'Outlander' Season 4 Finale Charts a New Path for the Series

The Starz series deviates from its source material once again, presenting a huge dilemma for one of the central characters.
Courtesy of Starz

[Warning: the following story contains spoilers from Sunday's Outlander season four finale.]

Outlander certainly went out with a bang this season.

In a massive twist, season four ended on a cliffhanger completely new to the franchise, meaning it was not ripped from the source material of Diana Gabaldon's Drums of Autumn or any other book in her Outlander series.

The finale seemed to end on a happy note with Jamie (Sam Heughan), Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Roger (Richard Rankin) all back at River Run and reunited with Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and her newborn baby. But then British soldiers stormed the house. While Jocasta (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and everyone assumed they were there to find and arrest Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix), who escaped his death sentence earlier, they were actually there to deliver an ominous message to Jamie. He was ordered by the king to form a militia dedicated to finding and killing the escaped convict. Talk about awkward!

As those who have read Gabaldon's books know, the character of Murtagh is no longer alive at this point in the franchise, so anything involving his storyline is new territory. But to have Jamie's orders to build an army, which is in the book series, include a directive to hunt down his beloved godfather, whom he's kept safe all this time, is a twist that no one could have seen coming, which is exactly what the Outlander producers wanted.

"Just when we think the Frasers are going to be happy and content and everyone's back together again, au contraire — things are just ratcheted up even more," executive producer Maril Davis tells The Hollywood Reporter. Since Outlander had already been granted a two-season renewal during production on season four, that allowed the producers to take their time in telling the stories they wanted to play out over multiple seasons.

"We're always thinking ahead, and knowing that we already have seasons five and six picked up, it does sometimes change how you plan a season," Davis says. "If you plan a season and you don't know if you're getting another one, you try to do as much as possible, sometimes to the detriment of the story, because you're trying to shove too much into one season. Knowing we have two more gave us the ability to tell a different type of story and save certain things and set some things up for the next season."

That's why they decided to tie Murtagh's story into Jamie's from the next book, The Fiery Cross. "Certainly next season we'll get to explore more of Jamie and Murtagh potentially being on different sides of the line of this conflict and what will happen to them," Davis says. "They're family, godson and godfather, and for Jamie to be put in this predicament, he made a deal with the devil, and we wanted to end the season on a cliffhanger. This starts to set the table for the next season in wondering what Jamie's going to do."

Another shock during the season four finale came when Murtagh arrived at River Run after last week's jail break. While he and Jocasta constantly butted heads, one extremely heated argument ended in an unexpected hookup. But perhaps the biggest surprise came the next morning when the two normally harsh grumps were acting so in love. In the books, Jocasta ends up with another one of Jamie's men, Duncan, and they actually get married in a big storyline in The Fiery Cross. So how does this change where next season is going?

"We're still working on that, obviously," Davis says with a laugh. "We're in the writers room for season five as we speak. We just thought it would be so much fun if Jocasta and Murtagh got together. We've seen Murtagh with a random girl here and there in past seasons, but besides our knowledge of his deep love for Ellen, Jocasta's sister and Jamie's mom, we've never really explored Murtagh's love life. Jocasta has been through quite a few husbands, but they're both so feisty and crotchety, in the best way possible, that we thought it would be a lot of fun to see them together and a great surprise."

It was not only the characters' combative dynamic but also their shared history that made them the perfect unexpected couple.

"You think that these two are never going to be friends and then they end up in bed together!" Davis says with another laugh. "We thought it was fun unpacking the backstory to think that Jocasta probably had a crush on Murtagh when she was younger, but obviously Murtagh only had eyes for her sister and how maybe she's kindled that flame over the years. Murtagh has a kindred spirit in Jocasta, and we thought it worked so well. Where their relationship goes, who knows? That's something we're still talking about." 

She pauses, then adds, "They make a cute couple."

Going back to the core four, the Fraser family certainly went to hell and back to finally be together a family in the finale. Jamie, Claire and Young Ian (John Bell) made it to the Mohawk village where Roger was being help captive. After unsuccessful trading and escape attempts, Jamie tried to do the chivalrous thing for his daughter and offered up his life in exchange for Roger's. Young Ian, still blaming himself for the whole Roger mess, stepped up. He knew that Claire needed Jamie just like Brianna needed Roger, and he was single, young and looking forward to living with the Mohawk as one of their own, not just a prisoner. It was a heroic moment as Jamie and Claire left with Roger, and Young Ian became one of the Mohawk's warriors. His joy and pride couldn't have been more apparent on his face as he embraced his new destiny.

As for whether Young Ian's story on Outlander has come to an end or if he'll be seen again in the future, Davis is remaining tight-lipped. "I can't really answer that," she says. "If you've read the books, you obviously know what happens, and I don't want to ruin it for anyone else. But I'd be surprised if we didn't see Young Ian down the line somewhere."

The Fraser reunion doesn't go perfectly back at River Run — Jamie and Claire arrived without Roger (they told him everything that happened to Bree, including her pregnancy, which may not be his child, so he didn't come back with them). Bree was resigned to having to raise the baby alone, just like she had given birth alone. But some time after that, Bree saw Roger riding toward River Run on a horse and ran out to tearfully reunite with him. The happy moment came when Roger asked Bree to see "his son," accepting the child as his own even though there was no way of knowing.

"In the book it happens differently — things don’t take quite as long," Davis says of that romantic reunion. "We debated so much in the room on where to end this episode but also the idea of Roger, whether or not he would come back immediately, unlike the book. We ended up doing a version like the book where he doesn't immediately come back with Claire and Jamie. We talked a lot about how that would make Roger look — it makes him look unlikeable. A lot of people felt like, how do you redeem Roger after that?"

At this point, Roger knows that "the love of his life was assaulted," is pregnant and about to give birth, so not immediately coming back didn't sit right with a lot of the writers and producers.

"Even though the news is shocking, the guys in the writers room were like, 'I would immediately come back. I would not hesitate!'" Davis says. "It was a big debate if we should let that happen like the book. And ultimately we decided to because it is a human moment. Whether you like Roger or you don't like Roger, it's a lot of information to take in. We know where we're going in the future and there were certain things we wanted to see unpacked in season five. This is the start of that; that relationship is still growing and moving and morphing."

According to Davis, a large part of season five's focus is on the Bree/Roger relationship. "Brianna and Roger really haven't, as a married couple, been in the same place at the same time," she says. "And actually even as a dating couple, they haven't been in the same place at the same time. And now they have a child together! The only important thing we needed to do at the end of that story for this season is have Roger accept the child as his own, whether or not that child is a blood child of his or not. That was very important because there's still a lot of open-ended questions.

"While this is a very happy, joyful reunion, it does leave questions up in the air of why didn't he immediately come back, how that affected the people around him, how they feel about that? But we wanted to end the season on a high note — well, along with the cliffhanger. In this relationship, we needed to end it on a high note."

Drums of Autumn ends on quite a different note with the Gathering at Mount Helicon, whereas the finale ends where The Fiery Cross begins, with Jamie's orders to build a militia. The producers decided that playing with the book timeline made sense for the show.

"I don't want to get too much into season five, but if anyone has read book five there is a lot of the Gathering," Davis says. "We didn't want to start it and then stop it and then pick it up again in season five. It seemed like a rather large story that we wanted to get into one season as opposed to trying to bridge it over two. That's why we decided to hold off and wait until season five and slightly alter the end of this book."