Though it doesn’t necessarily look it to the virgin eye, AMC’s The Walking Dead — based on a series of comic books of the same name — is about more than blood, guts, and overall zombie gore.

The series is centered on a group of survivors of the zombie — or “walker” — apocalypse, in which the population becomes infected with a disease that reanimates people (in the loosest sense of the term) after they’ve died. The only way to ensure folks stay dead is to destroy the brain.

The group, led by former sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), is in constant danger, but lucky for them everyone is a conveniently good shot — even Rick’s 13-year-old son Carl (Chandler Riggs). Seriously, they never miss. The current members include Carl, Rick’s baby girl Judith, crossbow-wielding Daryl (Norman Reedus), ballsy Glenn (Steven Yeun), gentle Carol (Melissa McBride), one-legged Hershel (Scott Wilson), and Hershel’s daughters Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Beth (Emily Kinney).

During Season 2, the group takes refuge on Hershel’s farm while looking for Carol’s lost little girl, Sophia. Along with the search, the sophomore season focuses on the brutal power struggle between Rick and his former pal and partner Shane (Jon Bernthal). (Spoiler alert: Rick wins.)

Season 3 leads the ragtag group to a prison, but their relative safety there will soon be challenged by another “haven”: a town named Woodbury, run by the dastardly Governor (David Morrissey).

Several main characters have “bit” it since the series premiere, and one former member of the central group — Andrea (Laurie Holden)  gets separated from the gang when Hershel’s farm is overrun by walkers. Exhausted, she’s found and saved by mysterious Michonne (Danai Gurira), a knife-sharp woman armed with a katana sword.

Together, Andrea and Michonne stumble across denizens of Woodbury, where they are forcibly taken. Michonne elects to leave, and eventually finds herself at the prison. Taken with the Governor’s bourbon and charm, Andrea stays.

At its core, the series is about more than horrific violence and the unbearable weight of constant danger: It’s able to offset the action with serious emotional drama, delivering compelling doses of romance, jealousy, grief, fear, and pure happiness. As star Andrew Lincoln put it in an interview with Rolling Stone, there’s “[s]ome lightness within this bleak world.”

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