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Spoilers for The Walking Dead are below.
Strange as the following words look when put altogether, The Walking Dead put up a pretty delightful episode last night with “The New World,” helped in part by the long-awaited hook-up of Rick and Michonne as well as the rare team-up from Rick and Daryl. And it was during the latter arc that audiences were introduced to the show’s best new character in ages: Paul “Jesus” Rovia. While many people were understandably shocked to see the bearded badass popping up to make Rick and Daryl look silly, comic fans have been waiting for Jesus’ debut, and here’s what we know about the character from the source material.
Jesus was introduced in Issue #91 in a way that differed greatly in detail from the recent episode, but both stuck to the same general tone. In the comics, it’s Abraham and Michonne that he subdues and uses as his link to the Alexandria Safe-Zone, while the TV counterpart has him take advantage of Rick and Daryl as a way to find out where their camp is. Both plans are effective and immediately put out there not only that Jesus is someone who knows how to handle himself in a fight, either with or without weapons, but it also showcases his intelligence and his cunning. You guys didn’t really think he was having car troubles or that he was actually knocked out on the ride to Alexandria, did you?
Jesus resides in the relatively nearby and well-populated Hilltop Colony, where he was taken in by the schmoozy and ill-intentioned Gregory, a character that we’ll also soon be meeting on the show. I assume when the next episode begins, after Rick and Michonne put their clothes on, Jesus will lay out everything he knows about the still living and breathing world outside of Alexandria. In the comics, there are also The Kingdom, led by the tiger-keeping Ezekiel, and The Sanctuary, which is the factory headquarters of big bad Negan and many of his minions, the Saviors. (Others come up , but not until later in the story.) Whether or not this news-sharing involves Jesus being tied up (again) and held quasi-hostage, it’s likely his news of other communities will pique the interest of anyone in a position of authority within Alexandria.
It does take a little while in the comics for Rick & Co. to feel comfortable trusting Jesus, and I hope that gets streamlined in the TV show rather than dragged out for the sake of suspense and suspicion. Anybody who knows this show is well aware that Rick only manages to take decent people prisoner, while the bad guys roam free, so Jesus’ “capture” was proof enough that he wasn’t going to be a major threat to anyone’s existence. The quicker audiences are allowed to move past looking at Jesus with a raised eyebrow, the quicker we can get to cheering for him as he uses fists, guns, swords and more to take out walkers as well as certain antagonists.
Though Jesus is as serious and collected a survivor as anyone else in this fictional universe, he is also known for being playful and humorous. Actor Tom Payne definitely came across as an impish puppet master in his first appearance, and it was a good translation from the page to screen, impactful enough that there’s no worry of him botching it in the future. While Jesus didn’t really have much in common with Eugene in the comics, it’s great that they can share the small screen distinction of adding humor to The Walking Dead’s often dark and dismal atmosphere. I hope this doesn’t mean Eugene is going to die soon.
It’s rough to immediately make a character interesting when he or she is introduced so late into a story built around people that fans have known for years, but Jesus became an immediate fan favorite in the comics, offering a sage and pragmatic attitude unlike that of most other characters. His popularity seemed even more unlikely since writer/creator Robert Kirkman never delved into Jesus’ past, leaving readers unsure of who this guy was before the apocalypse went down. Granted, not a lot of characters get deep histories in this franchise, but Jesus had nothing and still managed to become memorable and championable by personality and actions alone.
While I don’t imagine Kirkman and showrunner Scott Gimple will give Jesus an episode-length rewind as they did with Morgan, I have to imagine a piece of his backstory will come to light in some way during Jesus’ live-action lifespan. Not that I need it, so long as he doesn’t get sidelined and remains a big part of the story, but even Enid got her past looked into, and it was turtle-eating all the way down.
Perhaps not incidentally, Jesus’ surname was changed for the TV show. In the comics, his name was Paul Monroe before the nickname came into play, and he goes by Paul Rovia for the AMC drama. Tom Payne told Comic Book his understanding was that the change was made as not to confuse TV audiences. Monroe is already the last name of an important Alexandria family – though Spencer is the only one left living at this point – and it’s presumed that the creative team didn’t want to deal with people wondering why Jesus and Deanna have the same last name if they aren’t related. That’s good planning ahead, as that likely would have happened, and I’m sure Kirkman got similar responses to people wondering if Jesus was related to the other Monroes in the comics. (Admittedly, that flew over my head when Jesus was first introduced, so I probably would have been one of those theorists wondering what the connection was.)
In the end, what you saw of Jesus was what you got in the comics: a smart and athletic survivor who made the absolute best of himself in the post-apocalypse. We will likely be watching Jesus rising in the TV show’s ranks of major characters in upcoming seasons, and we can only hope Tom Payne’s vibrant portrayal is as consistent as his beard growth.
With even more new characters on the way, The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC.
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