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The season five premiere for “The Walking Dead” is fast approaching, and AMC is whetting fans’ appetites with a series of atmospheric character images ahead of the show’s Oct. 12 return. Variety has an exclusive first look at the photo for Melissa McBride’s Carol Peletier, whose harrowing character arc proved to be one of season four’s most compelling — and gut-wrenching — storylines.

At San Diego Comic-Con in July, McBride admitted that the hit show has grown even more intense in its fifth year, telling reporters that the episodes she’d filmed thus far were “very physical, non-stop action” installments.

The actress also expressed gratitude to the fans and writers for embracing Carol’s painful journey, especially the “dark irony” of the bereaved mother having to kill another young girl after losing her own daughter. “It was an amazing storyline and I loved playing that deep, nasty, messy stuff,” she said. “One of the benefits of this kind of television series and this type of storytelling — taking your time with it and having the long-range view — is you get to really explore these characters; you have time for them to learn and grow and make mistakes.”

After Tyreese (Chad Coleman) learned that Carol was the one who killed his girlfriend Karen at the prison, many have wondered how their relationship might evolve in season five, but Coleman remained tight-lipped at Comic-Con — perhaps because “TWD” creator Robert Kirkman was sitting beside him. “You find us right where we were,” Coleman teased of the characters’ dynamic. “There’s no neat little bow wrapped up to the world we’re living in — it’s complicated; it’s give and take, it’s push and pull.”

Despite the fact that Carol and Daryl (Norman Reedus) spent much of season four separated, some fans are still rooting for a romantic development between the pair — that is, if they aren’t rooting for Daryl to romance Beth (Emily Kinney) instead. “I wonder how much the writers pay attention to that and the producers pay attention to that, because I, of course, get inundated with that on an insane level,” Reedus admitted.

Executive producer Greg Nicotero assured him that the writers don’t allow fan reaction to sway their storytelling. “Having Daryl and Beth be partnered together [in season four]… it’s interesting, because I get to see all the edits from the director’s cut onward, and I loved the scene they did in the kitchen where the two of them were talking, and I got the sense that Daryl is starting to kind of fall in love with Beth a little bit,” he observed.

Reedus had a somewhat different interpretation, revealing, “This is how I took it during it: If Daryl had feelings for Beth, he didn’t understand them … he’s like a child, like ‘I don’t know what this means.’ But it was more ‘intimate’ than ‘a coupling.'”

“No, which is what made it effective — when you listen to her playing the piano, and you’re just standing there watching her, you feel like ‘this might be the last living person I ever see.’ So I thought that was a really great connection,” Nicotero noted. “And a lot of it wasn’t in the script; the script was not like, ‘okay, so Beth and Daryl are going to totally hook up.’ But when I watched the episode I felt like, ‘oh, I kind of wanted that,’ which was what he brings to it and what Emily [Kinney] brought to it. Then what’s great about it is that, of course, it all blows up.”

But Reedus doesn’t have any intention of choosing between his potential paramours. “I’m hoping for a threesome this season,” he quipped. “Me and Beth and Carol — the trifecta!”

As for what fans can expect from this season as a whole, Kirkman promised a side of the show that viewers have never seen before. “We’re doing season five, do you really want to see another season of people just surviving and fighting zombies? That’s not what we want to do. I’m really proud of the show for the fact that it is so successful, but never at any point has anyone at any level of this operation said ‘no, that’s working, don’t change it,'” he said. “We’re always taking risks and we’re always taking chances and trying to move forward and do cool stuff. Yes, there are going to be episodes that are going to be vastly different. There are times when you’re going to be watching season 5 going ‘what is this show? This is crazy, I cannot believe they’re doing this.’ But that’s what we’re after — that’s what keeps people engaged and excited and hopefully keeps people watching. And if not, we’ll just have them kill zombies again. If it’s working, we’re not gonna break it.”

“The Walking Dead” season five premieres Sunday, Oct. 12 at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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