'Outlander' Cast, Producers Break Down That Shockingly Emotional Premiere Death

Outlander Still Episode 301 - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Starz

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Outlander's season three premiere, "The Battle Joined."]

For Outlander's Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe), the "Droughtlander" has only just begun.

While the Starz hit time travel romance drama Outlander returned with a hauntingly beautiful season three premiere on Sunday night after a 14-month hiatus, the star-crossed couple at its core has only just begun their 20-year separation. With Claire returned to her own time, pregnant with Jamie's child and believing him to have died, she reunited with her first husband Frank (Tobias Menzies). At first pushing him away, she eventually accepted his offer to raise Jamie's child as his own. Hardly fixing their relationship issues, they reached a tenuous truce when baby Brianna is born, hoping that her arrival is what they need to finally move forward as family.

But unbeknownst to Claire, Jamie did in fact survive the Battle of Culloden while most of his Highlander clansmen did not. Laying mortally wounded on the battlefield for hours, he hallucinated his memories of his surprising reunion during the battle with nemesis Black Jack Randall (also Menzies). Their final meeting was a wordless, bloody dance, until Jamie delivered a killing blow. Black Jack fell into Jamie's arms and died on top of him, a fitting end to their complicated, traumatic and strange story.

While Jamie thought he would die from his wounds, or later executed as a prisoner of war when the English army rounded up all the surviving Highlanders, a surprising connection to his past actually saved his life (much to his chagrin, as losing Claire was enough to make him welcome death). John Grey's (David Berry) brother, presiding over the prisoner executions, recognized Jamie as the man who saved John's life years ago, meaning their family owed him a debt of honor. He helped smuggle Jamie away in a cart and sent him all the way home, back to Lallybroch to begin his long journey alone and in hiding as an enemy of the Crown.

The Hollywood Reporter sat down with Outlander executive producers Ron Moore and Maril Davis, as well as series stars Balfe and Menzies, to discuss Black Jack's (final) death, the aftermath of Culloden, Claire and Jamie's separation this season and more below.

The first 10 minutes of the premiere were so powerful, especially considering the fact there was absolutely no dialogue and we only see the Battle of Culloden through jump cut flashbacks of disjointed memories as Jamie lays dying underneath Black Jack's body. Why did you open the season like that?

Ron Moore: At the beginning, I wrote the battle in a linear way, the whole battle from beginning to end at Culloden. I wrote it as the big first quarter of the show. The battle took about 15 minutes so you could play it in real time as it literally happened. And it was just too big. It was too big for our production to really chew off, it was going to take too many days and we weren't going to have time to do really anything else. I made the decision to do it a different way. I wrote it as a more surreal experience with impressions of what happened and using the structure of him hallucinating on the battlefield to tell us what happened along the way. It's like you feel as if you almost did see the whole battle. But it was much easier to sync it like that and shoot little pieces and then construct a story that made you feel like you had seen it all instead of doing it beginning to end. It honestly came out of a production issue but in the end it was a more satisfying and unique way to tell the story than if we had just done the A, B, C, D of it.

When Jamie finally kills Black Jack, it comes off way more emotional than expected, as that moment is never explicitly discussed in Voyager. What was important to you in getting that moment right knowing that you essentially had a blank slate?

Ron Moore: Emotional is the right word. It felt like because there was no dialogue, there's not a scene here. You're not setting up something that is going to be resolved on the battlefield. You had to play it just visually and emotionally. Some of it, there was some luck that when they shot that chunk of it, it happened to be the magic hour with the clouds and sun making it beautiful.

So that timing of using the sun's "golden hour" wasn't planned?

Maril Davis: It just worked out perfectly. That moment where they see each other, it was magical. It was so good.

Ron Moore: And then the actors themselves just expanded on that moment.

How so?

Ron Moore: They came up with that moment where the two of them reach out for each other and collapsing together. That was something they created on the day rather than it being in the script. The director recognized the importance of that scene for the two men and for the series at large. So all of the elements came together for this very important beat and we gave it its time.

What was it like filming Black Jack's final death?

Tobias Menzies: It was all around good filming that. We had a good director, Brendan Maher, for it. Obviously we didn't have very long to tie up that story. It was a nonverbal scene, in him remembering the battle. We were trying to find a way to honor the story that we've told about these two in that scene. Just a straight up fight didn't feel quite right. But the writers, Brendan and Sam and I, we were keen to find again, as we're always doing with those two, something a bit offbeat and slightly unusual angle on it. This strange dance ends with Jack dying and it happens almost accidentally, by coincidence. It's not even the most interesting thing about that encounter, hopefully. At least, that's how I wanted it to play.

Black Jack has "died" so many times before only to make a miraculous recovery. Is this truly the end of Black Jack?

Tobias Menzies: I think this is the end, yeah. Watching it, it feels like it's done.

Do you have any regrets in how you played this character, now that his story is over?

Tobias Menzies: Oh god, there's always more stuff that you can do. But I'm pretty proud of a lot of what we shot; it feels interesting and he's an unusual villain for TV. I was happy with the amount of complexity we managed to get into it and the oddness of it. So yeah, I think there's a lot to be proud of.

Are you disappointed that you won't be able to play Black Jack any more moving forward or were you ready to say goodbye to him?

Tobias Menzies: I definitely miss it and it's been great fun to do. But it's also been fun going on to different stuff. I've been shooting something with AMC called The Terror for seven months, so it's a mixture of emotions for sure.

But Black Jack's death isn't the end of you on the show, as season three dives deeper into Frank's story after Claire returns than what we saw in season two, or even in Voyager.

Tobias Menzies: Yes, we begin to see Frank and Claire picking up their lives in Boston in greater detail than one might expect. Claire is pregnant and Brianna arrives at the end of episode 1. The child is born and through all that, you see them trying to build this family, this relationship back up. There's an awful lot of water under the bridge, a lot of damage to both of them. It goes through different kinds of ups and downs and it covers quite a bit of time, nearly 20 years from episode 1 to episode 3. You see the gradual unraveling, the final unraveling of that marriage. In a way, Frank grows apart from Claire and towards Brianna. To start with, raising the child was something he was doing for Claire, that was the price he was willing to pay. But actually, by the end of the story, Brianna is more important to him than Claire.

Speaking of Brianna, in the scene where Claire gives birth, she's put under anesthesia against her own wishes by the condescending, misogynistic doctor. It was extremely frustrating watching such an accomplished medical professional get her own rights and choices ripped away from her in such an important moment of her life. Is that what really happened back then?

Ron Moore: Yeah, that used to be the way they did it.

Caitriona Balfe: I had done quite a bit of research into all of that because when I read that, I was like, "They can't do that." And then you realize, up until about the late '40s, before that, childbirth was always in the hands of midwifes. It was always a very female-organized thing. It was never really looked at as a medical problem. And then with the dawn of modern medicine and everything that happened in the '40s, it became a medical procedure and the experience, the rights of women, were so completely taken out of the equation. Part of that was a reaction to a lot of childbirth happening at home where maybe it wasn't as clean. There were a lot of social issues that had to be fixed and as with everything, people sometimes do a complete 180 instead of doing the 30 percent of changes they need.

What was it like filming that scene, now armed with the knowledge that women actually went through experiences like this?

Caitriona Balfe: That was really infuriating. It was so interesting to learn how hundreds and hundreds of years of experience of women assisting other women in childbirth had been ripped away. Unfortunately, that's still going on today in a certain way. I could talk way too long about this but I'm going to stop because it gets really under my skin. But it was great to be able to take that frustration and channel it into that scene and get off my soapbox and give it to Claire. Let her get as frustrated as I am. And we know how capable Claire is, and to know how the thoughts of Faith were really with her and what had happened to her before, that fear, to use all of that and to give it to her was pretty amazing.

There did seem to be quite a lot of callbacks to her first time giving birth and her losing her baby. Was that on purpose?

Maril Davis: [Producer] Toni Graphia mentioned it in the [writers] room that there were so many parallels that I don't believe they play in the book, parallels to when she lost Faith. When Claire is asking, "Where's my baby? Where's my baby?" and going under and feeling like, "I don't want this to be a repeat of what happened with Faith," and feeling that loss of control. That was important to us.

The moment when Brianna is in Claire's arms with Frank by her side, it looks like the three of them truly believe their fractured family can move forward. Do you think that is naïve of them to think that a baby will fix their problems after everything they've gone through?

Caitriona Balfe: We really wanted to play with the idea that unless you give them hope, it's not really going to be that disappointing or heartbreaking when you see it not work. A child is such a hopeful thing. You have to remember that Frank and Claire had been happy before. They had had a good life together. The difference now is that Claire has experienced something that was so much deeper and so much more touched her soul rather than her heart. For her, how do you go back to grape juice after you've had the best wine? [Laughs] For Frank, there's this absolute betrayal that had happened and they can never really let go of all that. But their intention and their desire is to try and be happy again. I think they really truly believe they can do this. And then that line was so great, "Where did she get that red hair?" That's such a punch to the stomach of both of them because there will always be that reminder of Jamie now. It's pretty heartbreaking.

Outlander airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.