They're back. After what seems like an interminable wait for Outlander fans — so much so it was nicknamed Droughtlander — star-crossed lovers Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) return for the third season of the romantic, time travel series based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon.
The story picks right up where Season 2 left off with Jamie in 1746 Scotland about to fight the Battle of Culloden and Claire back through the stones in the 1940s, where she reunites with her 20th century husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) and gives birth to baby Brianna, all the while still thinking about her true love and Brianna's biological father.
Biography spoke with executive producer Maril Davis to get the inside story on Season 3 of the STARZ series. Following she answers 10 burning questions about the next 13 episodes of Outlander, which are based on Voyager, the third book in the series
No. 1: Will the Battle of Culloden play out more in the series than the book so fans will get to see the moment when Black Jack [also played by Menzies] and Jamie finally have their long-postponed confrontation on the battlefield?
I think as a fan myself, because I’ve read all the books multiple times, that you do feel like you’re cheated by the fact that you never see Culloden play out in the books. We always felt in the writer’s room that we wanted to see that at the moment it takes place.
When [executive producer] Ron [D. Moore] wrote the episode the first time, he really wrote the battle in a very linear fashion, but then we realized we wouldn’t be able to show any other story because that would take too long to film. So it forced him from a production perspective to do a more impressionistic telling of the battle.
At the end, we all realized we were much happier with how that version turned out. That moment in Episode 1 when Jack and Jamie see each other across the battlefield, I describe as beautiful because it is because it was at magic hour. It’s crazy to describe that moment as beautiful, but it really is. Every time I see it, the hairs stand up on my arms, and I’ve seen it about 20 times.
No. 2: What were the challenges of Season 3 that the two previous seasons didn’t have? Was part of that how do you keep the audience watching until Jamie and Claire are finally reunited?
It was more: What’s the organic number of episodes we need to tell the story? Jamie was really the person we were able to track off of because he has such specific tent pole moments as you go. It’s post-Culloden in the cave on the Lallybroch estate, at Ardsmuir Prison, and then at the stud farm Helwater. We knew we had to tell those stories, and we wanted to see, quite honestly, what his journey was going to be.
For most who understand what Jamie and Claire have gone through in those 20 years, the reunion is that much sweeter for getting to see what they’ve gone through. Claire was a little more difficult because her path wasn’t charted in the books quite as cleanly and in linear fashion as Jamie's was.
But we still wanted to match their emotional beats on their journey. Also, I wanted to see Claire fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor, her struggles with her relationship with Frank and being in a loveless marriage, but still being with a partner you feel is a good father to your child. That really informed our journey about how long we were going to keep them apart.
Quite honestly, I think it was more a challenge for Caitriona and Sam to be, "We don’t have our normal acting partners here." But a great challenge for them to work with other people and focus on their own individual journeys.
No. 3: When Jamie and Claire are reunited in the print shop, what was it you were trying to capture on the screen? She knew that she might see him, but for him it was a total shock.
That’s what we were hoping to capture. Matt Roberts did such a great job writing that episode. Everyone asks: What are your expectations for the print shop scene? I’m like, "It’s really the print shop episode." It is a whole episode that we felt we wanted to have be our love letter to the fans. Forget what’s going to happen when real life is going to come crashing in. There were a lot of expectations on that initial scene where they see each other. You want it to be fabulous. We wanted the fans to get a very satisfying moment. I think we captured that.
No. 4: It’s 20 years later, should their love look different?
I think it does. In fact, we try to show that in the episode when they initially get together. The love is still there, no doubt, but there’s an awkwardness there. We talked about the fact that after 20 years your rhythm is going to be off with someone else. You haven’t lived together. As Jamie says, they know each other less now than they did when they were first married. We want to see that build of initial awkward, like bumping noses, but then we see a luxurious amount of time when we see them reconnecting. There’ll be bumps along the way, as there should be.
As I’ve said many times, it’s almost like we’re seeing Jamie and Claire fall in love again. The joy of seeing two people reunited who still have that love and whatever it is between them, but how have they changed as people? How is that re-falling in love going to look?
No. 5: Roger (Richard Rankin) got added at the end of Season 2, and we meet grown up Brianna (Sophie Alexandra Skelton) this season. When you were casting those roles, how did you know that those were the right actors?
I don’t remember a specific time, but we did do a scene that’s way later on in the books, where Roger asks Brianna to marry him and she says, “I’ll sleep with you but I don’t want to marry you.” In that scene, I just saw the two of them become the characters
It’s not in Voyager. It’s a later episode. But that’s the problem, because Roger and Brianna are not in a tremendous amount of Voyager, we had to use sides from future books because we didn’t have a lot of stuff written. Their chemistry test together was fabulous. We just knew at that point that those two were it.
No. 6: Talk about the move to South Africa to film the scenes aboard the ship and everything that was involved with that?
It was very tough. Obviously, we’ve gone other places before, like Prague and England, but we’ve never moved this far afield. We took about 20 members of our Scotland crew and went to the South Africa set for Black Sails. It was unbelievable. To go and film on these ships felt so realistic. It just felt like being there. They had such a great infrastructure already there, but it was quite a bit of a heavy lift.
We started moving things down there about six months before we actually, literally moved. So it was a pretty big transition. But we had a fabulous time and it’s such a different look for our show. I think Jamaica is one of those places you certainly can’t do in Scotland, so it was necessary.
No. 7: Claire knows when she goes through the stones she will never see Brianna again. I can see viewers saying, “Oh, my God, what kind of mother is she?” How did you temper that so that we’re okay with Claire leaving Brianna?
We had a lot of discussions in the room, and, certainly, we have a lot of moms on staff. Even if you’re not a mom or a dad, I think everyone can understand that choice. We discussed so much about at what point does a parent say, “I also need a life for myself, and is that selfish?"
In that discussion, I think we all came around to this idea of the fact that it would have to be Brianna who lets her mom go. Brianna has to say to Claire, “I’m going to be okay, I don’t need you like I did when I was little. I’ll always need you but not in the same way. I give you the permission to go.” To us, we felt like that was the only way Claire could leave Brianna. It didn’t feel realistic if she would have done it otherwise, if she didn’t have the blessing of her daughter. In that way, she was okay with it.
No. 8: Both Black Jack and Frank are dead. Does that leave a hole, or do you think that the way that Diana wrote the story that you can move on without them?
Listen, I love Tobias. I am team Tobias all the way. I love his portrayal of Frank and Jack and I personally will miss him. Professionally I think it’s always hard when characters that are so beloved, and I put "beloved" in quotes because obviously people love to hate Jack, are written out. But there are other characters coming. We’ll never fill his shoes, we’ll find different shoes.
No. 9: Do you think Jamie and Claire really could ever give up the adventures they go on and stay home, make babies and farm? Isn’t the adventures part of their DNA?
Honestly, I feel like trouble finds those two. Certainly if you read future books, you know they set up shop at Fraser’s Ridge. But, honestly, trouble seems to find those two so, yes, they will never have a safe, comfortable life, that’s for sure.
No. 10: How much material from Drums, Diana's fourth book, is in Season 3?
Not a tremendous amount. Usually we pull from future books instead of past, although we’re always trying to get in things that maybe we didn’t get it in, in a season. There’s always going to be an Easter egg. In this season, for instance, you’ll see Ellen Fraser's pearls reemerge that we weren’t able to do last season. So there are certain things that are always in the back of our minds that we weren't able to get to that we’re trying to fit in somewhere.
'Outlander' premieres Season 3 on Sunday, September 10 on STARZ.