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AMC's The Walking Dead: more Sundays bloody Sundays

Survivors are always up against it in The Walking Dead. AMC photo

Gore galore! (And it has nothing to do with Al.)

The most unrelentingly gruesome series in the history of advertiser-supported television returns Sunday (Oct. 14th at 8 p.m. central) with new vistas in violence.

The Walking Dead, revving up Season 3 in two eight-episode installments, also draws roughly double the audience for AMC's two other main events, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Its small band of principal human survivors is way too gassed to have sex at this point. But they still have enough stamina to pull triggers, wield spears, fire arrows and anything else it takes to dispatch legions of staggering, hunger-ravaged zombies.

Nary a breast is bared, because most advertisers would still balk at that. But it's A-OK to show whatever savage brutality it takes to keep group leader Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) from becoming zombies themselves. No wonder it's a big hit, particularly among advertiser-craved younger viewers.

Walking Dead also remains a high-quality show amidst its depths of depravity. Its eagerly awaited third season will be sliced into two parts, replicating AMC's handling of Breaking Bad's fifth and final season. The first eight hours will be followed by a winter break before the second eight are rolled out sometime in early spring, according to the network's current plans.

The Season 2 finale of Walking Dead aired on March 18th of this year, with Grimes declaring, "This isn't a democracy anymore" shortly before viewers caught a closing glimpse of a nearby penitentiary. Sunday's season opener begins with the discovery of that prison, which Grimes sees as "perfect" in terms of a safe haven. So to attain freedom from the hordes of zombies, the remaining human survivors in effect have to put themselves behind bars. Oh the irony.

We're not going to give away much more, save to say that nothing is ever as easy it as it seems. And by the end of the first two hours made available for preview, Grimes is breaking pretty bad himself in terms of doing what a man's gotta do.

Among the the other principal characters, Grimes' estranged wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), grows closer to delivering a baby whose father remains unknown. And their pre-teen son, Carl (Chandler Riggs), is closer to becoming a matter-of-fact hardened killer. Constant imperilment can do that to a boy.

Several new characters are introduced while a well-known member of the returning cast is in for some major pain that . . . well, never mind.

Walking Dead continues to sorely test both the humanity of the survivors and their overall wills to live. Particularly now that everyone knows -- courtesy of the Season 2 ender -- they'll be re-animated as "Walkers" no matter how they die.

This is way too well-made a series to be dubbed a "guilty pleasure," even if a sizable percentage of the audience may watch purely for the visceral thrills of all that weekly bloodletting. AMC doesn't particularly care why anyone is a fan. And in truth, the profits being made from Walking Dead may in some ways have served to underwrite extra episodes and longer lives for both Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

In that context, keep those zombies coming. Never have so many re-died at the hands of a bare handful of ground level troops. And without apparently smelling too bad either.

GRADE: B-plus