As we saw throughout the first half of The Walking Dead this season, Jesus is a kinder, gentler zombie apocalypse survivor. He allowed a Savior to live after the Savior drew a gun on him, and has long been an advocate for letting prisoners of war live. Actor Tom Payne believes Jesus is now the "moral center of the show" — but as he has been told, "the moral center always dies." Nobody is saying that Jesus will be the next to die but... well, the moral center does die pretty often.
SYFY WIRE spoke to Payne about the weight the moral center carries, his relationship with Maggie, and how Jesus deals with Carl's death.
Where is Jesus when we return to Season 8? He wasn't in the midseason premiere.
Tom Payne: Jesus is still dealing with stuff at the Hilltop. I'm kind of happy that I wasn't involved with any of the stuff that happens with Carl because that is heavy, heavy stuff that was happening, just from an acting standpoint. I was kind of happy I wasn't involved in those scenes! But yeah, Jesus is back at the Hilltop, dealing with the situation there, making sure everything is going well.
You have kind of become Maggie's second-in-command at the Hilltop. How is your relationship with her?
I've been describing Jesus and Maggie as a sibling relationship. I think he sees in her a bit of hope for the situation, and for humanity. I think before Glenn's death, he would have done exactly what Jesus has done. I think with the advent of [Maggie] watching Glenn being beaten to death in front of her, that has hardened her and made her very angry and pushed her towards the other side of the argument. But Jesus still sees within her that, maybe if that hadn't happened, she would be taking the positions that he has taken. I think he sees that he can make the situation work if he appeals to that side of her.
But it's also a tough situation. She comes back at the end of the first half [of the season] and [kills] that Savior, and I think he respects that, and understands she needed to do that for herself, and also to show that she isn't afraid to do that and make sure there is no uprising. Ultimately, he respects the decisions she makes, but he will try to persuade her in a certain direction.
Jesus is very kind. Will his kindness come back to bite him in the ass?
I think that is the fear a lot of people have. I've been told a lot this year that I'm going to die because I'm the moral center of the show now, and the moral center always dies. Which is kind of funny. It's a strong standpoint to take. Some people might see it as weakness, but he is the one who is standing up for humanity and what he thinks is right.
Obviously, there is a huge amount of risk there. There was the moment where Jesus made that decision, but then when we were shooting the show and I was walking down that road with all of the Saviors behind me or when we capture them outside, me myself, I'm thinking, "Wow, this is a lot of people we are taking back to our community." The weight of that decision I felt as Tom, as well as Jesus. Jesus is obviously feeling that, too. Jesus is taking a risk, but doing what he thinks is right. He will acquiesce to what Maggie decides at the end of the day, but I think he can see that she, really, in her heart of hearts, doesn't want to kill them, either. She understands we are all the same; it is just different circumstances that put us where we are.
How does Carl's death affect Jesus? At what point do you learn of his death?
Whenever any of the characters end up at the Hilltop — which could happen soon — that's when they find out.
The reality is, Jesus doesn't really know Carl. He hasn't had that much experience with him. He had that one time when they were both in the back of the truck, going to the Sanctuary, but he probably knew Glenn better than he knew Carl. Jesus has been a loner for a long time and hasn't really had an attachment to people. It's only really now, with Maggie and Sasha and Enid coming to the Hilltop that he decided to become more part of the group.
In the world we live in, people die. It happens. He, obviously, is a big humanitarian and he cares for the people left behind. But as far as him being impacted by Carl's death... obviously he sees the sadness in a child dying. That's awful. And he understands the weight of that on Rick. But the nature of the world is that people die and we have to carry on. He's very philosophical about that, I think. You just have to keep going.
Maggie is, as far as we know, still pregnant. Will you step in and help raise her baby? Is that something that has even come up yet?
Absolutely. I think he will absolutely step in and help wherever he is needed. He cares for Maggie and her future and would absolutely care for her child.
What can you tell us about what is coming up for Jesus in the rest of the season?
Well, there is the situation at the Hilltop that still needs some attention. Jesus will still stand up for his beliefs in regards to that.
Carl's death affects everyone in different ways. There will be some hot-headedness. Some people will make black decisions, some people will make white decisions, with everyone acting according to how they feel in the situation. The resolution to the war is coming, and Jesus will be helping out in any way he can. I think he's committed to the cause now and will try to contribute in any way he can.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9PM on AMC.