It might have felt like a long time coming, but season ten of The Walking Dead is finally back. Again.
Having ended up in three sections and delayed twice by a real-life deadly virus pandemic, the zombie plague horror finally gets to wrap up its current run almost a year after it was set to conclude.
With the lengthy final battle against villains the whisperers initially delayed from last spring to the autumn, producers surprised fans by announcing a bonus batch of six episodes to tie up storylines and set the stage for its 11th and final outing later this year.
And this extra set will open with a bang thanks to the emotionally charged homecoming of a long lost series regular, and portents of dangerous new villains.
With Andrew Lincoln’s Rick now long gone and Danai Gurira’s Michonne making her departure last year, the return of Maggie (Lauren Cohan) is a welcome boost to long-suffering fans who have stayed with the show during some bleak times.
After living away in the Commonwealth community with young son Herschel, she made a surprise comeback in last year’s finale showdown with the whisperers, and aided by a mystery masked parkour ninja, helped finally end the brutal war.
But now she will have to cope with seeing Negan — who horribly killed her husband Glenn at the start of the saviours war in season seven — free from jail and embarking on what he’d hoped was some kind of redemptive arc by eliminating Whisperer boss Alpha.
Maggie’s arrival is also likely to precede the discovery of a dangerous new threat to the survivors of the war-ravaged Alexandria and Hilltop communities.
Watch: The Walking Dead preview
Viewers will also get an insight into Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s complicated antagonist. Much anticipated prequel episode ‘Here’s Negan’ will look back ten years to feature his beloved wife Lucille – who later inspired the name of his barbed-wire encrusted baseball bat weapon. Lucille will be played by Hallie Burton, who is married to Morgan in real life.
Fan favourite Daryl also gets his own flashback as his hermit days with canine sidekick, Dog, are explored.
This sets the tone for the final run of The Walking Dead’s original series, bowing out with its biggest ever run of 24 episodes. But there’s no killing the franchise based on the comic book series by Robert Kirkman.
As well as existing spin-off series like Fear the Walking Dead and Walking Dead: World Beyond, OG heroes Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride) are getting their own series, due to drop in 2023.
While there is also a trilogy of movies in the works which will continue the story of Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes, last seen being kidnapped via helicopter medivac in season nine.
The bright future for the grim franchise has been helped by sparkling return to form in the last two years.
Many fans checked out during the all-pervading darkness of the Negan years. But the drastic time jump, introduction of the Whisperers and a fresh addition of cool, young cast members, brought new life to the show many feared was starting to decompose.
As the new run of episodes kicks off, fans will be hoping for more of the same.
Season 10C of The Walking Dead resumes Monday, 1 March, 9pm, FOX.