Spoiler alert: This article contains major plot details from Outlander, including the most recent episode of season 4, “Savages.”
Outlander fans got a big surprise this past Sunday’s episode, when a beloved character resurfaced and gave Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) yet another faintworthy shock. Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser (Duncan Lacroix), whom viewers last saw being marched off to a future of indentured servitude in season 3, is now living in North Carolina—the same place Jamie and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) call home.
Fans of Diana Gabaldon’s books, which the Starz series is based on, will know this is a significant change. In the novel version Murtagh dies during the Battle of Culloden, which made his brief cameo as Jamie’s fellow Ardsmuir prisoner the first hint the show was going in a different direction with the character. Now Jamie’s godfather is poised to be a potential source of conflict in his new role as a Regulator. (Murtagh as a budding revolutionary is problematic because Claire and Jamie’s homestead, Fraser’s Ridge, came courtesy of the British Crown.)
According to executive producer Maril Davis, having Murtagh survive on the show was an organic move. “As soon as we cast Duncan and saw how great that bond onscreen was with not only Jamie but also Claire, that became very special,” she tells Glamour. “I think we always knew in the back of our minds that we would probably keep Murtagh alive. It just seemed like such a waste of the character [to kill him off].”
This decision is just one of many creative choices that deviate from Gabaldon’s written words that ultimately enhance the Outlander story over its four seasons. While some fans of the books are upset by the liberties taken by the series, those involved argue that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. “It’s good to surprise the fans of the books so they don’t know everything,” Sam Heughan tells us. “I think it’s important because otherwise it could be a bit formulaic.”