision poses that question again about who the real bad guys are in this world. Negan, for all his aggression, is intent on saving people. He is able to back up his statement with facts: there have been fewer deaths at the communities he has protected than since Rick started this war. Rick, however, is intent on revenge, ignoring his son’s dying request to stop fighting, instead looking to take out Negan in the most violent way possible. The blurred lines are causing internal struggles within the camps and Enid (Katelyn Nacon) is suffering the most. She is not willing to trust anybody – not the sort of feelings you want when new faces come knocking at your door.
The Key starts with the close-up montage of faces that have bookended several episodes this season. Immediately, we have the impression this is going to be another episode of filler. But after some gruesome zombie guts – it was always going to be horrific when Greg Nicotero is in the director’s chair – the episode provides some unexpected intrigue. It might not have been the big day Negan was promising us, but it has piqued our interest again as to just what is going to happen when tomorrow arrives.
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Innards and entrails (spoilers)
– Comic book fans may already have an inkling as to who Georgie might be, even if the names have been changed. If correct, the TV series may be taking a skipping one whole story arc in the Whisperers, an arc that featured Carl very heavily, instead jumping straight to the Commonwealth. This is an arc that is still being written in the comics, meaning the TV show may end up going Game of Thrones and overtaking the source material.
– What does this mean, though? The Commonwealth is a return to civilisation: it is a community of over 50,000 people and growing. They are the world Rick wanted to bring back, so could this prove to be the end of the series? Will Rick find peace and relocate his people there?
– That is assuming that Georgie is, indeed, from such a place. She’s mysterious: we only really know that she must have enough food not to worry about giving it away, contains an encyclopaedic knowledge of infrastructure and a distain for spoken word records. She could be related to the helicopter we saw earlier in the season or she could be the segue for The Walking Dead / Fear The Walking Dead crossover episode. The only thing for certain is that being played by an actress as recognised as Jayne Atkinson means that she is likely to be sticking around.
– Negan has never been angrier than hearing Rick has his hands around Lucille, and when Rick sets it alight, it’s a thing of beautiful torture for the Sanctuary man. Earlier, Negan had doused Lucille in zombie blood – did setting her on fire remove the virus from the barbs? Because Rick does manage to get a blow on the back of Negan during their fight. The leather jacket may have absorbed most of the punishment, but could we see a zombified Negan in the future?
– Michonne (Danai Gurira) appears to be the only one that’s showing any signs of fulfilling Carl’s wishes. She wants to believe in hope and people again, as opposed to Enid, who is happy to kill any stranger who dares breathe suspiciously. Enid is still a child – as much as one can be in the apocalypse – but that doesn’t mean she has to abandon all sense of morality. She’s in a camp with good people around her and has taken to being mentored by Maggie, so her instincts should be more sensitive as opposed to going full-on Saviour.
– Negan now knows about Simon’s betrayal with the Scavengers, but Simon is plotting something much worse than taking out a community: taking out Negan. If Simon had found Negan running from Rick alone, he wouldn’t have hesitated, taking out his boss in order to take control of the Saviours for himself. While Negan is missing, Simon has stepped up, but his idea of “moving on” that he spoke of to Dwight doesn’t mean packing up their pots and pans and finding a new state to occupy: it is to wipe out anyone who stands in his way, starting with the Hilltop. Simon is either going to have to step up and challenge Negan, should he return, or accept his place and take an iron to the face.
– That is if Negan returns. The episode ends with him waking up in a car being driven by Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) and being quickly knocked out again. We don’t know what Jadis has planned for Negan – she could be taking him to Rick or to the industrial grinder. With her community gone, Jadis has become a wildcard who might end this war before Rick or Simon get the chance.
Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC