Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for the first three seasons of “The Walking Dead.”
(CNN) — After you’ve had a major showdown between good and evil, killed off a major character and broken ratings records, what do you do for an encore?
That’s one big question on the minds of the legions of fans of “The Walking Dead” going into the fourth season premiere on Sunday.
Last season, the show ranked as the No. 1 scripted show on television, a first for cable, and certainly something no one would have predicted for a series about a zombie apocalypse.
The show returns with new showrunner Scott Gimple and without the latest victims of the walkers: Andrea, Merle and Milton. (There’s also the promise of a spinoff set in a different location during the apocalypse, due to arrive in 2015.)
Executive producer Gale Anne Hurd spoke to CNN about what to expect this season.
CNN: After all of the events of last season, where do we find our survivors now?
Hurd: The survivors have essentially taken residence in the prison and realized that, at the moment anyway, that is the safest haven. They need to integrate new members.
CNN: And where is Rick’s head at now?
Hurd: As we like to say, Rick spent a little time in “Crazytown” last season. But he’s always someone who will step up if necessary. This season, he’s in a very different place. He realizes that perhaps the most important role in the zombie apocalypse is that of a good father. He needs to raise Carl not to be a trigger-happy child soldier, and his baby, Judith, he’s taking that responsibility very seriously.
CNN: Last we saw the Governor, he massacred many of his followers from Woodbury and drove off to parts unknown with a few loyalists. Will we find out what became of him?
Hurd: We definitely get a sense that he is out there. No one has forgotten and forgiven what he’s done. Some people have moved on. As to what he’s up to, as the season develops, we’ll certainly get some insights into that. I can’t say when we’ll find out, but we’ll find out. The Governor is pretty formidable. We know he’s out there, and he’s not one to give up a grudge.
CNN: With a good number of the original main characters deceased, we’re seeing the possibilities of new characters emerging, like the Woodbury survivors now living in the prison.
Hurd: Some of the people are already significant characters in the comic book, people like Tyreese. We didn’t have enough bandwidth last season to spend much time getting to know him. Now we have the time to do that. We will also explore those who used to live in Woodbury.
CNN: Will we learn new things about the nature of the walkers?
Hurd: What hasn’t changed is they haven’t developed into super-fast walkers. We have very much the same rules for them, but some of them are more desiccated than ever. They’re more ravenous than ever, and there are a lot more of them. We’ll get to see how that plays out very quickly.
CNN: What is showrunner Scott Gimple bringing to the new season?
Hurd: Scott Gimple has been in the writers’ room since season two. So he’s someone who is very deep into the show. He was a fan of the comic book from the time it came out, and it’s celebrating its 10th anniversary. What he focuses on incredibly well is the juxtaposition between the epic scope of a zombie apocalypse — which people will see very quickly in the first episode of the new season — and making sure that with our characters this season, we’ll see how they handle escalating threats, as well as what decisions they make, both for themselves, the people they love and their allegiance to the group.
CNN: Of course, there are a few characters in particular that hold a lot of interest for the fans. What’s the status of Glenn and Maggie’s relationship?
Hurd: They’re the example of love among the ruins. As long as love exists, there’s hope. We’ll see if their relationship strengthens in times of calm, or is it strongest in times of crisis? Do they see the world from the same perspective or will different outlooks create conflict between them?
CNN: And of course, Daryl Dixon’s following has taken on a life of its own. Will Daryl fans be satisfied this season?
Hurd: There’s no question. Daryl, as brought to life by Norman Reedus, is someone who — I think all of us have encountered characters with a dark, brutal past who seem to be broken. We want to see them be able to interact and communicate with other people, and we’ll see if this is possible with Daryl.