Now batting: Negan.

After what seems like a six-month rain delay, the crushing swing delivered in April by The Walking Dead's mysterious new villain (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Lucille, his barbed-wire-wrapped bat, will finally connect when Season 7 opens Sunday on AMC (9 ET/PT).

Potential targets of Negan's brutal blow include fan favorites Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Carl (Chandler Riggs). (Glenn was the victim in the comic-book series that spawned the TV show.)

As is often the case on Dead, cable's biggest hit that's already renewed for an eighth season, humans are at least as big a threat as the post-apocalyptic, flesh-eating zombie walkers. In light of the Negan threat, Lincoln amends his advice to Dead's survivors: "It's 'Don't get bit. Don't get hit.' "

The cast and producers have been hush-hush about Negan's target and other details of the new season, but Lincoln explains how Rick, the former lawman who leads the gritty survivors, has been brought low by the leader of The Saviors.

"Rick's powerless. For the first time since he woke up from the coma, he has not control. He's terrified for himself and his family. Everything that he fought for, bled for, lost family and friends for has been shattered in 24 hours by this man," he says.

Although the first half of the season will focus on Negan's oppression of many survivors, others, including Morgan (Lennie James) and Carol (Melissa McBride), are off on their own adventures. Comic-book staple The Kingdom, with its tiger-owning leader, King Ezekiel (Khary Payton), will enter the show's universe, too.

As the show proceeds, "The world gets bigger," Lincoln says. "You get introduced to these other communities that have their own ideology, have their own set-ups, have their own ways of functioning, either by oppression, victimization (or) benevolence. The wonderful thing about the show is we try to underpin it with a great sense of honesty and performance, but the landscape we inhabit is wild," he says. "And we have tigers now."

Look for more spectacle, he says, comparing an upcoming episode to Season 5's thrilling escape from Terminus. "I think we’re heading to a point where there will be a showdown that will make that look like child’s play."

Without revealing Rick's fate (although it's assumed he will survive), Lincoln talks about the future for the survivors.

"The overall theme of the season is beginning again. The world isn’t what they thought it was. It’s bigger and even more dangerous," he says. "We are going to a very dark period of the show, but there is an overriding story that I think people should hold onto. … I don’t particularly like the phrase, but it’s always darkest before the dawn. So, hang in there, because hope has always been a vital ingredient in the show. But it’s going to get stormy."