Exclusive: Walking Dead's Melissa McBride talks Season 6 and being 'so happy Carol lived'

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Oct 8, 2015, 2:06 PM EDT

The wait is nearly over. The Walking Dead returns this Sunday for a sixth season with a massive 90-minute premiere and actress Melissa McBride, who plays the wonderfully dangerous Carol, promises this will be another great chapter for the AMC megahit.

When last we saw the ragged group of survivors, they were having a challenging time fitting into the supposedly safe community of Alexandria. Promos have teased that the townfolk might consider Rick the biggest threat facing them and it looks like there's a massive herd of walkers headed toward and possibly in Alexandria. The Walking Dead returns for another split season, with eight episodes airing this fall and the second half of the season airing in 2016.

I talked with McBride (The Mist, American Gothic) about The Walking Dead's return, and about what we can expect from her deceptively dangerous character, Carol.

What do we have to look forward to with Season 6?

McBride: We're coming back so strong and the writing is really good and the action is really, really crazy. There's so much going on. I was so impressed just in the first three episodes, how much was going on. And what has been set up for the rest of the season, just in those first three episodes.

There is a huge number of walkers we'll be contending with. Also, I think I can say, because it's obvious, the people in Alexandria have been sheltered to a certain degree. … And so their point of view, their world view, all that is being challenged. And there's going to be a lot of struggle coming to terms with things and the struggle is going to be interesting to watch... There's lots of surprises. I can tell you that.

Scott Gimple's really good at planning this out, and I enjoy the breadth that he gives it.

Performances are through the roof. I cannot wait to see this season, because I like to watch the show, just because I love to watch these guys work. I love seeing what they're doing.

And Carol?

McBride: I'm so happy Carol lived to see another season. I love her.

Sometimes Carol seems like the most dangerous survivor of them all.

McBride: There's a lot of hindsight with her. She's got the courage to do things that she may have only thought of in her mind back before any of this started.

Carol's got a great vantage point because she's playing two different roles there [in Alexandria] and she can infiltrate and just sort of sneak around amongst the various groups of people there and see what's going on and go unnoticed. She looks so non-threatening with her sweaters, and you know, being the cookie lady.

Carol's definitely got her own set of tools that are very specific to her and to her past and where she came from. Being in an abusive household with Ed where she learned to discern what his triggers were and sidestep them and that sort of thing. I'm sure he isolated her from friends and she was having to make up excuses. Where she was pre-apocalypse has provided a set of tools.

So in a way, learning to hide the abuse by Ed made her a very good actress and spy. She's a fascinating character we haven't seen before. What's it been like going through this journey with her?

McBride: I really feel Carol beside me. And I feel in the beginning she was really someone that I wanted to take care of. And I feel like in a lot of ways the tables are turned. I would be intimidated by Carol. She knows a lot more than I do now. There are times when I find myself thinking, 'What would Carol do?' You know, in my real life. 'What would Carol do?' Hey, Carol, help me out here. (laughs)

And Andy Lincoln was saying kind of the same thing. And it was interesting because I hadn't really asked any of the cast members before how they personally feel about their character, carrying them around with them. Or even if they do. But I'm sure we probably all feel kind of the same way. It's been so fascinating to see each and every one of them evolve the way that they have. They're so different from where they started.

We've seen Carol do some shocking things to protect the other survivors, from killing Tyreese's sick girlfriend to stop an outbreak in the prison, to saving the gang from Terminus, to in Alexandria giving young Sam the choice of being tied to a tree and eaten alive by walkers if he told his mom he saw her sneaking guns out of the pantry or eating lots of cookies. And, of course, the most shocking one of all, Carol shooting poor psychotic Lizzy in the head after she killed her sister. How has this all affected her?

McBride: She's carrying that whole thing that took place with her and Tyreese and the children. She's carrying that around with her. She hasn't shared that with anyone but Tyreese.

I think she did the only thing she could do. And what's interesting is having the realization that you are capable of something like that. It changed the wiring a little bit. Making sense of it, that was the only thing she could do. It was the most devastating thing in the world. It's another human being's life. But in that moment, in that situation, it was the only thing to do.

I think, every time there is a death in that family it's always devastating and it always inspires her to fight even harder.

There's just a lot of things to wrap your head around in this kind of world and the things that you've seen and that each survivor has been called to do in a moment of facing death. And that's really what this show is so much. You know, parts of themselves dying. Parts of their humanity dying. Parts of their ability to function in that world. Parts of their old selves dying away.

Here's a look at Season 6 of AMC's The Walking Dead, premiering Sunday at 9/8C on AMC: