The trailers are coming, the trailers are coming! Having bonked, bludgeoned, and bluffed their way through the Jacobite rebellion of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Ancien Régime-era France, and colonial America, our favorite accidental time travelers Claire Randall (Catríona Balfe) and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) have finally found themselves embroiled in the run-up to the American War of Independence in the sixth season of Outlander, which premieres on Starz on March 6th.
Fans starved of new episodes will be relieved to know that the two-year hiatus between seasons – drolly labeled “Droughtlander” by aficionados – was due to nothing more sinister than the exigencies of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, as a result of the multiple disruptions to filming, the sixth season will consist of only eight episodes, with the remainder being shunted into season seven, which has already been commissioned with a tentative premiere date of late 2022.
The principal cast was kept busy during their enforced layoff. Balfe was last seen garnering positive reviews for her excellent turn as Ma in Kenneth Branagh’s award-winning new film Belfast, also starring Dame Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds, released late last year. Meanwhile, Heughan spent the first few months of the pandemic traveling around Scotland with fellow Outlander star Graham McTavish for Starz’ Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham, which premiered last February, followed by a star turn opposite Lord of the Rings alum, Andy Serkis, in action thriller SAS: Red Notice.
The return of Outlander was never going to be easy. Season five’s finale was, to put it mildly, harrowing. As fans know, this is a show where brutality is de rigueur – torture and assault are never far from the central narrative. But even by the show’s standards, the episode “Never My Love,” in which Claire is brutally assaulted by the Brown clan, was shocking. Only a few episodes earlier, Claire’s son-in-law, Roger (Richard Rankin), came within a hair’s breadth of dying at the hands of the British after being hanged in a case of mistaken identity.
When it comes to talking-point television, sex and violence get the ratings, as Outlander’s impressive viewing figures and critical acclaim demonstrate. So it’s fair to expect more of the same this spring. Balfe has already primed audiences for exactly that, suggesting in September that season six would be, as she put it, “heartbreaking and twisted.”
The Plot: What to Expect
Much recent speculation has centered on the role of the Christies, a family whose arrival on Fraser’s Ridge has been described by Balfe as “very destabilizing.” The head of the new family, Tom, is played by none other than Welsh actor Mark Lewis Jones (Chernobyl, The Crown, Gangs of London), and his past relations with Jamie back in Scotland are understood to be the source of the tension.
A key aspect of the series will be the moral dilemma facing Jamie, who, having been granted a massive estate in North Carolina by the British, has been repeatedly warned by Claire that he will be forced to choose sides as the push for independence becomes more urgent.
Another potential source of tension is the mysterious fire in which, as a newspaper printed in the future informs us, Claire and Jamie are fated to die. Having been alerted to their fate by Claire’s daughter from the twentieth century, Brianna (ably played by Sophie Skelton), Claire and Jamie know the date on which they are supposed to die, but not the year. Will this fire be a result of the upcoming war, how exactly does it come about, and if it is fated to happen, how can the pair possibly escape it?
The Show’s Future
Over and above the resolution of these issues, a question mark continues to hang over the show’s long-term future. The author of the Outlander series of novels, American author Diana Gabaldon, continues to add to the saga, publishing the ninth installment, Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone, in November last year, with a tenth novel currently in writing. Gabaldon has also penned several of the TV episodes. However, the author has also expressed that she envisages the Outlander saga as a ten-book series, suggesting the end may be in sight.
But all is not lost for fans. As a final aside, avid viewers may be interested in the possibility of an Outlander spin-off. Showrunner Ronald D. Moore was quoted late last year as suggesting a new series based on the adventures of fan-favorite Lord Grey (played by Australian actor David Berry since his introduction in series two) may be in the works. While nothing has been confirmed, Moore has consistently teased a spin-off series or two for a couple of years now, and the continuing success of the series – viewing figures dropped slightly for series five, but have otherwise remained surprisingly consistent – speak well to the chances of getting a green light. Stay tuned!
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