Credit Tom Payne with having a stone-cold understanding of the comic book background for Jesus, the character he’s played as a Walking Dead regular for the past two seasons, and for knowing how it differs from the TV version.
**SPOILER WARNING: This story reveals key plot details of Sunday’s “Evolution” episode of The Walking Dead. Stop reading now if you want to see the episode with fresh eyes.**
Following Jesus’ shocking and untimely death at the hands of the Whisperers in Sunday’s “Evolution” episode, Payne’s long-held belief that the show could have made far more from the gay character’s comic book roots finally came to light, via a candid interview the The Hollywood Reporter.
Payne pointed out major differences between the ink-and-paper version of Jesus, who’s still active in the comics, from the one who became a series regular in Season 7. Saying he’s happy with the way Jesus was killed off on the show, Payne admitted Jesus might as well have gone out with a memorable bang, since the creative team wasn’t willing to let Jesus show off more of his fighting side, a trait that defines his character in the comics.
“I expressed unhappiness last season. I was very frustrated with what the character had been doing,” said Payne. “He arrived in a very cool way, and then he floundered at the Hilltop. During the war with the Saviors, the only person he had a fight with was a man who was on his side [in Lennie James' Morgan]. In the comics, he has this massive fight with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). He catches a grenade, and throws it back [at his enemies]. He's the most capable member of the entire group! And he wasn't used at all [on the show].”
Payne also said the six-year time jump, which has helped the current Season 9 hit a creative reset button, helped warm him to the idea that the time might finally have been right to highlight a potential relationship between Jesus and Aaron (Ross Marquand).
“I liked that they had a friendship [before the jump], but I felt like a further relationship wasn't necessarily required. I thought it would have been a bit lazy: ‘Here are two gay characters. They should get together!’” he explained.
“But someone else asked me about the six-year time jump [that followed Andrew Lincoln's departure], and I was like, ‘Maybe they did hook up once or twice in those six years!’”
Although he’s happy to leave Jesus behind, Payne said there’re no hard feelings over playing the character and that he’s even open, tentatively, to revisiting the role, if AMC ever decides to make Jesus a part of its Walking Dead spinoff universe.
“I would never say never, but I would only want to do it if it was good material,” he said. “I don't have any interest in being there in the background, or showing up just for the sake of doing it. I would love to tell a story about Jesus' beginnings or whatever happened in those six years, and there's a lot of scope for that.”
AMC has just revealed when Season 9 will pick up where things left off from Sunday’s midseason finale, with the premiere for the second half of the full 16-episode lineup slated to arrive on Feb. 10. As always, you can catch new episodes at 9 p.m. ET each Sunday, once Season 9 returns in February.
Did Jesus have more of a future on The Walking Dead than AMC gave him? And would you want to see more of his backstory in the upcoming Walking Dead-based movies and shows AMC has in development? Let us know in the comments.