‘The Walking Dead’ returns

'The Walking Dead''s Rick gets ready for a new season.  

Margaret Ely (c) 2014, The Washington Post. Sunday marks the return of “The Walking Dead,” and all of its zombie-filled gore. The midseason finale was a brutal, violent 60 minutes of television; it was also one of the most refreshing episodes of the series. Whatever proverbial baggage the show was carrying has been dropped — the Governor is dead and the long-occupied prison is empty. The death, destruction and chaos that ended the first half of this season has cleared the way for a fresh start in round two.

Need a refresher on what happened? Here are six main storylines so far and six questions we hope get answered.

A super bug scare

A flu (super bug, infection, virus?) that causes hemorrhage, death and the inevitable zombie state dominated the season’s first five episodes. The scariest part — beyond death, of course — is that the virus comes from within the seemingly safe confines of the prison, and it spreads easily. The infected (who are quarantined from the uninfected) get sicker and succumb at a rapid rate. The writers bring the prison to the brink of disaster only to let Daryl, Michonne, Bob and Tyreese save the day with medicine acquired from a nearby veterinary hospital. Crisis averted.

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Carol’s journey

From meek and submissive to a cold-blooded killer, Carol has come a long way. When the flu first strikes the prison, Carol murders and burns the bodies of Tyreese’s girlfriend, Karen, and another prison-dweller, David, long before they turn to zombies. She sees it as her attempt to protect the prison and stop the illness from spreading. The plan doesn’t work, but she doesn’t bat an eye. After finding out what she was up to, Rick does not allow her to continue living at the prison. Effectively banished, she takes off on her own.

Children of the apocalypse

The first half of this season also followed the lives of children living through the zombie-filled world. The youngsters offer an interesting look at what the future of civilization might be like. Unlike adults, these kids don’t have a past to return to. There’s Lizzie and Mika, two sisters who, under Carol’s care, have become kind of ruthless warriors of the apocalypse. And then there’s Carl, who wants to be a leader and a fighter but is learning to temper his aggressive nature. Finally, we get Meghan, a rather helpless young girl who finds a father figure in the Governor but was unable to defend herself.

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Rick’s moral conundrum

From the season’s first episode, Rick asserts himself as a peacemaker — a pacifist who just wants to put down his gun and tend to his prison yard farm with his son. Rick is disgusted with his past, and what he’s had to do to survive and wishes he could leave it all behind. Given that he is living in a zombie apocalypse, it isn’t easy. He and Carl have to gun down a mass of walkers that breach the prison fence in episode five, and after unsuccessfully bargaining for peace, he takes to arms during the climactic battle with the Governor. What will he do to survive now that he’s out of the relative safety of the prison?

The Governor’s resurgence

Old nemesis the Governor reappeared after the virus outbreak. In two stand-alone episodes, the Governor emerges from his solo travels to take another family (and community) under his wing. The Governor proves he’s still the same manipulative, maniacal leader we remember from Woodbury when he leads the new group into battle to take the prison from Rick. This time, he doesn’t walk away from the battle.

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Hershel’s final moments

Ever the wise, reasonable voice, Hershel is the most levelheaded of the prison’s group and had his usual moments of old-timey, cliche monologues during the first half of this season. One moment of selflessness came in episode five, when he risked contracting the virus to help ease and comfort the sick in quarantine. Who else but Hershel would do something that risky? And although he survives the flu, he doesn’t survive the confrontation with the Governor, who callously decapitates him.

Some questions we hope get answered:

Is baby Judith dead?

Who was feeding the zombies?

Whose voice was on the car radio?

When Carol inevitably returns, how will Tyreese react?

What traumatic event happened in Michonne’s past?

Where will everyone go from here?

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“The Walking Dead” (one hour) returns Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.