The Walking Dead: Season 8, Episode 12 – The Key

“The dead have brought out our best and worst, and the worst has been outpacing the best lately, but that won’t last forever.”

(SPOILER WARNING!)

Last week’s The Walking Dead was fairly average filler, while the week before was actually rather good. This week? Well, somewhere in between, really. There was far too much going on for it to be filler, and some of it was genuinely exciting. But I’m not sure I buy some of the more… unexpected plot developments, and overall it still felt overfamiliar. Nothing new to see here. Well… maybe one thing…

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Still, with the death of Carl providing a brutal severance of the link to the original comics, there did at least seem to be some genuine suspense here even for longtime readers. We’ve strayed a fair distance from the All Out War as shown in the source material, and this week it almost seemed plausible that Corey Reed and Channing Powell’s script might diverge even further by actually allowing Rick to kill off Negan out of the blue.

How cool would that have been? It’s almost like the show’s been grooming non-comic character Simon to replace the Big Bad for some time, and Steven Ogg’s charismatic Jack Nicholson impression is always great to watch. But then, so is Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan, and it has to be said, the show’s invested too much in him as the Big Bad to get rid of him so easily. Which might be a mistake, as that kind of move really would be an audacious departure from the comics, rather than the desperate ploy Carl’s death came across as.

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So Negan’s still with us – just. The sequence of Rick going off after him on a hate-fuelled revenge mission was excitingly directed by the ever-reliable Greg Nicotero, but it didn’t surprise. Let’s face it, this is standard Rick Grimes behaviour – tragedy strikes, Andrew Lincoln angsts for a couple of eps, then explodes into ill-considered fury, usually doing more harm than good.

It did, however, nicely dovetail into the ongoing political machinations among the Saviors, as Rick’s impetuous attack gave Simon the perfect opportunity to seize control – in the name of Negan, of course. The script paired him off with Dwight for much of the ep, giving both the chance to carefully feel around the idea of getting on with the Saviors without ‘the Big Man’, but also giving Dwight yet another crisis of loyalty. By the end of the ep he looked as indecisive as ever, but in his shoes, what would you do? Last time he saw Rick’s Rabble, Tara was trying to kill him; now he’s been given a fresh chance with a New Negan. What will he do?

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The original Negan, meanwhile, turns out not to have suspected Simon’s duplicity after all, Rick’s revelation about the fate of the Scavengers coming as a genuine surprise. I have to say, this was one of the aspects of the script that didn’t wholly convince. Sure, Negan’s an egotist, but he’s been painted (up till now) as shrewd and cunning. Simon has basically been questioning his every order, and acting very evasive on his reports. Surely Negan wouldn’t have got where he is today without spotting such a blindingly obvious powerplay?

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Although “where he is today” turned out (in a not very surprising twist) to be in the passenger seat of a car driven by the vengeful Jadis, who presumably (and mistakenly, for once) holds him responsible for the death of everyone in her community. It’s a mildly interesting diversion (Jadis being another TV original character), but quite honestly it came across as another ploy to extend the already rather tiresome All Out War plot, which the show could have done with finishing up yonks ago and hopefully will in the very near future.

The delaying tactic was perhaps fortunate for the Hilltop, who otherwise would presumably have wound up on the receiving end of what Simon described exasperatedly (and accurately) as “just another warning”. Instead, they got the less action-packed but (slightly) more interesting subplot, with the unexpected arrival of seemingly too good to be true Georgie (House of Cards’ Jayne Atkinson) and her offer of useful knowledge in exchange for “phonograph records”.

With the new female-led Doctor Who still some months off, Georgie looked and sounded like she was already filling the void – “Hello, I’m Georgie, and these are my friends Hilda and Midge… I know that ‘trust’ seems like a made up word right now. Like ‘flibbershtickie’.”

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Maggie was suspicious, and so would I have been – these people are a (surprisingly well-groomed) unknown quantity. It did seem a trifle unlikely that altruistic missionaries like this would have made it this far, but they were at least a change from the increasingly tiresome scavenger gangs led by warlord strongmen (I’m looking at you, Saviors). Their introduction allowed for much debate as to the merits of Carl’s philosophy versus Rick’s – despite Maggie’s optimistic volte-face, I’m still with Enid’s opinion of “look where it got him”. The debate’s an interesting one, to be sure, but there may be no clear answer. And the show’s been doing it for nigh on eight years now…

Gore of the week

Nice to see that, like classic Romero zombies, the Walkers go up in flames pretty easily, courtesy of a burning Lucille:

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I’d like to see them try that on the soggy ones from the swamp last week, though.

This week’s gore was all Walker related, in fact; and the ep got the gruesomest in early with the Saviors’ harvesting of their bio war weapons – directly from Walkers’ guts:

This was a mixed bag of an ep. The Saviors machinations were entertaining, and I do like an ep that foregrounds Steven Ogg as Simon. Rick and Negan’s cat and mouse game though, while well-choreographed, wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before. It was actually the quieter plot of the altruistic newcomers that held my interest the most, though, and it was surely significant that the ep was titled for ‘The Key’ that Georgie was offering. They seem a little implausible so far; but these new characters also offer something else – the tantalising hint of new plots to come, something the show dearly needs right now.

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