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The Walking Dead's Tom Payne Breaks Down Jesus' Shocking Moment

Oh my God, Jesus!

Liam Mathews

Jesus (Tom Payne) will not be resurrected on The Walking Dead. TV Guide has confirmed with Payne that Paul "Jesus" Rovia, the hirsute ass-kicker he's played since Season 6, was fatally stabbed by a Whisperer in the shocking final moments of the Season 9 midseason finale and therefore is dead "in this timeline." But don't be surprised if you see him again when The Walking Dead explains how Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) got those X-shaped scars: "There are those six years we don't know anything about," Payne hints. "So there might be some flashbacks to that period...He could pop up at any time."

Whether or not this is the last we see of Jesus, this was a pretty awesome way to go out. Jesus was part of a search party looking for Eugene (Josh McDermitt), who got separated from Rosita (Christian Serratos) while they were fleeing a herd of talking walkers. Throughout the episode, the herd had been doing things they'd never seen walkers do. And then Jesus' death helped them answer the why of their waking nightmare.

Jesus, Eugene, Daryl and Aaron (Ross Marquand) got trapped in a spooky cemetery with the curious herd encircling them. Michonne, Magna (Nadia Hilker) and Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) arrived to help them out, and Jesus tasked himself with picking off walkers while the others helped Eugene over the fence. He did some acrobatic kills with a sword, and then just as he was finishing up, he took a swipe at one last walker, which quickly ducked out of the way, swept around behind him, and stabbed him with a concealed knife up through his abdomen to his heart. "You are where you do not belong," the apparent walker whispered chillingly. Just then, other walkers ran up with knives, but they were quickly dispatched before the remaining talking walkers retreated. Daryl noticed some seams on the back of the walker that had killed Jesus' head. He cut them open, revealing a living man (living until moments before, that is) wearing a walker's face as a mask. Creepy! The episode ended on a cliffhanger, with the survivors trapped in the cemetery by whispering psychos in dead skin suits.

The spooky scene was one of the best action-horror sequences the show has ever done, and arguably the best scene of a very solid half-season. Payne is very proud to have gone out like that. "You want to be part of moments in the show, and that's definitely a moment in the show," he says. "If that's all I ever had on the show I'd be happy, because it's something that people will remember. People still talk to me about my first episode, because that was really fun and it was a new, different thing for the show. So to have two of those big moments is special."

Payne says working on the show was in some ways a frustrating experience, because Jesus is a martial arts expert, but he only got to show that off a few times. "I have been training ever since I've been on the show, and you would think that he was used a bit more in the Saviors war but it never really happened," he says. "So I was a bit frustrated, like 'this guy's a complete badass, when are we gonna see that again?'"

When Payne got the script and found out his number was up, he was ready. "[Showrunner] Angela [Kang] called me just before, and I actually missed the call," he says. "I was texting with my girlfriend and I was like 'Angela just called me, maybe it's 'The Call,' hahaha,' and then I called her back and it was." He says he was prepared for it, though. "I was kind of in a moment of 'well, if they're not gonna give me anything else to do on the show, I'm cool with leaving at any point,' so when she called me I think she was a bit surprised that I was so laid back about it and was like 'oh, ok, cool. As long as we send him out in a cool way," he says. "Because if Jesus is going to die, it has to be a ton of people taking him out or it has to be a surprise, which it ended up being."

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We finally got to see Jesus go all out in the moments before his surprising death (he's still alive in the comics), slicing up walkers in Zack Snyder-style slow-mo. "I was super happy with it," Payne says. "I think it's a shocking moment, and it introduces this whole new group of characters who are dangerous and scary. I thought it was very cool. I love how the whole episode is sort of creepy and filled with dread. It was so fun to film. It's not new for the show, because the show ultimately is a horror show, but I think it's nice to get back to that. I've loved this whole season so far."

Jesus' death heralds the arrival of the Whisperers, the villains for the second half of Season 9 and beyond. The characters don't know it yet, but the Whisperers are people who live among the dead in a sort of animalistic society. They're led by Alpha (Samantha Morton) and Beta (Ryan Hurst), and they're going to be the scariest Walking Dead foes in a long time.

As for Payne, he doesn't yet know what's next for him, as he's had to keep his exit from The Walking Dead a secret since the summer. He says he's planning to keep his hair long -- "It's two and a half years of growth, so I don't want to waste that" -- especially since it might help him land a long-haired part in something like Amazon's Lord of the Rings series. But he'll probably get rid of the beard for at least a little while.

The Walking Dead returns Sunday, Feb. 10 at 9/8c on AMC.

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​Tom Payne, The Walking Dead

Tom Payne, The Walking Dead

Gene Page/AMC