In the April 18 episode of “Outlander,” titled “The Devil’s Mark,” Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Geillis (Lotte Verbeek) found themselves accused of witchcraft, and it didn’t take long before the suspicions and superstitions of their eighteenth century captors led to the pair being declared guilty and sentenced to burn at the stake. It was a pivotal episode for Claire as a character, and for her relationship with Jamie (Sam Heughan), so Variety spoke to the two stars — along with executive producer Ron Moore — to learn more about filming the dramatic hour, and what the revelations of episode 111 mean for the couple.
For much of the hour, the focus was on Claire and her relationship with Geillis — a woman whose motivations have remained shrouded in mystery for much of the season so far. “It’s great to watch these two women. There’s so much tension and animosity between them in the beginning and then they slowly have to learn [to understand each other],” Balfe said of the pair’s tumultuous journey over the course of the episode. “Claire can be very judgmental and very ‘this is black and white,’ and I think she has to learn with Geillis that no, it’s not black and white. There are reasons behind her actions and there are reasons bigger than herself, and she really has to learn to empathize with her.”
Jamie arrived in time to interrupt Claire being beaten — but it was the quick thinking of Geillis that saved Claire’s life and cleared her name, with the enigmatic woman declaring that she was a witch and revealing “the devil’s mark” on her arm — which was actually a scar from the smallpox vaccine, proving to Claire that she was a fellow traveler who had also somehow ended up in 1743 from the future, hailing from the year 1968.
Executive producer Ron Moore admitted that the witch trial and Geillis’ unexpected reveal was one of the scenes he was most eager to adapt from Diana Gabaldon’s book. “You’re in this witch trial, which is all about superstition and madness and crowd dynamics and all this injustice, and you’re paying attention to that, so the time travel thing really is a great surprise. It’s a turn that you really don’t see coming if you don’t know the book, so I was always looking forward to getting to do that part of the tale.”
As a result, in one of the most chilling and evocative scenes in the series so far, Geillis was dragged out of the courthouse by a mob of villagers to be burned alive, while Claire and Jamie made a surreptitious exit.
“It was filmed in a real church. It’s a real location in Scotland. I spent several days in that location,” Moore recalled. “Mike Parker was the director. It took a lot of time and a lot of extras; [we were] working with the extras a lot because they have to sit in those pews for hour after hour in those costumes on hard benches. So that was tricky and it took a long time to get the tone right, and it was a challenging piece of business, but we knew the visuals were going to be so strong and that moment of her being carried away was going to be such a great end to it all that everyone got excited and there was really a great spirit on the set, because they knew this was going to be cool.”
Balfe admitted that she found Geillis’ sacrifice extremely affecting, noting that it served as a major turning point for Claire’s journey. “It’s heartbreaking, what Geillis does for her,” Balfe said. “That moment she’s being carried out, it’s so epic, and Lotte was so great… From there, everything changes. It’s like, ‘hold on a minute, so it is possible. You’re from there — are there more?’ So it opens up this whole other storyline that we will see progress a little bit in this season and then towards the next season, which I think is fantastic.”
Once they were a safe distance away from Castle Leoch and the angry horde, Jamie took the opportunity to ask Claire whether she was a witch, since he’d seen a similar “devil’s mark” on her arm too. “He’s forced into a situation where he has to address it and be like, ‘Well, are you a witch?'” Heughan said. “He doesn’t believe it, but he’s still superstitious. He knows that she’s got secrets, and he knows there’s something she’s hiding.”
But Claire’s response was far more shocking, as she revealed the whole truth about her trip through the Standing Stones and her origins in the future.
“We just wanted to get to a place where she breaks down because she’s a very strong character who doesn’t break down very much, but this felt like a moment of catharsis where she was going to let it all out,” Moore said.
Balfe agreed, “At this point, so much has happened, and I think it’s a quest for some solace. I think she needs comfort. Since the bliss of the wedding, there has been a lot [of trauma] and I think that’s almost her breaking point. I’m not sure that she’s thinking clearly, but she just needs to connect with him on a very, very real level.”
While Jamie seemed bewildered, he also chose to believe her, even if he didn’t fully understand everything she was telling him. “Does he wholeheartedly believe it? Yes, he believes her,” Heughan confirmed. “He says, ‘I believe your words, and I believe in you, in your truth.’ He starts to get his head round it, but it’s going to take a while. Again, it changes their relationship. It makes them closer, because she doesn’t have to hide anymore, and that’s a relief for her.”
“I liked thinking about why Jamie would believe her and how he would take that news,” Moore recalled. “What we talked about internally was the fact that Jamie, in episode three, said to Claire, ‘I’m an educated man, but I did grow up in the Scottish Highlands.’ And there were fairies and he was telling this story — so he comes from a world that actually is a little bit more accepting of this fantastical notion than we would be. They do still believe in witches, they do believe in strange mystical power. So the idea of traveling through the stones in another time is already like a myth to them. So it wasn’t as big a leap for him to take, and also, he just believed that she wouldn’t have lied about it. So it felt right that she could do it, and that he could believe, and that we could move the story.”
With the parameters of their relationship once again changed, the two set off to put as many miles between them and Castle Leoch as they could. After days of travel and a romantic last night together, Jamie revealed that he’d brought Claire back to Craigh na Dun to return to the future and her other husband. Luckily for viewers (otherwise “Outlander” would’ve been a very short series), Claire changed her mind and chose to remain with Jamie, forsaking her life in the future with Frank (Tobias Menzies) and all the comforts of the ’40s.
“It was quite difficult for me, coming to that scene, because I didn’t want to just be like, ‘well, she’s in love with Jamie so she’s got to stay,’ because that’s not Claire,” Balfe noted. “You had to think about an entire lifetime of a place and experience, versus a few months and a man. That’s a big battle. The knowledge of the ’40s and the ability for her as a woman to be surrounded by that kind of openness and possibility, versus this place where for saying too much or for mixing a few herbs together to heal people, you’re almost been thrown in the fire. So for me, it was difficult to come up with her rationale.”
Moore said that there wasn’t too much discussion about how Balfe would approach the scene or what Claire’s motivations were: “We let her get to that place on her own. We had some conversations, and I’m sure the director talked with her more than I did about that specific scene, but it felt like she had already had a chance to run for the stones previously and she had made that choice. But now is a quieter moment and she has time to reflect, and the relationship between her and Jamie has deepened… and it felt like she would make that choice.”
In the end, Balfe said, it came down to Claire not wanting to further hurt Frank or Jamie, as much as it was because Claire was following her heart. “I felt that part of it had to be that when she fell through the Stones the first time, it was an accident. So her death or disappearance had already happened and Frank, she has to imagine, must have suffered so much, but must be healing. And I think she felt like, how could she do that again to somebody, but this time choose it? It’s like causing a death. And of course, the pull of love is very strong and we will do almost anything for the people we love, but I don’t think it was as black and white for Claire as that.”
Naturally, her choice was Jamie’s dream come true — but it became even more poignant in the wake of Jamie choosing to let Claire go for the sake of her happiness, allowing them to start fresh on more equal ground when Claire decided to stay of her own free will. “It gives them the ability to go, ‘Okay, let’s go and create the life that we could have,'” Heughan noted. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t last very long…”
“Outlander” airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.
What do you think is next for Jamie and Claire? Share your predictions in the comments.