The Walking Dead recap: A future from the past

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Danai Gurira as Michonne - The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Danai Gurira as Michonne - The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC /

Rick and Michonne processed their Carl grief in two very different ways while a new faction of survivors made themselves known.

Season 8 of The Walking Dead has had quite a few hiccups, but the end is finally near. With four episodes left, the show is finally bringing our favorites together to vanquish the Saviors.

But they’ve got a few tricks up their sleeves first.

After a slew of episodes that felt predictable and bland, this week’s installment, “The Key”, provided some truly surprising moments that shook up the narrative and offered viewers some much-needed excitement.

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The episode kicks off as Dwight (Austin Amiello) returns to the Savior fold. He dumps out an old pack of cigarettes that holds his and his ex-wife Sherry’s wedding rings, and one of her old cigarette butts. Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) comes to speak with him, welcoming him back to the camp. He wants Dwight to reset by chugging a beer and tossing on a vest. He heads down, sans vest, and finds a horrific sight.

There’s a pretty vomit inducing montage of the Saviors dirtying their weapons. Simon initially seems pretty tickled about the new development, but when Negan turns away, his usually stoic face falls a bit.

Simon (Steven Ogg) snags Dwight to accompany him for the mission. Dwight is reluctant, but ultimately agrees. Negan is set to drive his own car, and sets a bucket of disgusting bloody goop next to him. He pops Lucille right in the middle of the thing and then proceeds to marvel at her beauty. Ew.

Back at the Hilltop, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) settle in. He reclaims Judith, and that simple action helps us recall the giant chasm that’s been created since Carl died. Rick visits Glenn’s grave, and Daryl (Norman Reedus) comes to make a whole ton of excuses about his actions at the Sanctuary. He sidesteps a whole convo about his irresponsible actions though by putting the focus on Rick and his grieving process. Rick says he’s fine, and Daryl heads out to make plans.

Over on the Hilltop overlook, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) share a quiet moment. In just a few lines, they wordlessly bond over what Negan took from them. It’s one of those subtle exchanges that we don’t get from The Walking Dead too often anymore, and it’s even more appreciated given that it’s between two of the women on the show. The two ladies spy something odd in the distance and go to investigate.

It’s a letter floating in the breeze, attached to a truck. The note requests food or phonograph records in exchange for… something. Maggie, Michonne, Rosita, and Enid (Katelyn Nacon)mull over their options here, and Michonne decides she’s going to take the risk and go meet these new people.

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The Walking Dead Photo: Gene Page/AMC via AMC Press Site /

Outside of the compound, Rick is on lookout duty. He’s got a direct line to the Saviors in the form of Dwight’s walkie, and so he’s able to get the jump on their nasty caravan. This begs the question: Why doesn’t our gang have long-range walkie talkies too? I feel like this could have mitigated a lot of problems during this whole war kerfluffle, but I guess what’s done is done.

Meanwhile, as the Saviors road trip to the Hilltop, Simon and Dwight chat about long term plans. Simon tries to ease the tension by rattling off a bunch of dad-jokey expressions like “let’s get weird” and “there’s nobody here but us chickens”. Even though Dwight outwardly expresses compliance with Negan’s orders, Simon is showing more overt signs of rebellion. He’s right. Negan’s half measure tactics aren’t working, but there’s also no backing down at this point.

In the Saviors’ lead up to the Hilltop, Rick makes a bold move. He slams into Negan’s useless black sports car with all the might of a buttoned down, road raging postal worker. This entire revenge plot is certainly powered by Rick’s deep well of grief rage, and it’s pretty exciting to watch it play out. Negan flees, but Rick is a man possessed and ends up ramming him again, flipping the car on its side. Man, those SUV’s are pretty durable.

The loose blood bucket idea spectacularly backfires on Negan when he’s doused in his own vicious weapon. Hope you have some antibiotics, dude. But there’s no time for him to consider the fallout because Rick comes at him, hard. Guns blazing, he pursues Negan into a dilapidated building, and corners him at the top of a stairwell. With scary precision, Rick chucks his axe at Negan’s head. Our baddie narrowly escapes a giant hole in his pretty face by ducking at the last minute. But the floor beneath him is no longer stable, and the bannister next to him gives way, leaving him dangling on a ledge by the tips of his fingers.

The sequence is fun because it’s the first time these two have battled face-to-face on equal footing, and Rick’s rage is laser focused on an appropriate target. Negan’s holding on for dear life when Rick comes up, grabs the axe out of the wall like a baller, and goes to hack off Negan’s hands.

Negan makes a last minute decision to let go, dropping to the wreckage below.

Of course Negan survives. When Rick asks if he’s still there, Negan replies, “I’m a goddamn cat.” Seems like Rick intends to knock off a few more of those nine lives before he’s done here. The two men banter in the dark, and Negan tries to use his golden tongue to talk his way out of the situation. He spouts his delusions about keeping his people safe, but it’s all just total BS.

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The Walking Dead Photo: Gene Page/AMC via AMC Press Site /

Since this isn’t the finale, and the deaths on The Walking Dead are more predictable than the weather, we know that Rick isn’t going to get to kill Negan here. He passes a blocked door helpfully marked “EATERS”, but continues to chat with his enemy and assess the situation. Instead of sucking it up and realizing it might actually be prudent to work for his survival like everyone else, Negan offers up yet another deal. He says that he’ll cut the Saviors’ take from 50% to 25%, provided that Rick come work for him as a janitor. That’s when Rick drops some knowledge. Seeing as he wiped out the entire Scavenger community, how can he trust Negan?

(Side note: Obviously he can’t trust Negan based on a whole host of awfully terrible things that he’s done up until this point, but hey, at least Rick gets to jab the knife and twist away when it comes to revealing a usurper in the Savior bunch.)

Like a pink princess in a castle, Negan is insistent that his people will come save him, but it’s not totally clear if anyone is coming. Rick doesn’t think so. And, as if by magic, Rick happens upon Negan’s bloodied bat and gleefully hooks it over his shoulder.

Dwight and Simon are headed to help Negan, but it’s slow going. The two men chat about their loyalties to the cause, and how their group can best endure in this brutal world. His tactic is to “just move on” from Rick, the widow, and the King, and find another way to survive.

Steven Ogg as Simon, Austin Amelio as Dwight – The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 12 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Steven Ogg as Simon, Austin Amelio as Dwight – The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 12 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC /

Finally, they happen upon Negan’s flipped car. They know it’s his because of the blood bucket. Simon continues to be the bug in Dwight’s ear, encouraging him to abandon their fearless leader and blaze his own trail. And blaze he does. In a symbolic gesture, Dwight takes the cigarette butt out of his crumpled pack and lights it, using the ash to ignite Negan’s wrecked car, saying farewell to their sadistic leader and hello to a new era for the Saviors.

So, Negan is left to fend for himself with a supercharged Rick. Left alone with Lucille, Rick decides to do the maximum amount of damage. He sets Lucille on fire and proceeds to bash into the door with the “eaters”. Negan races up, full of anxiety, and demands that Rick get his hands off his beloved bat. That Negan thinks he’s in a position to demand things from Rick is a testament to his raging narcissism. In an lively sequence, the men tussle among a horde of flaming zombies.

The Rick and Negan showdown is a fun diversion from the predictable slog that the show has become this season, but the real magic happens when a new group of survivors is introduced. When Michonne and her team of badass ladies head out to investigate the odd note, they meet up with three interesting people, Georgie, Hilda, and Mitch.

Georgie is well put together, but just the right amount of disheveled. Not quite dressed in survival gear, she’s outfitted in a rumpled pinstriped blazer and jeans. Played by the lovely Jayne Atkinson, Georgie brings a soft and serious energy to the show. Atkinson has most recently been seen as the fast-talking, no nonsense politician Catherine Durant in House of Cards, and here she’s less intense but no less captivating.

Just the mere presence of Atkinson makes me hopeful for where the show is headed in Season 9.

Georgie promises that she comes, “bearing knowledge to trade.” All she wants is an even exchange of either food or records – no spoken word, of course – for her expertise. Maggie is understandably skeptical of this trade and orders that the newbies be brought back to the Hilltop for further examination.

Once back at the Hilltop, Michonne and Maggie disagree over what to do with Georgie. Enid comes to back up Maggie, and there’s a charged exchange between her and Michonne regarding the meaning of Carl’s death. Enid tries to intimidate Michonne, but, uh, Michonne is Michonne and no one intimidates her. Ever. Enid scampers away, and Michonne reminds Maggie that they can’t give up on their humanity. Maggie agrees.

In exchange for the records, Georgie barters with Maggie, and gifts her with a giant guide for life. It’s like a library for creating a working world, complete with detailed plans for sustainable communities, windmills, aqueducts, and mills for grain. Georgie sets off with a smile and a promise to return, hoping to see “great things” when she comes back.

But back outside the walls of the Hilltop, trouble is brewing. Simon and Dwight return to the remainder of the Savior troops. They deliver the news about Negan’s burning car, and Simon flips the script, using the idea of vengeance to rally the group into exterminating all of the people at Hilltop. Dwight is not pleased.

And, in a nonsensical but welcome twist at the end of the episode, turns out that Jadis (Pollyanna MacIntosh) has nabbed Negan from his fight with Rick and is bringing him… somewhere.

Related Story: The Walking Dead S8E11 Recap: Dead or Alive

Random Thoughts Before I Go:

  • For all his faults, Negan seems to be a very PC holiday guy. He promises that his new deal for the communities will be “an epic Christmas, Hanukkah,  and Kwanzaa gift all rolled into one.”
  • Does anyone else feel like Georgie and her gang are almost like traveling encyclopedia salesmen? That totally used to be a thing, and I guess Georgie is bringing it back.
  • If Georgie is, indeed, based on a newish comic book character, she may actually be this one. Jayne Atkinson herself thinks so.

‘The Walking Dead’ airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.