Spoiler warning for anyone who hasn’t yet tuned into The Walking Dead’s big winter finale. Watch it before reading on.
“WTF? WTF!” was likely the thought and exclamation shared by many a Walking Dead fan when the credits started rolling on “Evolution.” In bringing the deadly new villains The Whisperers to live-action, the AMC drama killed off the fan-favorite Hilltop badass Jesus. Any rage that viewers are feeling may be tempered by learning that star Tom Payne was pretty cool with learning he was being killed off, since he thinks the show wasn’t giving Jesus enough comic action.
Speaking with CinemaBlend about the game-changing Season 9 winter finale, Tom Payne shared his thoughts about Jesus’ swan song, saying he was both okay with leaving and also ecstatic about how it played out. It all started with that much-feared phone call.
Angela called me, and I missed the call actually. I texted my girlfriend and was like, ‘Oh, Angela called me. Maybe it’s the call. Hahaha.’ And then it was the call! I was like, ‘Oh shit, okay.’ But they were kind of aware that I was a bit tired of it. Because, you know, I kind of felt like Jesus for the last couple of years was just kind of holed up at the hilltop and not really getting to do anything effective. Like I had that great fight with Lenny, but being a comic book reader as well, I was like, ‘Well, when’s the fight with Negan? And when’s the catching the grenade and throwing it back, and when’s all this cool stuff?’ And none of the cool stuff actually happened. So, I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’ I mean, I had some cool stuff, but nothing that cool.
For an arguable opinion, it’s hard to imagine anyone fighting Tom Payne too hard on that particular detail. He did acknowledge that Jesus wasn’t just slumming it within the Hilltop and beyond, and that the character definitely had some moments that justified the fanbase’s love of both Tom Payne and Paul Rovia, to respectfully use the character’s given name. Not enough of them, though.
Live-action Jesus had only recently started addressing and utilizing some of the character’s long-absent comic elements, such as his man-bun hairdo, his Hilltop armor, and his truly fearsome fighting skills. Thus, it’s all the more depressing that he got stabbed by that Whisperer, as genuinely fantastic as that moment was in general.
If Tom Payne was perhaps disappointed with Jesus’ run overall, he wanted to make sure the character’s final acts were memorable ones. He continued:
So when Angela told me, I was pretty laid back and cool. I was like, ‘Okay, great, awesome. Just just make it cool. Make it a good exit.’ And I know that Angela wanted to do that, and made sure that it was a really cool way to go. I said, you know, if Jesus is going to go, it’s gotta be a ton of people taking him out, because he’s like the most capable fighter. Or, in the way that they did it, which was like a complete surprise that no one was expecting. . . . So there’s this big shock, and then that creepy moment where he says, ‘You go where you don’t belong.’ And I just loved it. I was like, ‘Oh, this is great. We’re creating a moment in the show.’ Honestly, that’s how I felt, like this is a moment in the show.
Everything involving The Whisperers and Eugene’s search party felt like it could have come from a classic horror flick, with episode director Michael E. Satrazemis capturing some of the season’s most engaging imagery. The creeping dread of the slow-burning chase combined splendidly with the claustrophobia-inducing fog, and just when it seemed like the group might escape their surroundings intact, the skin-covered rug got pulled out from under everyone.
Tom Payne is grateful for the narrative contributions that Jesus got to make on The Walking Dead, especially this last one. Even if it means not being on the show anymore, he’s all about fans getting a good jolt from the story.
I got lucky in the show in that sense, because I introduced the Saviors, and then at this point I introduced The Whisperers and how dangerous they can be. I’m happy to get that. If that’s all I had in the show that stands out, then that’s cool. I’m pretty pleased with that, actually. I just loved how the whole thing worked out. Like I said, I’m a storyteller, and it’s whatever tells the best story. And I think that tells a pretty cool one.
In some ways, “Evolution” felt like a “Jesus episode” as much as anything else, and in retrospect, the character’s physical and mental journey is quite interesting to think about. He yearned for the opportunity to be back on his own (or with Aaron) outside the Hilltop, and had long thought he had a firm grasp on everything the world could throw at him. Naturally, both of those constructs got twisted to his perpetual disservice.
When I asked Tom Payne about Jesus’ take on being put in the position of Hilltop’s leader, he specifically talked about how Jesus’ impulses played a part in his doom.
He says in [Episode 8], ‘We used to be explorers. The whole world was ours to rediscover.’ That’s what he really enjoyed, and I also think that he operates well on his own when he doesn’t have to worry about other people, or worry about anyone getting left behind or hurt or whatever. I think he’s good at operating within his own space, but he hasn’t done that for such a long time. So when he got the opportunity head out of the walls, he jumped at it, because that’s where he really feels at home. But then unfortunately, that wasn’t the best thing that he could have done.
Of course, we both agreed that Eugene was really the one to blame for Jesus’ death, since he was the injured one that The Whisperers were trying to track down. Tom Payne was amused at the thought of co-star Josh McDermitt taking the heat for Jesus’ fate, too. Considering the way the episode ended on a cliffhanger that left so many major characters in danger, we might be blaming Eugene for a lot more when the show returns, too.
The Walking Dead is now going on hiatus, giving fans a chance to mourn Jesus for a while before worrying about who The Whisperers will be taking out next. Expect lots of chances to relive it on AMC as we shift from 2018 to 2019, and bookmark our fall TV schedule and our midseason premiere lineup to keep current on everything deserving of audiences in the meantime.