Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 12: The Key

This week on a fair to middling The Walking Dead, we get the long-awaited confrontation between Rick and Negan, we're introduced to yet another bizarre group of weirdos who aren't in the comic, and the writers manage to save the whole thing with a startling twist at the end. In other words, a typical episode.

The Rick/Negan scene was somewhat satisfying, as their showdown has been brewing for months. While it was great to see them facing off physically, I can't help but think their match was ill-timed. There're still four more episodes to go in the season! Why the hell are they giving us their beat down now? Unless this is just an apertif, and the actual meal's yet to come?

The actual battle was quite interesting, as we got to see Negan on the defensive for a change. Surprisingly all his power seems to derive from his beloved baseball bat Lucille, leaving him all but helpless without it. Fascinating.

This episode may also give us a hint as to where the series is going after the end of the current All Out War storyline. The introduction of brand new character Georgie this week may be an indicator that the series is fixing to veer FAR away from the source material. 

As always, that seems like a really bad idea to me. The show's at its best when it sticks close to the comic. When it diverges is when things start to get wonky. Don't believe me? Welp, the awful Grady Bunch storyline wasn't in the comic, and neither were the detestable and downright baffling Garbage Pail Kids. I rest my case. 

Sadly, The Key also seems to be setting up Simon's ultimate fate, which is likely going to involve his departure from the series. That's too bad, as I like Simon and actor Steven Ogg, and it'll be a shame to see him go. 

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
After saving the Alexandrians last week, Dwight's now unwillingly back with the Saviors. Negan pays him a visit, and asks what happened. Dwight lies and says he killed the Alexandrians and then wandered through the woods until he was found by the Saviors. Negan seems suspicious, but congratulates him on a job well done. He tells him to suit up, as there's still more work to do.

Outside the Sanctuary, Negan and the Saviors are gearing up for war with the Hilltop. Simon tells the troops to shoot to maim. That way their tainted ammo will infect the Hilltopians and turn them into walkers. 
Dwight tries to sneak away during the speech, but Simon sees him and insists he ride with him.

Negan dips his bat Lucille in a bucket of walker blood (again) and gets in his black Charger. The caravan rolls out, as Negan stupidly brings up the rear for lazy writing reasons.

Rick & Michonne enter the Hilltop (which they already did last week— goddamned convoluted timeline!). They're greeted by Maggie, Enid and Jerry. A Hilltopian brings Judith to Rick, and he carries her around for a few minutes before pawning her off on someone again. Rick notices the Savior prisoners in Maggie's makeshift jail.

Later Rick kneels over Glenn's grave. Daryl joins him and they have a chat about all the people they've lost. Daryl apologizes for going off book and attacking the Sanctuary, saying he just wanted it to be over. Rick, who's obviously learned absolutely nothing from Carl's death, says Daryl's right, and they need to end the conflict once and for all.

Some time later, Maggie watches Rick drive off in a truck. She then spots something in the distance— a small green crate with a flag sticking out of it, sitting in the brush.

Back in the Savior convoy, Simon and Dwight chat. Simon's fed up with Negan for wasting so much time, ammo and personnel trying to wipe out Rick's people. He thinks they should cut their losses and run, and wants Dwight's thoughts on the matter. Dwight says he's not paid to think, refusing to be dragged down with Simon.

Back at the Hilltop, Maggie, Rosita, Enid and Michonne (GIRL POWER!) cautiously check out the crate. They find a note attached that reads, "If you fill the crates with food or phonograph records, I will gladly exchange them for a key to your future." It then lists coordinates for a meeting spot.

Maggie suspects a trap, and Enid agrees. Michonne says it's not the Saviors' style, and believes it's someone who genuinely wants to help. She and Rosita think they should meet their mystery benefactor.

Meanwhile, Rick parks his truck at the top of a hill and waits. He sees the Saviors go by, and notices Negan driving alone at the end of the procession. He hops in his truck and roars after them. The Saviors drive slowly through a deserted city. Suddenly Rick flies out of an alley and rams into Negan's car! Negan recovers and roars off, as Rick chases after him.

Simon sees Negan get hit, and realizes this is his chance. He orders the caravan to stop, and tells the Saviors that Negan's been attacked. They all want to rush to his aid, but Simon says (heh)
 it could be a trap to separate the convoy, and they should all stay put. He tells them that Negan's a big boy and can take care of himself. Amazingly the other Saviors listen, and stay put.

Cut to Negan's car lying on its side, and Rick's truck smashed into a pole. I guess there wasn't enough money in the budget to film the crash? Negan crawls out of the wreckage, just as Rick staggers from his ruined truck. Rick wildly fires a machine gun at Negan, somehow completely missing him. Negan ducks into a nearby building, and Rick follows. The two then have a long, drawn out battle inside the dark, dusty building.

Rick throws his trusty axe at Negan, who ducks, loses his balance and ends up hanging from a stair landing. Rick walks up the steps, retrieves his axe and faces the now helpless Negan. He swings the axe at Negan's hands. Negan lets go of the landing at the last second, and plunges down the stairwell into the basement.

Elsewhere, Maggie, Michonne, Rosita and Enid arrive at the coordinates. They see a single van parked in the road, flanked by two tall, thin women named Hilda and Midge. Jesus Christ, not another weird-ass group on this show! A middle-aged woman in a white pantsuit emerges from the van and introduces herself as Georgie. She reiterates that she has vital knowledge for them, in exchange for food and records, and assures them it's not a trick. Maggie doesn't believe her, and for no good reason takes Georgie and her guards back to the Hilltop.

Back in the building, Rick searches the basement for Negan. Rick taunts him, saying his people aren't coming this time and he's gonna die alone in the dark. Negan fumbles around, searching for his precious Lucille. He tells Rick he'll make him a deal— stop being a prick and end the war, and he'll lower his tribute demand from 50% to 20%. Wow, what a bargain!

Rick says he doesn't trust anything Negan says, especially after he slaughtered all the Garbage Pail Kids. Negan's stunned at this revelation, as he never ordered such a thing. He realizes Simon betrayed him, and took it upon himself to kill the group. Just then Rick looks down and finds Lucille.

Meanwhile, Simon and Dwight halfheartedly search for Negan. Simon finally gets Dwight to admit he's thought about killing Negan from time to time. They find his wrecked car, but can't tell if he walked away alive... or dead. Simon says (heh) this is their one and only chance to overthrow Negan. Dwight nods, signalling he's on board.

Cut to the Hilltop, where Georgie and her guards cool their heels while Maggie and the others debate what to do with them. Maggie wants to just take the supplies from Georgie and toss her out. Michonne reminds her that Carl died rescuing Siddiq, who turned out to be a doctor. She says they owe it to Carl to give Georgie the same chance to prove herself.

Rick notices a barricaded door labeled "Eaters." He sets Lucille on fire and uses her to break open the door. Dozens of moldy walkers pour out, and Rick sets several on fire with the flaming bat. Negan sees Lucille burning and freaks out. He lunges at Rick, desperate to get his beloved weapon back. The two grapple for a minute, and eventually Negan flees— with Lucille.

Rick battles a horde of burning zombies and finally escapes the building. Unfortunately Negan's long gone.

At the Hilltop, Maggie gives Georgie a crate full of old records. Georgie thanks her, and gives her all their food, saying it looks like the Hilltopians need it more than her people. She then gives Maggie a thick book she wrote title A Key To A Future. She says it's filled with ancient farming, blacksmithing and survival knowledge. Georgie then says she's going away, and may not be back for a while (?). Maggie thanks her for the food and the book.

Simon and Dwight return to the Saviors. They say they found Negan's bloody-splattered car, but no body. The Saviors look stricken and worried, until Simon asks them, "Who are you?" They all reply "Negan." He says it doesn't matter if Negan's alive or dead— they're going to finish their mission and wipe out the Hilltop.

Cut to an unconscious Negan riding in the passenger seat of a car. He wakes up, unsure of where he is. He looks over and sees Jadis driving the car, as she hold a gun to his head.

Thoughts:
• Last week I noted that when the Hilltopians found out about Carl's death, the soundtrack played a distinctive tinkly, descending piano riff. I said it sounded incredibly similar to the Bella's Lullaby theme from the Twilight movies. 

They use the same theme again this week, mostly in any scene involving the Saviors. I guess because it sounds foreboding and ominous?

And yes, I'm still embarassed that I'm able to recognize music from Twilight.

• Jesus Christ, again with the faces montages!

This has been a running theme all through Season 8, as we've been periodically treated to a series of extreme closeups of the main cast members, accompanied by dark, brooding music.

It started earlier this season in The Damned, as we got a series of closeups of Rick, Daryl, Carol and Morgan.

The closeups returned a few episodes later in How It's Gotta Be, as Rick, Carl, Carol & Maggie (among others) were spotlighted. Some of these closeups seemed like they were even more extreme than the first batch.

Which brings us to The Key. It begins with a montage of even MORE extreme and off-putting closeups of Negan, Simon and Dwight. And when I say closeups, I do mean CLOSE UPS. I honestly don't think the camera could get any closer to them without touching their faces.

I'm looking forward to next week, when the cameraman uses a macro lens to get even closer, giving us a good look at the pores on Rick's face.

• When Rick arrives at the Hilltop, a woman rushes up and practically shoves Judith into his arms. I can't say I blame her. It's definitely taking a village to raise this kid, as by now virtually everyone on the show's been forced to take care of her. Everyone except Rick, that is. 

At this point he's all but forgotten he even has a daughter, as he's too busy making everyone's lives worse than they already are.

• Last week in Dead Or Alive Or, Negan came up with the bright idea of soaking all Savior weapons in walker gore. That way even a glancing blow would infect the Hilltopians and turn them into walkers.

This week we get to see them coat their weapons all over again, I guess to remind the audience of the plan. For some reason, Negan places his beloved baseball bat Lucille in a large bucket of festering zombie guts, and then sits it in the passenger seat of his car as he drives off toward the Hilltop! Brilliant!

He just got done telling his people (twice!) how dangerous and toxic this blood is. What happens if this bucket o' blood starts sloshing around and splashes on him? Sure enough, in just a few minutes his car's gonna get turned on its side, and whaddya know? The bucket tilts over and turns the entire interior red!

• The idea that Negan would drive alone at the tail end of his little caravan is beyond ridiculous. He's the goddamned leader of the Saviors! Would they really let him bring up the rear of the convoy (No. The answer's no)? 

Anyone with even a couple of functioning brain cells knows you put your leader in the center of the line! That way the cars in front and back of the caravan can protect the boss. Jesus!

This was some extremely lazy writing, as the show needed an easy way for Negan to be separated from the others so he and Rick could have their little hand-to-hand fight. Surely there was a less obvious way to go about this though.

And another thing— Rick was perched on a hill just watching for the Saviors to pass. There's no way he could have known Negan would be stupid enough to drive in back. Was he planning on ramming his car even if he was in the middle of the line? Was Rick really intending to sacrifice himself to kill Negan?

Or was Rick just observing, and when he saw Negan at the end of the line he couldn't believe his good luck and decided to attack him?

• After the car crash, Negan and Rick duck into the Lewis Medical Supplies building.

I'd have paid good money if the dislodged sign had read "Uneeda Medical Supply!"

• Rick fires several thousand machine gun rounds at the fleeing Negan, but of course completely misses him with every one.

I guess we're to believe that none of the Saviors heard Rick's gunfire and demanded Simon let them save their leader? C'mon! They couldn't have been more than four or five blocks away!

• Simon tells the anxious Saviors to stay put, while he and Dwight search for Negan.

After a while they come upon the smoking wreck of a black Charger, that's riddled with bullet holes and coated with fresh walker blood. Simon stares intently at this auto, which is identical to Negan's in every measurable sense, and finally declares, "Could be his..."

• Hooray, Jerry's back! It's been a long time since we've seen him. Unfortunately I have a bad feeling he's not getting out of Season 8 alive. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm betting he'll be a casualty in the upcoming All Out War.

• This week the series goes "off book" again, and introduces yet another group of bizarre, ill-conceived weirdos. This time it's a woman who calls herself "Georgie," a pantsuited Glenn Close knockoff who's flanked by two tall, lanky taciturn hillbilly lesbians. 

Georgie believes she has vital knowledge of ancient farming and survival methods, and sincerely believes that she and only she holds the key to the Hilltop's survival. Note that all her secret, arcane enlightenment is simple information that's freely available in any library or high school science book.

Oh, and they also like to say "made-up" words like "flibberschticky, klompf and moisture." Yeah, those are the jokes in this episode, guys.

Sigh...

As I've poked around online the past eight years, I've often heard fans complain that The Walking Dead series sticks way too closely to the comic. Many of these viewers desperately wish the show would move away from the book more often.

No! NO!! ABSOLUTELY NOT! We've seen what happens when the show's writers to come up with its own material! That's how we get dull, stultifying storylines like the Grady Bunch arc, pointless communities like Oceanside (who are mentioned in the comic but never seen) and laughably incomprehensible groups like the Garbage Pail Kids. 

The writers on this series couldn't come up with a compelling group or story if their lives depended on it. And now they've cooked up yet another bizarre and nonsensical community in this episode. 

If anything, the show needs to stick even CLOSER to the comic!

• A few months ago in 
The Big Scary U, Rick was on his way to the Garbage Pail Kids' Dump when he saw a mysterious chopper fly overhead. At the time, I assumed it belonged to Jadis and her people, since that's where it was headed.

Then a couple weeks ago in The Lost And The Plunderers, Simon visited Jadis and asked her what was up with the helipad in back of the Dump. Note that he didn't say "helicopter." In my mind that implied that the chopper belonged to someone else, who regularly visited the GPKs.

So who owns the chopper? Is it Georgie and her people, whatever they're called? They're the most likely culprits, since there's currently no one else on the show it could be. I have my doubts about this though, as neither of Georgie's guards look like they could figure out how to work a can opener, much less a helicopter.

• If the series sticks to the comic, the next Big Bad that Rick & Co. encounter should be the Whisperers, a group of deadly crackpots who wear suits made of walker skins. As you might expect, As you might expect, the two groups go to war.

After that Rick & Co. butt heads with The Commonwealth, a highly organized, technologically advanced city of fifty thousand survivors, whose rosy exterior masks a dark secret.

After the events of this episode, I'm starting to wonder if the show's gonna skip over the Whisperer arc altogether. Are Georgie and her brain-dead minions supposed to be the series' version of The Commonwealth?

It certainly looks that way. Georgie bears a striking resemblance to Pamela Milton, the leader of The Commonwealth. On the other hand, there are some differences. Pamela's sophisticated and elegant, and is impeccably dressed at all times. Georgie looks like she's trying to look stylish, but her clothes are a little too rumpled and ill-fitting for the leader of a 50,000 strong community.

And then there's the fact that The Commonwealth has an army of soldiers outfitted in high-tech armor, that looks a lot like that worn by the Capitol troops in The Hunger Games films. A far cry from Georgie's backwoods simpleton guards.

On the other other hand, it would make sense for the show to jump right over the Whisperer arc. For one thing, Carl featured VERY heavily in that particular plotline. Now that showrunner Scott Gimple stupidly and foolishly killed him off, it'd be difficult to adapt it to the screen. Maybe they've simply decided not to try.

Honestly, other than the fact that the Whisperers wore grotesque suits made of zombie skin, there wasn't much difference between them and the Saviors. Both groups were fronted by maniacal leaders who clashed with Rick's people in an effort to wipe them out. The Whisperers were just another group that caused problems for the heroes. They were simply More Of The Same.

The Commonwealth is a completely new type of enemy. They're led by a cadre of formerly rich people, who want to remake this Brave New World in their own image. It's the One Percent versus the Common Folk. Something we've not yet seen on the show.

Moving right to this storyline would actually make sense, as it could be a shot in the arm for the show. It's not secret that viewership is down lately. Thanks to Gimple's idiotic decisions, the show's ratings are less than half what they were in the show's heyday of Season 4 and 5. Shaking things up with The Commonwealth storyline may be just what the show needs.

All that said, I still don't think Georgie is supposed to be Pamela Milton. But it's possible she may be part of a scouting party who recruits new blood for The Commonwealth. Stay tuned to find out.

• After meeting Georgie and hearing her out, Maggie doesn't trust her. For some reason, she then decides to take Georgie and her guards back to the Hilltop.

What a brilliant and intelligent strategy! She doesn't trust these goons as far as she can throw them, so she immediately brings them back to her home base! Did she at least blindfold them on the way there? Let's hope so, otherwise Georgie now knows exactly where the Hilltop is, how many people are there and how they're all starving.

• This week we get yet another nickname for zombies— Eaters.

• OK, I gotta admit, seeing Rick attack both Negan and a room full of "eaters" with a flaming baseball bat was pretty darned cool.

Interesting as well to see just how much stock Negan places in Lucille. A psychiatrist could write up an entire essay on Negan's relationship with his bat. And the fact that he's constantly waving around a large piece of "wood."

• Georgie may know a lot about Medieval farming and survival techniques, but she can't design a book cover for sh*t. Her attempt at calligraphy there legitimately hurts my eyes.

• At one point Enid and Michonne have a heart-to-heart talk up on the Hilltop's protective wall. Apparently the cameraman was afraid of heights and refused to climb up the rickety structure with them, and instead chose to film the scene on the ground, from eighty feet away. Even more interesting, he films Enid from behind, so we don't even get to see her face!

Eh, don't worry about it. Actually being able to SEE the actors as they perform a scene is overrated anyway. It's much more fun to imagine their expressions and body language.

• Somehow this series just took one of my least favorite characters and suddenly made her interesting. I can't wait to see where this situation between Jadis and Negan is going!

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