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The Walking Dead: What Does 'The Key' Mean For The Rest Of The War?

SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, “The Key,” which premiered Sunday night on AMC.

Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, represents the first time we’ve ever really seen Negan sweat -- and with good reason. “The Key” saw him lose virtually everything that’s important to him, whether he knows it or not.

Rick cleverly (if bluntly) separates him from Simon and the rest of the Saviors while they’re on their way to the Hilltop in an effort to quash the rebellion once and for all. The two wind up in yet another verbal sparring match/cat and mouse game through the basement of an abandoned building. Negan escapes with his life, but not before learning Simon has slaughtered the Scavengers, and losing his precious Lucille. We don’t get to see the fallout of the latter, because Rick lights Lucille on fire to battle some walkers and, predictably, starts a blaze in the basement that smokes Negan out before he can get the bat back. But while the Savior leader escapes, it’s out of the fire and into the frying pan as he wakes up in a moving vehicle driven by Jadis who’s holding him at gunpoint.

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Jadis, for her part, is summarily out of f**ks, having abandoned her blacks and esoteric speech for a red flannel and a steaming cup of “shut up and stay knocked out.” She beans Negan in the head with her pistol as soon as he opens his mouth (good call) and keeps driving as the episode cuts to black. Negan is now the prisoner of a woman who believes him responsible for the death of her entire community, and even if she finds out he had nothing to do with the massacre, it’s unlikely that’ll make a difference to her. That said, what she’ll do with him remains very unpredictable.

From a narrative standpoint, we feel we can safely say she’s not going to execute him anytime soon -- Jadis offing Negan would be woefully anti-climactic. That’s not to say she doesn’t have some kind of elaborate revenge in mind, perhaps for both Negan and Rick, whom she might blame just as much for the destruction of her people (it’s a lot her own fault, but Jadis isn’t known for her rationality).

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There’s also the question of where she’s going. It could be that instead of resenting Rick, she now sees the error of her own ways and is making her way to the Hilltop with a bargaining chip. Or maybe she’s had a helicopter this whole time and she’s taking Negan to a secret bunker that provided her with the power necessary to operate that giant meat grinder. But regardless of what happens between Negan and Jadis, his capture represents other, more far-reaching implications for the war. Negan isn’t just captured, he’s also out of control of his incredibly powerful forces, and in that power vacuum, a murderous (though supremely entertaining) sociopath has taken the reins.

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Simon took advantage of Negan’s absence to leave him for dead and assume control of the raiding party that’s headed to the Hilltop. He gives a stirring speech that more or less calls for wiping out anyone who opposes them, then he recruits poor Dwight who’s now a triple agent and probably in serious need of a Xanax about now.

Even if Negan makes it out of Jadis’ clutches and gets back to his people, will they be his people anymore? Two episodes ago, Negan was adamant in his intention to force Rick back in line, motivated by his own grief at the death of Carl’s son. This week, he was a little more malleable, offering to call a truce with Rick in exchange for only 25 percent of whatever the communities produce instead of the usual 50 percent. He was probably just playing for time, but it’s still the most desperate we’ve seen the Savior leader since Rick grabbed Lucille the first time back in “How It’s Gotta Be.”

Once he finds out what Simon’s done in his name and how perilous his hold on the Saviors actually is, could that be enough to push him to seek an actual truce? It would certainly be an interesting way to flip the script having Negan sacrifice his own bravado to simply end the fighting, it may be that’s where we’re heading.

In the comics, it’s Rick who talks Negan out of continuing the war, insisting that the times when harsh and brutal leadership were needed to survive the new world are long-gone. But considering Rick seems hell bent on wiping out the Saviors despite Carl's dying wishes, he’s not likely to be the architect of peace anytime soon. Perhaps that’s because he won’t be the architect of peace at all, but the recipient of it. It could be that the flash-forwards we see of a sick and wounded Rick whispering about “mercy” represent him accepting an genuine truce from Negan despite his wish to totally destroy the enemy.

Stranger things have happened...

Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC, The Walking Dead stars Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler, Josh McDermitt as Eugene Porter, Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan.

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