'Outlander' Hurries Along an Engagement in Departure From Books

Executive producer Maril Davis explains why the Starz show had to streamline some elements from Diana Gabaldon's book to fit Sunday's episode.
Courtesy of Starz
'Outlander'

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the Jan. 13 episode of Starz's Outlander, "If Not for Hope."]

A new relationship has blossomed on Outlander, but it's not one that any of the characters could have seen coming.

In Sunday's episode, "If Not for Hope," Brianna (Sophie Skelton) began to feel the pressure from Aunt Jocasta (Maria Doyle Kennedy) to find a suitable husband, and fast, before the baby came. Bree couldn't have a child out of wedlock as it would doom the baby to forever live without a proper title and honor, despite her having been handfast with Roger (Richard Rankin).

Fearing she wouldn't have a choice in the matter (and knowing one of Aunt Jocasta's visitors was ready to make a proposal), Bree became desperate. Lord John Grey (David Berry) surprisingly showed up to River Run to check in on her at Jamie's (Sam Heughan) request, and so when she witnessed him in a late-night tryst with another man, she decided to blackmail him into becoming engaged to her to fend off any other suitors.

Their friendly relationship briefly turned hostile as Lord Grey went toe-to-toe with Bree, but he saw through her bravado and they ended up confiding in each other about their "shameful" secrets. He agreed to an engagement until they found out for sure what happened to Roger. While their engagement may be for show for now, the ruse only succeeds in bringing these two unlikely friends closer together. It's a relationship completely born out of Diana Gabaldon's Drums of Autumn, upon which this season of Outlander is based, and it's one the producers couldn't wait to bring to life.

"We all love, in the books, the Brianna-Lord John relationship. It's so unusual," executive producer Maril Davis tells The Hollywood Reporter. "This episode is just the beginning of that, and it's so special because Lord John has this close relationship with Jamie, but not as close with Claire [Caitriona Balfe]. There are so many mixed feelings there. With Brianna, Lord John sees a combination of Jamie and Claire and someone he can be close with and has a kinship with, but without the baggage."

But the scene in which Bree tries to force Lord John into an engagement was harder to bring to life onscreen than it appears on the page because of the limited time in which the producers had to develop Bree and Lord John's dynamic.

"We really wanted to try to capture that, but it's difficult because, as you saw, she tried to blackmail him, the poor guy," Davis says. "That scene, we tried to walk a line because you still need to like Brianna. You're pulling for Lord John in that scene where she calls him out and tries to get him to do what she wants, but at the end, you feel like they can share things with each other and be vulnerable. She knows his secrets and he knows hers. That's the start of this bond between them."

Cutting down the amount of time Bree and Lord John spend together naturally meant letting go of some of Gabaldon's writing, but it was necessary to streamline the story, Davis says.

"We tried to keep the spirit of the scene, but the purpose was, you have Brianna who is very scared and backed into a corner. The pressure is really on for her," Davis says. "We didn't have unlimited time to build up to this moment, and in this episode specifically, she knows someone is about to propose to her 24 hours after meeting her, she knows how her aunt feels and the societal pressures of an unwed mother. We needed to get to the point where she and Lord John are kindred spirits and they're on this journey together now."

Elsewhere in the episode, the story took another turn from the source material because of Murtagh's (Duncan Lacroix) continued survival onscreen. The character was supposed to die last season, but the Outlander producers granted him a reprieve and have continued to find ways to integrate him into the story. This week, Murtagh ended up on a mission, dictated by Jamie, to find Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers) and avenge what he did to Bree.

"The difficulty with keeping a character alive in the show that's not alive in the book is that all of a sudden you have to create story for them that didn't exist before," Davis says. "Sometimes that takes away from other characters or sometimes it moves story in a different way. We needed something for Murtagh to do, and it felt like Jamie, as he's off to look for Roger, would task his godfather with tracking down Bonnet."

Murtagh almost had him, too. But because he is also wanted by the British for working with the Regulators, a large group of North Carolina colonists who opposed the taxation and fee system imposed by colonial officials in the late 1760s, Murtagh was apprehended alongside Bonnet. Seeing one of the heroes in the same boat as the villain was a blow to both fans of the books and those who haven't read them, as Murtagh's fate is completely unknown.

"Unfortunately Murtagh also has a price on his head because we decided he would most likely have sided with the Regulators," Davis explains. "There's not a lot to tease aside from will he hang or won't he? The same for Bonnet as well. We were really excited to see those two characters share some scenes, because we didn't know how it would turn out as obviously Murtagh isn't alive in the books at this point."

Outlander also continued to leave fans wanting more by showing just a sliver of Roger's fate. He did not go through the stones, as teased in last week's episode, but he's not much better off. In fact, he was captured by the Mohawk yet again and marched all the way to their village of Shadow Lake. After taking a few more beatings, he was knocked out.

"Roger's journey has not been an easy one and will continue to not be easy," Davis says with a laugh. "He's had quite a fraught few months. Roger's been through so much, so many misunderstandings, and how does this really lovely, genteel professor deal with this kind of hardship? He at this point thinks all is lost for him."

In next week's hour, expect to see a "tour de force" from Roger as he spirals, thinking he has no hope at ever getting back to Bree.

"He gave up his chance to go through the stones because he loves Brianna," Davis says. "He's now questioning that love because for all he knows, who he assumes is her father beat him senseless and sold him off to the Mohawk so he's having doubts. We explore those doubts further and that for even a nice guy like Roger, a dark night of the soul, what's he going to do? Is he going to choose to try to get back to Brianna?"

Outlander airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Starz.