That was unexpected.
The episode begins with extreme close-ups at the Sanctuary, followed by Dwight finding a pair of earrings in a cigarette carton. Negan pays him a visit and welcomes him home with a drink, as he’s glad to have Dwight back to help get things done. Dwight tells Negan that he got ambushed and he took a gunshot in the process, but he kept going and managed to escape when he got in the woods.
He got near the Hilltop and figured the Saviors would put up a blockade. However, the Saviors still need to get their business in order, so Negan tells Dwight to put his best vest on and come downstairs because there’s work to do.
Indeed there is, as the Saviors start coating their weapons in walker blood and guts to infect them as much as possible. Negan goes to Simon and tells him that the Hilltop will drop to its knees once they get a load of this shit.
Simon tells the Saviors that they’re not going for headshots, just flesh wounds. Hit a few and let them turn, but don’t kill them. He then goes to Dwight to tell him that Negan is handling his own transport, so Dwight can go with Simon. Dwight wanted to go ahead to scout, but Simon insists that they travel together so they can go over the plan. So the Saviors load up and head on out.
Negan in particular keeps Lucille resting in a bucket of walker remains, and she’s never looked more beautiful.
Rick and Michonne arrive at the Hilltop and are greeted by everyone present. Daryl joins him at the memorial section and says that he thinks about the people who are gone, as well as those that are still breathing. To him, it’s not right or fair. As for what he did at the Sanctuary, trying to end it quick, he says that he just wanted it done. Anything to avoid giving Negan another chance. He didn’t care who was there.
That makes it right in Rick’s mind. He should’ve just been worrying about his own people. The hell with anyone else. And Rick is ready to fight. Maggie has lookouts ready that are ready to signal each other, and Rick will make sure that everyone’s ready. He and Daryl are to split up to cover as much ground as possible. Rick then thanks Daryl for getting everyone to the Hilltop.
Maggie asks Rosita if Rick will come back from this, but in Rosita’s mind, she just keeps going. It will be harder once all of this is over and it’s much quieter, but not if Negan’s dead. Not for Maggie, at least. Then Maggie spots a crate with in the field…
As the Saviors head towards their destination, Simon asks what Dwight makes of this trip. Dwight sees it as an opportunity to close and nothing more, but Simon wants to get candid. He wants to know if the survivors will cower after another warning, and Simon values Dwight’s opinion. He’s been on both sides of the iron, after all. Simon doubts this maneuver will affect the outcome.
He doesn’t think it should be done differently, though. It is Negan’s plan, after all. However, they’ve thrown a lot at Rick, Maggie, and Ezekiel, but they keep fighting. They don’t scare.
Back at the Hilltop, Maggie reads the note in the crate, and Michonne realizes that this isn’t the Saviors, as they would make a big show. It seems too obvious to be a trap, so Michonne guesses that it’s someone trying to help. Michonne figures that even though Rick didn’t side with her on a situation like this last time, he eventually will.
Jesus and the others are still scavenging and food is scarce, so Maggie eventually decides to go out and check, with Enid and Michonne accompanying her.
Out on the road, Rick spots the caravan of Saviors, so he jumps in his car and pursues them.
Simon spots an approaching vehicle, but says nothing, and it crashes into the vehicle being driven by Negan. The Savior caravan comes to a halt while Rick pursues his target. The remaining Saviors exit their vehicles, with Simon informing them that a car hit Negan and he’s being pursued.
He believes this could be a ploy to divide the Saviors, and they’re so close to the master stroke, so he won’t let that happen. He tells Gary to set up his vehicle so no one can enter, and also places Arat in charge to establish a perimeter. Also, this might be the most amount of dialogue Arat’s had since…ever, and I appreciate that.
Rick opens fire on Negan’s downed vehicle, attracting many walkers along the way, and ends up pursuing himself inside of a building. Rick suddenly finds himself out of ammo, so he throws his axe, causing Negan to slip when he dodges, and he ends up grabbing the ledge. Before Rick can hack at Negan’s fingers, Negan just lets go and allows himself to fall into the hole.
On the road, Maggie, Michonne, and Enid arrive at a stop, where they are greeted by Georgie, played by Jayne Atkinson, and two companions: Hilda, played by Kim Ormiston, and Midge, played by Misty Ormiston. She knows the women are suspicious, and that’s confirmed when Rosita approaches to disarm the women. Georgie is offering knowledge for the future, and she’s made the same offer before.
As for why’d she do this, what else should she do?
Rosita checks the van, and then asks how many communities Georgie has found. Not many for a long time, and she says the dead have outpaced the living, but that won’t last for long if people can believe in people again. Four crates is good enough for an exercise in trust. Enid doesn’t see this as real, but Georgie insists, saying that these people are a fine group.
Michonne wants to make a deal, but Maggie refuses. Instead, she says that the women will be coming back with them back to the Hilltop.
Rick continues to pursue Negan, who in turn is searching for Lucille. Rick asks where the Saviors are, saying they should be here, and knowing that Negan will die here, all alone. Though Negan isn’t worried. He knows that Rick is working through some shit, but calls him a stubborn man. Again, Negan wants to save Rick, saying he’s good at it. He saved folks at other communities, and will do the same with Rick.
Negan taunts Rick, saying he failed Carl and his people. But there’s hope for Rick. Negan offers a one-time deal in the memory of Carl- someone that Negan respected. If the communities fall back in line, Negan will forgive Rick. He will lower his take from 50 to 25 percent. But Rick has to work at the Sanctuary, and the communities get to live like 75 percent kings.
Though Rick asks why he’d trust Negan after what happened to the Scavengers…and it’s here that Negan learns that all of Jadis’ people have been wiped out. Rick then finds Lucille and continues on his merry way.
Simon asks if Dwight ever thought killing Negan, and he says that he never did, even after his face got burned and Sherry was taken. The sarcasm is strong with Dwight. But Simon figures that Dwight chose to survive. He did what he had to in order to live, and yet Negan isn’t doing the same.
Were it up to Simon, the Saviors would say enough. They’d branch out, make new relationships, and finds new places. They would make sure that the Saviors survive.
Plus, they’d move past earlier discomforts, as Dwight did. So yes, just move on. They soon find a downed vehicle, noting that based on the bucket of blood, it could be Negan’s. They could keep looking, but then what? They could face a distasteful moment, or they could walk away and get back to the Saviors, so they can make things even better. They’re at a critical point in history, after all.
Dwight lights a cigarette, takes a few drags, and flicks it at Negan’s vehicle. Decision made.
Over at the Hilltop, as the newcomers are waiting, Jerry updates Maggie, who tells him to get people ready. Then Michonne enters and again wants to make the deal before the Saviors arrive, but Maggie won’t do that since the women have food that the community needs. Enid agrees- they just take their stuff or someone else will.
But Michonne disagrees. To her, Carl was brave. Sure, things don’t always work out, and she believes that Carl knew that. He never gave up on who Rick wanted him to be. Furthermore, Carl rescued Siddiq, and now even though he’s gone, the Hilltop has a new doctor and friend. Enid, who is getting quite bold, is told by Michonne to back off.
Rick taunts Negan, saying that he can’t save him or anyone because he doesn’t care about anyone. Instead, Negan uses people and he only cares about his bat. But Rick offers a deal: he’ll let Negan say goodbye to her.
Rick lights Lucille on fire and starts banging on a door. Negan tackles him, but Negan grabs Lucille and starts beating at approaching walkers. He swings at Negan, but misses every strike. Soon enough, more walkers start streaming into the room. Again, Negan tackles Rick and he does manage to retrieve Lucille, as well as escape out of a window.
When Rick heads outside, Negan is nowhere to be found.
Again back at the Hilltop, Maggie makes the deal with Georgie, who changes the term. This one and no more. And Maggie can have a sizable portion of her food. In exchange for nothing but good faith, but Georgie will return. She also gives Maggie plans for a new future- guides to creating lumber, everything to create a new future. And it’s an evolving document. Georgie wants Maggie to build up her community.
Enid tells Michonne that she killed Natania, and she’s alive for that, but Carl saved someone and he’s dead. She asks how they can do this. Michonne doesn’t believe that Carl wanted them to stop fighting for their future, but to get to their future, it will take more than fighting. They’ll fight the Saviors, yes, but there has to be something after.
Simon tells the Saviors that they couldn’t find Negan. He reminds the Saviors that they are all Negan. Even if the leader isn’t there, they’re still Negan. The plan of going to the Hilltop and putting fear into them must still stand. And after what just happened to Negan, what’s needed is beyond the Hilltop. It’s time to accept that. After that, it will become clear that there’s one thing left to do: expunge their enemies.
They are ae mistake that the Saviors will now erase. So now, the Saviors are moving on.
But where is Negan? He’s been picked up by Jadis, who is holding him at gunpoint.
Trust Rick to always be a man on a mission. Despite Carl wanting his father to do more, Rick Grimes has a job to finish and that’s no more evident than in this week’s “The Key” as he goes all in, all alone, in a direct confrontation with Negan.
He’s driven to end this on his own terms, by any means necessary, in what could have amounted to a suicide mission because hey, he had no backup as far as we could see. Had he made one wrong move with the caravan, sure he could probably shoot his way out, but he’d still be at a huge disadvantage against the more numerous Saviors.
But he held his own in a well-executed showdown with Negan. Their constant taunts, Rick revealing what happened to the junkyard gang, and him them setting Lucille on fire- the tension continued to build in a great sequence that, for my money, was much better than the fight these two had in the mid-season finale.
It also helps that this wasn’t just an excuse to get the two to fight. It advanced the plot by having Negan learn the truth about the junkyard gang. So I’m sure he’ll have a few choice words- and actions- for Simon, if he ever escapes from Jadis.
Speaking of, how the hell did Jadis even find Negan? If she followed Rick and Michonne, was she just waiting? Did she knock him out at some point after Negan escaped? It felt a bit flimsy, but it was an interesting way to end the episode, I will admit.
Speaking of, very much enjoyed the dynamic between Simon and Dwight. Whether it was Dwight’s sarcastic barbs about whether he ever wanted to kill Negan after all that had been done to him, to Simon’s planning for the future and how he just takes charge of the Saviors in Negan’s absence, the two had great chemistry together and I very much want to see how the Saviors operate in Negan’s absence.
Simon is sitting on a lot of rage and just waiting for the opportunity to take charge. He spots Rick, but doesn’t say anything about it. He talks about expanding, has no qualms with murdering other communities to send a message, and advocates leaving Negan behind rather than searching for their leader. It’s not a full-blown mutiny, but coming very close. Or, at the very least, this could divide the Saviors.
There was a lot of friction on all sides. Whether it was the Saviors, Rick and Negan, or the leadership at the Hilltop on how to deal with these newcomers. In a way, I get Maggie’s need to be cautious. They’ve been fooled before, but at the same time, people like Aaron, Jesus, and Siddiq have approached the survivors with open arms and proved to be helpful allies.
And like back then with Aaron, I like that Michonne is the voice of reason here. Carl may be gone, but his dream is still very present in that he believed there could be a way to live in this world without just fighting to survive. There are times when you’ll have to, sure, but not always. Michonne gets that, but I imagine that Maggie does to, even though she also has to consider the Hilltop.
In the same way that Rick opted to take Aaron’s food, Maggie does the same here with Georgie, even though in the very end, Georgie not only kept her word, but offered the keys to a better future- something that I’m sure will have a major payoff in the next season.
I’ve heard here and there some folks speculating that Georgie is connected to a community recently introduced in the comics, but I don’t believe that. It’s far too early. Though I will say that it’s convenient that Georgie showed up just at the point when the Hilltop was running low on food.
By the way, I get that Enid is getting a bit heated right now and still reeling from the loss of Carl, but she got dangerously close to getting a time-out when she stepped up to Michonne, who rightly put her in her place. And I find it funny that Enid is all for taking the food from strangers and not giving a shit about them, but she does give a shit as far as the Oceanside women, who want nothing to do with the war.
“The Key” was an entertaining, well-paced episode with a great brawl between Rick and Negan, whose fate is now in Jadis’ hands. Not everything worked and a few moments did have me raise an eyebrow, but it was still a good episode. With the introduction of Georgie, the world continues to expand, but the Hilltop won’t have time to bask in the goodness of strangers with the Saviors still on the way…