Illustration by Alex Castro / The VergeYou can point the finger at a number of inadequacies plaguing The Walking Dead these past few seasons, but among" /> Illustration by Alex Castro / The VergeYou can point the finger at a number of inadequacies plaguing The Walking Dead these past few seasons, but among" />


The Walking Dead Villain Watch season 8, episode 12: The Key /

The Walking Dead feels fresh, original, và truly open-ended for the first time in years


a:hover>:text-gray-63 <&>a:hover>:shadow-underline-black dark:<&>a:hover>:text-gray-bd dark:<&>a:hover>:shadow-underline-gray <&>a>:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:<&>a>:text-gray-bd dark:<&>a>:shadow-underline-gray">Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

You can point the finger at a number of inadequacies plaguing The Walking Dead these past few seasons, but among the most frustrating và visible missteps is the show’s pacing. A season of The Walking Dead basically consists of a premiere và a finale, with a lot of meandering and lopsided water-treading between those two points. (For the audience, it’s been made even worse by AMC’s edict to lớn chop each season into two halves, forcing the tortured cycle to repeat itself twice a year.)

But in the back half of its eighth season, the show feels lượt thích it’s starting lớn mix it up at last. The death of Carl — happening not in surprise finale fashion, but drawn out into the midseason opener — has phối off a series of events that feel both organic & unpredictable in ways that The Walking Dead hasn’t embraced since the arrival of Negan. Carl’s death itself was a major deviation from the comics, & that change seems to lớn have dictated the overall direction of the season at large. In last night’s episode, “The Key,” major players make critical choices, ending up in situations where anything was possible — making The Walking Dead feel fresh, original, and truly open-ended for the first time in years.


a:hover>:text-gray-63 <&>a:hover>:shadow-underline-black dark:<&>a:hover>:text-gray-bd dark:<&>a:hover>:shadow-underline-gray <&>a>:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:<&>a>:text-gray-bd dark:<&>a>:shadow-underline-gray">Photo by gene Page / AMC
a:hover>:shadow-highlight-franklin dark:<&>a:hover>:shadow-highlight-franklin <&>a>:shadow-underline-black dark:<&>a>:shadow-underline-white">The mysterious traders

With the Hilltop still reeling from Carl’s death, it’s not quite clear what move Rick, Maggie, & the others should make. The Kingdom has been claimed by the Saviors, và Alexandria was firebombed lớn ashes. Now, the survivors of both places have collected at Maggie’s fast-growing community, which includes an entire makeshift prison of Savior POWs & all of Ezekiel’s leftover forces. What is clear, however, is that Maggie is now in a leadership position that is far more complex — and frankly meaningful — than Rick’s, who seems mostly interested in filling the role of general, along with Daryl và Carol. “The Key” drives home the point that Maggie’s level-headed diplomacy & sound decision-making represents a way out of the group’s spiral of misery, primarily through a kiểm tra of Maggie’s resolve when meeting some of the show’s most mysterious and intriguing characters to lớn date.

Maggie, Michonne, Rosita, và Enid catch sight of a signal on the outskirts of the Hilltop containing an invitation to meet with a group of traders who promise khổng lồ deliver “a key” lớn the future. The group heads out to the specified coordinates và meets a woman in a suit, flanked by stoic female guards, who goes by the name of Georgie. She asks for food & vinyl records, of all things, in exchange for this “key,” explaining that the entire exercise is a way khổng lồ establish trust with the Hilltop. (Georgie appears khổng lồ have been keeping her eye on the group from afar.) In the wake of Carl’s death, the members of the Hilltop struggle with how lớn respond. Michonne wants to honor Carl’s dying wishes by being more willing to trust others và find peace. Enid and Rosita, on the other hand, are too jaded at this point and don’t believe anyone would want to act in such good faith anymore.

Maggie makes the crucial decision lớn trust Georgie, & the woman reveals that she has a copy of a guidebook on how lớn rebuild society, quite literally named A Key khổng lồ a Future. The book lays out how to build windmills and aqueducts, how to refine grain, and other skills essential khổng lồ modern-day society, & she gifts a copy lớn Maggie alongside crates full of food. Georgie only asks that the Hilltop repay the debt by following the guidebook và establishing itself as a diverse trader for potential future exchanges. It’s clear this is the start of a grander story arc — and, lớn be honest, it’s invigorating to lớn see that TWD has a long-term plan that goes beyond the grueling Rick vs. Negan competition. At this point, the prospect of there being a sprawling network of communities overseen by Georgie & her people with the task of rebuilding society is the kind of revelatory change that could signal TWD is stepping away from its worst impulses. But first, there’s a war lớn finish.

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a:hover>:text-gray-63 <&>a:hover>:shadow-underline-black dark:<&>a:hover>:text-gray-bd dark:<&>a:hover>:shadow-underline-gray <&>a>:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:<&>a>:text-gray-bd dark:<&>a>:shadow-underline-gray">Photo by ren Page / AMC
a:hover>:shadow-highlight-franklin dark:<&>a:hover>:shadow-highlight-franklin <&>a>:shadow-underline-black dark:<&>a>:shadow-underline-white">Simon takes up the mantle

While Maggie is inheriting knowledge that will allow her khổng lồ rebuild society, Rick goes off on a solo vendetta mission khổng lồ kill Negan, whom he spots traveling with a small army of Saviors. They’re hellbent on catapulting zombie guts over the Hilltop’s walls. Rick can thank Eugene for that half-baked plan, which he came up with in a moment of desperation in last week’s episode. When Rick spots Negan’s vehicle, he drives off on his own to lớn track the man down. He successfully sideswipes the Saviors’ boss and flips his vehicle, initiating a rather tense one-on-one encounter.

Meanwhile, Simon gets Dwight alone in his own vehicle to lớn question the man’s loyalties. It’s clear Simon doesn’t trust Negan’s approach anymore; after wiping out Jadis’ people, Simon thinks the only way forward is to lớn use violence và wipe out all their enemies. He doesn’t believe in the philosophy of the Saviors anymore, và honestly, it’s not clear he or any of the other Saviors ever did. They all just seem khổng lồ follow Negan because he’s the strongest presence in the room, and has basically bullied his way lớn the đứng đầu of the food chain. Recognizing how Rick & the others don’t back down from Negan, Simon confides in Dwight and vents his frustration.

It’s a fantastic scene, giving Steven Ogg a chance to lớn show off his acting chops as Simon, và making viewers rightfully wonder why his character has always played second fiddle to Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan. The character Ogg has crafted feels more real than any of the other Saviors. He’s sadistic and hot-tempered, sure, but he’s also deceptively clever & even goofy at times, a complex combination that makes him truly come to life.

When the duo breaks off from the rest of the Saviors to lớn find Negan, they find his vehicle overturned và on fire, with their leader nowhere lớn be found. In a critical moment, Simon asks Dwight whether they should just assume Negan is dead và carry on without him. Dwight agrees, but it seems only lớn be an insurance policy against his alliance with Rick going south or failing lớn pay dividends. When Simon then informs the other Saviors that Negan is likely dead, he anoints himself the new leader & marches the group onward to the Hilltop with a plan khổng lồ wipe the whole community out. Dwight is understandably worried, thinking he may have just enabled an even more violent and unchecked personality to take on the leadership role without necessarily thinking through all the consequences.


a:hover>:text-gray-63 <&>a:hover>:shadow-underline-black dark:<&>a:hover>:text-gray-bd dark:<&>a:hover>:shadow-underline-gray <&>a>:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:<&>a>:text-gray-bd dark:<&>a>:shadow-underline-gray">Photo by gen Page / AMC
a:hover>:shadow-highlight-franklin dark:<&>a:hover>:shadow-highlight-franklin <&>a>:shadow-underline-black dark:<&>a>:shadow-underline-white">Negan and Rick’s fire-filled zombie showdown

Rick is out for blood in “The Key,” & his hand-to-hand showdown with Negan is one of the show’s best kích hoạt sequences. With Negan’s vehicle out of commission, Rick chases Negan into a zombie-infested building where the two eventually find themselves falling through the floor into utter darkness. What ensues is a rather interesting back-and-forth, where Negan tries to lớn cut a khuyến mãi with Rick, promising him the Saviors will take a smaller cut of their food & supplies every week if the Hilltop agrees to lớn surrender its weapons and “become saved,” as the saying goes. Of course, Rick declines the offer, but in doing so he inadvertently reveals to lớn Negan that Simon killed all of Jadis’ people. Negan realizing that Simon has lied khổng lồ him will only further aggravate the already-deteriorating relationship between the two Saviors.

Beyond that moment, the scene also gives Rick an opportunity to lớn interrogate Negan’s worldview. He rightly calls Negan out for pretending to care about people and their well-being, openly calling out the man’s treatment of women & saying all he cares about is the baseball bat. Yet when Rick confirms to lớn Negan that he’s commandeered his beloved baseball bat, Lucille, Negan becomes enraged — tackling Rick right into a room full of walkers. It wouldn’t be TWD if there weren’t flaming zombies at some point, so Rick uses a lighter to lớn turn the entire room into a double-threat, with flames engulfing the walls, floors, & the flesh-eating undead. Negan ultimately gets his hands back on Lucille và bashes his way lớn freedom, and when Rick finally races outside khổng lồ give chase he finds that Negan has mysteriously vanished.

a:hover>:shadow-highlight-franklin dark:<&>a:hover>:shadow-highlight-franklin <&>a>:shadow-underline-black dark:<&>a>:shadow-underline-white">Nightmare for Negan, Part 2: Jadis’ Revenge

As if being nearly defeated by Rick wasn’t enough, in the final scene of the episode, it’s revealed that Negan didn’t actually escape. Instead, he wakes up in the front seat of a pickup truck with a gun khổng lồ his head, having been kidnapped by Jadis in all the furor. While the logistics of how Jadis was able lớn knock Negan out, haul him into a vehicle, and drive away before Rick could spot them are all too unclear, it’s easy khổng lồ forgive because this is the first episode all season where the show has dared lớn leave every major player’s fate utterly up in the air.

So often with TWD, the character’s episodic journeys are circular, sending them into some type of danger within the show’s 45-minute time frame, only to lớn resolve it by the end và leave them right back where they started. It can feel lượt thích Zombie Apocalypse: The Sitcom at times, but with “The Key,” the whole chessboard has been upended. Simon now leads the Saviors, Negan is a captive of Jadis, Rick has failed in his big opportunity to over the war, và Maggie now finds herself in the profound position of having lớn plan the Hilltop’s long-term future. For the first time in years, anything is possible — and everything is uncertain.

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a:hover>:text-gray-63 <&>a:hover>:shadow-underline-black dark:<&>a:hover>:text-gray-bd dark:<&>a:hover>:shadow-underline-gray <&>a>:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:<&>a>:text-gray-bd dark:<&>a>:shadow-underline-gray">Photo by gen Page / AMC
a:hover>:shadow-highlight-franklin dark:<&>a:hover>:shadow-highlight-franklin <&>a>:shadow-underline-black dark:<&>a>:shadow-underline-white">Evaluating the villain:

Menace: Negan is mostly on the defensive all episode và shows true terror when Rick is hunting him down. But TWD does want viewers to know that Negan didn’t get into a position of power nguồn without demonstrating brutality, and Negan’s penchant for melee combat và his almost borderline psychotic relationship with his baseball bat shine brightly in “The Key.” The man goes to great lengths lớn reclaim his favorite weapon from Rick và then uses it to lớn deftly break his way through a flaming zombie horde. Rick had the edge with an automatic weapon & his trusty revolver, but even then, he couldn’t handle Negan when the fight moved lớn close quarters.

Cunning: Negan is not one to lớn put up a fight when the odds are against him out of a misplaced sense of arrogance or pride. So when Rick disarms him và starts hunting him in the dark, Negan instantly tries to reason with the man and cut a giảm giá — anything to lớn resolve the situation without risking his life. It’s not the bravest approach, but it’s the smart one, as Negan makes it clear he understands Carl’s death is weighing heavy on Rick. In the absence of that unforeseen situation with Jadis, Negan may just have been able khổng lồ actually reach a compromise.

Composure: Since his arrival back in season 7, Negan has repeatedly demonstrated that he’s perfectly at home in the post-apocalypse. Nothing seems to faze him, và he seems willing to lớn tackle any scenario. Granted, Negan was basically running for his life this episode, knowing full well that Rick could land a shot on him. But beyond the normal state of tension that implies, Negan never once seemed to thua trận his cool, và he kept cracking jokes even amid a room full of fire & zombies.

a:hover>:shadow-highlight-franklin dark:<&>a:hover>:shadow-highlight-franklin <&>a>:shadow-underline-black dark:<&>a>:shadow-underline-white">Moving the needle:

TWD has managed to vì chưng some course-correcting with Negan, especially now that it’s really tossing curveballs at comic readers who don’t know where things are headed now that Carl Grimes is out of the picture. With “The Key,” we got lớn see a different side of the villain, as he ran scared from what feels lượt thích the first viable threat on his life since his introduction. He also now finds himself a captive of Jadis, a circumstance forced upon him solely because of Simon’s bloodlust & lack of loyalty. It will be fascinating khổng lồ see how he handles himself here, as the easy way out would be lớn kill both Jadis & Simon. But that doesn’t seem lượt thích Negan’s style.

In a grander sense, it finally feels lượt thích Negan is being integrated into the ensemble, rather than treated as an amorphous threat our protagonists struggle against to give the show its needed conflict. Yet more than ever, the show needs to lớn better articulate his motives and end game here. For as smart as he is, Negan seems unreasonably intent on subjugating Rick và his people và for reasons unrelated to what they can provide them in terms of food & supplies. Further fleshing out Negan’s reasons for waging the war and refusing lớn compromise with Rick would make the villain an even more realized character.

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