"The Key" is the twelfth episode of the eighth season of AMC's The Walking Dead. It is the one-hundred and eleventh episode of the series overall. It premiered on March 18, 2018. It was written by Corey Reed & Channing Powell and directed by Greg Nicotero.
Simon directs his crew as they gut yard walkers and collect entrails into which they immerse their weapons for their attack against Hilltop. Negan predicts Rick's group will surrender once they comprehend his new strategy.
Dwight joins the Saviors as they mobilize. Simon instructs his crew to wound a few Hilltoppers with their tainted weapons and let them turn instead of killing them.
Dwight mounts his motorcycle and informs Simon that he plans to scout their route. Simon says they already have scouts and that Negan wants them to ride together for a debriefing. They drive off with a convoy of Saviors.
Negan dips Lucille in a bucket of walker guts and takes the open bucket with him in the car.
Daryl apologizes to Rick for attacking the Sanctuary behind Rick's back. Rick forgives him and assures him that he's ready to fight Negan despite Carl's death. They decide to join a team of lookouts scattered around Hilltop.
While en route to Hilltop, Simon asks Dwight what he thinks of Negan's plan. Dwight is hesitant to answer. Simon reveals his own doubts that Negan's strategy will work given that Rick, Maggie and Ezekiel "don't scare."
Rosita retrieves the crate and gives Maggie the attached note, which offers them a "key to your future" in exchange for food and records. The note includes coordinates for a meeting point. Maggie worries that it's a trap, but Michonne suggests they investigate.
Rick watches the road from a parked car. He spots Negan's convoy and reaches for the horn to alert the others, but decides at the last second to go after Negan on his own.
While driving through a city, Rick rams his car into the side of Negan's car, then pursues him down city streets.
Simon instructs the rest of the Saviors to stay behind and set up a perimeter while he and Dwight search for Negan.
Negan awakens in his overturned car, covered in walker guts. Rick stumbles out of his smashed vehicle, approaches and shoots at Negan, who uses the car for cover.
Negan escapes into an nearby abandoned building with Rick hot on his heels.
Inside, Rick continues firing at Negan but quickly runs out of bullets. On a staircase, he throws his hatchet at Negan and narrowly misses. Negan breaks through the railing on the stair landing and dangles from the edge by his fingers.
Rick grabs his hatchet and chops at Negan's hands, but Negan releases his grip and plummets into the basement.
Michonne, Maggie and Enid drive to the designated meeting spot and find two women waiting by a van. A third woman wearing a suit steps out and introduces herself as Georgie. Her bodyguards are Hilda and Midge. Georgie explains that she can give Maggie valuable knowledge in exchange for food and records. Maggie takes them prisoner instead.
Rick hunts for Negan in the basement. He discovers a barricaded storage room full of walkers. Negan makes Rick an offer: If Alexandria, Hilltop and the Kingdom fall in line, they'll only be required to send the Saviors a quarter of their supplies as long as Rick works at the Sanctuary as a janitor. Rick retorts that Negan lost his credibility after the Saviors killed all the Scavengers. Negan reels at the news of the massacre. Rick finds Lucille on the ground.
Simon and Dwight search for Negan. Simon presses Dwight into admitting his resentment of Negan. Dwight sarcastically says that he never thought about killing Negan even after he took his wife and burned his face. Simon expresses a desire to move on from Rick's group and find new communities.
Simon and Dwight find Negan's wrecked car. They decide to abandon their search and return to the Saviors. Dwight lights the car on fire.
At Hilltop, Rosita and Enid guard Georgie, Hilda and Midge.
Michonne confers with Maggie. Maggie refuses to release Georgie after discovering a significant supply of food in her van. Enid agrees that taking the food to feed their starving people is the right move, but Michonne argues that Carl wanted them to be better people. Maggie reflects on this.
Rick tells Negan he has Lucille. Negan forbids Rick from touching her. Rick sets Lucille on fire and bashes the barricade to the storage room, busting it open. Negan charges at him.
Rick swings at Negan. Meanwhile, walkers flood out of the storage room and attack. Negan tackles Rick, grabs his beloved bat and escapes. Rick chases him through a window. He runs outside and finds his car gone.
Maggie gives Georgie a crate of food and record albums, and Georgie reciprocates with a sizable portion of the food in her van, having seen the desperate state of Hilltop and knowing that it needs the supplies more than she does. She gives Maggie a binder full of plans for windmills, water mills and other schematics to help create a community, the key to a future that she had been talking about. "Build this place up," she urges Maggie.
After Georgie leaves, Enid talks with Michonne, expressing her skepticism of Georgie's vision. Michonne believes that Carl was telling them that there's more to building a future than simply fighting.
Simon and Dwight inform the Saviors that Negan is gone. Simon reminds them that with or without their leader, the plan goes on. They're all Negan. He proposes they attack Hilltop — and kill everyone. The Saviors raise their guns in solidarity as Dwight looks on in horror, having not realized that Simon intended to "move on" by killing everyone.
Negan wakes up in a driving car and finds Jadis behind the steering wheel, holding him at gunpoint. He chuckles and Jadis knocks him unconscious.
- Elizabeth Ludlow as Arat
- Mike Seal as Gary
- Mandi Christine Kerr as Barbara
- Kim Ormiston as Hilda
- Misty Ormiston as Midge
- First (and last) appearance of Georgie.
- First (and last) appearance of Hilda.
- First (and last) appearance of Midge.
- The title of the episode, "The Key", refers to Georgie's "A Key to a Future", which is "a book of medieval human achievement so that we may have a future from our past."
- This episode is 68 minutes long, with commercials, according to AMC's schedule.
- It is the ninth extended episode this season and the twenty-seventh overall.
- This episode marks Katelyn Nacon's 25th appearance on the show.
- This episode marks Judith Grimes' 50th appearance in the show.
- This is the only episode in Season 8 to not feature any deaths.
- Furthermore, this is the first episode since "Rock in the Road" to not feature any deaths.
- Rick uses the radio he took off of a dead Savior in "The Lost and the Plunderers" to see the Saviors coming.
- Negan finds out about Simon killing the Scavengers back in "The Lost and the Plunderers".
- This episode continues this Season's tradition of referencing previous events:
- Michonne telling Enid "The last time we took a chance like this, it changed everything." is a callback to the episode "The Distance" when Rick ultimately decided to enter the Alexandria Safe-Zone.
- When Rick is talking to Negan while looking for him, he lightens a door locked with planks on which the word "EATERS" is painted, eventually containing walkers that can be heard from inside. This is a reference to the doors Rick saw in the pilot episode where the words "DON'T OPEN/DEAD INSIDE" were painted, containing walkers inside.
- Jerry is still sporting visible injuries from the Saviors attack on him in "How It's Gotta Be".
- The lighter that Rick uses to set Lucille on fire belonged to Glenn Rhee. This is an indirect reference to Glenn's demise.
- This episode featured the first fully nude walker.
- When Rick enters his car after seeing the vehicles of Saviors, a license plate can be seen in the front of his car. When he is about to hit Negan's car, the license plate is nowhere to be seen.