On Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead, Rick and Negan engaged in a no holds barred brawl, giving the show a sense of urgency it badly needs. It's currently pretty dark times for The Walking Dead, and not just for the characters onscreen. While the post-apocalyptic series still currently reigns atop the ratings charts, its numbers continue to steadily plummet, with last week's episode earning a mere 2.8. To add context, the season premiere drew a 5.0, which is an enormous drop in such a short time.
One of the most commonly expressed fan complaints concerning The Walking Dead season 8 is just how slow-paced the story is moving. This is a problem the show has suffered from in the past, most notably during the glacial period where Rick and company made their home at Herschel's farm. Season 8 has really been guilty of lagging though, with entire episodes going by and almost nothing of consequence happening, and brief gun battles between Rick's army and Negan's Saviors being surrounded by constant brooding and moping. This may be realistic of how people would behave in such a terrible situation, but it's not exactly great TV.
Thankfully, Sunday's night episode - titled "The Key" - kicked things back into high gear for the first time in quite a while. A new character was introduced in the enigmatic but outwardly benevolent Georgie. A now alone Jadis looks positioned to make herself a major player in the war by capturing Negan. And in the episode's arguable coup de gras, Rick decides to say hell with the back and forth cat and mouse attacks, and just takes the fight straight to Negan. From the moment Rick jumps into his truck and proceeds to smash it directly into Negan's car, the stakes are raised, and not a moment between the two characters from then on isn't packed with adrenaline.
While Rick has in one sense clearly lost it due to Carl's recent death, it's refreshing to see Rick be so proactive. He wasn't planning an attack, but while surveilling the enemy, Rick sees Negan, and decides it's time to finish things between them. Despite the fact that he didn't succeed, the initial car chase, and the ensuing hand to hand and weapon to weapon brawl engaged in by the two leaders was some finally compelling TV. These scenes carried a sense of urgency sure to make fans want to know what happened next, and that kind of excitement is exactly what the currently flagging Walking Dead needs to get fans interested again.
That all said, even if "The Key" accomplishes its goal, and gets good reviews from those still watching The Walking Dead, the real test will be next week's episode, entitled "Do Not Send Us Astray". It won't matter if the word of mouth on the most recent episode was good if the next one is back to business as usual. Ratings might conceivably climb a bit next week based on the quality of "The Key," but if "Astray" disappoints, that will just serve to establish "The Key" as the exception proving the rule that TWD just can't escape its season 8 rut.