So ET called up The Walking Dead executive producer Gale Anne Hurd to get the exclusive scoop on what's ahead for our group with the introduction of Ezekiel and The Kingdom, as well as to help answer the lingering questions you still have from Negan's mentally exhausting introduction.
Here are the eight things you need to know before tuning in to the rest of season seven…
1. Rick's Reign Is Over: "We are no longer in the world of the Ricktatorship," Hurd revealed. "We've always seen Rick making the choices as to whether he wants to leave or not and what the premiere proved is that it's Negan's world that they're living in now. That was the brutal reckoning that made it very clear to Rick that things had changed completely…. It is very much about Rick and the choices that he has made and has to accept and to realize and where he is in this new world order."
2. Rick and Carl Kept Their Hands for a Reason: Fans of the graphic novels know that The Governor cut off Rick's hand, but this sadistic twist never came to fruition on the show. So when Negan threatened to cut off both Rick's -- and later Carl's -- limbs, many viewers assumed that it was finally going to happen, but it didn’t. "The truth is it was the mind game that Negan is playing with them," Hurd said of the decision to let the characters keep their hands. "It's much more brutal mentally for Negan to threaten Carl -- to threaten Rick's son -- than it was to threaten Rick himself. Rick should have manned up and said, 'OK, take it. If it's going to save someone, then take my hand.' It's much different when he's threatening his sons' hand, so that was really the decision."
3. Glenn's Death Will Haunt Daryl: Fans collectively cried out the moment that Negan whipped around to bash Glenn's head in with Lucille. Upon reflection, it's clear that if Daryl had just kept his outrage in check, Glenn would still be alive, but Hurd says don’t be so quick to blame our favorite crossbow-wielding badass. "These characters can't read the future. They've never come across anyone like Negan before," Hurd explained. "They have to learn on their own. They have to learn who Negan is and Negan shows them." Daryl's guilt over Glenn's death will now be an integral part of his character moving forward. "The show is all about the choices that we make and the fans either relating to those choices, being horrified by them or understanding them," she said. "But we're all both fans and characters alike, who are traumatized by what we've seen happen."
4. It's Not All Doom and Gloom: Following last week's horrific debut, the TWD showrunners have promised that the next few episodes will provide some brighter moments as we enter the world of The Kingdom. "I would say that it's lighter. I mean, we have had some funny episodes," Hurd said of this Sunday's hour. "The other thing to remember is as dark as our world gets, and as dark as the real world gets that we all live in, it's the hope in the indomitable human spirit that gets us through. I think this show is a metaphor for that. Rick is not giving up. He's broken, but he's not giving up."
5. The Kingdom Is Key: "Obviously people who read the comics know that [The Kingdom] is a high-functioning community," Hurd said of the new community which is centered in an abandoned high school campus. "The other great thing about this season is being able to open up and see, not only the danger and brutality of Negan, but the fact that there are other communities that are functioning. That provide some hope in this dark world."
6. Ezekiel Is the Not-So-Mad King: Leading The Kingdom is their leader, self-proclaimed King Ezekiel, whose eccentric behavior solidified him as is a fan-favorite character in the comic books. "Ezekiel is great! We had some many people audition for that role and Khary Payton just did such a great job," she said. Compared to the other leaders our group has encountered in the past, Hurd revealed that Ezekiel is one of the most level-headed of them all. "Mostly we've seen pretty brutal groups. From that police group at Grady Memorial Hospital, to the claimers, and the people at The Sanctuary who were cannibals, but now we're got someone who's not crazy. And he's not a coward like Gregory either from Hilltop.
7. Shiva Will Steal the Spotlight: Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time in TWD history, we're going to welcome a tiger to the cast! Well, a tiger that is created through the magic of TV, of course. "What's even more remarkable is that we're bringing Shiva to life," Hurd said of Ezekiel's iconic pet. "I don’t think that people thought we would actually have a tiger on the show, but we do. There is an animatronic one and it's enhanced through the magic of CGI." Hurd also adds that fans will fall in love with its uniquely ferocious personality.
8. Love Is Not Lost: We're having difficulty imagining it at this point, but apparently there's still plenty of romance on the rise in The Walking Dead's seventh season. "The truth is, there's love during wartime," Hurd confirmed. "It's during the darkest moments when you realize how precious loved ones are -- whether they're friends, or family, or the person you love most in the world. It's really then that you see how precious these relationships are and that really hits home."
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.