Outlander’s worst villain made his return in this week’s episode, but his fate was left dangling in a major departure from the books.
After Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) helped capture and imprison Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers), along with getting put in chains himself, word traveled to Lord John Grey (David Berry) and Brianna (Sophie Skelton). Bree, inspired by a letter from her father, Jamie (Sam Heughan), decided she needed to face her rapist and, shockingly, forgive him for what he did to her. But unfortunately, she and Lord John could not have picked a worse time to visit the prison for a chat with Bonnet. Fergus (Cesar Domboy) had decided to rally a group of Regulators to stage a prison break and free Murtagh, saving him from his fate of being hanged.
While Bree was able to have her conversation with Bonnet without interruption (forgiving him, letting him know about the baby and even accepting a ruby from him to help pay for the child’s care in a surprisingly genuine moment), it was as she was leaving that Fergus and his men broke into the prison. In a huge change from the books, Lord John, Bree, Fergus, Murtagh and the rest of the Regulators leave the prison together before it explodes. But before the explosion, Bonnet was seen trying to reach the keys to his chains, just out of reach on the floor. Viewers did not get to see if Bonnet made it out alive or if he died in the blast.
Fans who have read Diana Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn, the source material for this season of Outlander, know that in the book, it’s actually Bonnet who helps Bree get Lord John to safety before the prison explodes. He then survives and escapes. But did Outlander kill off Bonnet instead of letting him live?
“Listen, we get notes from a lot of people,” executive producer Maril Davis tells The Hollywood Reporter with a laugh about that change from the books. “Some people felt like it was a little convoluted, and also we hadn’t really played the relationships with some of the characters from the book in that scene. It wasn’t really possible to get there because we had dropped some storylines. Sometimes with books this size, things fall by the wayside.”
In the books, there’s a story thread with Lord John and the guards at the prison that’s never explored on the show, so that’s why the producers decided to take the escape scene in a different direction. “We also wanted to end this on a little bit more of a cliffhanger on whether or not Bonnet lives or if he’s killed in this explosion,” Davis adds.
The scene in which Bree confronts Bonnet was an emotional roller coaster, and one that creates many unintended consequences that will unfold over the rest of this season as well as next season. But according to Davis, that monumental moment from the book was difficult to bring to life onscreen.
“We struggled with that scene, to be honest, because there were so many people who felt like she goes in there to forgive Bonnet, and others wanted her to be like, ‘It doesn’t matter what you do, this will not affect me or our child,'” Davis says. “We went round and round about it because there’s future stuff that comes up potentially with Bonnet, and we still hadn’t figured out if she’s forgiven her father yet. There was so much wrapped up in that scene. At the end of the day, we wanted to give that character a turn.”
Davis says the main goal of that confrontation was to show Bree’s change of heart: “For that scene, our endeavor was to have her go in thinking, ‘I’m going to try to forgive him because my dad told me that’s what I should do,'” she says. “Jamie’s had the same experience, and he told her that revenge wouldn’t satisfy her. She does go in with the intention of forgiving him and giving him something — a piece of information — to help herself move on from the situation. But at the end of the scene, he’s just not a person who can be forgiven, and she walks out knowing that it doesn’t even matter.”
While Bree may not know whether Bonnet or Roger (Richard Rankin) is the father of her child, the moment she leaves Bonnet in that cell, she’s decided for herself that Bonnet will not hold any more power over her.
“In her heart, the father is Roger, even though she doesn’t know if he is [biologically],” Davis says. “She went in with the best of intentions, but as any victim of rape or assault knows, that’s always going to stay with you. She chose the most powerful weapon she could at the end — letting Bonnet know that she’ll raise the child in the best way possible, without him and knowledge of his existence.”
As for Roger, his journey through hell has not gotten any easier now that he’d arrived in the Mohawk village of Shadow Lake in upstate New York. He’s still being kept captive after failing to prove himself in the Mohawk trials, and he’s never been in a lower place mentally or physically. When he met another captive in the village’s jail cell, he launched into a monologue that confirmed he had been changed from all the hardships he’d endured since leaving Bree and trying to get back to her. He declared he’s no longer trying to pursue love since that is an idiot’s errand, and he’s just looking out for No. 1 now. He then did his best to escape captivity, but in a clear sign that he didn’t mean what he said before, he threw away his only shot at escaping to help deliver a merciful death to his new friend, who was being slowly burned alive at the stake for offending the Mohawk people.
“We did veer a little bit with Roger’s journey from the book because a lot of that story is about the priest,” Davis says of Roger’s companion in captivity. “We felt that the story needed to be more about Roger instead of this stranger who you just met. But let me just say, I’ve been telling fans to wait for an episode coming up that is Roger’s tour-de-force from Richard Rankin, and this is it. I love that speech. He destroyed me. It’s so powerful.”
While it was heartbreaking to see the normally kind, optimistic Roger so cynical, Davis confirms that his last action of giving up his freedom to help his new friend is proof he’s still the Roger fans (and Bree) love.