Tom Payne, who played Paul "Jesus" Rovia between the sixth and ninth seasons of The Walking Dead, says fans familiar with Jesus' counterpart in Robert Kirkman's comic books were "let down" with the character's portrayal on the television show. Jesus brought Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his band of survivors into a new world when he introduced the group to Gregory (Xander Berkeley), then-leader of the Hilltop, a farming community being leaned on by Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the Saviors. Payne's character became a trusted ally and an adviser to later Hilltop leader Maggie (Lauren Cohan), but Payne says Jesus didn't live up to fan expectations before he was killed by the Whisperers midway through Season 9.
"That's the longest I'd ever been on a show, and … I felt like I'd done everything that I was gonna do, really," Payne told Skybound's Talk Dead to Me podcast. "And in the background, I had been working really hard on the martial arts, and the fitness, and all that stuff. And what kept me going with that, and with the show, was 'This is cool, because I've got all this cool stuff coming up, hopefully, if it follows the comic books.' When none of that happens, then you just get a bit despondent and you're like, 'Well, I don't understand where this character fits.'"
A fan-favorite character who survived through the end of the comic books, Jesus' lacking presence in the television show was "really bizarre," Payne added. "I would go to the conventions, and I had such a massive fan response from the beginning because everyone loved the character from the comic books, and then they loved seeing him on the show. So everyone was really excited, and I think a lot of people were a bit kind of let down."
Viewers unfamiliar with the comic books were anticipating a "cool" character who failed to live up to expectations, Payne said.
"So then when nothing really happened with that character, those people were like, 'Why was everyone telling us this character was so cool?'" he said. "So there was a lot of build up, and I think sometimes that's unhelpful. I think maybe it was unhelpful for me to read the comics, because the show is a bit of a remix. But yeah, there were definitely some cool moments that I didn't get."
During a past convention appearance, Payne lamented two comic book moments not adapted for the show: Jesus beating Negan in hand-to-hand combat and catching, and then tossing back, a grenade during an assault against Alexandria in The Walking Dead issue #120.
"The biggest fight he had was with someone on his own team," Payne said with a laugh, referring to a scrap with ally Morgan (Lennie James) in Season 8. "It was really fun, and I love Lennie, and both of us trained really hard. It was really nice to be able to show off to each other and with each other what we had done."
Payne now stars in crime drama Prodigal Son, recently renewed for a second season on FOX. For all things TWD, follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter.