The Walking Dead surprises again with several unexpected twists. Just as we were settling into the post-Carl world, The Key throws several wrenches in the "All Out War" plotline of season eight. Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) has a showdown, sort of, with Rick (Andrew Lincoln). Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and the Hilltop meet an intriguing new character. Simon (Steven Ogg) and Dwight (Austin Amelio) take the Saviors in a different direction.
The Key begins with a close-up of Negan's sneering face. He walks into Dwight's room with a pack of beer. Dwight is shirtless and apprehensive, but recounts his false story of the ambush. Negan tells him it's time to get back to work. We cut to the Sanctuary entrance. The Saviors are covering their weapons with the blood and entrails of the walkers. A clearly annoyed Simon asks Dwight to ride with him in the truck. Negan puts Lucille in a bucket of blood, then joins the convoy in his own car.
At the Hilltop, Rick and Michonne (Danai Gurira) have arrived. Rick embraces Judith, before going to Glenn and Abraham's graves. Daryl joins him, and then explains his actions at the Sanctuary. He just wanted the fight to end. Rick replies that he should have only cared about their people. He and Daryl agree to split up as they watch for the Savior attack.
Maggie and Rosita (Christian Serratos) watch as Rick drives away. She wonders if he will ever "come back" from the loss of Carl. Rosita replies that no one does. They just have to keep going. Maggie spots something with her binoculars. In the field, there is a crate with a flag on it.
In the Savior convoy, Simon is curious about Dwight's opinion. He doesn't think that the Hilltop will ever get the message. No matter how much they throw at Rick, the widow, and the king, they never capitulate. At the Hilltop, Maggie and Michonne have recovered the crate. There is a note that asks for music records, which in return would get them a "key to the future". Michonne surmises that this can't be the Saviors. Enid (Katelyn Nacon) thinks it's a trap. Maggie agrees it's not worth the risk. Michonne says they can't turn down help. She will investigate the crate's message.
Rick spots the Savior convoy from his lookout. He sees that Negan is driving alone. Instead of honking his horn and alerting the others, Rick goes after him. The convoy is driving single file through a town. Suddenly Rick cuts through an alley and smashes his SUV into Negan's car. The convoy stops as Rick and Negan's cars disappear. Simon blocks the road with the truck. He tells the others to stay together and hold the area. He and Dwight will search for Negan.
Negan's car is overturned. He stumbles out, only to come under heavy fire from Rick. Negan runs into a nearby building. Rick is in pursuit. They have a brief tussle before Negan runs upstairs. Rick, of course, runs out of bullets. He chases Negan off the stair ledge, who then falls into a hole in the floor.
Michonne drives to the meeting point. A van is waiting in the road. Three people are there. Georgie is an older white haired woman in a pant suit. She is joined by Hilda and Mitch. Michonne, Maggie, and Enid bear down their weapons. Rosita flanks them on the side. Enid searches them and takes their guns. Georgie wants music, no spoken word, for their help. She is willing to barter them knowledge for the music. Georgie has not found many communities, but she has faith in the Hilltop. Maggie is suspicious. She takes them back as prisoners.
Rick continues to search for Negan in the darkness. He and Negan trade barbs. Negan calls Rick a pain in the ass that failed his son. Rick says Negan will die alone. He doesn't save people, but use them. Rick sees a sign that says "Eaters", blocking a room full of walkers. Negan offers Rick a deal. All is forgiven. Get everyone in line, he'll cut his take to 25%, and Rick can start working for him; as a janitor at first. Rick counters with the massacre of the scavengers at the junkyard. Negan realizes that Simon has lied. Rick finds the blood and guts covered Lucille.
Simon and Dwight are searching for Negan. Simon asks if Dwight had ever thought about revenge. Dwight sarcastically replies after the iron or when Negan took his wife. Dwight praises him for moving on. He thinks that the Saviors need to do the same. They find Negan's overturned car. Simon says this is a "critical point in their history". Dwight lights a cigarette, and then throws it into the car. It explodes behind him as they leave.
At the Hilltop, Maggie and Enid want to take Georgie's food. Michonne says they cannot. She reminds them that they have a doctor because Carl saved Siddiq. Enid counters that Carl is dead, only the strong survive. Michonne tells her to back off, then takes her gun. Maggie is still unconvinced. Michonne reminds her of Carl's message and hope for after the violence. Maggie looks outside her office to see Judith playing with baby Gracie.
Rick hunts for Negan. He tells him sooner or later, Negan was going to run into someone like Rick. He lights Lucille on fire, then breaks down the sign holding back the walkers. Negan lunges at Rick, but is thrown off. They are besieged by walkers. Negan leaps out of the building as it burns. Rick still gives chase.
At the Hilltop, Maggie brings a crate full of music to Georgie, who decides to sweeten the deal. She will leave them a good portion of her food supply. Georgie gives Maggie a compilation of instructions called "The Key to the Future". They are detailed plans for farming, buildings, windmills, etc. Georgie says she expects greatness from the Hilltop. She wants cheeses upon her return. The strangers get in their van and leave. Enid tells Michonne that she was forced to kill Natania. She's alive because she killed. Carl is dead because he helped someone. The Saviors are still coming. Michonne replies that they have to fight, but there must be something to live for after.
Simon and Dwight return to the Saviors. Simon tells them that they found Negan's car bloody and burning. He might be gone, but they are still Negan. He riles them up. Dwight watches with concern as Simon announces his plan to wipe out the Hilltop. We then cut to inside a car. Negan is waking up. He looks over to see that Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) is driving. She knocks him out with her gun.
The Rick and Negan fight was patently absurd. Just the idea of Rick getting Negan alone was foolish, but the aftermath even more so. Negan escapes and is somehow captured by Jadis? What happened to Rick? And the Saviors are just going to fall in line behind Simon? Once again The Walking Dead plows into a pile of stupid and unbelievable. Then you have the appearance of Georgie. This character looks to be Pamela Milton from the comics. If true, then the show is changing directions to the New World Order. I pray this is the case. The Savior theme has become lame and stupid. Negan's fate revealed next week on AMC.