‘Outlander’ Producer on Dealing With ‘Different Sensitivities’ in Depicting Sexual Assault

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched, “Wilmington,” the eight episode of the fourth season of “Outlander.”

After a season that started by depicting slavery up-close-and-personal, “Outlander” once again waded into a controversial subject matter with its latest Season 4 episode, “Wilmington.” In it, Brianna (Sophie Skelton) was brutally assaulted in a pub after sailing to America in search of her parents to warn them about the death notice that they die in a fire sometime in the next decade. Upon reaching the North Carolina town, she came across the villainous Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers) gambling with her mother’s silver wedding ring, which he stole.

Brianna offered to pay him for the ring, but instead, he wanted to give her the ring as “payment” for sexual favors. When Brianna refused, Bonnet beat and raped her in a back room of the pub while his crew members sat outside, unconcerned and continuing to play cards. He then gave her the ring and sent her on her way.

Executive producer Maril Davis tells Variety that the show’s writers and producers didn’t consider changing the scene much from the book, let alone omitting it, despite its sensitive subject matter.

“There is an awful lot of rape in Diana’s books. Certainly, you start to go, ‘Oh, do we need to show every one?’ What are we saying by showing those?” says Davis. “Brianna’s rape is so integral to the story as it unfolds and there are certain reasons [later on in the plot] why it has to be the nature it was.”

For this particular incident, however, the producers didn’t want to make anything about the rape gratuitous, choosing instead to focus on more of a commentary about the time period. The creative team wanted to “show how in this culture it was fairly prevalent — rape was — and how horrible it was that people could hear this going on and did nothing to help,” Davis explains.

“We wanted to show a side of that while taking nothing away from the rape itself because whether you see it [on-screen] or not, the effects on that victim are still incredibly hard,” she continues.

The way rape is depicted in today’s television has garnered a lot of attention, and stirred a lot of controversy — from “Game of Thrones” choosing to tell the story of Sansa’s (Sophie Turner) rape through the point of view of Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), to the second season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” using a forceful “ceremony” as an attempt to bring on June’s (Elisabeth Moss) labor. However, Davis says she was not concerned about criticism over “Outlander’s” depicted of the act.

“There are various ways to show anything and I don’t necessarily believe that in order to show the brutally of the rape you have to actually see the rape occur on screen,” Davis says. “Because there are so many sexual assaults in these books that we have to deal with as we go, I think we try to deal with each one in a separate way and from a different perspective and different sensitivities.”

“Outlander” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.