The Walking Dead returns for the second half of its seventh season this Sunday, and it's going to feel like a much different show than the rather downtrodden first half. But don't take our word for it. got executive producer and makeup effects guru Greg Nicotero on the horn to preview Season 7B, and he gave us his picks for his favorite episode of the season, teased a spectacular moment in the season premiere and offered an update on our favorite character, Carol (Melissa McBride).

Season 7A had a distinct structure and spent entire episodes in one location. What will 7B look like?
Greg Nicotero: I think we ended the first half of the season seeing Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and our group back together again. I feel like [the 7B premiere] feels like an offshoot of our midseason premiere last year. If you remember, all the walkers invaded Alexandria, and Rick and his group and the Alexandrians all realized that in order to survive, that particular community needed to fight together. That was a small part of the lesson that I think he's now realizing, which is, it's not just my small community that needs to work together to survive, it's every community. So he's in recruitment mode, he's in full recruitment mode.

I don't think Rick would have been this guy if he hadn't gone through what he went through in Season 6 and now in Season 7. We spend time laying the groundwork for what turns out to be great opportunities for the show to really start accelerating in pace. As we've done in a lot of our other seasons, the second half of the season seems to go at a much quicker, more breakneck pace in terms of introducing new characters, in terms of changing things around. So for sure, this second half of the season definitely has a different kind of feel and pace to it. It's definitely not as gloomy as the first half was.

Andrew Lincoln, The Walking DeadAndrew Lincoln, The Walking Dead

What's your favorite episode of 7B, and why?
Listen, that's a little bit of a loaded question. I would have to say either Episode 9 [Sunday's premiere] or the finale. And the finale was just a complete blast to shoot, I had so much fun. And after the grueling mentally and emotionally year we all went through, it ended on such a great positive note on the shoot, I was kind of like, "Wow! How did we do that?"

But this episode, I'm very proud of this episode. All the performances are great, there's some humor to it. There's some really funny bits and moments, there's probably our most ingenious "popcorn popper" moment. [Nicotero went to describe a particular scene that will have you jumping off your couch in glee...]

How much will Season 7B deviate from the comics?
There are some communities and groups of people that we'll come into contact with, some that are not in the comic book. I'm trying to answer that — I really don't want to spoil anything. I think we'll be consistent with what we do for the show in keeping things interesting and deviating here and there from the comic book but still paying tribute to it.

One character I've been concerned about is Carol. I miss the badass Carol, what role will she play in this half of the season?
Well, you know. It's interesting to me that Morgan (Lennie James) didn't know anything that happened with Negan, in terms of Glenn (Steven Yeun), in terms of Abraham (Michael Cudlitz). They don't even know. As far as they know, they hit the outpost and everything's fine and they left. I think it's a fascinating aspect that Morgan didn't know, and if you sit back and think about it, Carol doesn't know either. Carol's off in her own world, she doesn't know anything about what happened to her friends.

So badass Carol, I don't know. I don't know if badass Carol exists that much anymore, I think she's crossed that area and her relationship with Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and The Kingdom, she's in a good place. She's in a place where there's peace there and I think that's what she needs. I don't know if we would really see much of that Carol again. She's retired some of those personas.

The Walking Dead: Where we left off

I really like what you did with The Governor in his flashback episodes, it helped me understand him a lot more. Will The Walking Dead do anything similar with Negan?
Yeah, you know I haven't read those yet — the comic books. But I know that they're out there. I don't know, I haven't really heard much about that yet, but we have plenty of story ahead of us.

Your ratings are still really great, but they're still a little down. Does that change how you approach anything?
Nope. I feel the way people watch television and the way they process that entertainment has changed considerably. It's not about who's watching the show that night, it's about who watches it down the road, and there's a lot of people who watch it three days later, five days later, seven days later. So it's astounding to me that after seven years, we're still averaging 15 million viewers or so, somewhere in there, I'm not exactly sure where. For me, that's a win, not a loss.

7A features some HUGE deaths, can we expect any major characters to bite it in 7B?
I don't believe — You know, I haven't seen the final edits of the final couple episodes, so honestly I can't say.

The Walking Dead returns for the second half of Season 7 on Sunday, Feb. 12 at 9/8c.