This post contains frank discussion of Outlander season five, episode one, “The Fiery Cross.” In honor of Valentine’s Day, this episode was released two days before its scheduled premiere and is currently available to watch on the Starz app and Starz On Demand.
A lot of things finally go right for the Fraser clan in the season five premiere of Outlander. The episode centers on a joyous occasion: the wedding of Brianna Fraser (Sophie Skelton) and Roger Wakefield (Richard Rankin). It’s a beautiful ceremony, full of tender family moments, bawdy drinking games, thistle-themed fashion, and, in true Outlander tradition, a well-celebrated wedding night. Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) always did know how to throw a party. But it isn’t all whiskey drinks and fiddles. A sense of doom also hangs over the episode, centered on one beloved character: Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser (Duncan Lacroix).
Jamie’s godfather and closest friend is forced to wait out the ceremony in a nearby hut. His association with the Regulators—a group that grew out of North Carolina in the lead-up to the American Revolutionary War—makes him persona non grata at a ceremony where Jamie’s red-coated associates are welcome. It’s 1770 in America, the war is just five short years away, and while Murtagh might be on the right side of history, Jamie’s land and personal welfare is tangled up with the British.
All of this conflict around Murtagh on Brianna’s wedding night is juicy, show-manufactured drama. The Murtagh of the books died many years before the action of this episode, while fighting alongside Jamie in the Battle of Culloden. But the show has prolonged the character’s life due to his popularity with fans (and with the writers themselves). “Not to be bigheaded about it,” Lacroix joked to Vanity Fair last season, “but I’m great!”
Despite not being part of the book plot at this point, Murtagh folded fairly easily into the show’s plot after his surprise reunion with the Frasers in America last season. He fell into a romance with Jamie’s aunt Jocasta (Maria Doyle Kennedy), forging a kinship with everyone in the family including Jamie’s nephew “Young Ian” (John Bell) and Brianna herself. Most importantly, he helped put a personal face on the political rebellion fomenting around the Fraser clan.
But Outlander book fans worried about what having Murtagh still alive would do to the story author Diana Gabaldon had laid out. As lovers of time travel narratives, they know how easily even a tiny pebble out of place can disrupt the flow of history. Gabaldon casually brushed off those concerns back in 2017 in a comment that could be taken two ways.
Either Gabaldon thought fans should be less worked up about defending the sanctity of her books (not her usual style), or she knew that the writers had a plan to, eventually, get Murtagh out of the way. One common theory was that Murtagh would double for a book character called Duncan Innes, who has been cut from the series. In the books, Duncan, a compatriot of Jamie’s, goes on to marry Jocasta. Gabaldon repeatedly insisted this would not be Murtagh’s fate, and after Jocasta mentioned Innes proposing to her in the season five premiere and Murtagh made no moves to fight her on it, we can reasonably conclude that Gabaldon was telling the truth there. Though he has yet to appear on the screen, the show appears to have cast actor Alistair Findlay as Innes.
So, what will become of Murtagh? Well, for that, we can look to the final scene of the season five premiere. Jamie is given the unenviable task of hunting down his godfather and quashing the Regulator movement. He secretly releases Murtagh from his lifelong vow of protection and sends him on his way. “Please,” Jamie tells Murtagh with tears in his eyes, “be hard to find.”
You don’t need to have read Gabaldon’s book to see where this might be heading—but suffice it to say that in the novels, Jamie and his militia do find themselves fighting in the real-life Battle of Alamance. Though we don’t know for certain what will happen, Jamie’s great conflict this season will be much more compelling if it not only centers on his clash of ideals with the British government, but also a beloved godfather—who fought by his side time and time again—facing him down across a battlefield. Will Jamie be forced to kill his godfather in order to keep and protect his home? Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that—but it may.
The show has always made the connection between Jamie and Murtagh a truly special one. It’s worth noting that behind Claire and Jamie, the character of Murtagh Fitzgibbons has the highest episode count on Outlander. His potential death—especially if that death can be seen in some way as Jamie’s fault—will be emotionally devastating, even if it’s a long time coming.
The show did work last season to amp up that connection between Murtagh and Jamie even more. When the two saw each other again in Murtagh’s smithy after so many years, the encounter was shot to parallel the emotional highlight of both the novel Voyager and season three of the show: the famous printshop reunion of a long-separated Claire and Jamie.
As for why Murtagh is choosing his political beliefs over Jamie, the most important person in his life, Lacroix shared some thoughts on that back in season four. First of all: “Now that the [Fraser] family are back together, it’s not an easy—a natural thing to ease back in.” Murtagh lost decades of his life separated from the ones he loves, and the wear and tear of those years are evident in the silver wig he donned for season four. “I think it’s symbolic of all that lost time he had,” Lacroix explained. “Your hair just turns white with lack of hope.”
Without Jamie in his life, Murtagh became somewhat radicalized in the Regulator movement—fallout, Lacroix says, of the devastating Scottish-English battle that kicked off season three. “There’s so much of Murtagh who wants to rerun Culloden,” Lacroix explained. “He lost so much. He had Scotland taken away from him. He had Jamie taken away from him. This is a kind of continuation of that battle with the redcoats. You had a lot of Scottish expatriates [in North Carolina] who would be more willing to fight.” All in all, that’s a bit more interesting than another wedding, isn’t it?
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