In what has to be one of the most thrilling scenes in The Walking Dead in a long time, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) goes to bat against his Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in a no holds barred fight between sworn enemies. By comparison, the rest of the episode feels small and unimportant, even if it’s all clearly setting up for what’s to come. Especially that final shot, which once again has Negan in a comprised position since the season premiere.
In “The Key,” this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, Negan and his Saviors are on their way to put Negan’s bizarre plan to the Hilltop into action when Rick takes the fight to them. Separated from the rest of his Saviors, Negan is caught in Rick’s game of cat-and-mouse inside an abandoned building swarming with walkers. Aside from “The Key” essentially acting as a rematch of their last throwdown, Rick is fighting on behalf of the Scavengers — which Negan is only learning about for the first time.
It seems Simon’s ambition, which is emphasized through his own subplot in this episode with an equally disillusioned Dwight, is going to cost Simon when Negan gets back. That is, if he gets back. The closing moment of “The Key” sees a pissed off, and cleaned up, Jadis (Pollyanna Macintosh) holding Negan hostage with a gun to his head. Negan, naturally, laughs off his predicament before Jadis clocks him in the head so the credits can roll.
But let’s talk about Negan vs. Rick II. Like a violent pro wrestling match from the 1990s, the scene is all about Rick and his drive to really put a hurt on Negan. Rick’s hatchet, which he uses to its full cinematic potential in this episode, has never really been his signature weapon until now. For those already planning for the next convention, take note if you want to update your Rick Grimes cosplay.
But the best moment belongs to Rick getting Lucille and lights the freaking thing on fire. Forget the fact Lucille was doused in zombie blood, being lit ablaze is the real kind of escalated absurdity you want — and should expect — to see in Walking Dead. For too long Walking Dead has resisted its grindhouse influence in favor of being an “important” serial drama, but it’s moments like these that make people tune in every Sunday night. It’s zombie WWE, and tonight was a slobberknocker.
Unfortunately, by virtue of being Rick, his immunity from death undercuts what could have been a truly hair-raising scene. Instead, walkers are basically Power Rangers Putty Patrollers, there to get in Rick’s way so Negan can eventually escape and wind up in the custody of Jadis.
Elsewhere, Simon seems to assume control of the Saviors, while Maggie, Michonne, and Enid make contact with an eccentric new character, Georgie, whose pantsuit rivals Hillary Clinton’s. Demanding only vinyl LPs for some reason — “No spoken word,” she strangely insists — Georgie and her small, relatively low-strength group offer only knowledge (and more food). In Carl’s absence, Maggie and Michonne debate the merits of reaching out to strangers, which historically has only led to bad things, but perhaps post-Carl, the times can change.
Hilltop may not have the numbers and strength of the Scavengers, but if Rick can keep fighting like he did tonight, it’s only a matter of time before everyone, including the Saviors, understand who really has the guts.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. Eastern on AMC.