The Walking Dead's Tom Payne Lands New TV Show In Surprise Recasting

jesus talking to aaron the walking dead season 9
(Image credit: amc press)

To cap off its Season 9 winter finale last year, The Walking Dead delivered a major "holy shit" moment when the character Jesus went the way of the dodo bird thanks to the show's new villains. Alas, the British actor hasn't been left jobless for long, as he has joined the new Fox pilot Prodigal Son. The most surprising part? Payne is replacing former Iron Fist lead Finn Jones, who was just cast last week.

Tom Payne is taking over the lead role of Malcolm Bright on Prodigal Son, which recently went through its first table read with the cast and crew. According to Deadline, it was indeed that read-through that sparked the producers' decision to recast the role of Malcolm Bright, as it was agreed that Finn Jones wasn't the proper fit.

Nothing beyond a general note of "creative differences" was stated for Finn Jones' exit, but that doesn't mean anything juicy or scandalous caused the switch. Pilot table reads are generally the first chance the creative team has to see how well-matched cast members are for their roles. It's not out of the ordinary for stars to get dropped in such cases, and here, Jones was only hired the day before the read happened, which isn't the most ideal scenario for anyone involved.

Ultimately, Prodigal Son's producers reached back out to Tom Payne, who had reportedly tested for the role previously. Payne will be joining such talented cast members as Michael Sheen, who will soon shake things up on The Good Fight, and Bellamy Young of Scandal fame.

As Malcolm Bright, Tom Payne will be playing a criminal psychologist whose giftedness and brilliance are second to none, and for good reason. You see, he was raised by one of the country's most notorious criminals, Michael Sheen's Martin Whitly, the serial killer dubbed "The Surgeon." Despite that moral and professional boundary, the father will still attempt to forge a meaningful relationship with his son.

Beyond the killer dad, Malcolm has a host of other issues keeping his mind busy. For one, he's got a manipulative mother, played by Bellamy Young, and a sister whose abject mediocrity is a bit of a family nuisance. Not to mention the ever-expanding neuroses within Malcolm's own head.

Prodigal Son won't be maddeningly self-serious, thankfully, and Tom Payne will hopefully get to show off more of his dark comedic chops should the pilot get ordered to series at Fox. Malcolm will be something of a self-deprecating character as well, which will be quite different from Payne's forever-earnest Walking Dead role.

Back when CinemaBlend spoke with Tom Payne ahead of his big Walking Dead exit, the actor told me he wasn't all that bothered by getting killed off in the long run. In his words:

Because, you know, I kind of felt like Jesus for the last couple of years was just kind of holed up at the Hilltop and not really getting to do anything effective. Like I had that great fight with Lenny, but being a comic book reader as well, I was like, 'Well, when's the fight with Negan? And when's the catching the grenade and throwing it back, and when's all this cool stuff?' And none of the cool stuff actually happened. So, I was like, 'Oh, okay.' I mean, I had some cool stuff, but nothing that cool. So when Angela told me, I was pretty laid back. I was like, 'Okay, great, awesome. Just just make it cool. Make it a good exit.'

While it may not have been THE most justifiable death in The Walking Dead's many seasons, it was nonetheless an important one, and it has now allowed Tom Payne to potentially make his way to primetime network TV. Before the AMC zombie drama, Payne's biggest U.S. TV role was for HBO's Luck, but Prodigal Son could turn him into even more of a mainstream star.

Prodigal Son comes from Chuck co-creator Chris Fedak and Blunt Talk writer/producer Sam Sklaver; the pair worked together on Fedak's short-lived magician-helping-the-cops drama Deception. If this new project features the same kind of instant-hook magic that Chuck had back in 2007, Fox could give Prodigal Son a quick greenlight.

For now, we'll be waiting to hear whether or not Prodigal Son will be an entry in the next fall or midseason TV schedule. And Finn Jones will continue looking for his next big TV show to follow Iron Fist's untimely cancellation at Netflix.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.