'The Walking Dead' recap: season 8, episode 12 ('The Key') - Rick vs. Negan yet again

Posted Sunday, March 18, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

"The Walking Dead" this season has struggled to make this Rick/Negan war actually work. The season has often felt dragged out, not always compelling, sometimes infuriating.

Fortunately, as we approach the end game, the show is gaining some much-needed momentum. Tonight's episode featured plenty of action -however absurd at times - and a couple of interesting twists, leading to Simon's uprising and Jadis' surprise kidnapping of Negan. Plus, a new group appears that seems to be on the side of good, not evil.

Of course, Negan should be dead by now. How Rick managed to miss him using a semi-automatic and a handgun, splaying dozens of bullets is hard to believe. And why has Jadis chosen to keep Negan alive? What's the point? Then again, she might use him as leverage to gain an entry into Rick's group and attach herself to a new community after losing hers.

Anyway, Negan and Simon clearly have a difference of opinion about strategy. Simon thinks they should just take down everyone connected with Rick and move on. Negan still thinks that he can bring the Hilltop, the Kingdom and Alexandria back in line through intimidation, choice murders and brute force.

Negan decides to go on an intimidation trip to the Hilltop using walker glop and his ever-charming theatrical use of the English language. He chooses inexplicably to drive by himself in a caravan of five. But on the way, Rick in his own vehicle hits Negan's in the side and they go on a classic car chase that ends up in two nasty crashes. Negan separates from his team, which waits it out while Simon and Dwight investigate.

Of course, since this is a TV show and not reality, both Rick and Negan get out of the crashes with just minor scratches. Negan gallops into a dark warehouse full of walkers. After Rick runs out of bullets, he throws an axe at Negan and misses (of course). Negan, for dramatics, slips and grabs onto a ledge until Rick forces him off. Negan falls - to his death? Of course not. The weak flooring gives and Negan is just fine.

Ridiculous? Naturally. Rick finds him and they start their often tiresome verbal sparring. Rick, channeling his best John Wayne, intones "This is where you die, in the dark, all alone!"

Negan is exasperated, calling him the most "stubborn, know-it-all p**** I've ever crossed d**** with." Negan's need to use constant gonad references is tiresome as well.

He then brags how his arrangement with the Kingdom and the Hilltop saved lives, that nobody died under his watch - or at least not that many. "All those people were doing just fine before Rick Grimes!" he says, which isn't far off the mark. "You not only failed your boy but you failed your people, Rick. Kind of makes me sick thinking about it. All that wasted potential."

Given that Rick was in a stronger position at that point, Negan offers a deal in memory of Carl: go back to the original arrangement but reduces the Sanctuary take from 50 percent to 25 percent.

Rick then throws back: "Why should I take your deal after what you did to Jadis' people?"

Negan has no idea that Simon had killed them all - until now. "Son of a b****," he mutters.

Rick adds: "Seems like it's times like this you realize who your true friends are. No one's coming for you!"

Score one for Rick. He's right. And he finds Lucille and sets Negan's baby on fire. But with the light, Negan sees him and they start wrestling in a room full of walkers. Rick sets a few on fire using Lucille. Eventually, Negan gets his bat back and escapes. Rick comes out and wonders where he went.

In the final scene, we find out Jadis had grabbed him. How she ended up in this particular location at this time sounds like convenient (or lazy) script writing. But it definitely places Negan in a very very weak spot especially now that he realizes Simon didn't bother to really find him when he should have.

Indeed, Simon and Dwight did find his vehicle but Simon decides actually looking for Negan any more is unnecessary. Dwight chooses to go along with Simon. Then when Simon meets up with the rest of the Saviors, he uses the "We are Negan" trope to ignite his own strategy: annihilate the Hilltop!

"We must expunge them! We must redact them! They are a mistake that we shall now erase!" he declares. Power void quickly filled.

Dwight is clearly not pleased. That in and of itself is not suspicious because he never looks happy.

Speaking of the Hilltop, Maggie sees a message on a crate from a stranger asking to meet up with them. Georgie is the very clean, very put together leader. She comes off as wise, kind and shrewd. And she has two sidekicks in sunglasses. Maggie is suspicious as Georgie offers "information" in exchange for some LPs (not "spoken word," for some reason. Dump those Richard Pryor records!)

Enid, Rosita and Maggie don't believe this deal is reasonable. Michonne, taking a cue from Carl, says they should take it. Instead, Maggie brings Georgie's gang to the Hilltop. There, the debate continues. Michonne eventually convinces Maggie that Carl's faith in other human beings is important.

As she tells Enid, once the fighting is over, "there's got to be something after."

So they hand over some vinyl and as a sign of good faith, Georgie gives them some food because she could see they desperately need it. Plus, she hands over a thick book of schematics and information regarding aquaducts, refining grain, windmills and other ways to rebuild a sustainable society. It's a Book of Hope for the Future, so to speak. Maggie looks grateful and not angry for the first time in ages.

So many vehicles, so little time!

As usual, there is no shortage of gasoline ever in this zombie apocalypse. In the real world, all usable gasoline should be gone after a year or so. Gas does go bad. We rarely see them hunting for petrol. And cars almost never seem to run out of gas unless it's convenient for the plot. They should be on horses and bicycles by now.