This Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 8 Episode 12
I have to say that I’m very impressed with The Walking Dead this week. “The Key” does a lot with very little, which is more than I can say about the show’s eighth season as a whole. An episode that should have been a drag – at its core, it’s about Negan and the Saviors driving to the Hilltop – ends up being the best episode of the season.
While Rick and Negan’s confrontation in the zombie house borders on the same old cliches about leadership in terms of the dialogue, it’s at the very least held up by the interesting setting and intense action sequence. The rickety house, with its weak railings and caved-in wooden floors, complements the kinetic nature of the fight perfectly. I loved those few seconds where Negan is hanging from a railing as Rick slowly makes his way up the stairs to recover his hatchet. Rick creeps towards Negan to chop off the villain’s hand and Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays the scene for laughs brilliantly, muttering, “You asshole,” as he lets go of the ledge and goes crashing through the first floor and into the basement.
Greg Nicotero directs the entire confrontation like its a slasher film and how fun that it’s Rick playing the killer and not Negan. You could almost peg Rick as the bad guy, as he sadistically stalks Negan around the house and taunts him with Lucille. But the real magic is that the scene isn’t overbearingly serious. There’s something really hilarious about watching Negan scramble around the house, on the verge of being pummeled to bits by his own bat. Maybe it’s just that it feels cathartic to see this villain abandoned by his men and the “woman” he loves, imperiled by the man he once enslaved.
Last year, this would have been a grim scene about Rick giving into his darkest tendencies as a cold-blooded killer, the last bit of humanity stripped away from him, but instead, we get Negan delivering lines like, “Don’t you hurt Lucille” and “You’re out of bullets, prick!” It’s funny stuff that goes well with the over-the-top nature of the fight. (Rick lighting Lucille on fire to kill walkers is LIFE.)
While I’ve had my gripes with Negan over the last two seasons, it’s moments like these that will make up the villain’s legacy as a dude that’s so crazy that he’s become a parody of himself. Negan’s never quite worked as a serious bad guy or as a cartoon character, and the show has so often given us one version or the other. But tonight is proof that Negan works well somewhere in the middle. Overall, the villain has been much easier to stomach in season eight.
One baddie who’s never let me down is Simon. I love when a character feels like he or she could have only been played by one actor, and that’s absolutely the case here. Steven Ogg has been overall brilliant in his run, turning Simon from lackey to ambitious “politician” in just a handful of appearances. It’s a shame that the show didn’t save Ogg for a bigger villain role down the line, but it’s too late for that now. Simon’s definitely on his way to a fate worse than the iron when Negan catches up to him. Still, it’s nice to see Simon finally enjoy the delicious moment of power he’s been craving all season.
I like that the takeover goes back to the story Negan told Gabriel in the first half of the season about how he took control of the Saviors from a weaker leader. Simon views Negan’s shock and awe approach as a weak way to deal with their enemies, theatrical and not all that effective when it comes to getting people to fall in line with the Savior way.
Rick says it too: “You would have eventually run into someone like me.” Someone who would stand up to Negan’s bullshit.
The beauty of that line is that Negan’s new world order isn’t just rotting from the outside, but from the inside too. As we watch him fall first for Simon’s lies and then Dwight’s, it’s clear that Negan has seriously underestimated the people he rules. “The Key” really marks the beginning of the end for the villain.
Speaking of new world order, the introduction of Georgie is this episode’s shining moment. The Walking Dead has had an eye towards the future all season, but not quite like this. Georgie’s arrival isn’t so much a tease as it is a thesis for what’s next for the aging show, a beacon of hope for how this series might refresh itself in season nine. Until tonight, I fully expected the arrival of the Whisperers to be that big shakeup, but now I’m not so sure.
Might the Commonwealth from the comics be making its way to the show much sooner than we expected? Georgie certainly resembles someone who might hail from Robert Kirkman’s giant city-state. She clearly comes from a place that’s better off than what Rick, Maggie, and Ezekiel have going on in Virginia.
Jayne Atkinson (24) is delightful as the playful Georgie, a stranger who’s genuinely interested in helping other communities grow. Of course, the beauty of Georgie’s offer is how it’s used to show how much Maggie, Michonne, and Enid have changed over the course of the war.
While Maggie might have once been quick to trust the Hilltop’s mysterious benefactor, she basically kidnaps Georgie, Hilda, and Midge (what great names!) while she makes her decision. A battle of clashing philosophies ensues between Maggie, Michonne, and Enid that once again invokes the loss of Carl, who might’ve almost predicted Georgie’s arrival in his dying moments. He told his father and Michonne that, after the fighting was over, there’d need to be something more. Georgie effectively gives the Hilltop that “something more” and it couldn’t be in better hands than in Maggie Rhee’s.
Is Maggie being set up to become the de facto leader of all of these communities once the war is over? I think it’s only right. Rick belongs to another world, one much more brutal than the one Georgie hopes Maggie will build. It’s undoubtedly the reason she reveals herself to Maggie and not the Sheriff. Or perhaps we should call him the General at this point. The old general deserves a rest once this is all over in order to enjoy the fruits of his labor. We all know that’s not what’s going to happen, but it’s nice to imagine a day when that might actually be the case.