Jamie (Sam Heughan) finally earned his long-awaited “Bear Killer” nickname on Outlander. But he didn’t actually kill any bears in the process.
In one of the biggest changes from Diana Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn (upon which season four is based), Outlander executive producer Ron Moore flipped the highly anticipated “Bear Killer” moment on its head. Instead of having Jamie battle an actual bear on Fraser’s Ridge while he, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Young Ian (John Bell) built their cabin, as happens in the book, Jamie actually came face-to-face with a Native American who had lost his mind. The Cherokee was wearing the skin of a bear and used its claws to hunt and kill, all while making bear sounds. The moment when Jamie realized it wasn’t an actual bear, but still had to fight it, was quite the surprise for fans of Gabaldon’s books.
After he killed the bear hide-wearing Cherokee, Jamie brought the body to the tribe living near Fraser’s Ridge as a sign of good faith to alleviate growing tensions over land ownership. The Cherokee then tell Jamie the origin of the “bear.” When a Cherokee man raped a woman, he was banished. Separated from his people, he went crazy and began to think that he was an actual bear. He had been terrorizing the woods for a long time, and Jamie killing him made the woods safe again (at least from this particular animal). The Cherokee and Frasers then reached a peace agreement and became allies.
“It’s a great change to the book,” Heughan tells The Hollywood Reporter with a little laugh. “Obviously everyone was expecting … “
As he trails off, Balfe interjects with a big laugh, “A real bear!”
“Yes, a real bear,” Heughan adds after both he and Balfe stop laughing. “I think it’s an interesting twist that actually begins the story with the Native Americans. It’s actually wonderful, this honor or understanding between Jamie and the Cherokee. He gets a name, he’s now Bear Killer, and their relationship becomes amicable which is pretty big moving forward.”
But Heughan knows this scene will come as a shock to book readers. “I think the fans are going to be surprised actually, and I hope that it works out well,” he says. “They were all expecting … What was that film with DiCaprio?”
“The Revenant,” Balfe says.
“The Revenant! I think that’s probably what fans thought it would be,” Heughan continues. “But it’s great! We have a few moments like this this season where we are going to surprise the fans, and I think that’s good. Otherwise they know what’s coming, and it’s great to have a few little easter eggs in there, some things to surprise even the most loyal book readers with.”
Thinking back to when they found out that Heughan wouldn’t have to actually film with a real bear, Balfe laughs again. “I think they tried to find a bear in Scotland and then they couldn’t,” she jokes.
“There are no Scottish bears,” Heughan agrees, before continuing seriously. “No, when we get the scripts, it was there from the beginning. We were shooting that in the depths of winter, and it was so cold. It was minus 7, I was just in a shirt, and we were shooting at night. It was some pretty tough stuff. But I loved that Jaws moment of not seeing the bear but just hearing it. Jamie and Claire are living in a cabin in the woods, and they’re really on the fringes of wilderness, and it is dangerous. There are a great many dangers there. It’s a great chapter in their story.”