This is an excerpt from TV Guide Magazine’s Outlander Forever Special Collector’s Issue, which is available for international pre-order online at OutlanderForever.com and available nationwide on newsstands now.
“You are my home now.” So said 18th-century Scottish warrior Jamie Fraser to his time-traveler wife Claire in the first season of Outlander, Starz’s sweeping love story based on the bestselling book series by Diana Gabaldon. Since then, the couple — sensitively and passionately portrayed by actors Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe — have weathered many storms under many roofs. (And, Heughan says wryly, “Jamie’s gone from a young Highlander to a grandfather.”) They finally found a “forever home” at Fraser’s Ridge, the now-thriving settlement they established in the British colony of North Carolina. But the foundation of that carefully and lovingly constructed world is about to crack.
“Claire and Jamie have spent a long time building that community. It disintegrates,” Heughan says. The 10,000 idyllic acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains are also home to their adult daughter, Brianna Fraser MacKenzie (Sophie Skelton); son-in-law Roger (Richard Rankin); and hundreds of others, including family, friends, and a continuing influx of Scottish settlers.
“Season 6 is about, what do you do when that home turns against you?” says executive producer Maril Davis of the long-awaited installment, which sticks closely to Gabaldon’s sixth book, A Breath of Snow and Ashes. “There’s distrust and conflict on the Ridge. It is a journey of trauma for so many.” And though this is a shortened run (just eight episodes, as opposed to the usual 12 or 13), Davis hopes to reward and thank fans for tolerating the extra-long Droughtlander by launching Season 6 with a supersized installment. The nearly 90-minute episode is “intense and really packed,” she notes, and brings back a “little of the Highlands.”
Looming over everything is the fallout from the heartbreaking brutalization and rape of Claire by the vicious Lionel Brown (Ned Dennehy) and his bandits from the neighboring Brownsville. In Season 5’s finale, they gagged her and tied her to a tree while terrorizing her (Lionel was enraged when he learned Claire had published reproductive health info under the male pseudonym Dr. Rawlings). Jamie came to the rescue, killing some and taking Lionel for questioning. But it was Jamie’s stepdaughter Marsali (Lauren Lyle) who administered poison into Lionel’s veins. Jamie honorably returned Lionel’s body to his brother, Richard (Chris Larkin) — but the horrific saga is far from over. “This is only the beginning of an even bigger, deeper animosity between the two,” Heughan says. “Richard is an extremely dangerous man, and very powerful. You’re going to see a lot more of the Browns.”
Perhaps even more disturbing are Claire’s failing efforts to cope with the trauma. As any fan of this series knows, the battlefield nurse turned surgeon has been through more than most could bear, but this time is different. “Claire has always been so good at compartmentalizing,” Balfe says. “She wants to continue as if nothing had happened, but this is the first time she can’t suppress something. She’s a bit destabilized.”
The actress adds: “That bleeds into every aspect of her life, including as a healer. Jamie’s watching her. Everybody is more aware of what’s going on with Claire than she is. Until it becomes too much, and she has to deal with it.”
Claire’s breaking point is just one of several intense moments executive producer Matthew B. Roberts promises are in store for this drama, which has always been fueled by passion. “There are many scenes where we just let the actors go. They’re heartbreaking, moving, and joyous. The [characters are] looking in each other’s eyes, and there’s a lot of emotion,” he says. “The audience is going to be on the edge of their seats and holding their breaths. At the end of some [scenes], they are going to be bawling their eyes out.”
Balfe gets extra credit for taking on such turmoil this season: She was pregnant during shooting. (Costume designer Trisha Biggar started work on a strategic wardrobe early on, creating voluminous, bump-disguising getups including, Balfe says, “a stunning big coat I wanted to wear off set!”) Then there were the extra safety measures from the pandemic and a surprise snowstorm to contend with. Says Heughan, “Just to be shooting through winter during COVID and also being pregnant — Caitriona did an incredible, incredible job.”
Jamie, too, has to revisit some trauma, stirred up by a new arrival at Fraser’s Ridge: the unbending, God-fearing Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones), who leads a new group of Scottish fisherfolk settlers. Jamie knows him from his terrible time spent behind bars in Scotland’s Ardsmuir Prison, and it brings back memories he’d rather forget. They also have differing religious views — Tom has strong Protestant beliefs — another cause of conflict. All of it comes to a boil.
“The history between Tom and Jamie gets under the skin of everyone,” Heughan says. “It starts to decay what Claire and Jamie have built.” Jones, however, was an infusion of fun during shooting. “He had Sam and I in stitches [during a scene] when there is a little operation Claire has to do on Tom,” says Balfe.
Christie’s two children add many unexpected wrinkles too. “They’re a weird little family,” Heughan observes of Tom, his brash son Allan (Alexander Vlahos), and his curious daughter Malva (Jessica Reynolds).
“Malva is a key character this season and a mix of so many things: cunning, smart, charming, naive,” Davis says. “Jessica can go from zero to 60, from wide-eyed innocent to really steely. She’s never met anyone like Claire, who’s so worldly and outspoken — everything she has been taught that a woman is not supposed to be. Claire takes Malva under her wing.”
Claire being in an unusual female role for the time, as a healer, draws scrutiny from the new arrivals. “They call her a witch,” Roberts says. “She’s OK with that. She understands that because Jamie is the law of the land, she’s protected.” Lest we forget Season 1’s haunting witch trial, Roberts adds, “We’ll see how protected Jamie can keep her.”
Another couple who always have each other’s backs are Bree and Roger, who are trying for another child this season. “We see the struggles with that,” Davis says. They’ve reconciled themselves to living in the 1770s after their failed attempt to travel back to the 20th century with baby Jem. Now, the engineer and the former history professor are searching for ways to adapt their skill sets to this era — which make for some very intriguing results. “Crazy things happen, but this is their home, and they’re going to make their best effort to fit in, each figuring out their place on the Ridge,” Davis says.
Coping with change in a less healthy way is charming former pickpocket and Fraser charge Fergus (César Domboy), now a family man who is facing heightened pressures in his home life. “He is struggling and deciding to drink his way out of sadness,” Domboy says. That puts strain on his marriage with Marsali. “They were the cool, fun couple,” Lyle says. “Now they are in the darkest place they’ve been in.”
Says Roberts: “Marsali, because she’s been around Claire and Brianna, senses that a woman can be a lot more than what the time says she can be. She steps up in a way that’s kind of out of time for her.”
Also in crisis: Claire and Jamie’s nephew, Ian Fraser Murray (John Bell), recently returned to Fraser’s Ridge after living among the Mohawk tribe for over a year. This season, Ian accompanies his uncle Jamie, who is now serving as an “Indian agent” (a liaison between the British and the Native Americans), during visits to the backcountry. “They’re teammates, working with the Cherokee, but Ian is being pulled in two directions,” Roberts says. “Who is he? An American Indian or a Scot? We see that pull — and learn what happened to him when he was with the Mohawk.” Adds Bell, “Ian’s been through the wringer, bless him.”
The two men, as well as others, also face some difficult questions. Season 5 ended in 1773, just two years before the war begins. And begin it does in Season 6. “How do decisions they make in the moment affect the outcome of the [American Revolution]?” Roberts asks. “Jamie doesn’t want to upset the rhythm of time with manipulating anything.”
Adds Heughan: “Jamie’s having to tread a fine line between his loyalties. He knows he’s on the wrong side, the British, and at some point, he is going to have to switch.”
He’d better decide quickly! Though war is coming, any large scenes producers had planned, including battles, were unfortunately scrapped. “The pandemic meant it was extremely challenging to put a lot of people in one scene together,” Roberts explains. “A lot of the things we wanted to do, we had to pull back a little bit.”
Another tragic shadow stretching over the Ridge is the impending house fire. That deadly event is the reason Bree first traveled to the 1700s, after reading an archived newspaper obituary for her parents stating they had died in the conflagration. That particular storyline, Davis says, may not be resolved in this shortened season. It’s also unknown if the show will revisit that other mysterious time traveler, Wendigo Donner (Brennan Martin), who was one of Claire’s attackers, but he is “certainly in the back of Claire’s mind,” says Davis.
Roberts notes that this season, as with all of Outlander, offers surprises to the avid fans of the book series. Plus, he teases that viewers could get more of those experimental, stylized scenes, like Claire escaping inside her mind to a fantasy 1960s Thanksgiving dinner in Season 5’s violent coda. “You might see something you’re not expecting,” he says. “There are a couple of episodes I’m not going to reveal because it definitely has to be a surprise.”
With Season 7 shooting set to begin early in 2022 in Scotland, the stars can’t wait to go back to work. “The scenes when we’re all together are chaotic,” Heughan says. “Everyone is high on life — it’s always such fun.” For now, Outlander’s onscreen world is all about one big question, says Roberts: “How do they endure?” These are the Frasers. The answer has to be…family.
Outlander, Season 6 Premiere, Sunday, March 6, 9/8c, Starz