SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “The Ballad of Roger Mac,” the seventh episode of “Outlander” Season 5.
The latest “Outlander” episode was simply heartbreaking with one confirmed death and one fate left quite literally hanging in the balance.
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Both book readers and non-book readers alike have been aware for a while that Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) was on borrowed time on the show. In Diana Gabaldon’s book series, Murtagh was killed at the Battle of Culloden in the second novel, “Dragonfly in Amber.” Keeping him alive to meet up again with Jamie (Sam Heughan) in the American colonies was a big change the show made. But fighting for a rebellious cause against the British Crown was always going to be a dangerous proposition and as such, Murtagh’s time came to an end in “The Ballad of Roger Mac,” when he was killed saving Jamie’s life during the Battle of Alamance.
Although the end of Murtagh’s arc was shared with Lacroix before the season began, the actor tells Variety he still found himself taken aback during the production of it.
“The day we actually shot, me getting shot — I got very emotional and I didn’t expect that,” says Lacroix. “It was hard saying goodbye to these guys that I’d worked with for six or seven years.”
After Murtagh appeared and saved Jamie’s life, one of Jamie’s fellow militia members snuck up behind Jamie and shot Murtagh in the chest. He died at the base of a tree in his godson’s arms, but Jamie couldn’t accept what had happened and carried Murtagh back to Claire (Caitriona Balfe). In the medical tent, he begged her to save Murtagh — but Claire had to tell him that she couldn’t.
“[Usually] I try to zone out completely, meditate my way out of the scene. But you’re also aware that this performance between Sam and Caitriona is going on — Sam’s powerful breakdown was especially good,” says Lacroix. “I was fine lying there, doing my thing, but believe it or not, it was when Caitriona took my hand and started adjusting my jacket and said something like, ‘Oh, Murtagh, my friend.’ That got me as well — that was an unexpected wave of emotion. I was almost [watching] from the audience’s perspective at that moment.”
The audience may undoubtedly wish that Murtagh could have continued on on the show, but Lacroix feels like this was the right time for his character to exit. He says Murtagh’s “tragic flaw” is his “allegiance to justice and family” and he always expected to go out like this.
“It’s very fitting that his death is what leads to the spark that gives Jamie the determination to carry on with the war of Revolution,” says Lacroix. “I think it makes perfect sense in terms of storytelling. It would have been nice to carry on and fight by Jamie’s side, but one of the joys of long-form storytelling is you get attached to these characters over a long period of time so that when one does die, it’s such a more emotive experience for the audience. I think it’s a lovely bit of drama to have.”
Lacroix also says that he feels “lucky that the character continued on as long as he did,” and it certainly wouldn’t be very Murtagh-like to be “sitting on the porch with Jocasta for another couple of seasons.”
In a bit of poetic coincidence, Lacroix reveals that while this is the seventh episode in the season, he actually had to come back to the production to reshoot his death scene at the end of production, so that gave him a real sense of finality to his whole “Outlander” experience.
“It kind of hit me as we were de-rigging and saying goodbye to Sam in the car park. ‘Bittersweet’ is the best way to describe it,” he says. But, “I’m still in contact with most of the cast, so definitely that will continue. We’ve made lifetime friendships.”
Murtagh wasn’t the only heartbreaking death of the episode. While the Battle of Alamance was raging for most of the characters, Roger (Richard Rankin) was trying desperately to return to Jamie, Claire and Brianna (Sophie Skelton) after having taken Murtagh a message about the impending battle. But along the way, he stopped to talk with Morag Mackenzie (Elysia Welch), his ancestor whom he met when crossing the Atlantic on Stephen Bonnet’s (Ed Speleers) ship.
Morag’s husband Buck found them hugging and promptly beat Roger bloody and turned him over to the Red Coats as a Regulator prisoner. In a fun bit of casting that “Outlander” managed to keep a secret, Buck was played by Graham McTavish, aka Dougal Mackenzie. If you’ll recall, Buck is actually the grown son of Dougal and Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek), so it was a fun surprise that they got McTavish to play his own son.
Unfortunately, as fun as it may have been to see McTavish again, Buck was not a welcome sight for Roger. After being turned over to the Red Coats, Roger was strung up as an example of what happens to rebels. In the waning moments of the episode, Jamie, Claire and Brianna found Roger’s body hanging from a tree by a noose.
“Outlander” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.
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