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SPOILER ALERT: This preview contains storyline and character details for the first half of The Walking Dead Season 5.
Beth's gone, Rick and company are devastated, and they're without even the shelter and fragile stability of the prison or Father Gabriel's church. And now, they must head out on the road again, in search of a new home, a new purpose, and new people who might offer them more help than potential harm. That's where we pick up with The Walking Dead in Feb. 8's midseason premiere, and here is what we know so far about the drama that awaits us in Season 5's final eight installments:
1. After the devastating death of Beth in the Grady Hospital showdown in the midseason finale, the main objective for Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and company in the second half of Season 5 will be to regroup emotionally and find a way to move forward, towards a new, ideally stable, setting. The Feb. 8 midseason premiere is titled "What Happened and What's Going On," and it does indeed catch us up with Rick's group in the present. And with that, we'll just warn fans: Be prepared. Any ideas about the pace of the storyline slowing down for a bit after Beth's death should be pushed aside; the Season 5B premiere goes there. As showrunner Scott Gimple has noted, things get "darker" and "weirder" before they get any better.
Watch the first two minutes of the midseason premiere:
2. "It feels like we're moving into a new show," star Lincoln says in an AMC video preview of the second half of Season 5. "It feels like a new place visually, and also story-wise." Lincoln also adds about his character, "It's very hard not to be brutalized by this world. But there is a sense in Rick that he's going to pull people through." In other words, let the Ricktatorship lead the way?
3. As Rick and company hit the road again, they'll encounter new groups, which means more new characters in Season 5. American Horror Story and True Blood alum Alexandra Breckenridge will play a mysterious new character the group meets on their way to… wherever they're on their way to in the second half of the season.
Actor Ross Marquand — best known for playing Paul Newman on Mad Men, doing a wicked Frank Underwood in the House of Cards/Game of Thrones mash-up spoof House of Thrones, and having a collection of other great celebrity impersonations on his résumé — will also be joining the cast in Season 5B. And while his character has not been confirmed, since TWD creator Robert Kirkman said on Talking Dead in November that a "very prominent gay character from the comics" would join the mix soon, speculation is that Marquand may be playing Aaron, a character from the comics. Introduced in issue 67 of the comics, Aaron is a resident of the Alexandria Safe-Zone community, and meets Rick and the gang when they're on their way to Washington, D.C., a storyline that would also fit in with the TV series' plot of putting the survivors back on the road and in search of a new safe (relatively speaking, as always) haven.
5. Everyone is still reeling from Beth's death in the midseason finale. Does that make them angry and hopeless, or more determined to survive and hopeful? Executive producer and Season 5B premiere director Greg Nicotero tells Yahoo TV it's a bit of both, and that Rick is not the only group member who provides some much-needed leadership. "I think Beth's demise really does take a lot out of the group. They're on the road again… that's the real challenge. They don't have the church, they don't have the prison, they have nowhere that they can be, so there's the sheer exhaustion of them constantly having to be on alert," Nicotero says. "That's something that Michonne's character [played by Danai Gurira] is very tuned into. She says over and over again, 'We have to find some place, we've got to pick a place, and we've got to pick it soon, because we can't survive very much longer out here.' So Michonne, who had lived out there for a long time before meeting Rick and the group, she knows what it's like, and she knows the dangers of existing in that world exposed. You'll discover through the next couple of episodes that living out there exposed takes its toll, emotionally and physically, and our group's going to get put through the ringer."
6. Daryl (Norman Reedus) is, unsurprisingly, devastated by the loss of Beth, with whom he bonded in Season 4, and with whom a certain group of shipping fans hoped he would get all romantical. "He's full of grief at this moment, and he'll probably shut down a bit," Reedus told TV Guide. "On this show, something devastating happens and you never ever get to go through it, because something else horrible happens. There'll be grieving and there'll be anger and there'll be outbursts. He's ready to just ambush things and just attack." If there is a silver lining in the scenario, could Daryl, down the road, now turn his full romantic attentions to Carol (Melissa McBride), the other character with whom fans like to link him? "I never say never," Reedus said. "I think if [Daryl] felt those feelings before, he didn't quite understand what those feelings were. But I think there was a part of him that was open to that."
Speaking of Carol… while we're still concerned about that emotional display by McBride at New York Comic-Con in October, the one that made us worry about Carol's continuing survival on the show, Gimple said she'll be the surprising source of some comic relief in the second half of the season. "I'm not saying that Carol is turning into Zooey Deschanel from New Girl, but there are moments of lightness that are still mixed in with some badassery," he told TV Guide.
8. Will we get to see a reunion between Rick and his old pal Morgan (Lennie James) in the second half of Season 5? When a reunion was last teased, Morgan happened upon Gabriel's church and found the map indicating that Rick was headed towards Washington, D.C. During a New York Times TimesTalks panel discussion on Feb. 2, Gimple told an audience member, "What we've seen of Morgan this far is definitely leading somewhere."
More from the TimesTalks panel, which included Gimple, Lincoln, and the actor who portrays Glenn, Steven Yeun: Lincoln says there's a big Glenn storyline ahead, and that he thinks Yeun is "the hero" of the final eight episodes of the season. Yeun, who talked about how much fun the actors have with their "hack and slash" action sequences, also teased that what may be his favorite Glenn scene of the whole series so far lies ahead in the second half of Season 5.
10. More Lincoln from TimesTalks: "We meet the gang at their lowest ebb" in the midseason premiere. Lincoln also said "What Happened and What's Going On" and Episode 10, "Them," are "brutal" and his favorite episodes of the season. They remind him of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road, he said, and they're followed by "a reset" in the storyline (at which point Gimple joked that Lincoln probably shouldn't reveal any further details).
11. With confirmation of a pair of new characters, and the likelihood that even more fresh faces will interact with Rick's group on the road, is there a chance that the show might finally be ready to introduce Negan, one of the greatest villains from The Walking Dead comics? Not yet, according to Nicotero. "I don't know where the Negan stuff comes from," he tells Yahoo TV. "I know he's in the comic book, but I think people are just getting a little ahead of where we are, because we've got some territory to cover before we meet him." For the record, if Ross Marquand is playing Aaron, who joined the comics in issue 67, it would be a while before Rick and friends encounter Negan, who is introduced in issue 100. On the other hand, the TV series has cleverly tweaked events, characters, and timelines from the comics for TV storylines, so it really isn't far-fetched to think Negan could show up in The Walking Dead TV universe at any time.
12. The series will likely continue to dominate in the ratings. In the first half of the season, when The Walking Dead was up against Sunday Night Football on NBC, TWD drew higher ratings in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic for five of its eight episodes. To repeat: The Walking Dead topped NFL football, in the most-coveted demographic, for more than half its episodes last fall, a feat no other cable series has ever accomplished.
The Walking Dead returns Sunday, Feb. 8 at 9 p.m. on AMC.