John Pilgrim, played by Josh Stewart, is a different type of villain for Frank Castle, a different type of hero, in season 2 of Netflix's The Punisher. The show's return is nearly upon us, but the new story still remains shrouded in mystery. The show will feature Frank on the run with a teenage girl and doing battle with Jigsaw and a provocative new villain, John Pilgrim. The character doesn't appear to have a direct analogue in the comics, though many have speculated he may be based on The Mennonite, who appeared in three issues of Punisher MAX in 2010 (after Garth Ennis's run with the book).
For the series, the character is played by Josh Stewart, an actor best known for roles in shows like No Ordinary Family, Criminal Minds, and Shooter, as well as films like The Collector and The Dark Knight Rises. A barrel-chested, broad-shouldered man with sharp facial features and an aura of quiet authority, Stewart could just as easily pass for an old-timey detective type as he could a film noir bruiser or a romantic leading man.
Stewart carries an air of mystery about him, but also charm and mischief. After all, he has secrets to keep. John Pilgrim is a mysterious new character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a Christian fundamentalist with a mysterious past. During the roundtable interview segment of our set visit, he is peppered with questions from all angles. He answers some of them earnestly, and smiles at others with a knowing look which says, "I'm pretty sure I can't answer that," before looking over at the Marvel/Netflix PR reps who confirm, indeed, he cannot divulge too much about his character.
That being said, he did share some details about John Pilgrim and his outlook on life, particularly as a hardcore Christian. These types of believers don't necessarily attend a church, but stand as their own temple, vessels for God's will who dedicate themselves wholly to what they believe to be the message of the Gospel:
"You can look at the stereotypes of what Christian fundamentalism is, and your imagination can run pretty wild. I think there are some elements of that, maybe. What’s true is true, to him; what’s right is right, to him; and what God says is what God says, to him."
As to why Pilgrim is so devoted to Christ, Stewart teased the character's dark and troubled past. Although he naturally refused to share any details about his character's backstory, he did promise that the character's mysterious history will be slowly unveiled as the season wears on, providing a satisfying arc for audiences to witness. Pilgrim seeks God in an effort to keep his primal rage and history of violence from taking over the man he claims to have become:
“He’s very by the book. With his past, it’s not something he can half-ass. It’s like addiction. You can’t kind of want to be sober - it’s all or nothing with him. If you want to change, you’ve got to change. You can’t have one foot on the boat and one on the dock, or you’ll end up in the river. It’s all or nothing.”
This character setup sounds like an old Western, of a reformed outlaw who has changed his ways and chosen to serve a higher power, raising the question of whether or not men can undo their misdeeds or ever truly atone for their sins. However, considering the violent subject matter of the show, it's a safe bet that Pilgrim will be drawn to battle once more. One way or another, it's a sure bet he'll find himself in the crosshairs of Frank Castle, or perhaps the other way around. Time will tell.
The Punisher season 2 premieres January 2019 on Netflix.