The first half of The Walking Dead's sixth season had its moments of terror, but, in reflection, it was perhaps a little less bloody than in seasons past. That's all about to change in the second half of the season.
When things pick up in the premiere (Sunday at 9/8c, AMC) Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his cohorts are still wading their way through the sea of walkers that invaded Alexandria in the midseason finale. While the odd are stacked against them, Rick seemed committed to putting up a fight and trying to save Alexandria as Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) implored on her deathbed. But is Rick really willing to risk his life to save these people?
"That's really the central thing ... that he has been dealing with," executive producer Scott M. Gimple tells TVGuide.com. "Has Rick come to truly take in Deanna's words and consider the whole of Alexandria as part of his family, part of his group, or is that separation there? Is accepting them strong, or is accepting them a vulnerability? That really is what our story is about. Those are the questions we're going to answer."
But Rick isn't the only one wrestling with an ideological question. In the midseason finale, Morgan (Lennie James) came to blows with Carol (Melissa McBride) when she discovered Morgan was holding one of the men who attacked Alexandria earlier in the season as a prisoner. While Morgan was hoping to rehabilitate the man with the same "all life is precious" mantra that Morgan himself had come to hold dear, Carol insisted that the prisoner was a threat who should be immediately killed. Considering that the prisoner then escaped and took Denise (Merritt Wever) hostage, it would seem Morgan was on the losing side of that argument. "Morgan is feeling the pressure of his philosophy incredibly and it's weighing on him quite a bit," Gimple says. "The pressure of what he's trying to maintain is growing and growing, and it's more difficult to defend that position even to himself."
However, Gimple suggests that even though Carol may feel she's been proven right, the debate will rage on. "The question of whether you can get through this life without blood on your hands remains open," he says. "There isn't a definitive answer even after everything that happens. It shouldn't be such an easy question to answer, even in the circumstances they're in."
Rather, Morgan might actually find that others support his more peaceful approach. "The struggle continues to be about remaining a human being," Gimple says. "The points that Eastman made to Morgan are the things that allowed him to keep living, allowed him to move from a place where he himself wanted to die. In some ways, the preservation of others is self-preservation. I think that's an idea that can be infectious. Morgan is now the source of that potentially humanistic, benevolent infection. It's not necessarily an easy infection to shake."
But self-preservation will be key, especially once our heroes meet up with Negan (guest star Jeffrey Dean Morgan), one of the most iconic and deadly villains from the comic books. Although the TV show often makes its own path when it comes to adapting the comic books, Gimple says Negan isn't a character the show will fudge with much.
"There isn't a lot of remixing to be done there," Gimple says. "He's such a distinct character. He's such a force of nature, an unusual, unique character, somebody who leapt off the page as soon as he appeared in the books. The circumstances have to be played with a little bit and there are some surprises along the way... but as far as the character Negan goes, we see him brought to life straight out of the book."
That almost certainly will mean very bad news for whoever might end up on the wrong side of Negan's trusty barbwire-wrapped bat Lucille. And even though the threat of Negan looms large, Gimple says fans should prepare themselves for an entirely different kind of threat this season.
"One of the huge threats of the back half of the season [is] Rick's group," he says. "They're one of the biggest threats out there. Some of the scariest people in the back half of the season are our people. These core characters have been living in this world for some time now and have developed a real strength and a real knowledge of how to live in it. These characters are at their strongest right now. The problem is, is the threats to the world are also at their strongest. We'll see these immovable objects meet."
All of which suggests a higher body count this season. In the bloody season opener alone, multiple significant characters find themselves in severe jeopardy, and that's even before the show brings one of the comics' most memorable moments to life onscreen. And according to Gimple, that's only the beginning of the pain. "The back half of the season will involve some crying and screaming at the TV set," he teases.
In other words, start forming your support groups now.
The Walking Dead premieres Sunday at 9/8c on AMC.
Watch the first four minutes of the premiere below.