The Walking Dead finally seems to be in a good place this season. There’s not a lot of unnecessary artistic shots and the characters have largely stopped doing stupid things just because. Now at least there’s some believable purpose. The Key introduced some new players, a subtle betrayal and a pretty memorable Rick and Negan showdown.
Negan seemed pretty happy that one of his top guys is back in the fold with Dwight returning safely. There’s always an air of discomfort in the Negan/Dwight scenes as Negan does not respect personal space and Dwight never speaks.
Negan rallies The Saviors to bring their zombie gut coated weapons to rattle The Hilltop. Oddly only Negan seemed to have the foresight to bring a bucket to keep Lucille covered in fresh (?) walker goo. Is the ride to Hilltop so quick that The Saviors don’t have to worry about it drying up on their weapons?
Like Negan, Simon doesn’t give Dwight a long opportunity to be loquacious and happily shares his take on Negan’s plan. Simon is starting to tap into his inner Starscream and as a result is becoming one of the few villains with a personality beyond sleazebag.
At The Hilltop, Rick and Daryl get past their mini-beef in awkward real men style sorta apology fashion. These aren’t the kind of guys to hug it out and their weirdness was kinda amusing. Rick knows at least he needs some space and volunteers to be one of the lookouts.
That gives Rick a good vantage point to see The Saviors coming. Initially Rick considers doing the smart thing and warning The Hilltop, but he spots Negan and pulls a Daryl. At least to some extent. Rick incorrectly assumes that if Negan is killed the rest of The Saviors will fold and be easy pickings. But Simon is already looking for a way to set up his coronation.
Rick plows his truck into Negan, who not so smartly was bring up the rear in The Saviors’ convoy. We don’t often get car chases in The Walking Dead so this felt like a fresh action sequence. All that time swinging Lucille has done little for Negan’s driving as he crashes and escapes into an abandoned building. Rick charges after him and is in full murder death kill mode wasting bullets and chucking his axe at Negan. The latter separates Negan and Lucille as he falls through to the lower levels.
Simon clearly sizes up the situation properly and has the convoy hold back while he proposes his pitch to Dwight. Negan’s lost his way, Simon says. The Hilltop crew isn’t going to back down. Better to find a new area to save and call this one a wrap. Having lost his wife and half his face from Negan’s antics, Dwight doesn’t have to be sold on a change of leadership and backs Simon’s explanation that Negan is lost.
But ol Dwight didn’t read the fine print in Simon’s sales pitch. He’s totally down for finding a new area, sure, but not before wiping out The Hilltop in Negan’s name. Shelly was always the one who re-read the contracts they signed.
Negan is in a generous mood and proposes a truce if Rick can get the communities to fall back in line. He’ll even lower the Saviors’ take from 50% to 25% so they can live like 75% kings. Man, Jeffrey Dean Morgan can deliver those Negan lines with such conviction he’s almost convincing me. But Rick isn’t convinced and brings up the massacre with the Scavengers. This is news to Negan of course, who thought Simon left a different message.
Rick spots Lucille and goes with the super aggressive move of igniting her leading to Rick and Negan brawling with a flaming Lucille in a room full of walkers. It’s an impressive visual, but in the fray Negan still manages to escape.
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Back at Hilltop, Maggie, Michonne, Rosita and Enid consider what to make of a mystery box with a message. For the grief it gets, critics don’t give Walking Dead enough credit for moments like this when four female characters are competently written in leadership positions. The tease of a key to change their lives is too much to ignore and they go check it out despite Maggie’s initial misgivings.
They find Georgie (24’s Jayne Atkinson), a woman dressed like she’s prepping for her presidential run — coincidence? — and her two guards. Georgie doesn’t ask for much — just a few crates with some albums. Maggie and Enid don’t trust her, but Michonne wants to believe in people again. I’m glad her mindset is tied to Carl’s death as it seems every other couple weeks, characters change their convictions about this war.
Maggie listens to Michonne and decides to show a little faith. And it’s a good thing as Georgie has some food and quite possibly the key to a better future with schematics on how to build windmills, silos and other useful survival tools. Maybe it’s Georgie’s generosity, her kind nature reminding Maggie of Herschel or just someone earnestly believing in her, but Maggie seems touched and for the first time in a long time…hopeful.
Negan wakes up in the passenger seat of a car. That he’s still alive means he’s not with Rick. Nope, he’s with someone who might be even worse — Jadis, who has a major score to settle with Negan and his Saviors.
CONCLUSION: The Key balanced all its subplots and characters nicely in an eventful episode that sets up the Saviors vs. The Hilltop and Jadis quickly proving to be a major wildcard.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Gene Page/ AMC