Warning: This interview about the Season 3 premiere of Outlander contains spoilers.
With its epic storytelling about power struggles for crowns and castles with a dose of the mystical and fantastic, Outlander has been compared to Game of Thrones many times before. And for Outlander executive producer Maril Davis, the HBO fantasy phenomenon was top of mind while shooting the Season 3 premiere.
“Obviously, I have a little bit of battle envy whenever I watch that show, because their battles are incredible and detailed and everyone talks about them the next day,” Davis says. “They are able to shoot for 20 days and obviously their budget is much higher than ours. And when you know that you have your own battle to shoot, a battle we have literally been building up to and talking about for two seasons, you can’t help but think about it and compare.”
But comparisons be damned, because the entire Outlander production and writing team knew that the 1746 Battle of Culloden had to happen. “It’s funny because if you’ve read the books, you know we never see Culloden, which we have talked about so many times in the [writers’] room [as] so disappointing. The [characters] have been talking about it for two seasons and it’s a big part of Highlander history. We knew it had to be in there,” Davis says. “We loved the idea of ending Season 2 with Jamie and Claire having to part on the eve of Culloden, which neither of them thinks he will survive and I think is the reason he was able to let Claire go. He thinks, ‘She’s pregnant with my child; she has to go back. At least part of me will live on. Part of our love will remain.’”
Ending last year with the big fight was never really on the table. “No, we knew we wanted to start Season 3 with the battle. We thought it would be such a strong opener even though it was a huge undertaking,” she says. “It took us five days of normal, principal photography and then five days of second-unit work. It’s all real, [except] there’s a little bit of tiling, which is when they [digitally] put in extra people. There was only so many people we could get out there on location. And nobody died fighting at the reenactment of Culloden. Not even a horse. [Laughs] But the rest is real. The sky and the meeting between our two main characters were all real. It’s all very intricately choreographed, down to every movement. It was so rewarding to see it all come together in the end, and I am very proud of what we accomplished with our budget and schedule constraints.”
She admits it did look a little different in the first script. “When Ron [Moore, executive producer/creator] wrote the script originally, he wrote it in a linear fashion which would have taken our entire shoot, and we wouldn’t have had any time to do the Claire/Frank story. So in going back and figuring out how to make this producible, we came up with this idea of doing it in this impressionistic way with Jamie reliving it. We actually found that much more satisfying. The linear path would have worked, but how this way unfolds is so interesting and beautiful. Brendan Maher, who directed this episode, did a really fabulous job, as did our stunt coordinator, Dominic [Preece].”
Davis also felt that telling the story via Jamie’s flashbacks as he lay dying heightened the drama for the viewer in regard to the deadly duel that resulted in saying goodbye to one of the best villains on TV: Black Jack. “It amped up the drama of that moment,” she explains. “I describe that moment when Jack and Jamie see each other for the first time on the battlefield as beautiful, which is an odd way to describe their meeting, especially when you know what’s happened between them and the pain that Jack has inflicted on him, but it really is. The first time I watched it, I got goosebumps. Sam [Heughan] and Tobias did such a great job together, as they always do when they act opposite each other. It was a very difficult shoot because there was so much to choreograph and it was so physically demanding.”
And even though Black Jack is evil incarnate, everyone is sad to see the character go. “Everyone knew the moment was coming, but it getting here is bittersweet, as they are forever linked, those two. It’s unfortunate that way they are linked, but they are,” Davis says. “For Jamie to have his final moment, just exhausted and fighting hand-to-hand, and for them to be almost the last two people standing, is poetic. And then that final tableau of them in the aftermath, intertwined in death just like their lives have been, is also a beautiful moment. Once again, an odd word to use when you know what has happened between them, but it is a weird, touching moment at the end. And, true to the book — although Diana doesn’t really tell you what happens on the battlefield. Or she hasn’t yet. So this was our interpretation of what happened; Jamie finally has the ability to get what he has wanted for the past two seasons, but it is empty and hollow in light of his loss of Claire. I think that’s what is so bittersweet about it. His hallucination is a painful reminder of that.”
It got even more painful when he realized most of his friends are gone, the other soldiers are dead, and his way of life and heritage will basically be erased by the English. “He’s sitting there waiting to die because he doesn’t believe he has anything to live for. And he’d made peace with that. He expected to die at Culloden, so he left it all out there. When he doesn’t die on the field or in the house with Rupert, that’s what is so hard for him to come to terms with. For him, no matter how much time passes, he is never going to get over Claire. Same with her. Their love remains as strong as the day they parted, and that’s what we look at over the next few episodes.”
Outlander airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.
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