The eighth season of The Walking Dead is like the post-apocalyptic version of Groundhog Day: Everyone is stuck in a continuous loop from which there is no escape. Rick Grimes and the people formerly of Alexandria are in conflict with Negan and the Saviors, just as they have been for the better part of two seasons.
This “All Out War” has some frustratingly familiar beats. Either Rick or Negan’s group will momentarily gain the upper hand, but if the episode isn’t a season premiere or finale, none of the main characters—or even just side characters who you know by name—are in mortal danger. So when an episode in the middle of the season promises another hands-on confrontation between Rick and Negan, like Sunday night’s episode, “The Key,” you know that—spoiler alert—both characters are going to make it out safely. The “key” for The Walking Dead to be a successful series is to make this narrative quicksand somewhat entertaining on a weekly basis. (That it consistently fails to do so speaks to the show’s perpetually declining ratings.)
But sometimes The Walking Dead strikes gold, and Sunday’s episode was a home run. Not a home run like, “Let’s just hand out the Emmys right now”; more like, “Is this the dumbest thing I’ve seen on television this year?!” The answer might be yes. Negan and Rick’s most preposterous fight to date left me with many, many questions—here are 21 of my most pressing.
1. Before we get to the fight, I’d love to know: What is Rick thinking? In the midseason premiere, he lost his son, Carl—or “Coral” in Rick mumble parlance. Carl’s parting message can essentially be boiled down to: stop the fighting and give peace a chance—yes, even with Negan. What does Rick do not long after burying his son, in the 10th episode? He hits up Negan on a walkie-talkie to talk shit!
2. To quote Negan, from that walkie-talkie episode: “What the hell are you doing, Rick?” INDEED.
3. Now, in “The Key,” Rick has just made it to the Hilltop, which is the only allied community left standing from the war with the Saviors. His adorable toddler Judith is there, the last remaining member of the Grimes family. Why doesn’t Rick stick around for a minute, or at least take a power nap? As soon as everyone’s settled, he takes out a car to go scouting for Negan’s people.
4. This is what Rick and the other Hilltop scouts are supposed to do upon seeing the Saviors: Honk your car horn to alert the group. It’s a pretty simple instruction! Rick has just seen a huge group of Saviors, led by Negan …
Why aren’t you honking your horn, dude?
5. Does he really think he’s going to take on an entire community in a beat-up SUV? (Yes, yes he does.)
6. Is Rick going to sneak up on an entire convoy in the middle of a town square and perfectly time his acceleration to hit Negan’s Dodge Charger and avoid every other Savior?
You know what? Fine. I’ll allow it. Rick once ripped a guy’s throat out with his teeth—he’s in another realm of badassery, and he has massive plot armor.
7. Rick and Negan are now engaged in a car chase. Is it just me or is this … a really, really slow car chase?
Don’t Dodge Chargers have a bonkers amount of horsepower? Is the speed limit still enforced in the zombie apocalypse? Negan, step on the gas!
8. We just established Negan is driving at the speed of my grandmother, so how come nobody from the convoy has caught up to them? Alternatively, why didn’t Negan just hit the brakes immediately, surrounding Rick with his entire army of people?
9. This is the first thing we see once the show cuts back to Negan and Rick from another story line …
How did they crash? If you’re The Walking Dead, why wouldn’t you show the crash? How do you hype up a car chase between your two main characters and not show how one of them ended up sideways in a car covered in zombie blood?
10. Is AMC so cheap that it wouldn’t stage a really cool car crash?
11. Rick, who got out of the crash relatively unscathed, is just unloading bullets on Negan. Why doesn’t Negan carry a gun with him? It’s definitely more practical than a baseball bat covered in barbed wire.
12. How has Negan not been shot?!
13. Is Rick going to run out of bullets at just the wrong time?
You bet he is.
14. Unfortunately, we are robbed of a proper Rick-with-ax versus Negan-with-bat fight, because Rick tosses his ax at Negan, which causes him to lose balance and, eventually, fall down that flight of stairs. Did Negan survive the fall?
15. Rick and Negan are shooting the shit again in a dark basement—it’s like the walkie-talkie trash talk, Part 2. But here’s where things get interesting. Negan offers Rick a deal: stop fighting and the Saviors will broker a deal. The deal used to be that Alexandria, Hilltop, and the Kingdom communities would have to give 50 percent of their stuff to the Saviors in exchange for, um, not getting killed, but in this basement-proposed deal, the Saviors would take only 25 percent of their stuff.
“They get to live like 75 percent kings!” Negan boasts. Not a bad deal, but why are you proposing this right now? After you fall several stories into a dark, damp basement, you don’t exactly have bargaining power.
16. Is Rick going to accept the deal? Of course not—but I’m reminded of Carl’s parting words of attaining peace, and imagine he’d be pretty bummed that his dad is stalking Negan in a basement right now.
17. How do you put an exclamation point on rejecting a new peace treaty? You set Negan’s beloved baseball bat, Lucille, on fire.
18. Serious question: What the hell is that bat made out of? I think it’s a Louisville Slugger, but having seen David Ortiz break one over his thigh, I have no clue how Lucille has bashed many heads in, torn apart zombies, caught a bullet, and is now working like a charm on fire.
19. Is The Walking Dead part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? This thing might be made of vibranium.
20. What’s more improbably durable: Negan’s bat or Michonne’s katana?
After Sunday’s episode, I’m giving the edge to Lucille.
(The “Zombie Research Society” has a whole article about how a katana is an impractical weapon for the zombie apocalypse. It’s the most important thing you’ll read all day.)
21. Rick and Negan both make it out of the zombie-infested basement unscathed, because this isn’t the season finale. Now, was this the most ridiculous fight they’ve had so far? Absolutely.
Is there any way The Walking Dead can top this level of so-bad-it’s-good-television moving forward?
No seriously, please tell me. I have no idea what the show can do, aside from reviving the CGI tiger in zombie form. Actually—yes, please do that!