'Outlander' Boss Responds to Rape Backlash and Explains Major Book Change

"I went with what I thought was enough to convey the horror of it without lingering in it and making it too gratuitous," showrunner Ron Moore tells THR of last week's child rape scene.
Starz

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Saturday's episode of Outlander, "The Fox's Lair."]

Outlander book readers were in for a big surprise Saturday.

The Starz time-traveling romance drama flipped the script and brought back Laoghaire MacKenzie (Nell Hudson), a character from season one who wasn't supposed to be seen again until season three. Viewers remember the young girl who was so in love with Jamie (Sam Heughan) that she framed Claire (Caitriona Balfe) as a witch, leading to Claire almost getting executed while Jamie was out traveling. Had Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek) not taken the fall for Claire, both women would have died that day instead of just Geillis. 

But Laoghaire returned in a big way. Months after Jamie and Claire returned home to Scotland after their time in France, they ended up traveling to Jamie's grandsire Lord Lovat (Clive Russell) to get more men for their army to fight for the Jacobite cause. The two were shocked to see Colum MacKenzie (Gary Lewis) there with Laoghaire. Colum, who believed the Jacobite rebellion was doomed to fail, was trying to persuade Lovat to sign a neutrality agreement, meaning both the MacKenzies and the Lovats would not join the war. Lovat tried to blackmail Jamie for control of Lallybroch in exchange for giving him men and supplies for the war, but Jamie refused. 

Claire realized the way to get the army they needed was by getting Lovat's son Simon (James Parris) to stand up to his father, and to do that, they needed a woman to give Simon confidence. Claire convinced Laoghaire, who was desperate for Claire's forgiveness for her testimony back in the witch trial, to flirt with Simon. That gave him the boost he needed to stand up to Lord Lovat, and although Lovat still signed the neutrality agreement, he also gave Simon an army to join Jamie's. That way, Lovat is covered no matter which side wins the war. 

To thank Laoghaire for her help in their cause, Claire convinced Jamie to thank her in person, even though he wanted nothing to do with her. As Jamie walked away, Laoghaire confessed her love for him under her breath, meaning her story is far from over. That is, until next season. 

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Outlander showrunner Ron Moore about why he brought Laoghaire back this season, what he thinks of the backlash over last week's brutal child rape scene and more.

There's been a lot of controversy from viewers over how much of Black Jack Randall's (Tobias Menzies) rape of Fergus (Romann Berrux) was shown onscreen versus how much of it was in the book. Why did you choose to show more of it in the episode?

It's been a while since I've read that chapter of the book, but my recollection was the book was fairly explicit about what happened. I thought that what we showed in the show was actually the minimum required to convey the horror of what had happened and to understand from Claire's point of view why she would change her mind about Jamie and about getting him out of the Bastille, and come to an understanding about what made him break his promise to her and to really viscerally put her and the viewer in the point of realizing what had happened to Fergus. We had a lot of conversations about it with the cast and the director and then in editorial, and I went with what I thought was enough to convey the horror of it without lingering in it and making it too gratuitous.

Has the fan response to that scene surprised you at all?

I don't spend a lot of time seeking that out, but from what I've seen, the overwhelming response has been positive. Everyone thought the show was very emotional and that it was a very gut-wrenching episode, and the performances were amazing. I've seen pretty much a very positive response.

Are you going to be exploring that story any more going forward?

Not as much. Jamie is our lead character, and Fergus is a supporting role, and it's a different story. We've jumped ahead in the narrative to many months later, and the war story has taken over. It's a different thing for Fergus than it was for Jamie.

Let's move on to this week's episode. So many game-changing events happen throughout the hour, but what scene are you most proud of with the way it turned out on screen?

It's a tricky part of the story to try to convey, and I'm pretty proud of the way it all turned out. The whole story of Lord Lovat and trying to bring out the motivations of everybody in those scenes was tricky on the page. In the books, it wasn't quite as clear as what we needed to make it onscreen. What did Lovat want from Jamie? What was he after? We brought in Colum to give two voices to the pros and cons of fighting the Jacobites. We got that to a place that finally worked.

Why did you choose to add in Laoghaire to that storyline?

We brought Laoghaire back into the story because of where we're going with her in year three, and it really needed a step in between where we left her and where her story is going to go. We've changed the Laoghaire story in year one, and she did things that she didn't do in the books. In the book, she didn't testify against Claire. In the book, she didn't quite as nakedly implicate Claire as a witch like she did in the show. So in the interest of where that character is going in year three, we needed a mid-step where you saw some stab at redemption. I think the combination of bringing Colum and Laoghaire back in the story was also great in this episode because it brought the viewer back to the Scotland story and the family of characters they had seen in year one. This episode had more of a homecoming kind of feel to it.

In the final moments, Lord Lovat gave Claire and Jamie the army they need to fight for the Jacobite cause, which is such an about-face from what they were trying to do at the beginning of the season. Where does this leave them going into next week's episode?

They're in the place that they didn't want to be in the beginning of the season. Claire has told us ever since the beginning of the show that essentially this cause is doomed. It's all going to come to a battle at Culloden. But once the France story blew up and Jamie's name was put on that list, they really had no other realistic alternative than to try and win it. Now they're going to step into this war to figure out what when wrong in history and find a way to overcome the odds and win this fight, despite the fact that history is working against them.

Claire learned from Lovat's seer that she has been able to change the future before. Is this what Claire needed to hear to truly believe she can change history with the Jacobite rebellion, or does she have any doubts in their new plan?

I think it gives her hope. It's not that much different from where she started the season. At the beginning of the season, she had the hope that there's a way to change history, and so they set off into the Paris storyline with that in mind. Ultimately, they weren't able to stop it before it started. But she's still feeling like there's got to be a way where they can shift the tide of history and make all this work. Claire is still in the same hopeful place, even though we know it's doomed to fail.

Since viewers already know their mission is doomed, did that change the creative process for you in plotting out this season, knowing that the audience, both book readers and non-readers alike, already knows the outcome?

In some sense, yeah. We borrowed some of the structure that was there in the book and changed it a little. We embraced the same idea of the beginning where we told the audience that none of this was going to work out. But what's interesting is that when you get into the show, as you're working on it and even as you're watching it, part of your mind puts that away and you end up investing yourself in what the story is at the present. Every once in a while, you remind yourself that, "Oh shit, that's right…this isn't going to work out." That's part of the reason why we put Brianna in the teaser of [episode] 207, to remind the audience of what's really going to happen here and what the future foretold. We're all in this doomed project that we've invested in. We know how it's going to end, but how will it get there? Where do they fail? What's the reason that Claire went back through the stones in the end? It becomes a different kind of predicament for the audience.

You have added in a lot of different details and scenes to the show that weren't in the books. Have you ever faced resistance from Outlander author Diana Gabaldon with those choices?

We're all on the same page in the fact that everyone wants this to be the most faithful adaptation it can be. There are times when we just feel like to make it a dramatic television show, that requires changes. So it's about which changes we do. I have an open dialogue with Diana, so if it's a particularly large change I'm contemplating making, I'll call her in advance to let her know, "Before I go down this road, what do you think?" And we'll talk about it. And she'll give feedback. Even if she doesn't like something, she knows it's my call and she supports whatever I want to do. She's very generous in that sense. We've never had a problem where we wanted to make a change and she didn't want us to do it. We either would opt to not do it or Diana would understand.

The scene where Claire finds Jamie cradling and talking with Jenny's (Laura Donnelly) new baby in the middle of the night was so powerful, and it came straight from the book. What did you want to convey with that scene?

It was such a lovely scene on the page, it was so great. Everyone really wanted to do that scene because it connects so many of the plot threads with Jamie as a father, Claire hoping to have a child again. The audience knows she will have a child again, but Jamie won't raise it. There was a lot of resonance to that scene. It was a sweet and lovely moment filled with heartfelt emotion before we go off to war.

Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish) finally returns in next week's episode when the Lallybroch and MacKenzie men begin training for war. How will his arrival shake things up for Jamie and Claire?

That's going to be really interesting. When Dougal comes back into the story, he's the war chieftain of clan MacKenzie, and the question to the viewers is, what is his expectation? What does he want to be in this army? We know Colum is against this, so how does he come back to the Jacobite rebellion? Is this with Colum's blessing, or is he going against his brother? What role does he want to play in this army that Jamie is putting together? Dougal has always been the older uncle, Jamie has always been the younger nephew, but now Jamie is the commander. So can Dougal deal with being his subordinate? There's a lot of conflict and tension around the fact that he's returning to the story.

What storyline are you most excited for viewers to see from these new few episodes?

I'm really excited for [episodes] 9 and 10. These are the two big war episodes. One is a training episode with Claire flashing back to her experiences in WWII, which is really cool. I really liked the way that turned out. And then we have our full war story where we actually deal with combat and watching them plan and strategize and the cost of war, and how does Claire fit into that? We really shift gears in the next few episodes.

Outlander air Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.

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