'Outlander': Sam Heughan, Caitriona Balfe Break Down Massive "Bear Killer" Twist

Plus, Sophie Skelton and Richard Rankin unpack the revelations for Brianna and Roger about what happens to Claire and Jamie in the past.
Starz

[Warning: this story contains spoilers from Sunday's Outlander, "Common Ground."]

Jamie (Sam Heughan) finally earned his long-awaited "Bear Killer" nickname on Outlander. But he didn't actually kill any bears in the process.

In one of the biggest changes from Diana Gabaldon's Drums of Autumn (upon which season four is based), Outlander executive producer Ron Moore flipped the highly anticipated "Bear Killer" moment on its head. Instead of having Jamie battle an actual bear on Fraser's Ridge while he, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Young Ian (John Bell) built their cabin, as  happens in the book, Jamie actually came face-to-face with a Native American who had lost his mind. The Cherokee was wearing the skin of a bear and used its claws to hunt and kill, all while making bear sounds. The moment when Jamie realized it wasn't an actual bear, but still had to fight it, was quite the surprise for fans of Gabaldon's books.

After he killed the bear hide-wearing Cherokee, Jamie brought the body to the tribe living near Fraser's Ridge as a sign of good faith to alleviate growing tensions over land ownership. The Cherokee then tell Jamie the origin of the "bear." When a Cherokee man raped a woman, he was banished. Separated from his people, he went crazy and began to think that he was an actual bear. He had been terrorizing the woods for a long time, and Jamie's killing him made the woods safe again (at least from this particular animal). The Cherokee and Frasers then reached a peace agreement and became allies.

"It's a great change to the book," Heughan tells The Hollywood Reporter with a little laugh. "Obviously everyone was expecting… "

As he trails off, Balfe interjects with a big laugh, "A real bear!"

"Yes, a real bear," Heughan adds after both he and Balfe stop laughing. "I think it's an interesting twist that actually begins the story with the Native Americans. It's actually wonderful, this honor or understanding between Jamie and the Cherokee. He gets a name, he's now Bear Killer, and their relationship becomes amicable, which is pretty big moving forward."

But Heughan knows this scene will come as a shock to book readers. "I think the fans are going to be surprised actually, and I hope that it works out well," he says. "They were all expecting.… What was that film with DiCaprio?"

"The Revenant," Balfe says.

"The Revenant! I think that's probably what fans thought it would be," Heughan continues. "But it's great! We have a few moments like this this season where we are going to surprise the fans, and I think that's good. Otherwise they know what's coming, and it's great to have a few little Easter eggs in there, some things to surprise even the most loyal book readers with."

Thinking back to when they found out that Heughan wouldn't have to actually film with a real bear, Balfe laughs again. "I think they tried to find a bear in Scotland and then they couldn't," she jokes.

"There are no Scottish bears," Heughan agrees, before continuing seriously. "No, when we got the scripts, it was there from the beginning. We were shooting that in the depths of winter, and it was so cold. It was minus 7, I was just in a shirt, and we were shooting at night. It was some pretty tough stuff. But I loved that Jaws moment of not seeing the bear but just hearing it. Jamie and Claire are living in a cabin in the woods, and they're really on the fringes of wilderness, and it is dangerous. There are a great many dangers there. It's a great chapter in their story."

While it may sound inconsequential to anyone who hasn't read the books, this Bear Killer moment marks a major turning point for Jamie and Claire moving forward as they build their new life on Fraser's Ridge.

"At first, Jamie uses the term 'savages' for Native Americans, and he's wary of them and thinks they're pretty dangerous," Heughan says. "He doesn't understand them that much. But his first encounter, when there is a bit of a standoff with them, he sees in them some sort of code, and he understands them as a warrior nation. There does become this uneasy — or not even uneasy, just an understanding between them. They begin to have respect for each other and trade with each other."

Without spoiling upcoming storylines, the ties between the Frasers and the Native Americans continue to strengthen over the course of the season. "There are similarities between the Highlanders, the Scots and the Native Americans, and it's a really nice story we're telling," Heughan says. "It develops over time until the end of the season that I'm really excited about that involves the whole village of the Mohawk. Jamie really trusts them."

Meanwhile, the episode also made great strides in Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and Roger's (Richard Rankin) story in 1971. When Roger discovered the mention of Fraser's Ridge in the book Bree gave him, he continued to dig deeper until he confirmed that it was Jamie. He called Bree to let her know, and they share a lovely, albeit short and guarded, phone conversation. But a while later, after he continued to research into the past, he was floored to read a news announcement of Jamie and Claire's death by fire. He tried to call Bree again to update her, but her roommate picked up and revealed that Bree went to Scotland to "visit her mother weeks ago." Did she go through the stones? Can Roger warn her in time? What's going through Roger's head in that moment the call ends?

"'Thank god she's gone,'" Skelton jokes before Rankin considers the question seriously.

"As soon as Roger pieces those things together, that starts the clock ticking for him," he says. "He processes and comes to the conclusion quite quickly that that's what she has done, [deciding to go through the stones herself]. Roger knows Brianna and he knows that that's what she's going to do. For him, time is of the essence, and he needs to prepare and go and try to stop her and rescue her. He just wants to make sure she's safe, get over there and bring her home before any harm comes to her, of course."

For Bree, it didn't take much to convince her to drop everything, leave her life behind and go back in time to her mother and the father she's never met. But she also knows the risks, and still decides this was the right call to make. 

"She knows that you can't change history, but that's something Claire, Jamie and Brianna are all dealing with this season," Skelton says. "Brianna wouldn't forgive herself if she didn't try. Finding out that her parents die in a fire means that she wants to go back and do everything she can to prevent that and save their lives."

Leaving without saying goodbye to Roger seems like a major blow to him. But Bree truly believed that her relationship with Roger was over.

"Yeah, that's actually an interesting thing that Richard and I talked about, because Brianna and Roger really didn't communicate how they were feeling," Skelton says. "We had to have a discussion about where their heads are at. I do think, for Brianna, she genuinely thought that Roger was done with her. That's a really nice scene where Roger calls with the information about Claire having found Jamie, so Brianna can appreciate the gift that he is giving her in that information because he obviously cares for Bree and her feelings and putting her mind at rest.

"But the way they leave that conversation is very much one of ambiguity. There is so much unsaid. For Bree, the way that Roger ends that call is that this isn't going any further. It's done. That's part of the reason why she doesn't tell Roger she wants to go back in time. She feels like he's left her life now."

Ending a phone conversation awkwardly and abruptly does seem like a kind of rejection, but going back in time without saying goodbye is definitely much more clear.