The first half of The Walking Dead's seventh season was a slog. It was even bleaker and more violent than usual, with hero Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) completely beaten down by monstrous bad guy Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Daryl (Norman Reedus) spent an episode naked and crying from the Guantanamo-like torture being inflicted upon him. The situation seemed hopeless for the Grimes Gang, and the episodes had a claustrophobic dourness.

That is, until the very end of the midseason finale, when Rick finally got his spine and his gun back. Reinvigorated Rick is going to be around for awhile, because the second half of the season is going to be tonally opposite the first half, according to Lincoln, who sounds just as glad as you are.

"There's a lot more levity, if you can believe that, than you've ever seen before in Mr. Grimes," Lincoln said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "There's sort of a freedom in him, a feeling that comes from losing everything, and also the thrill of the fight. It's the thrill of the fight again. He's back in. All I'm saying is that the band is back together."

Norman Reedus, Alanna Masterson and Andrew Lincoln, <em>The Walking Dead</em>Norman Reedus, Alanna Masterson and Andrew Lincoln, The Walking Dead

Levity? From sourpuss Rick Grimes? I will believe that when I see it. I seriously doubt there's going to be any lighthearted merriment on The Walking Dead, but maybe he means that Rick's not going to be so deferential to Negan anymore.

Reading between the lines, it sounds like Lincoln didn't love the first half of the season. "There are several episodes that I loved being involved in and it certainly feels very much more like a show that I knew and recognized in the back eight [episodes]," he says. "I loved the episodes that I was in."

"It's The Magnificent Seven in the back half," he continued, referencing the 1960 Western classic about a gang of ass-kicking gunslingers. "Rather, the magnificent eight episodes. Wait 'til [Episode] 16. I promise you, there is one beat in 16, I dropped my script and started punching the air and did a little jig."

Around this time last year he said the Season 6 finale script made him sick to his stomach, so this sounds like it's going to be a big, happy change indeed.

The Walking Dead returns Sunday, Feb. 12 at 9/8c on AMC.