[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's season three finale of Outlander, "Eye of the Storm."]
It may have taken them more than 20 years and three full seasons, but Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) are finally free to stop running and live their lives together on Outlander.
Sunday's season three finale ended on a happy note with the star-crossed lovers washing up on the shore of America, far from the problems that plagued them in the Caribbean, Scotland and France. But they had to take a perilous journey, both figuratively and literally, to get there. After Jamie was arrested, Lord John Grey (David Berry) used his power and influence to help his old friend escape and wished him luck in finding and saving Young Ian (John Bell).
Jamie reunited with Claire at Geillis' (Lotte Verbeek) manor just in time to follow where Geillis' slaves took Young Ian. On their way to get the boy back, they ran into a colony of escaped slaves performing a drum circle. To their surprise, Willoughby (Gary Young) was there with Margaret Campbell (Alison Pargeter), as they were planning to run away together. Margaret's brother Archibald (Mark Hadfield) showed up to attempt to control his seer sibling again, but Willoughby intervened before he could hurt her and accidentally killed Archibald. The escaped slaves stole Archibald's body and effectively helped Willoughby cover up the slaying and allowing the couple to escape.
Before Archibald died, however, Jamie forced him to confess about Geillis' prophecy. She believed a Scottish King was destined to take back the throne and would stop at nothing to make it come true, twisting Margaret's words of the prophecy into believing she had to travel through time again and kill Claire and Jamie's daughter Bree (Sophie Skelton). Claire and Jamie go to the Abandawe cave on the island, knowing that's where the portal through time is located, and find Geillis trying to use Young Ian as a blood sacrifice to go through the stones. Claire managed to slice Geillis' throat, killing her and saving both Jamie and Young Ian.
Safely back on the Artemis, Claire and Jamie finally found a moment to just be with each other in a steamy, romantic scene ripped straight from the pages of Diana Gabaldon's Voyager. The Artemis began to sail back to Scotland with the arrest warrant on Jamie rescinded. All seemed to be well, until a massive storm hit the ship. Claire was knocked overboard when a giant wave cracked the mast and she nearly drowned. Jamie swam to save her from being lost forever, but in doing so, they were both tossed out to sea and lost sight of the ship.
When the storm calmed, Jamie woke up washed up on the shore and found Claire, alive. Shortly afterward, they learned that they weren't in the Caribbean anymore but rather in Georgia — as in the American colonies. What's more, the Artemis wasn't doomed but instead had run aground up the coast and at least part of its crew survived. The Starz drama then cut to a sweeping shot of Outlander's new location as Claire and Jamie are poised to launch a new chapter together in the colonies.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with stars Balfe and Heughan about season four's big reset, hopes of avoiding another "droughtlander" and more.
After such a challenging season apart, can you talk about the importance of that final sweeping scene on the beach?
Sam Heughan: We love that scene. It was a really nice way to end it. They've been through so much and they were completely reduced to nothing. So that drone shot across the beach sets us up for the new world.
Caitriona Balfe: They're finally in America. It's that beautiful, hopeful note that we needed and leave it on.
Where did you film that?
Balfe: It wasn't America. That was actually South Africa. We filmed that in June.
Heughan: It was a location we used quite a bit. We just had these incredible beaches. It was a protected site, and that same beach we had been working on when there were dolphins playing in the ocean right next to us while shooting. That was pretty amazing. You don't get dolphins in Scotland, certainly not where we shoot. They were welcoming in season four.
With season three ending on that shot of Claire and Jamie reunited and realizing they're in America, how does that set up where Outlander is heading for season four?
Balfe: One of the great things about season four is that we really see this couple as pioneers. It's that birth of the modern American nation and you see them arrive in North Carolina, they try to build a life for themselves there, they come into contact with a lot of Native Americans. So it's this beautiful look at this stage of America 300 years ago.
Heughan: They're the outsiders in a way, the Outlanders. It's about these immigrants from all sort of walks of life and different time periods as well, bringing all that we have, not only each other but the rest of our family, trying to build a new life. Ultimately, that's what Claire and Jamie have been trying to do this whole time — just build a life together.
What does that mean to you both, getting to portray a different kind of immigrant story?
Balfe: It's interesting because I left Ireland when I was 18. I immigrated to America when I was 21. To be able to look at the country that was my home for about 13 years in this historical context, it's not something I would have been terribly familiar with, the history of America, but right now it's especially interesting to look at how this nation of immigrants created where we are today and to be able to learn more about it.
Heughan: For Jamie and for myself, the similarities between the Highlanders and the Native Americans has been fascinating. Ultimately, now there's a great respect between the two, but they go through their trials and tribulations. There are great similarities between the warrior cultures and a great spirituality and connection to the earth.
How far ahead have you both read in Diana Gabaldon's book series?
Balfe: We've both read book four [upon which the next season will be based]. We tend to do the book that we're about to shoot, we read that before we start the new season. It's really helpful to have that as a blueprint for the season that we're doing. Diana's books are so dense and so full of information that moving forward or moving beyond the season that we're shooting isn't that helpful.
So you haven't tried to get an advance of Diana's upcoming book, Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone?
Balfe: (Laughs) No! Have you?
Heughan: Not her next book, no. She's a great guide for us. We do ask her questions and have a great dialogue with her. Sometimes you won't hear from her for a while, and then other times she'll be very communicative. We don't always follow the books — we try to as much as possible, but we just hope to keep her happy and the fans happy and collaborate between the two, staying true to the book while creating a TV show.
Every season, Outlander has a reset of sorts as its locations and story change. How will season four be affected by the new location of America?
Heughan: What other show does that?! We are like the ultimate road movie. We go everywhere. We all yearn for the beginnings of everything, but that's what is so great about America, what we're shooting now, there is an element of every season in what we're shooting. There's elements of France in the clothing and the manners, there's Scotland, all these make up these characters, these immigrants. You'll see a bit of everything and the trappings they bring with them. All the experiences they've gone through in life culminates in who these people are now.
Balfe: Obviously America, we're not shooting there, but it is such a huge part of the character of this season. The Native American tribes that Claire and Jamie end up living so closely beside, they form a great bond with their neighbors. That's such an interesting element to this season, and it will be really cool to see how they live side-by-side, and they have an awful lot of respect for each other.
You are currently in production on season four. Have you heard anything about how long the hiatus is going to be until season four premieres?
Heughan: I don’t think [viewers] will have to hold their breath for as long as this last one.
Balfe: Last time was longer than usual. As far as I know, we've tried to keep to the same filming schedule as we did last year. Whether that means that we will be at the same airing schedule, I can't say for sure, but we should hope to be somewhere close to that.
Heughan: All we have to do is create the beginnings of one of the greatest nations on Earth, so not a very great task.
Outlander has a way of subverting tropes, and it has flipped the script on sexual assault many times with men as victims. What do you think about the way in which Outlander portrays topics like rape and sexual assault?
Balfe: It's always a difficult subject matter to broach. Sexual assault is a very prevalent weapon to use against people. So it is something we have to deal with. But we always try and avoid the usual pitfalls or give at least respect and voice to the victims instead of it being seen through the eyes of the perpetrator. The writers and us actors all take a responsibility with that and we try and do it as respectfully as possible.
Heughan: And all the different forms of rape, as well, it's abuse, isn't it, ultimately? So that's explored in different ways in the show, and as terrifying as it is, we don't shy away from it. It is hard subject material, but they are in the books so we have to not shy away from it and approach it with an artist's collective collaboration.
Why do you think it's important to have Outlander continue to deliver such strong female characters, especially given the climate of the industry today with women coming forward with decades of harassment and abuse allegations?
Balfe: The landscape for TV and social awareness has changed so much, even in the three years since we first aired. It's not just about representing women, it's about representing people of color, people of different sexual orientations. The more you can have a representative look at society as a whole on TV and have everyone behind the camera as well as in front of the camera, then that's a good thing for storytelling and for everyone.
Heughan: We ultimately on our show choose the best person for the job, but we have been very lucky; we have a great team of female writers and male writers. It's about doing the best job. I think that Outlander has all these elements to it. Diana's books have so much in it, it's not just a romance or historical time-travel novel, there's so many other layers to it, and I think our show covers all of those spaces.
A return date for Outlander season four has yet to be determined. Watch a teaser for season four, below.