If you felt the zombie element has been lacking the past couple seasons on The Walking Dead, you are in luck.
The new season's 90-minute premiere (Sunday, 9/8c, AMC) jumps right back into the fray as Rick (Andrew Lincoln) & Co. face the threat of a zombie horde larger than anything we've seen on the show to this point. And although the group devises a pretty smart plan to protect Alexandria from the herd of undead, don't expect everything to go according to plan.
Of course, the zombies aren't the only threat. Rick is still no doubt under fire from the Alexandrians for his hard-charging ways, which culminated, with the blessing of Alexandria leader Deanna (Tovah Feldhshuh), in Rick shooting Alexandrian Pete in the face for his accidental murder of Deanna's husband Reg. And if that wasn't bad enough, Rick's former friend Morgan (Lennie James) showed up just in time to see Rick's brutal display.
So, is Rick fully in control this season? How will Morgan's return change the power dynamics? And might there be a little room this season for — gasp! — hope? Check out what you need to know about the new season below.
1. Zombies, zombies and more zombies. After spending several seasons fighting against human threats (the Governor, Terminus, Dawn and her Hospital of Doom), the show is shifting back to its most basic form of danger. "Beyond doubt, [there are] more zombies in this season than probably in the last three," Lincoln tells TVGuide.com. "This season is undeniably a zombie show. We are bigger and bolder and the ambition of this season I think so that every episode feels like a season finale. It's astonishing."
Of course, that won't be the only threat. Lest we forget, our heroes seems to be on the radar of a nearby group known as The Wolves. "This season is epic in scope because we are reintroducing the walkers as a threat, but anyone who follows the comic book knows that there are other threats on the horizon," executive producer Gale Anne Hurd says. "There are threats from within — within the group, within Alexandria — and threats from without, whether they be walker or human."
2. Reunited and it feels so... different? It's been a long time since Rick and Morgan crossed paths, and both men are fundamentally different from how they were during their last encounter. In fact, their views about violence and cold-bloodedness have essentially flip-flopped since "Clear," when Rick tried to talk Morgan down from his mission to wipe out walkers and humans alike. But even if Morgan has adopted a newfound appreciation for life, he isn't necessarily as repulsed by Rick as you might think.
Instead, Morgan goes out of his way to abide by Rick's rule in Alexandria and seems to be trying to draw the Rick's humanity out of him once more. "Morgan has access to Rick that a lot of other people don't because they love and respect each other because they saved each other," Lincoln says. "There is an honorable code of war or whatever you want to call it where people go, 'You saved my ass, I saved your ass.' Whatever you may think, there's a mutual respect between these two men, however differing their ideologies."
But Morgan's patience won't last forever, and those ideologies will eventually come into conflict. "These two characters have this incredible history together in this apocalypse, and yet don't really know each other," Lincoln says. "To have Morgan as such a strong, granite-like counterpoint to Rick is a brilliant device because, Rick is a very formidable, tenacious leader. [We now] have somebody who's almost like the audience's POV to ask the questions and to challenge him in a way. He's constantly very gently saying, 'Are you sure about that?' It's almost like two people getting to know each other for the first time."
3. There's a new sheriff in town. Regardless if Rick can convince Morgan to see things his way, he's already asserted his dominance over most of the Alexandrians, who Rick & Co. believe to be ill-equipped to survive in the apocalypse. And as Deanna grieves the death of her husband, there is a bit of a power vacuum. But Rick is aware that he may not be able to rule by pure brute force.
"It's a journey from them to us," Lincoln says. "Can they integrate? Can I acquiesce? Can I let them in? Can I restrain myself for the sake of their progress and their learning, and can we educate these people?" Adds Hurd: "I think it's about coexistence. When you're living in a walled community, how do you keep that cohesiveness? It's not as if really there's an option for people to leave, to go to the next town over. So, there's a pressure cooker. When they are faced with life or death issues, who's going to have the say? Who's going to make those decisions?"
4. New faces. There are Alexandrians we haven't met yet. Ethan Embry plays Carter, a member of the community who is very uneasy about life under Rick's rule. We will also meet Heath (Straight Outta Compton's Corey Hawkins), a recruiter who has been out of the camp since before Rick's group arrived.
5. Dissension in the ranks? Rick isn't only facing questions from Morgan and the Alexandrians. In fact, Daryl (Norman Reedus) challenges Rick's opinion in the premiere. "People start to realize their own individual-ness, their own choices," Lincoln says. "They start making their own choices and determining their own life far more. As you find some semblance of safety, people start becoming more civilized and listening and hopefully developing their individuality."
But that doesn't mean this is the Ricktatorship 2.0. Even though the premiere suggests their may be a traitor undermining Rick, Hurd says he can still be reasoned with. "He's someone who will do what it takes in the moment to save those closest to him, but at the same time, he will listen," she says. "He'll take other people's counsel, but he's not going to ever embrace a choice that will endanger those he loves."
6. Romance? One Alexandrian Rick won over last season was Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge). However, the obvious romantic spark between the two is certainly complicated. (Remember the guy Rick shot in the face? It was Jessie's husband!) "The first date is going to be difficult! I think it's always difficult dating in the apocalypse," Lincoln says with a laugh, noting that despite all that, their bond is real. "Jessie was instrumental in unlocking a part of Rick that he hadn't accessed for a long, long time, and I still think that that side of him, he hasn't even had time to consider. But they recognize each other. There is some spark between these two people, and he sees the strength in her. That's something Rick is attracted [to], somebody that is their own person."
However, even though Jessie's husband was abusive, she may not be able to so quickly forget him. "There's a guilt that Jessie must be feeling having contributed to getting to that point, that not only Pete was killed, but Reg was killed also," Hurd teases. "So there's guilt, and anger, and rage on everyone's part."
7. It's a little bit brighter. Perhaps following on the idea of romance, the show is looking to lighten things up just a tad this season. "What's remarkable about this season is that the power of the human spirit, the desire to survive and to create something is a safe haven, that is a sanctuary, continues to burn within all of them," Hurd says. "There are going to be a great deal of obstacles along the way, but the other thing that's remarkable is that there is still humor. It may be gallows humor at times, but there is still an opportunity for not only humor, but even a sense of fun, because that's what keeps us human. It isn't simply about moment-to-moment survival. We can connect with each other in a way in which we find joy, and there is going to be joy in this season."
But will that joy eventually be crushed once again? "Where there's life, there's hope," Lincoln says. "There's something very interesting that happens this season that we haven't done for a long time, and I think hope begins to enter into the equation again. It's very exciting but can also be very scary."
The Walking Dead premieres Sunday at 9/8c on AMC.