SPOILER ALERT: Do not keep reading if you have not seen Episode 12, Season 8 of “The Walking Dead,” titled “The Key”
This week’s episode of “The Walking Dead” pretty much had it all: a strong Rick-centered storyline, great performances from the supporting characters (most notably Steven Ogg’s Simon), and plenty of intense walker-slaying action.
The episode begins with Negan and his troops dipping their weapons in walker guts in their newly-minted plan to wage biological warfare against Rick’s coalition. Meanwhile, Rick and Michonne have arrived at Hilltop, where Rick and Daryl share a moment discussing Carl and Daryl’s unsanctioned attack on the Sanctuary. Rick, never one to sit still for long, volunteers to be a lookout on the road to Hilltop to watch out for any coming Savior attacks.
As he watches the road, Rick sees the Saviors are on their way. But rather than sound the alarm like he is supposed to, Rick decides to take matters into his own hands and drives off after the Savior convoy. Before Rick gets to them, Dwight is riding in a truck with Simon. Simon has already shown his willingness to ignore Negan’s orders when he gunned down the Scavengers a few episodes prior, and now he begins to press Dwight on if he thinks Negan’s current course of action is the right one.
Rick catches up with the convoy and smashes into Negan’s car. The two engage in a high-speed chase, ending with Negan flipping his ride. Rick immediately bears down on him with a machine gun, forcing Negan to run for cover in a nearby building. Rick follows him in but runs out of bullets. He hurls his trusty hatchet at Negan, who dodges it but loses his footing and hangs precariously over a hole in the floor. Lucille tumbles into the hole just before Negan is forced to let go before Rick and get him with the hatchet.
Back at Hilltop, Maggie, Michonne, Rosita, and Enid make a strange discovery. Someone has placed several milk crates near the community’s walls with a note promising a key to survival if they fill the crates with either food or music records. The note also includes coordinates for a meeting place. Although weary it could be a Savior trick, the women ride out to the meeting place. There they find a woman calling herself Georgie along with two helpers named Hilda and Midge. They claim that they travel to different communities and trade knowledge for supplies. Miconne wants to trust them but Maggie demands they return to Hilltop at gunpoint.
The Savior convoy has ground to a halt. The soldiers want to know what the plan is now that Negan has been attacked. Simon assumes control and says that he and Dwight will go off in search of their missing leader. As they head off in the direction of Rick and Negan’s chase, Simon continues to press Dwight about his faith in Negan’s leadership and if there could be a better way to survive in this world. They eventually find Negan’s car, which is covered with blood from a bucket of walker guts Negan was riding with. Simon says they could continue to look for him, but he is likely already dead or undead. When he asks Dwight what he wants to do, he takes out his last remaining cigarette, lights it, and flicks it into the gasoline leaking from Negan’s car. Simon responds, “Goos answer.”
Rick has followed Negan down into the lower level of the building. Negan is frantically searching for Lucille but is unable to find his favored weapon. As he does, Negan shouts an offer to Rick: end the war now and Negan will allow Alexandria, Hilltop, and the Kingdom to live with 75% of their goods instead of the 50% the Saviors usually take. Of course, Rick will have to become a servant at the Sanctuary. Rick scoffs at the offer, asking Negan how he can expect trust after massacring the Scavengers. Negan suddenly realizes that Simon has been lying to him just as Rick happens upon Lucille. Rick lights the bat on fire and uses it to bash open a door he finds boarded up with a warning that there are walkers inside. But as he does, Negan attacks him. The two end up fighting as the walkers bear down on them, but Negan manages to escape out a nearby window.
Simon and Dwight returning, saying Negan is gone. The other Saviors grow restless but Simon inspires them by invoking Negan’s name. He then makes his own plans clear, however, when he tells the troops that they must kill every one of their current enemies, which Negan had expressly forbidden.
At Hilltop, Enid insists that they take whatever supplies Georgie and her two friends have and leave it at that. Michonne counsels that they need to help people and follow Carl’s example. Maggie eventually agrees with Michonne, and offers Georgie food and records as she requested. Georgie decides to change the terms of the deal, offering Maggie and Hilltop not only some of her own supplies but also following through on the promised key to survival. It turns out the key is a self-made book of Georgie’s that contains schematics for building silos, windmills, aqueducts, and other structures that will help them rebuild the world. Georgie, Hilda, and Midge leave but promise to return.
As the episode ends, an unconscious Negan comes to in a car, only to discover he is now being held prisoner by Jadis.