Remember when, a couple of weeks back, I was filled with optimism of a big change for the remainder of The Walking Dead season 8? When I foolishly thought that moving away from the comics would be a good thing for the storyline? Well, I might have got a little over excited back there because this week’s episode is back to the series’ old tricks.
Some of you might be pleased to hear that Rick’s back in episode 12, The Key, but in truth his story is the most problematic in this episode. As you’d expect from last week’s storyline, Negan and his crew are en route to the Hilltop armed with weapons covered in Walker guts. Rick, having positioned himself at a lookout point, spots them and instead of raising the alarm, decides the best choice of action is to intercept them in his car, in an attempt to ram Negan off the road. We see the initial impact, and a mini car chase - the quality of which would make someone like Daniel Craig or Matt Damon wince - but then we jump to Negan’s car on its side, filled with the blood from the bucket of Walker goo he’d rested Lucille in. Seeing the actual crash obviously wasn’t important…
Of course, neither Rick nor Negan are injured in the crash, so it’s time for a shootout. But it’s one of those shootouts where everything just feels vaguely silly. Rick unloads a clip into Negan’s car, misses him entirely, but creates a kind of holey art installation in the door. Maybe Jadis would be impressed? Negan makes a break for a building, Rick shoots again, but this time at such close range that it’s ridiculous that he doesn’t even graze Negan. Honestly, Judith could have made that shot with one eye closed. But it’s almost like none of it matters. The Walking Dead is guilty of being far too predictable. Regardless of the fact Negan and Rick end up fighting close quarters in a basement filled with flaming zombies, you already knew neither of them is going to die. This isn’t a mid-season break, it’s not the end of the season, so both characters have got at least four more episodes in them. When Rick’s setting Walkers alight with a flaming Lucille, it feels more like a device for wasting time than a real face off. There’s no risk here anymore... at least not for viewers.
With Dwight back in the Saviours’ camp (again), it’s Simon’s new mission to recruit him for the uprising against Negan. There’s lots of moody shots of Dwight, angry Simon, and shouting of “I am Negan” with the militia, but ultimately it’s an interesting dynamic between Simon and Dwight, one looking for a way to overthrow the current status quo, and the other already a ways down that path, but neither fully able to express that. It’ll be interesting how far this coup d'état goes, especially since Negan now knows of Simon’s disobedience (read mutiny). But dear god, it’s slow going.
What does redeem this episode though, surprisingly enough, is located at the Hilltop. I’ve become a little weary of Maggie’s mean side, the constant back and forth between her and the hostages, and Enid trying to be a grown-up, but then getting all tearful and scared. I know everyone’s getting hungry, and probably equally weary of the perpetual “Oh no, Negan’s coming” dilemma, but they need a catalyst for change, and finally one has arrived in the form of a set of plastic crates.
Well, the crates themselves aren’t interesting, but the people on the receiving end of them definitely are. The titular “key” came from the introduction of a new group, which has yet to receive a catchy name like The Kingdom, or The Saviours. Let’s call them The Knowledge for now, although it’s so far only got three members - the leader Georgie and her two sunglass-wearing cronies, Hilda and Midge. After Maggie, Michonne, and Enid go through the usual worrisome story arc of ‘meet strangers, don’t trust strangers, take strangers hostage, talk about strangers, remember that humans can be decent, decide to be nice to strangers’, Georgie gifts Maggie with the knowledge she promised. Said knowledge is a book full of instructions on how to make structures like mills and other basic buildings. Maggie’s face fills with glee, and although it’s a wonderful glimpse at getting to a life after the Saviours - which I’m more than ready for - it seems like they probably could have figured out how to make some of these structures themselves.
Whether Georgie and co are good humans or not, it’s refreshing to see some new faces, ready to inject an extra storyline into a series that feels like it’s doing the deliberately slow shuffle towards an end of season climax once again. There’s still a big question mark around Jadis and her part in all this, of course. With the episode closing on her holding Negan hostage, it could be that she’s a huge part of the season finale in four episodes time. After all, she has that secret base within the junkyard that Simon mentioned a few weeks back that no-one’s seen yet. Maybe there’s life in the old Walking Dead dog yet, but if it wants to hold onto its diminishing viewer base, it’s got to get braver with its storylines and not hold all the drama back for the end of the season.
Haven't caught up with the rest of season 8 yet? Head over to the next page to read our full recap of every episode so far.