Warning: The following contains spoilers for the third season of The Walking Dead.
If the promise of the Prison, The Governor and Michonne wasn’t enough to keep fans of The Walking Dead salivating for the third season, new photos from the set of the AMC drama reveal the return of a long-absent character to further complicate the lives of Rick Grimes and the other survivors.
As you probably guessed, that character isn’t tormented widower Morgan Jones, but rather Merle Dixon (played by veteran actor Michael Rooker), the racist meth addict who disappeared in the third episode of Season 1 (“Tell It to the Frogs”), leaving only his dismembered hand and a trail of blood to remember him by. Sure, he cropped up again last season in a hallucination to taunt his injured brother Daryl (Norman Reedus), but that hardly counts. In the third season, it’s the real Merle Dixon, missing hand and all.
The first set photo shows Rooker wearing a bayonet where his right hand used to be; undoubtedly, Merle has dreams of sinking that blade into Rick and T-Dog, who left him handcuffed on the rooftop of that Atlanta department store as walkers overran the building (brother Daryl is probably on the stabbin’ list, too). Note that the vehicle appears to be the same one David Morrissey’s Governor is shown standing beside in the official image released last week, suggesting that Merle made his way to Woodbury after stealing the survivors’ truck in Season 1. Early speculation fell on Merle becoming The Governor, so having him allied with the bloodthirsty dictator is perhaps the next-best scenario. What a nice surprise for Rick & Co.
The second photo is significantly cheerier, showing a smiling, two-handed Rooker signing an autograph for a young fan. It’s probably the same expression Merle will have when he reunites with Rick, T-Dog and Daryl. Okay, probably not.
The Walking Dead returns in October on AMC.