by Carol Memmott, USA TODAY
"You can't be in The Walking Dead and not kill zombies, and you never forget your first. My first kill -- I felt like I really arrived," says David Morrissey, the British actor who takes on the role of the villainous Governor, one of several highly anticipated new characters joining the AMC hit, which begins its third season Sunday (9 ET/PT).
The Governor, like the Katana-sword-wielding Michonne (Danai Gurira), is part of The Walking Dead comic book canon whose story lines continue to be woven into the series, which will air eight episodes this fall and another eight starting in February.
Last season ended with the survivors on the run, forced to abandon Hershel's (Scott Wilson) bucolic farm after it was overrun by walkers. When the new season begins, the survivors have spent the winter desperately searching for safe haven.
New episodes take place on two fronts: the West Georgia Correctional Facility, where the band of survivors led by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) sets up its new home base (after dispatching its current undead residents), and the seemingly idyllic zombie-free town of Woodbury run by the Governor, their elected leader.
"Obviously, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) is pregnant. They (the survivors) want to settle in. They want to be able to not be living hand-to-mouth," says executive producer Gale Anne Hurd, "and when they do come across the prison, even though it would not be your or my ideal choice as a place to take up residence, it is fenced in and theoretically it should be equipped with various supplies and, hopefully, food."
While it's not clear when viewers will meet the Governor and his followers (and learn the origins of Woodbury and the Governor's back story), Morrissey says that at some point the Governor and Grimes and their followers will go head to head. "They are two groups led by two strong-willed people," he says. "Will these people be able to negotiate and be able to have goodwill towards each other or see each other as threatening? That's a very interesting debate to have."
And while Morrissey says that when viewers meet the Governor he simply appears to be a man trying to keep his people safe, it's not clear whether the TV Governor will turn out to be as evil and sadistic as his counterpart in the comics.
Viewers will meet Michonne halfway through the first episode when, in six seconds, she separates three zombies from their heads with her Katana, a samurai sword. In the final seconds of the last episode of Season 2, a mysterious, hooded stranger (fans of the comics would have recognized her as the fierce warrior Michonne, but it was not Gurira, who had yet to be hired) rescues Andrea (Laurie Holden) from a group of walkers after she becomes separated from her group following the attack on Hershel's farm.
In that scene, viewers also caught a glimpse of Michonne's armless, jawless zombie "pets" attached by leashes to her wrists. For Gurira, meeting them during the filming of Season 3 was unforgettable. "It can get very, very real," she says. "They are so beautifully grotesque, and you tend to forget what you're dealing with. You can step out of make-believe very easily."
And viewers will have to wait to learn more about Michonne's past. What we do know is that she and Andrea have survived the winter together. "She and Andrea connect," Gurira says. "Michonne admires and appreciates her strength, especially in a world where you're looking for people who bring assets to the table and not liabilities."
The two characters truly capable on their own are Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) and Michonne, Hurd says. "This is a world they can survive. They have the skills, they have the physical prowess and they have the tools: in her case, the Katana sword, and in Daryl's, it's the crossbow."
And this season, Daryl's hot-headed brother Merle, not seen since Season 1 when he cut off his own hand in order to free himself from handcuffs and escape a zombie attack, is back in the picture.
"Merle is one of the characters that the fans were most vocal in wanting us to bring back," says Hurd. "Obviously, he's got a grudge match. He blames Rick and the rest of the survivors for the loss of his hand, even though he cut it off, and he's itching for two things. The first is revenge, and the second is to be reunited with his baby brother Daryl."
As always, online chatter centers in part on whether additional members of our less-than-merry band will be killed off (last season's casualties included the pacifistic Dale and the hot-headed Shane). "It's a brutal world," says Hurd. "Every day is a life-or-death, make-or-break scenario, and I would not be surprised if some people didn't make it through."