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'Dead' Ahead

The prison has fallen, baby Judith may be dead, Hershel is definitely dead, and the survivors are once again on the run; what fresh hell will be unleashed when AMC’s ”The Walking Dead” returns (Feb. 9, 9 p.m.) for the second half of season 4?

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[SPOILER ALERT!]

The Gang Splits Up
Instead of our survivors continuing on as one big community, the second half of the season will follow the characters in much smaller groups as they scatter to the winds (or woods, as it were) after the assault on the prison. “Everybody’s separated,” says exec producer Robert Kirkman. “We’re doing a lot of really intense, character-focusing episodes.” First up is a father-son battle of wills between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Carl (Chandler Riggs). “Rick is very, very weak, and that makes him belligerent and aggressively challenging towards his son because he’s scared,” says Lincoln. The return episode also contains a solo journey for Michonne (Danai Gurira) that will shed some light on her personal demons. “We’re definitely going to get a glimpse into Michonne’s past,” teases Kirkman. “I think people are going to be pretty shocked.” How Michonne deals with that past, meanwhile, may well determine her future. Says Gurira, “That’s the question sitting on her soul as she tries to metabolize the trauma that’s befallen her.”

Everyone’s Haunted by Hershel
There have been a lot of big deaths on The Walking Dead, but the execution-style decapitation of Hershel (Scott Wilson) will weigh heaviest of all. “It drives the whole second half of the season for Maggie,” says the woman who plays her, Lauren Cohan. Of course, Maggie won’t be alone in her grief. “With him gone, I feel like this huge beacon of hope just got put out,” says Norman Reedus (Daryl). “Everyone is reeling from it — not just his blood relatives.”

You Will Get Answers!
Producers promise they are not going to leave loose ends hanging. Loose ends like: Are we going to learn more about that faint radio signal advertising “sanctuary” that Daryl & Co. picked up in the car? “Absolutely, and sooner rather than later,” says showrunner Scott M. Gimple. What about the identity of the person behind the rat vivisection and zombie feeding at the fence? “Yes,” says Gimple. “That answer doesn’t come as quickly, though.” Okay, how about the aftermath of Rick’s decision to exile Carol (Melissa McBride) for killing Tyreese’s (Chad L. Coleman) girlfriend? “That will be answered and played out,” confirms Gimple. “I think most, if not all, of the questions from the first half of season 4 will be answered.” And yes, that includes the fate of Baby Judith, who Rick and Carl assume is dead after discovering her empty, bloody car seat. We’ll find out shortly if they’re right.

Attention, Walkers: Fresh Meat is Coming
More characters from the Walking Dead comic will be making their way onto the screen in the form of a traveling trio: Abraham Ford (Southland‘s Michael Cudlitz, rocking the requisite Fu Manchu mustache), Dr. Eugene Porter (Retired at 35‘s Josh McDermitt, rocking the requisite mullet), and Rosita Espinosa (The Twilight Saga‘s Christian Serratos, rocking neither). “These characters are going to be extremely similar to who they were in the comics,” says Kirkman. “They are an agent that very much changes the story and direction of the show.” There is also a mysterious new character named Gareth (Greek‘s Andrew J. West), who Gimple says is “kind of from the books, kind of not totally from the books.” Like we said, mysterious.

Brace Yourself for ”The Most Controversial Episode” So Far
“The back eight are our best episodes yet,” raves Reedus, and the rest of the cast seems equally enthused. “Now we’re going to be able to focus on individuals and see where they’re coming from,” says Steven Yeun, who plays Glenn, of the character-driven focus. But lest you think “character-driven” means a lack of action, Lincoln promises “the most controversial episode we’ve ever attempted. I couldn’t speak when I read it.” Hopefully, that’s not because a zombie ripped his jaw off.