Spoilers for the midseason finale of The Walking Dead follow below. Don’t read if you haven’t seen last night’s episode.
Well if you’re reading this, I assume you watched the The Walking Dead Season 9 midseason finale, in which yet another cast member of the AMC series departed. This comes on the heels of Andrew Lincoln’s much-promoted final episode of the show early last month, in which Rick Grimes looked like he was gonna bite the bucket, only for him to be saved at the last minute and whisked away to parts unknown.
But last night, salvation was nowhere to be found. Fan-favorite character Jesus, played by Tom Payne, bit the dust when he encountered the show’s new baddies the Whisperers. This came as quite a surprise to fans, as Jesus is very much alive in the comics. But unlike some other previous character exits, it turns out Payne was more than happy to bid adieu to The Walking Dead, owing to his “frustrating” experience on the show.
Indeed, speaking with THR about Jesus’ death, Payne says he didn’t exactly ask to be killed off, but he also let it be known that he wouldn’t be mad if he got released from his contract:
“They were aware I wouldn’t be unhappy if they got rid of me. I expressed unhappiness last season. I was very frustrated with what the character had been doing. 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]. In the background, I was training every single week. I was ready and raring to go. You can’t help but feel a little bit despondent when you’re not released to do some cool stuff. It was mutual and they knew I would be OK with it. It’s an amazing show and I was so honored to be a part of it, but at the same time, being the same character without anything fun to do is a bit frustrating.”
Jesus made his entrance in the show’s sixth season and was bumped up to series regular status for Season 7 and Season 8, but those two seasons also happened to coincide with the show’s slipping ratings. While The Walking Dead does indeed have a massive ensemble to cater to, it’s easy to understand Payne’s frustration—especially given how significant the character is in the comics.
Payne continued, saying he has no qualms about leaving the show behind:
“I loved the character. It’s sad to say goodbye to the character. But there was just so much potential in the character that wasn’t realized. I was frustrated by that and wished we had explored it further. I wasn’t sad to say goodbye to that frustration. It was constant. I had been training for two years. I was so prepared for this character and what he was capable of. There was just lots of unrealized potential. That was very frustrating for me. When we finally showed off this year what he was able to do, that was great. I have no wish to go back to being frustrated by a character. (Laughs.)”
The actor expressed satisfaction with Jesus’ last few episodes and the way the character goes out, and he doesn’t sound ungrateful. But he also admitted he was dismayed that the show never really explored Jesus’ sexuality:
“It’s been so amazing to be a part of [the LGBTQ] community and to give visibility as a gay character on one of the biggest television shows ever. It was an amazing responsibility, and I was happy to take it on. But I was disappointed it wasn’t in there more. It wasn’t ever even explicitly mentioned. [Jesus’ sexual orientation] was just one scene with Lauren in season seven. The right people picked up on it; they did recognize it. But you can find people who still don’t realize Jesus was gay. I think they could have been a bit more up front about that. While you’ve lost Jesus, you still have Aaron and Tara (Alanna Masterson), and now Magna (Nadia Hilker) and Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), so there’s still representation on the show. But it’s a shame. He was such a badass character. They could have made more of it. It’s really Robert Kirkman who was so amazing to do it in the comic books. I was super excited to play that. I wish they made a bigger deal of it. But other storylines take precedent, I guess.”
The whole interview over at THR is fascinating, and again Payne doesn’t sound like he’s just taking potshots at the series owing to his unhappiness, but it provides a candid look at what it’s like to be a series regular on a popular TV show, but not necessarily one of the show’s leads. It can be a frustrating experience, especially with an ensemble as big as The Walking Dead, and in Payne’s case it just doesn’t sound like it was worth it.
As for whether Payne’s Jesus will show up in one of the planned The Walking Dead movies in the works, Payne says “never say never,” but adds he’d only do it if the material was up to snuff. So for all intents and purposes, it sounds like we’ve seen the last of Jesus on The Walking Dead.