PASADENA, Calif. - The barn doors opened, and Carol Peletier's life changed.
At least a dozen or so zombies came wobbling out of the barn in that scene in the midseason finale of "The Walking Dead" in December. One of them was most unexpected: Carol's missing daughter, Sophia, was no longer the sweet child her mother knew. She was now a gray-skinned, flesh-eating monster.
As the rest of the season begins, the survivors are at a crossroads as to what to do next -- most of all, Carol.
Despite the grimness, "I don't see Carol as sad," says actress Melissa McBride, who plays the downbeat survivor of a zombie apocalypse in the horror series (returning 9 p.m. EST Sunday, AMC). "I see her as someone who is coming to terms."
For the duration, Carol has been a presence in the background. She's not a heroine or a wise leader or even someone who handles a gun very well. Of the pack of survivors who have banded together and travel the countryside looking for a haven from the zombies, Carol is, perhaps, the weakest link.
Carol has known her share of loss. Her abusive husband was killed by zombies. Now, her daughter is gone. Carol is alone in the world, trying to get by with people she barely knows.
"I don't know where the writers will take her, but (all the loss) has taken its toll," McBride, an actress and casting agent in the Atlanta area, says.
Carol was a mistreated wife and a woman who knew fear long before the dead started coming back to life. McBride says she knows women like the put-upon Carol.
"I based her on a lot of women I know. I base her on me. I base her on a lot," McBride says. "She takes a lot of abuse. What is her payoff (for all of this)? Sometimes I think I am close to realizing it.
"A lot of it comes down to her fear of failing."
When the new episodes roll out, Carol will begin to grow, McBride says. She'll start taking charge of her life. She might possibly learn to trust again, though the relationship that seems to be brimming will be with fellow survivor Darrell, a redneck, squirrel-skinning, gun-toting punk. "They can help each other," McBride says.
"She won't be happy when we see her again. That would be hard, but there are ways to liberate her a little more. She has to face her reality."
Other highlights for the week of Feb. 12-18 (listings subject to change; check local listings):
-- "Italian Cruise Ship Disaster: The Untold Stories" (7 p.m., National Geographic Channel). A look at the sinking last month of the Costa Concordia.
-- "The 54th Grammys" (8 p.m., CBS). Soulful singer Adele is the one to beat in this year's musical race, with six nominations.
-- "Worst Cooks in America" (9 p.m., Food Network). Another season opens as 16 recruits -- nominated by friends and family for their bad skills in the kitchen -- compete to impress judges.
-- "Comic Book Men" (10 p.m., AMC). Real men read comic books. They also wear capes and masks to San Diego Comic-Con. This reality series, set at filmmaker Kevin Smith's comic-book shop, details the customers and the goods they bring to the store to be appraised.
-- "My Strange Addiction" (10 p.m., TLC). Do you like to eat laundry detergent? Then you're in luck. This reality show, opening for a third season, was made for you.
-- "Cougar Town" (8:30 p.m., ABC). The gang from Florida is back for a third season. Jules (Courteney Cox) is bothered when she's labeled as predictable.
-- "The Loving Story" (9 p.m., HBO). This documentary details an interracial couple's landmark civil-rights case.
-- "Survivor: One World" (8 p.m., CBS). The tribes are split along gender lines as the 24th cycle of the reality competition debuts.
-- "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills Reunion" (9 p.m., Bravo). Kim Richards talks about her rehab stint.
-- "Undercover Boss" (8 p.m., CBS). Why is this reality show about corporate bosses slumming with their employees still on the air? Answer: Well, it's on Friday nights now, so we may not have to ask that question much longer.
-- "Curious & Unusual Deaths" (10 p.m., Discovery Fit & Health). A lava-lamp obsession leads to a man's demise in the first installment of a six-part series.
-- "2012 Ice Age" (9 p.m., Syfy). The world may come to an end in 2012 in this chilling movie.