The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman issued his thoughts on the death of Jesus (Tom Payne), who was killed off midway through Season Nine as the first victim of the Whisperers despite remaining in play within Kirkman's ongoing comic books.
"We certainly had our reasons... and they've been discussed in great detail online, so do a little searching if you like," Kirkman wrote in The Walking Dead #189 letter column when asked for an explanation behind the death. "I'll just say ... Tom Payne was an AMAZING Jesus and I really loved his portrayal. And he couldn't have gone out in a COOLER way, and that moment was so expertly written and directed that I think everyone involved is very proud of the insane debut of the Whisperers on the good old TV."
Jesus' death is the latest major deviation to reach The Walking Dead, already forced to write off Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Maggie Rhee (Lauren Cohan) — who are alive but elsewhere — despite those characters continuing on as key players in the books. Kirkman previously said he was "not at all" bothered by the Season Eight death of Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs), whose comic book counterpart has long been considered the future of the title.
"It's something that I've gotten used to, it happens from time to time on the show," Kirkman said on a 2018 episode of Talking Dead. "Really if anything, it just makes me more excited. I think that any time that path is not set, any time you can't look at a comic book series and go, 'oh, I know exactly what's going to happen,' it makes things a little bit more exciting."
"And dealing with those unknowns, when we're in the writers room, when we're working on Season Nine," he added, "all those changes that kind of snowball out from that, it just makes for a better show."
Payne previously admitted he was "disappointed" the television series neglected to adapt two of Jesus' standout comic book moments: Jesus handily defeating Negan in hand-to-hand combat and later catching a grenade midair — then promptly tossing it back — when the Saviors use heavy firepower to launch an assault on Alexandria.
"Honestly, the comic books, I really enjoyed reading the comic books and I read them all because that was really the only thing that I had to go off of," Payne said during a December convention appearance.
"Because we get the episodes like one episode before you get the script for the next episode. And so I kind of hung onto the comic books for a long time of like, 'wow yeah, he does all this cool stuff,' and I think that was the cause of a lot of my depression at times [laughs]."
But the Jesus star was forced to "come to terms with the fact that, okay, it's a different character, which is fine."
Payne praised his sendoff episode — in which Jesus is cut down in a foggy graveyard by a Whisperer posing as a walker — as well as a Season Eight tussle with Morgan (Lennie James).
"They gave me a very different beginning in the show, which was awesome, I loved that. And the fight with Lennie was great. And then the end, I thought the end was one of the [best] moments in the show, and I'm really happy to have left my mark in that way," Payne said. "But yeah, maybe I shouldn't have read the comic books, because then I wouldn't have been as disappointed as I have been at times."
Despite his oft-publicized comments made in the wake of his November exit, Payne has since said he doesn't "have anything to say badly about the show."
The Walking Dead premieres new episodes Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
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