Andrew Lincoln will return as Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead season 3 (AMC)

Anticipation is already rising for the third season of AMC's The Walking Dead, which has been a huge success both with critics and audiences.

However, the big question going into the third season is: Just how dark will it get?

The show, screened by Channel 5 in the UK, is based on a long-running and hugely popular graphic novel series written by Robert Kirkman. Although the television show has featured its fair share of violence and shocks, readers will know that the comic is not afraid to push things even further, exploring the accelerating degradation of society, as well as often killing off much-loved characters.

So what can people expect from the third season?
(Beware Season 2 Spoilers below)

The Prison

Many of the show's followers were frustrated by the slow pace of the second season's first half, leading to nearly the whole season being spent in Hershel's farm. However they were rewarded for their patience in the season's final shot with a glimpse of the next season's main setting - the prison.

The Prison
The survivors of season 2 will take shelter in the prison (AMC)

Readers of the comic book will have been looking forward to the prison setting, as it was the survivors' home for a considerably longer period than the farm. Also it is where some of the biggest and most powerful twists come.

Which of these major plot points have been brought over to the show from the graphic novel cannot be known. As images, shown first by Entertainment Weekly, prove, the survivors' first step will be clearing out the prison's zombie inhabitants.

The survivors must clear the prison of its zombie infestation (AMC/Entertainment Weekly)
Maggie (Lauren Cohen) joins the fight in the third season (AMC/Entertainment Weekly)

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, producer Glen Mazzara said: "Our crew has done a great job. It's a huge sense of scale and magnitude I haven't seen in any other show as far as construction.

"What's important to us is the prison itself is now a character in the show. It's a haunted house, it's scary, it's frightening, and there are parts of the prison that are always terrifying, that are always inaccessible to our group. It's not necessarily the blessing that the prison in the comic book turned out to be."

The Governor and Michonne

Another fantastic teaser for comic fans came in the second season's last episode, as Andrea, assumed dead by the group, is rescued from certain death by a hooded woman with a samurai sword.

This is the interesting character of Michonne, who will be played by Danai Gurira.

Michonne is a strong addition to the survivor group (AMC)

It will be interesting to see how the show's creators treat Michonne, who certainly has her issues, but is a formidable force when it comes to fighting zombies. The show's writers struggled with fellow strong female character Andrea, who was not popular with viewers, and Michonne's changeable personality will be tricky to portray sympathetically.

Then came the announcement everyone had been waiting for - The Governor.

One of the comic's main antagonists, the character of the Governor has to have been one of the most highly anticipated castings for the show. The announcement that he will be played by English actor David Morrissey surprised many, as he does not look similar to the comic character, which had long hair and a beard.

David Morrissey as The Governor - sure to be the season's darkest character (AMC)

However, a glimpse at his previous performances leaves no doubt that Morrissey has the capability to deliver a powerful performance. The treatment of this character will be of fundamental importance as to whether the show alienates the followers of the comics, or satisfies them.

Daryl and Merle Dixon

The storyline of Daryl and Merle Dixon has been one of the biggest successes for the Walking Dead show, if just for the reason that neither character exists in the comic yet have slotted in perfectly.

The typical anti-hero, Daryl, (played by Chandler Riggs), has grown from a fringe character to a firm fan favourite, becoming more prominent in the storylines with his skills with a crossbow.

The presence of Merle (played by Henry Rooker) in the third season has been confirmed with the release of an image, where he can be seen to have an attachment at the end of his arm to replace his severed hand.

Merle Dixon, played by Michael Rooker, returns (AMC)

Whether he sides with the Governor, is out for revenge against T-Dog for abandoning him on a rooftop to saw off his own arm, and the effect his reappearance will have on Daryl, are all important questions.

How dark will they go?

This is the $6m question. The Walking Dead has certainly done its best to avoid becoming too "Hollywood", most notably with its treatment of the Sophia storyline. The scene of Rick shooting a child the survivors had spent the last several episodes searching for made it clear that the show would pull no punches.

However, a glimpse at the comic reveals that the prison setting, as well as the presence of the Governor and Michonne, leads to things turning darker still, as the survivors' humanity continues to erode in the face of the unrelenting brutality of their lives.

The show has given us a noticeably more typically honourable Rick Grimes, with Andrew Lincoln forming the moral centre of the show. The comic sees his values tested, and often failing, and it would be impressive if the show's writers had the confidence to put pressure on the boundaries of the hero archetype.

One aspect that was most telling about the Sophie storyline was the fact that it does not take place in the comic books, where she lives happily in the prison. It is clear, therefore, that the show's makers are not planning on following in the comic's footsteps.

However, the treatment of the character of Shane (Jon Bernthal), who went berserk and was killed early in the comics, is also interesting. In that case the show followed the plot of the comic but at a different pace, fleshing out the story details to make the Shane/Rick relationship and the tension within into the spine of the series. Despite getting a longer storyline, Shane's fate was still sealed. Is that the case for some of the main characters which were killed off in the comic, but have yet to die in the show?

A show's third season often represents the turning point, where viewers decide whether to commit for the long haul or give up on it. If it is to maintain momentum then the writers need to have faith in their audience, be fearless and take the plot in directions that others may fear to tread.

When The Walking Dead returns to the US in October and soon after in the UK, we can be sure that no character is safe