The star says that we'll also see more of Jesus' hand-to-hand combat skills

Season 7 of The Walking Dead was a rough one. Rough for the characters, rough for the actors, and rough for the viewers. In fairness, cast and producers warned us about that before it even started, but many fans were still unprepared for the onslaught of doom and gloom that followed. Some couldn’t take it.

But Tom Payne, who plays Jesus, has a message for those people. What happens in season 8 of the show (which returns on Oct. 22) makes season 7 much easer to ingest and digest. And he feels that those who stopped watching last year should give the show another chance safe in the knowledge that the kids in the schoolyard are finally standing up to the bully with the baseball bat.

We talked to Payne about that as well as what’s in store for Jesus (More fighting! No loving!) in season 8.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why don’t we just start by talking about where Jesus’ head is at as we move into season 8. Obviously, war is here and Jesus has never been one to shy away from a fight, has he?
TOM PAYNE: He’s ready to be a part of the group now, and it sounds like he’s been brought into it a little bit more, and I feel that he could be an asset going forward. I think what’s interesting about this season and Jesus’ role and the other people’s roles is how they consider themselves to fit into that dynamic and what they feel that they can bring to help in the best way.

There are certainly conflicts that arise and different situations about how to best proceed with certain things that happen, and everyone is challenged in different ways of, well, do we just go in and kill everyone, or do we take a more structured approach? And I think Jesus feels like he can have a voice within the group now, and should have a voice within the group. Because what’s the point in being part of a dynamic if you don’t add something to it. Obviously, he hasn’t been as involved at the Hilltop, and I think now he sees the value in that and sees that he can help in whatever he can and be another voice in the group.

Well, that’s interesting because what we’ve seen in the past is that he’s a guy that seemingly had no interest in being the leader, and he’s definitely been promoting Maggie as the person to take that position. Does he want to be an advisor? Where does he put himself in terms of where he should be in that pecking order?
Yeah, I think he is more of an advisor and another sounding board. He has a quite strong sense of morals and right and wrong. He has a conscience, and even though war is messy and crazy, he still feels that there is time to think about things, and I think he feels that Maggie is quite thoughtful as well. If he is going to have an impact on the group, it may be more through her or more through what they are trying to create at the Hilltop. So I think he’s interested in that really and creating something at the Hilltop with her that is strong and is a good vision of where we can move forward to.

How would you say season 8 is different from what we just went through in season 7?
I think 7 was such a bummer for everyone watching it because no one likes to see the group so ground down and not winning, basically. But in order to have the victories, you have to have the low points as well, and I think it was hard. That’s the first time anyone’s really seen the group ground down for such a prolonged amount of time and there didn’t seem to be any way out of it. But coming into season 8, they’ve regrouped and they have a new resolve to fight back and to have everyone join together and do that.

Anyone who maybe stopped watching after the first episode last year — and I completely understand anybody who did because it was completely very brutal and there wasn’t seemingly any light at the end of the tunnel — knowing how season 8 is and how it starts and how it progresses, I think having that light at the end of the tunnel of, Okay, wow, now they’re fighting back. Season 7 will be easier to get through.

And I think we’ll get a lot of those people who found it too hard to come back knowing that it’s okay, because in the end we are going to have some kind of fight back and 7 will be easier to get through. Because in season 8, we’re taking it back to the Saviors, and every episode that I read in the first half there was always an amazing impactful moment which made you shout. It’s definitely much more action and much more excitement right off the bat.

I remember talking to showrunner Scott Gimple and he said that the first four episodes are just like being shot out of a cannon.
Yeah, the whole thing is a battle. The whole thing is a war and the fallout from that.

With a lot of action coming does that mean we’ll get to see more of Jesus’s hand-to-hand combat skills, which we haven’t seem much of at this point?
Yes, and I’m very happy about that. I have put a little work into that, and we shared a bit last year, but to be honest, the episode was a little bit rushed and it was also against walkers, so it’s nothing because he doesn’t have to deal with anyone fighting back. But in a war situation obviously we’re against other human beings, and so you’ll see his skills in there, which I don’t think has been on the show before and that’s really exciting to be a part of because all of the fights on the show always end up being scrappy and on the floor and brawly.

Jesus won’t get brought into a stand-up fight if he doesn’t have to. You know, he’d much rather incapacitate or dodge and really get involved — but if he’s called up to do it, he will do what’s necessary. So yeah, that is a really exciting thing for this season as well.

At what point are we going to learn a little more about Jesus’ private life, because we do get to that a little later in the comic when we learn about some of his romantic connections. Is that something we’re going to be touched on at all yet, or are there other things that have to be dealt with first?
That’s not something that going to come out really in the war because I don’t think anybody has time for it, You never know, but I don’t see that panning out this season, and if he survives this season then maybe next season, but I just don’t think there’s room for it right now. That may be in further seasons because right now I think there are more important things on the horizon.

For more Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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The Walking Dead

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

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