By Darren Franich
July 13, 2012 at 10:56 PM EDT
John Shearer/AP Images
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The Panel: Andrew Lincoln (Rick), Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori), Norman Reedus (Daryl), Laurie Holden (Andrea), Steven Yuen (Glenn), and Laura Cohan (Maggie) were joined onstage by new cast members Danai Gurira (Michonne) and David Morrissey (The Governor), along with Walking Dead comic book co-creator/emergent geek god Robert Kirkman, exec producers David Alpert and Gale Ann Hurd, exec producer/zombie makeup maestro Greg Nicotero, and showrunner Glen Mazzara.

The Big Revelations: Dead finally has a premiere date for its third season: the show is returning on Sunday, Oct. 14th, at 9 p.m. Most of the broad strokes of the new season were already revealed before the panel, so fans were excited to get a look at the season’s two new settings: The survivor colony-town Woodbury, and a zombie-infested prison.

Footage Screened: The panel featured the debut of a lengthy season 3 trailer. The video showed the Grimes Gang invading the prison and clearing out all the undead. Some of these scenes looked straight out of Aliens, with the cast going down into the shadowy depths of the prison. (Many, many zombies got killed.) [Watch the trailer here!].

The trailer established that, at least at first, season 3 will follow two separate narrative strands. While Rick’s people invade the prison, Andrea and Michonne get captured by armed men and taken to Woodbury, where they meet David Morrissey’s Governor. It’s very clear that they’re taking the Governor in a very different direction from his comic book incarnation: Morrissey seems to be playing the character very smooth. (He seems like a corrupt politician, whereas the graphic novel version was more of a mustached Machiavelli.) At one point the Governor said “We’re gonna take back what’s ours,” and we saw him in a staredown with Rick. So expect tensions to rise high quickly.

The video also took fans inside of the mysterious helicopter. Men dressed in army gear were flying it, although don’t expect to see that bird in the air for long: We heard one of them yell “Mayday, Mayday!” and saw evidence of a crash later in the video.

The video ended with a shot of Michael Rooker’s long-absent fan-favorite character, Merle Dixon. He said, “How’s about a big hug for your old pal Merle?” In his left hand he held a gun. You’ll recall that the character sawed off his own right hand back in season 1 — we only saw him for a few seconds, but I’m pretty sure that he’s converted his right arm into a gun-arm, Grindhouse-style.

Snap Judgment: The trailer looked fantastic and seemed to follow through on the producer’s promise that the show will continue its current wave of momentum — good news for everyone, after a dawdling season 2. With all the emphasis on zombie-killing action, it was a bit disappointing that we didn’t get to see more of Michonne and the Governor, so it’s hard to know how the show’s interpretation of the characters will vary from the comic book. Still, if nothing else, the new season promises about 5,000 percent more katana head-slices than last season. Huzzah!

Most Incisive Audience Question: The very last question of the panel came from a lady who bravely asked what we’ve all been wondering: “Why do you write the women on the show so scary? They’re always lurking around… They tell Rick to take over, but why don’t they ever do it themselves?” Showrunner Mazzara wisely reacted with a canny non-response: “That’s a great idea. Maybe they will.”

Least Incisive Audience Question: A starstruck 12-year-old girl expressed her love for Steven Yuen. Then she asked a question, and this happened:

Starstruck 12-Year-Old: “If you’re stuck in a real-life apocalypse, what do you think are the chances of our surviving?”

Steven Yuen: “Me personally? Or all of us?”

Starstruck 12-Year-Old: (swooning) “I don’t really care.”

The Winner of the Panel: Steven Yuen managed to steal the heartthrob trophy from Norman Reedus (another starstruck teenager expressed her love for him later). But without a doubt, the winner of this panel was Mazzara. The new showrunner didn’t speak too much, but the sheer amount of excitement coursing through the auditorium confirmed that all the moves he made after the departure of Frank Darabont — killing off characters and generally getting things moving again — paid off.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Read more:

‘The Walking Dead’: See the first season 3 poster with Michonne, Rick and The Governor here! — EXCLUSIVE

Andrew Lincoln promises a ‘darker’ ‘Walking Dead’

‘Walking Dead’ comic’s 100th issue to be celebrated with zombie obstacle course during Comic-Con — EXCLUSIVE

‘Walking Dead’: Which major character was lucky to survive this season?

Episode Recaps

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.
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