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‘The Walking Dead’: Five things to watch for this season

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Buckle up, zombie lovers: AMC's monster hit "The Walking Dead" is back this week for an all-new season, and promising more blood-and-guts action than ever. Gone are the slow pacing and navel-gazing of Season 2 (thank goodness), replaced by a sped-up narrative, a fresh location to explore (a creepy prison), and the long-awaited arrival of two fan-favorite characters from the comics. We're combing through all the Season 3 hype to give you five things to watch for this season.

Last season saw Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his band of survivors set up shop at a farm run by kindly animal doctor Hershel, only to see it overrun by a herd of walkers on the finale. It also saw the death of a few major characters, most notably wise old Dale (torn apart by walkers) and macho alpha dude Shane (offed by Rick, then zombiefied and shot by Carl). And as readers of the comics can tell you, absolutely no one in the cast is safe. We can't tell you who's going to make it out of this season alive, but we can share a few nuggets we've picked up about what to expect this season. Like, for example:

We pick up eight months later
It's been seven months since the last new "Walking Dead" episode aired, but Rick and the gang have actually been waiting even longer than that. "We meet them after eight months," Lincoln tells the Associated Press. After a long winter of wandering around looking for shelter, the crew is exhausted, worn thin, and ready to snap. "They're desperate. They're more desperate than they've ever been, so much so that in the teaser, no one says a word, and everything is kind of sad," Lincoln says. (On the bright side, they've also gotten really good at killing zombies together.)

One big weight hanging over the group: the death of Shane, which still haunts Rick and his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), who notoriously hooked up with Shane when she thought Rick was dead. "They haven't looked at each other for a long time, and [Sarah] and I made a conscious decision to not make eye contact while playing it, because every time they do look at each other, it burns with guilt over Shane," says Lincoln. Oh, and just to add a little soapy drama to the mix, Lori's still pregnant with that baby that may be either Rick's or Shane's.

[Video: The 'Walking Dead' Cast Shows Us How to Walk Like a Zombie]

Get a closer look at Michonne
One of the most exciting parts of last season's "Walking Dead" finale was that brief glimpse we got of a hooded warrior saving Andrea from a pack of walkers with a few slices of her katana blade. That's Michonne, a favorite from the comics and a major player in the Season 3 action, played by "Treme" actress Danai Gurira. "She listens to her own rules, and sometimes those rules don't make sense to the rest of the world," Gurira says to The Hollywood Reporter about her character. "She has a strong sense of justice and she's very deeply connected to that sword." (Yeah, we kind of sensed that.) Michonne and Andrea join forces to make their way through the zombie wasteland together until they cross paths with…

The Governor wants your vote
Zombies might be the least of Rick's worries once he encounters The Governor, a major villain in the comic books played here by "Doctor Who" alum David Morrissey. The Governor oversees an idyllic, zombie-free town called Woodbury that Andrea and Michonne happen upon… but things aren't quite as picture-perfect there as they seem. "The clash of civilizations is very much what this season is about," Lincoln tells TVLine. "It's not only the zombie threat; it's much more of a human threat."

Fans of the comics might be disappointed to see Morrissey doesn't resemble the ghoulish Governor they know and hate, but that's intentional. "When we meet him in the book, he's a bad-ass straight off the bat, doing evil things quite quickly. My character is not like that," Morrissey tells THR. "We start him earlier in his genesis. He's a man running this town successfully and making sure you live in a secure place. And anyone that does anything to unbalance or threaten that, then he'll come down on them like a ton of bricks." In other words, Rick vs. The Governor might just put Rick vs. Shane to shame.

[Photos: Check Out More Pics From 'The Walking Dead' Season 3]

Prepare to spend some time behind bars
Hershel's farm seemed like a safe enough destination last season… but we all know how that turned out. This season, the crew finds a much more secure location to hide out: a highly fortified maximum-security prison. The prison's not exactly unoccupied, though; when they get there, they find it's crawling with walkers -- and a few scattered human survivors. "When the outbreak happened, it was a zombie movie that took place in a prison," showrunner Glen Mazzara tells TVLine. "And now our guys come in, and they're the sequel to what happened." ("Zombie Prison 2"? We'd watch that, actually.)

Ready or not, here comes Merle
Since Season 1, we've been wondering whatever happened to Daryl's racist coke-fiend brother Merle (Michael Rooker), who escaped being handcuffed on a rooftop by hacking off his own hand. We get our answer this season when Merle pops back up as a resident of Woodbury, complete with a big ol' knife attached to the stump where his hand used to be. "It's been months since he chopped off his hand, and whatever injuries he sustained have healed, and he's found a handy prosthetic," Rooker tells THR. "You're going to see a lot of different shades of Merle… He doesn't make friends very well." (No kidding!)

One person who's actually happy to see Merle again: his little brother, crossbow-wielding redneck Daryl (Norman Reedus). "[Merle] is a bull in a china shop, but he's Daryl's brother, and I want him to be in the china shop," Reedus says, before adding, "He's definitely breaking things all over the place." The Dixon brothers together again, Michonne, The Governor, the prison… looks like the long wait is about to pay off, "Walking Dead" fans.

Get a sneak peek at the new season of "The Walking Dead" with this Season 3 trailer:

Season 3 of "The Walking Dead" premieres Sunday, 10/14 at 9 PM on AMC.

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