The Walking Dead S08E12 Recap: 'The Key'

It’s like the show-writer's read my mind as to what we needed to feel on this show that can be SO constantly dismal. My entire recap last week pushed that point home with the death of Dr. Carson at the end of, an otherwise, somewhat upbeat episode. The saviors are preparing a biological/psychological attack on the hilltop amounting to basically throwing walker parts and guts over the fence. Negan stresses that this is only to scare, not to injure, so they get in line and the war can end. This doesn’t sit well with his right hand, Simon, who massacred the trash kingdom the week prior after being told only to kill one member as a show of force. Things are not going well at the sanctuary and the smell of mutiny is in the air. The episode begins with the saviors on their way to hilltop when Rick, who’s acting as a lookout, sees their caravan and runs Negan off the road, separating him from the rest of his crew. Simon and Dwight peel off to find the big man, it’s here that Simon’s intent starts to be known. He thinks Negan is being too soft and needs to be replaced, he wants Dwight to join him. Meanwhile at the hilltop a mysterious stranger leaves a cryptic note asking for food and vinyl records in exchange for the key to life. Maggie, Enid, and Michonne venture out to see if this is real or a trap and end up finding what looks like an elementary school principal and two enforcers offering knowledge for trade. In the background of this is a cat and mouse chase between Rick and Negan after they wreck their cars. This episode was a breath of fresh air and added a large number of things the series is sorely missing. Here they are.

The Good:

- Rick and Daryl’s bromance continues. After their fallout a few episodes back, we have not seen much of these two bro’ing out. Daryl, who continues to show the most interesting story arc of any character since season 1 seeks out Rick to express his condolences. What follows is one of the most touching moments between two men in the series. The emotion isn’t on the surface but rather in the unsaid moments between the two. Daryl has almost always been Judith’s fiercest protector. Rick, in his Rick ways, acknowledges that and the two share a macho version of “what would I do without you” and part ways.

- Georgie’s whole storyline is something we need SO bad in this series. An altruistic moral good character. She’s not good to the point of naive but she knows what the world needs and how it needs to get there. Not to mention she provides Maggie and the hilltop with everything they need, both short and long-term. Her knowledge for trade is a book of medieval techniques for getting the world running again, aqueducts, farming, building, etc. A literal goldmine of life-saving techniques. Add to that she provides them with most of the food she and her companions have stored, effectively saving Hilltop from immediate starvation. There is an air of future evil around her but just a touch. I’ll be severely disappointed if she doesn’t turn into the only truly good person on the show. She can’t turn evil and she can’t be killed or the storyline is ruined

- Finally a return to real ACTION! Negan and Rick’s scenes bring some seriously needed adrenaline to the show. Starting with a car chase and ending with a fist fight in a burning store room full of walkers this was easily the best set of action scenes in the last two seasons. The time for slow burn is done, we need some creative action scenes that actively use the apocalyptic landscape and that’s exactly what they’ve done here.

- Negan. I know many people have soured on JDM’s version of the character but this episode jumped him forwarded by leaps and bounds. Thanks to the Simon side plot we get a much clearer picture of a man that genuinely thinks he’s the good guy. A guy that, at his core, wants to save people even if his methods miss the mark. A guy that has been severely affected by the events of the apocalypse and doesn’t relish his position like he leads on. There are people much worse than him out there and that’s something that needs to be known.

The Bad

- Not much to list this week…more of a gripe with the prop department really. How has it been nearly two seasons since Glenn died and Maggie STILL doesn’t have a discernable baby bump? I mean I get that she won’t be huge thanks to malnutrition but come on, you have to put it out there. If for no other reason it will up the stakes of everything she does. Her visit out to meet Georgie would have been much more perilous if you were visually reminded of the baby she’s carrying.

The Dead

- I said, GOD DAMN, this set the bar high for most nausea inducing episode. We get a lot of time with the walkers this episode and they used them pretty damn creatively. The flaming walkers attacking Rick and Negan made a standard scene SO much more claustrophobic then it would have been otherwise. The real trophy goes to the opening of the episode when the saviors are preparing their biological assault. Extended shots of walkers been stabbed, decapitated, and most graphically, disemboweled will make even the biggest gore hound squirm in his seat.