The Walking Dead: Tom Payne on Jesus taking a stand
What do Jesus' confrontations with Tara and Morgan mean moving forward?
SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “The Damned” episode of The Walking Dead.
The communities of Alexandria, the Kingdom, and the Hilltop have united to fight against Negan. But what about when they start fighting among themselves? That’s what happened in Sunday’s “The Damned” episode of The Walking Dead. Jesus took a stand against Tara — and later, Morgan — by refusing to kill surrendering Saviors. He also decided against offing a Savior who faked surrender, attacked him, and held him at gunpoint.
What does keeping all these enemies alive mean going forward? What do they do with them? And what does this new internal debate between Jesus, Tara, and Morgan mean for the alliance, especially with Tara’s boast that “Rick listens to me”? We asked actor Tom Payne about all that and more. (Also make sure to check out our episode Q&A with the man who plays the returning Morales, Juan Gabriel Pareja.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s get into his confrontation between Jesus and Tara. She’s ready to waste this guy who pissed his pants and appears to be defenseless, and they get into this big philosophical disagreement about killing surrendering people. Jesus says, “I’m not going to shoot someone with their hands up, and neither are you.” First off, where is this coming from with him, because we’ve seen Morgan and Carol have these sorts of reservations before, but not Jesus to that degree?
TOM PAYNE: I think Jesus has a sense of right and wrong and is trying to inject a sense of morality into the whole thing. The thing is, it’s a war, and in war there are prisoners of war and there are ways of going about things. There are rules. As much as it’s crazy and awful, there are established rules, like you don’t kill people who have surrendered. And as far as Jesus goes, he feels that you have to abide by those in order to keep some civility, otherwise you might just lose yourself.
This is a debate that has obviously happened in the show before, but this is the first time that Jesus has been involved in that, and I feel that that’s one of the things that he brings to the group, this sense of, “What are we doing this for?” And there has to be a purpose beyond just killing everyone, because where does that end? And then how are we any different from the people that we are fighting? So this is a really interesting beginning to that debate within the war, and Jesus is putting himself at the forefront of it.
I get not killing a worker with his hands up, but don’t we have a little leeway after the dude tried to take you out?
I don’t know. It goes back to my first season when we went to that satellite station and killed a bunch of people in their sleep. I’m not sure how heavy that weighed on Jesus’ conscience, and I think there has to be some kind of line because otherwise what happens is people on our side will get captured, and then do we just give up on those people? And those people are dead and we just assume that they are? I think you have to try and push for, “We’ll look after people that we’ve captured of yours, and you look after people you’ve captured of ours.”
But right now, at this point he probably doesn’t know that Gabriel is still at the Sanctuary. Maybe he thinks that he’s dead. But things like that, there are people who are behind enemy lines who you would like to think are not yet dead.
Let’s talk simple logistics: I’m all for preserving human life. And I realize I sound like a blood-hungry lunatic by asking this, but what are you supposed to do with all these people at the end that laid down their weapons and surrendered now that you’ve captured them, especially with such limited resources? That’s a little more difficult here in this situation, right?
Oh, definitely. In fact, on the day that we shot that, when we were finally in that situation and Jesus had marshaled that, I just stood there looking at all these guys and I was thinking, “Oh wow, this is actually a big group of people. What do we do next?” And so you will see in the coming episodes how that plays out. But that’s definitely a big thing on Jesus’ shoulders, and if anything does go wrong, it’s all on his head. So that’s definitely an interesting problem to solve in the coming episodes.
I have to say I was a little bummed out when the guy who pissed his pants first disarmed you, but then you got him back.
That whole time when he’s holding me around the neck and everything, the way that I was going to play it was, I don’t think Jesus thinks that he’s going to die in that situation. I think he’s just a bit disappointed, actually, and just a bit like “Oh, God. Okay, how’s this going to end now?” And I think actually what he said, like, “I think she’s going to shoot you. Yes, she is” — I think actually he saved the dude by disarming him, because he knows that she’s going to shoot him because that’s how she’s feeling. And so in a way he saved that guy’s life by disarming him, putting him on the ground and tying him up. Because she was going to shoot him.
The interesting twist in this moving forward is that you say you have Maggie’s ear, and Tara says Rick listens to her, implying this could extend past a little two-person squabble.
Yeah, absolutely. That’s kind of interesting because Jesus knows Rick, but he doesn’t really know him. Out of everyone in the whole group, he knows Maggie the best. So there is a little uncertainty there, because he’s like, “Well, I’m going to have to talk to Maggie and oh wow, she’s going to talk to Rick and we’ll see how that plays out.” So he has a hope that he can talk to Maggie and that she will be on the same side as him. And then Rick is another thing, so I think in his head he has to fight that battle with Maggie and he’s not going to be the one to try to convince Rick — Maggie is.
Is this going to be a battle over influence, because that sounds very political, and Jesus doesn’t strike me as a guy that wants to get too caught up in backroom politicking?
Yeah, I didn’t think he is. He’s not someone who in the past wants to. But with the events of what’s happened and the enormity of the war and all that kind of stuff, he feels that it’s a moral imperative that he has to get involved and to stick up for what he feels is right. Otherwise he would have just completely checked out of the whole thing and gone off and found another community.
But I think he, for himself, wants a sense of belonging and a sense of family and a sense of what will help him grow and how he can help others grow. And he’s on a path to discovery for himself and within the group this season. And yeah, I don’t think this is a snap decision. In that moment, I think it was very fast and then he’s put himself in this position and then he will fight for it because what else is he going to do? If he’s going to be a part of the group then he should be a part of the group rather than just being useless. He wants to participate.
We also see Jesus have a disagreement with Morgan there over the same issue. And in the season 8 trailer, we saw them sparring. Could those two things be related?
They could be, yeah.
Okay, what can you say about what’s coming up next on The Walking Dead?
Well, that conflict and the decision that he made of the right thing to do definitely has repercussions, certainly in the next episode and in the episodes to come. And I think you’ll see a little bit of a battle of wits over right and wrong at the Hilltop. At the end of the day, everyone sets up into groups and there will be these moments where quick decisions have to be made.