Love comes alive in Walking Dead

ATLANTA, Georgia - How do you sustain a committed relationship during a zombie apocalypse?

It turns out that it is not all that different from how you get viewers to keep watching a hit television show: After the initial rush of excitement fades, slowly raise the stakes and keep everyone invested in the characters.

As The Walking Dead returns for its fourth season this Sunday on Fox Movies Premium (StarHub TV Channel 622, SingTel mio TV Channel 414), this will mean, among other things, solidifying the relationship between the show's star couple, Glenn and Maggie, and using it as a metaphor for survival and resilence.

Steven Yeun, the 29-year-old Korean- born American who plays Glenn, says: "Season 4 is about keeping what's important to you - holding on to what you've gone through so much for. And for Glenn, holding on to the people that he loves."

British actress Lauren Cohan, who plays Maggie, thinks that "a little romance" goes a long way when the world is coming to an end. "I think you need it. It's fun," says the 31-year-old.

The show, a post-apocalyptic drama about flesh-eating zombies, continues to be fun for fans.

The new season's first episode made headlines for attracting a record- breaking audience of 16.1 million people in the United States last weekend, making it the top entertainment telecast among key adult demographics and increasing its viewership by about 5 million compared to last October's Season 3 premiere.

During a press visit to the set in Atlanta, Georgia, last month, the cast and producers were typically stingy with details about upcoming episodes, but spoke cryptically of a new "non-zombie" threat that the show will introduce.

The series is also ramping things up with a host of new characters, while at the same time going more in-depth with the original group of survivors that it started off with.

Loyal fans have thus been promised meatier back stories and mini "character studies" of cast favourites such as Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), his son Carl (Chandler Riggs), Hershel (Scott Wilson) and his family, as well as Glenn (Yeun) and Daryl (Norman Reedus).

Maggie is realising, too, that she cannot spend her whole life worrying that Glenn will die - just like show devotees must not constantly fret over whether their favourites will be unceremoniously killed.

Cohan says: "The challenges of loving someone and opening yourself up to hurt are probably heightened in a zombie apocalypse because that person has a higher likelihood of biting it.

"It's not worth it without that, though, and I think that's one of Maggie's revelations this year - what is it all for if you're not going to share your life? She definitely sees this as a chance to really live, not just survive. There's just a shred of stability now and she's going to embrace it - s***w the apocalypse!''

The apocalypse, however, is about to get a lot more complicated.

After last season saw the bloody culmination of their fight with the rival group from Woodbury - the Stepford-like town run by the evil "Governor" - a bunch of Woodbury refugees turned up on Rick's group's doorstep asking to be taken in.

A whole new slate of actors has joined The Walking Dead as a result, a prospect that delights Cohan, who says it means "more people to go out with" after work in Atlanta.

The actress is also keen for other romances to blossom at the prison. "There are a lot of couples I'd like to see get together - people you haven't seen yet."

She also noted that some fans have been lobbying to see sparks fly between Daryl and Carol (Melissa McBride), which others feel would be a tad scandalous as she has become a mother figure in the group.

"I think it would be great if they got together," Cohan says. "But I don't know - suspense is a beautiful thing, maybe it'll happen and maybe it won't. And it's important to portray those kinds of bonds that aren't sexual as well."

One thing that the series will not be changing too much, though, are its zombies.

Although scarier and more intricately grotesque "walkers" have been promised by the show's award-winning make-up and special effects team - the ongoing virus having resulted in advanced stages of decay - the show's undead will remain slow-moving and sheep-like.

This despite the new and improved specimens seen in the spate of zombie movies this year, including the lightning-fast herds that sprinted through Brad Pitt's film World War Z, or the semi-sentient ones who fell in love and gradually turned human again in the comedy Warm Bodies.

Gale Ann Hurd - who executive produces the series along with showrunner Scott Gimple and graphic novelist Robert Kirkman, who created the graphic novels it was adapted from - says she does not see why they should pay attention to what anyone else is doing in this now crowded subgenre.

"First of all, we are based on Robert Kirkman's comic books, which are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, and we are in many respects true to that, although we don't follow them exactly.

"So we've created our own universe, and the existence of other properties and projects is very distinct and separate from what we do."

Hurd also denies that it is getting increasingly difficult to kill off central characters as the show becomes more entrenched and fans, more attached - its willingness to do so in in the past having given it an edge over other dramas.

"Once again, external factors truly cannot be the reason that we tell or don't tell a particular story," she tells Life!

"I think that's when a show begins to falter. It's important to just tell the best character-driven story. There will never be a gratuitous death. The deaths always serve to weigh upon and motivate actions from characters who have survived, and I don't think that will change."

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