Outlander is finally returning to our TV screens this September with Season 3, and it’s shaping up to be the Starz series’ best season yet.
Cast members Caitriona Balfe (Claire), Tobias Menzies (Frank/Black Jack), Sophie Skelton (Brianna), Richard Rankin (Roger) and Sam Heughan (Jamie), who appeared via sattelite, took the 2017 TV Critics’ Association summer press tour stage alongside executive producers Ron Moore and Maril Davis to preview Season 3. Here are the most important things you need to know heading into the new season. Plus, check out a brand new featurette of Season 3 below!
Given the cliffhanger ending to Season 2, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to learn that Claire and Jamie won’t be immediately finding a solution to their separation across the centuries at the beginning of Season 3. Instead, the characters will spend multiple episodes apart as the viewers learn what’s happened to them the previous two decades of their lives after the time jump forward.
After they determined just how many episodes the central Outlander couple would be apart, Moore said, “It felt like the right amount of time, and it felt like it was enough to build a want, a desire in the audience to get Claire and Jamie back together so they were really pushing for it and getting excited, but it wasn’t dragging along. It’s two decades of these two peoples’ lives, so it felt like to do that justice you had to really give it some time and some space. You don’t want to brush over it and prepare like nothing really happened.”
Added Davis of what takes place in those episodes where they’re apart, “It was just a journey of the characters. Obviously Claire and Jamie have lost each other, and it’s figuring out in this 20 year absence how they move on and how they move forward in light of this great loss.”
The novel Voyager goes in depth exploring what Jamie’s life was like after Claire left him prior to the battle of Culloden. But when Moore and Davis broke down the various experiences he went through, they found they each separated into solid standalone episode arcs.
“You tend to focus on the major moments of drama and the heaviest moments and the most impactful moments as you move toward that chronology,” said Moore. “As we approached the season structurally, we laid the cards on the board and it was sort of clear that that’s [multiple] episodes right there.”
Because of that, Heughan found this season to be “constantly moving. It’s constantly changing … not only every season, but every episode is surprising and we go somewhere else.” “Each episode has its own individual theme or feeling to it,” he added.
With Jamie’s journey being laid out pretty clearly in Voyager, Moore then needed to balance off those episodes apart with an appropriate story for Claire. “The most interesting thing is probably her relationship with Frank and the dissolution of that marriage, her becoming a doctor and raising Brianna. Then we sort of decided on that parallel structure for the first half of the season, and we never really varied from that,” he said.
Season 3 will explore the 20-year time jump set up at the end of Season 2, and Balfe enjoyed being able to lean into the aging of her character. “The great gift of doing a series like this is you get time to really get to know your character and explore different elements. This season in particular, being able to watch this woman or create this woman over a certain period of time is really interesting, especially someone who, because of the loss of her love to Jamie, has shelved a certain side of herself. How does that experience wear on somebody? How does that change how they interact with people in their lives, with everything? I loved being able to play that,” she said.
Balfe continued, “I think we all approach this from a place of how does experience and how does time change you? … People don’t change that much, but certain things change about them or how they carry themselves. A lot of it was also people, the older they get, a lot of the time there’s just a certain gravitas or a certain authority they gain over the fact they’re more comfortable with themselves or they know themselves better. I thought for Claire especially … that that would add this kind of authority to her, and so that was one of the things I wanted to play with rather than crow’s feet or a monobrow.”
There was a lot jam packed into the Season 2 finale of Outlander, but notably absent is the actual Battle of Culloden the whole season had been building up to. The series hasn’t scrapped that sequence altogether; instead, it is what kicks off the new season in Jamie’s story, though in a creative way. Said Heughan, it’s “a great start to the season.”
As part of that, Jamie and Black Jack’s story will reach an exciting climax. “It’s a difficult storyline to tie up. Where do you go, especially after all the stuff at the end of Season 1?” said Menzies. “I like the way it’s come out.”
Viewers met an adult Roger Wakefield and Brianna Randall at the end of Season 2 and saw them begin to fall for each other. Rankin and Skelton tease that the Roger and Bree dynamic will be an interesting counterpoint to Jamie and Claire’s romance.
“With Bree and Roger, they have a very different type of relationship. They’re both kind of geeky, and they have this awkward stumble of a relationship. I wouldn’t say that they’re the sexiest,” said Skelton. “With Roger and Bree, there’s always a push and pull. They’re just as stubborn, but in a very different way. They kind of use each other as punching bags.”
Unlike Game of Thrones, Moore has no concerns that Outlander will ever get a place where the series will have to pass Gabaldon’s published source material. “I cannot imagine a scenario where we catch up with Diana Gabaldon. She will tell us what the end of the story is,” he said.
Davis also alleviated concerns that Outlander will end any time soon, saying, “As long as Starz will let us, we will absolutely keep doing this show.”
Though Outlander has stuck to a pretty straight book-equals-season ratio, the series isn’t bound to that pacing. Moore just felt like it worked best for Season 3, despite the idea of having Voyager roll over into Season 4 preliminarily being discussed.
“We didn’t go too far down that road. We did talk about that before we approached the season because just in terms of page count, it’s the biggest of the books, so you sort of automatically feel like maybe this is too much material for one season, but once we put the cards up on the board and we kind of quickly saw there’s [multiple] episodes right here just in the Jamie story … well now you’re almost halfway through the season and that felt like the right pace,” said Moore. “And then we looked at the second half of the book and with the sea voyage and Jamaica and we have a new world. When you really boiled down to what the story was and what the character relationships, we realized we could tell this in a season. I don’t think we were really tempted to try to stretch it beyond that. Sometimes just pure page count in the novel doesn’t translate to pages on the screen. “
Not to get too far into spoilers, but the back half of Outlander: Season 3 shot in South Africa on the sets previously used for Black Sails to bring a significant sea voyage to Jamaica. “Scotland can pass as a lot of places, but Jamaica is not one of those places,” said Davis. “For us to be able to come out of Scotland and change the entire look of our show was incredibly exciting for us and I think adds a whole new dimension to the show.”
For the cast, getting to shoot on real boats and on sets staged to move like a ship helped them bring the experience realistically to life. “We really relished being on those boats,” said Heughan. “When you get on those ships, it really transports you somewhere else. With all the sails going in the wind and a full crew — we have this amazing crew of trained sailors who will do all the rigging — it really transports you somewhere else, and I think that’s what Voyager this season does. We really do go on this journey.”
Added Balfe of how the journey changes Outlander, “You’re constantly being kept on your toes. Who would have thought we would have ended up on ships this season?… The great thing about it being time traveling fantasy is it can go anywhere, and it frequently does.”
Outlander: Season 3 premieres on September 10th on Starz. What are you most looking forward to about the new season?
Terri Schwartz is Editorial Producer at IGN. Talk to her on Twitter at @Terri_Schwartz.