AMC resurrects “The Walking Dead” for Season 2

While the drama going on behind the scenes — the ousting of creator/showrunner Frank Darabont, and how the decision might have been linked to AMC spending too much money on Mad Men — is the stuff of bad soap operas, there’s no denying the quality of what gets onscreen in The Walking Dead, the network’s highest-rated show.

More than 10 months will have passed between the debut season’s abbreviated six-episode run and the premiere of Season 2 — which begins Sunday at 9pm — and anticipation has only grown in that time. Several storylines were left dangling, including the complicated love triangle between Rick (Andrew Lincoln), his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and best friend Shane (Jon Bernthal).

What will happen if and when Rick finds out about Lori having taken up with Shane when they both thought Rick was dead? Then there was the matter of Merle (Michael Rooker), the unrepentant racist who was left handcuffed by his fellow survivors on top of a building as a horde of zombies approached. Did he survive, and what kind of trouble will he make for the group should he return? Will his brother Daryl (Norman Reedus) follow suit?

Much of the principal cast and creative talent (including Darabont, just days before he was given the ax) gathered this July at Comic-Con in San Diego to share tidbits on what to expect in the new season. They were tight-lipped about specifics, but we do know that the group faces internal crises stemming from the daily strain of having to endure their new world, and that some splintering occurs.

Also, fans of the Robert Kirkman comic — on which The Walking Dead is based — will be familiar with the setting of Hershel’s farm, where the group takes refuge. This is an especially good development for Glenn (Steven Yeun), who will get a love interest in the form of Hershel’s daughter Maggie (Lauren Cohan).

STORY: What Frank Darabont said three days before being fired as showrunner of The Walking Dead

As for the Rick-Lori-Shane love triangle, the actors involved say their characters will deal with the fallout, but that it will be a slow burn. After all, there hasn’t been much time for everyone to adjust to this new reality, and there is the matter of trying to avoid all those zombies out to kill them.

“The scripts are exquisite and the episodes are so complicated,” Lincoln says. “They involve everybody, and everything that is said means something, and impacts the next scene. Yeah, [the love triangle] is there, but it’s not so prominent yet. They’re exploring how that came about and the enormity of the situation.”

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Callies, who is quick to defend Lori’s honor, explains how her character made decisions that could paint her in a negative light.

“She thought she was a widow,” she says. “That’s significant to me, because Lori may be many things, but I don’t think she’s an adulteress. There’s something very human about being surrounded by death and grief and loss and terror, and wanting desperately in the most primal way possible to oppose that. I don’t think this was about romance. I think it was just about, ‘Let’s save some space in our lives for something that is creating life. Not destroying it.’ … People in traumatic experiences just desperately seek something that feels good. I don’t think it’s much more complicated than that, until [Rick] comes back. Then there’s a huge crisis of, ‘Do we sit down and have this conversation?’ And if we were to, how?”

The emotions of the situation would be complex enough, pre-zombie apocalypse, but given the specter of human extinction hanging over everything, what made sense before now has no place.

“We are our living history,” Lincoln says. “We are all that’s left of our world. It’s our memories. He’s my brother, and this is the love of my life, and we have a child. Everybody else is gone. It’s not a love affair; it’s not that clear anymore. It can’t be, and that’s the beauty of the show is that it just gets more and more dirty and sweaty and monster-filled. That’s why I love it.”

The good news is, there will be 13 episodes this season, more than twice the number from last year, to sort it all out. Kirkman, who also writes and serves as an executive producer for the series, says the extended run will allow the writers more opportunity “to build and put in twist and turns and so many more shocking moments. But we are fully aware that if you don’t pay that kind of thing off in a decent amount of time, you just start pissing people off. … We’re not willing to stretch it out past the point of interest.”

Shane (Jon Bernthal) runs from attacking zombies in AMC's "The Walking Dead"
Credit: Gene Page/AMC