Spoiler Alert! The following recap goes into explicit detail about The Walking Dead Episode 812, "The Key." You can catch up on last week's recap here.
The first few scenes of this episode are loaded with delightfully gruesome shots of zombies being gutted, their blood and organs smooshed all over the Saviors' weapons. I think Negan gets a hard-on while he is dipping Lucille in the blood. Simon reminds the Saviors that today is about scaring people. They are just going for flesh wounds. Let them live, and let them turn. Much to Dwight's concern, Simon insists that Dwight ride with him. Negan is driving himself, alone -- a bucket of zombie blood is riding shotgun with him, and he keeps fondling a bloody Lucille.
Rick and Michonne's return to the Hilltop is short-lived. Almost immediately, Rick heads out to scout for the Saviors. He isn't out long (or maybe he is; who the hell knows how much time passes on this show?) before he spots them. Rather than signal to Daryl, he decides to give chase when he notices that Negan is driving his own car. Alone.
Rick gives chase. That's something we almost never see in The Walking Dead: a car chase. The caravan rolls into a little town and Rick separates Negan from the rest of the group. While Simon directs the Saviors to use their cars to block off either end of the street, creating a barrier, Rick crashes into Negan, flipping his car. Rick fires wildly on the car, drawing walkers. He chases Negan into a nearby building. Rick runs out of bullets by the time he makes it into the building. Negan has run upstairs, and now taunts Rick to come after him. Rick throws a hatchet, which Negan dodges, but in doing so he slips off the unstable landing. As he dangles by his fingertips, Rick prepares to chop, but Negan chances a fall, and goes through the floor to the level below.
The scene is really, really dark. Rick and Negan taunt each other, both to figure out where they each are located as well as general trash talk. Negan again tries to tempt Rick into letting him "save" him. "Why would I trust you after what you did to Jadis' people?" Negan has no idea what he is talking about, and Rick informs him the whole community was wiped out. Negan had no idea. Rick has hold of Lucille now. He lights her on fire, then uses it to bash open a barricaded door, letting loose a swarm of zombies. Now that there is light, Negan tackles Rick and the men fight, zombies getting lit on fire all around them. Rick doesn't care if they both die as long as Negan dies first. Neither dies; Negan gets Lucille and tumbles out the window. By the time Rick gets outside, Negan is gone without a trace.
Simon and Dwight move through the city, looking for Negan. They find his trashed car, riddled with bullets and covered in blood, but no Negan. "We can keep looking, or we could walk away, get back to our people, and make things better," Simon suggests. Dwight flicks a lit cigarette on the gasoline-soaked car. "Good answer," Simon says. They return to the Saviors and announce that Negan is gone. Simon quickly takes control and reminds the group "We are all Negan!" He tells them they will continue Negan's plan, but take it to the next level. "We must expunge them! They are a mistake, one we shall erase!" The Saviors cheer.
Back at the Hilltop, Maggie and Rosita spy something out in the field. Rosita retrieves it -- discovers it is a quartet of milk crates with a note. "Fill it with food or records. I will gladly repay with the key to your future." Maggie is doubtful, but Michonne, newly imbued with Carl's optimism, wants to go check it out. Rosita, Enid, and eventually Maggie agree to go with her.
At a crossroad, the four women meet Georgie, a smartly dressed woman with her muscle, Hilda and Midge. Georgie insists that if they fill the four crates with records or food, and she will give them knowledge. No tricks. Maggie doesn't trust her, even though Georgie insists this is an exercise in trust. She agrees to take Georgie's people back to the Hilltop and decide there. Michonne is eager to trade; Maggie isn't. Georgie has crates of food, while the Hilltop starves. Enid wants to go one step further and steal all their stuff. She has turned hard since Carl's death. "We can't give up on who he wanted us to be," Michonne reasons.
Maggie relents and agrees to trade. The show of a willingness to trade was all Georgie needed. She will take only one crate of records for now, and even gives them lots of food. She also gives Maggie a thick volume filled with "medieval human achievement": plans for windmills, silos, aqueducts, everything they need to build a society. Georgie does promise that this is a barter, and she will return -- not soon, but she expects the crates to be filled when they return. Maggie is genuinely grateful. Georgie and her girls leave peacefully.
Meanwhile, Negan wakes to find himself in the passenger seat of a car. Jadis is driving, a gun pointed at him.
Tonight's episode was much better than the last couple episodes. I feel like we are finally moving forward. It's not just war between the Saviors and Rick, the Widow and the King. We have a coup in the Saviors camp, which could turn very violent if/when Negan returns. We have a new, interesting group to get to know, one that seems to have more purpose than Oceanside and can speak like normal human beings. And there are fissures showing in the Hilltop group. Enid has become quite angry. The simple explanation is that she is angry over Carl's death, but I like to think that killing Natania woke something up in her, made her a little nutty.