Outlander season 4 has come and gone (too soon!), leaving fans with a lot of questions after the season finale aired—like why the storyline strayed so far from the plot of the book in some key moments. As an avid reader of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander books and a devoted viewer of the TV series, I am struck by the differences between the two. There are many changes to characters and events. Some additions are welcome, some omissions are very disappointing.
"It's very tough to try and fill up all of the different threads, and to have everything come together," Caitriona Balfe told MarieClaire.com in an interview of why some scenes get changed for TV. "You know, our season is only 13 acts. These books are so dense, and there's so much to it. There are times when you are disappointed by some of the stuff that gets changed, but I also think, I don't know that they would have been able to tie up all of the things correctly, just in terms of the time constraints."
Here, some of the biggest differences between the books and what we saw on TV:
In the books, Murtagh, Jamie’s godfather, dies in 1745 at the Battle of Culloden between the Scots and the English. In their best move, the series producers opted to keep him alive. He is the one character who’s known Jamie and Claire from the beginning of their love story. But in saving the character, they had to give him a role. We saw him in the third season – Voyager–while he was in prison with Jamie, then disappeared–shipped off to the Colonies as an indentured servant.
We meet him again in Drums of Autumn, now a free man and a blacksmith, and the leader of a group of rebels in North Carolina called the Regulators that forecasts the American Revolution. In the book, they’re mentioned only in passing. Their real moments happen in the fifth book, The Fiery Cross. But I think the producers wanted to bring more action to the TV series, so they moved the whole story forward. So we see Murtagh at a secret meeting, Murtagh saved from being captured and Murtagh freed from prison in a daring plot. All that takes time and that means some of the story of Jamie and Claire was trimmed to make room. Murtagh also ends up in bed with Jamie’s Aunt Jocasta which never happened in the book...and, which might present a problem since in a later book we discover that Jocasta’s had a long affair with someone else.
Claire is a smart, strong woman, unafraid to speak her mind and comfortable in her sexuality. She became a doctor, a surgeon in the 1950s–a nearly unheard of accomplishment. In the TV show we get some glimpses of this Claire. In the 18th century, to the shock of most of the people around her, she performs surgery on a man during a theatre performance. When a local quack arrives on the scene, the Governor, impressed by her skill, dismisses him saying Claire has it under control. Alone in the cabin on Fraser’s Ridge, she sits with a loaded rifle, eating a stick of jerky, protecting her home and herself. But for most of the TV episodes, she seems to be a bystander–watching and reacting as events unfold around her.
She has some lovely moments and Caitriona Balfe does a wonderful job when they occur–especially when Claire discovers that her daughter Brianna was raped and is pregnant. You see her fierce mother side come out as she clutches her daughter to comfort and protect her. But there are so many missing moments from the book: Claire going out on her own in the middle of a blizzard to find Jamie and rescue him on Christmas Eve. Claire telling Jamie what her life with Frank was like. So many moments of intimacy that are missing and shortchange Claire and Caitriona Balfe.
The TV show this season was much more focused on Jamie than Claire. Sam Heughan had nearly all the emotional scenes and he did an amazing job with them. Book Jamie is stoic and eloquent. TV Jamie is more in touch with his feelings. He comforts his nephew Ian when he has a flashback to his captivity. He cries when he finds his godfather, Murtagh. When Jamie meets his daughter Brianna, who he thought he’d never see, he is overcome by emotion. He goes hunting to bond with her and talk about Frank. He gets to relieve her guilt over being raped. He weeps again when he says farewell to his nephew when Ian volunteers to live with the Indians. I think Sam Heughan cries more this season than in all three of the preceding ones combined.
In the book, the Frasers are all about family. Not only does their daughter travel through time to find them, Jamie is visited by his illegitimate son, Willie, who’s unaware of who Jamie really is. Ian is like a son to them both. Fergus, their adopted son and his wife Marsali live with them on Fraser’s Ridge. They have settlers around them who come to Claire for healing. Jocasta, another strong woman, is a link to Jamie’s mother. The TV show has managed to capture some of that, but all these characters require time and the writers have robbed some important events to make room. In fact, they’ve added characters.
Frank, Claire’s first husband and the man who raised Brianna is long dead. But the producers must like his character and Tobias Menzies, the actor who plays him. So Frank reappears for part of an episode along with Laoghaire, perhaps the most despised woman in the story. In the book, she appears briefly and reveals why Jamie left her. In the TV show, Brianna spends time with her, unaware of who she is. Laoghaire seems normal for a while until her full craziness comes out.
In the final episode, to shoehorn in the action shots, the romance between Murtagh and Jocasta, and a cliffhanger ending, the writers decided to eliminate one of the most important scenes in the book. The moment when Brianna gives birth to her son, with both her parents with her. She’s forgiven Jamie and she clings to him, believing that as long as he is there she won’t die. Claire is the doctor and the mother who delivers her own grandson. It is a pivotal moment for this little family which was robbed of a chance to be together for twenty years. With the birth of the next generation they are given the gift of starting anew in the New World. It is a terrible omission.
Claire and Jamie are soul mates with a strong sexual connection in the books. Claire is well aware of her sensuality and there are many extremely intimate moments in the books. Much less so in the TV show this season, despite the undeniable sexual chemistry between Balfe and Heughan. Balfe called the bath tub scene her favorite this season. It is romantic and sensual and captures the intimacy between Jamie and Claire. There are two other sexual encounters but in only one does Heughan even take his shirt off. In the books, Jamie and Claire never hesitate to be naked together, even on the coldest nights.
Sex for them is a way to bond, to mark important moments in their relationship. When they find the field of strawberries in the book and decide this is the place they’ll chose to live, they lie down together and make love, almost as a way to consecrate the land. “You are my heart and I am your compassion. We are neither of us whole without the other,” Jamie tells Claire. They also talk to each other as married lovers do. The TV series has used some of those moments from the book. When Jamie can’t sleep because he’s heartbroken that Brianna will have to leave them and return to the future someday, Claire comforts him in a gentle, loving way. When there is a distance between them while they search for Roger, she is the one who bridges it and tells him that she loves him and Brianna so much.