NEW YORK, N.Y. - As every fan of "The Walking Dead" is well aware, this zombie-apocalypse drama will return for its much-awaited second season on Oct. 16. But AMC is announcing news that should bring delighted chills to any "Dead" devotee.

For starters, the season premiere won't be just an hour, but 90 creepy minutes.

The story resumes with the band of survivors fleeing zombie-overrun Atlanta and heading south for Fort Benning, Ga., 125 miles away, where they hope to find refuge at the U.S. Army post. But the group doesn't get far before meeting a new set of, um, challenges on a desolate stretch of four-lane.

The show has been the subject of worrisome reports: a trimming of the budget and the abrupt departure of original showrunner Frank Darabont. But judging from an advance look at this closely guarded premiere, "Dead" remains full of life.

 

The episode includes a big-time zombie encounter and a stomach-churning interlude. Then the final scene packs a wallop.

"How about those last two minutes? Pretty cool, eh?" says Charlie Collier, sounding more like one fan reliving it with a fellow geek than like the president of AMC, which he also is.

During a conversation in his mid-Manhattan office, Collier declines to get into the particulars of Darabont's exit, or to mention dollar figures connected with this 13-episode season's belt-tightening, but declares, "I would stack the budget up against probably any other in basic cable."

Last season's six episodes of "The Walking Dead" were created on a crash 10-month schedule to launch a long-sought-after series that could complement AMC's annual Fearfest marathon of horror films.

Now "Dead," which first appeared as a comic, has inspired its own companion piece, in the form of a new unscripted series aimed at comics "fanboys" of both genders. "Secret Stash" is a series from actor-filmmaker-comic-book-auteur Kevin Smith, who, perhaps best known for his indie classic "Clerks," also counts among his many ventures ownership of Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash comic book shop in Red Bank, N.J.

"Secret Stash" will be set at Smith's shop, whose vibe Collier likens to a comic-book geek's version of the neighbourhood bar — an everybody-knows-your-name community of kindred spirits. There, the show promises to explore every nook and cranny of fanboy culture, with debates on arcane details of comic lore, the savoring of fanboy curios, and even an "Antiques Roadshow"-like valuation of items to be bought or sold.

These six one-hour episodes will air beginning in February, alongside the second half of the "Walking Dead" season, AMC announced to The Associated Press.

"I think AMC is at its best when it is super-serving a passionate fan," says Collier.

And there are rumours of yet another series to serve the "Dead" fan: a talk show to follow each episode and analyze its story developments. This "Dead" post-mortem (so to speak) was first reported by New York magazine's Vulture website.

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