There were so many tear-jerking scenes in the Outlander Season 3 premiere, we were pretty dehydrated by the end of the hour — but one specific moment perfectly captured the sense of heartbreak and loss that permeated the episode.
After opening the installment in the bloody aftermath of Culloden, with bodies piled high on the battlefield, showrunner and episode writer Ron Moore had already established the staggering human cost of the clash. But as harrowing as it was to watch the Highlanders running towards English guns with no protection, what came later was even more chilling.
Once a group of English soldiers discovered the few Scottish survivors in a barn — including our injured hero Jamie (Sam Heughan), already lingering near death’s door — they set about executing them with about as much empathy, patience and human decency as you’d find in line at the DMV.
Watching two boys of no more than 16 being led to their deaths like lambs to slaughter was harrowing enough, but then we had to say goodbye to one of the men who has been with the series since the first episode: Rupert MacKenzie (Grant O’Rourke), who lost his eye and his partner in crime, Angus (Stephen Walters) last season.
“It’ll be good to see him again,” Rupert says, after revealing to Jamie that he always took the blame for Angus’ snoring.
“It’ll be good to see the two of you together,” Jamie replies — and here come the tears.
Not long afterwards, Rupert volunteers to be next in front of the firing squad, facing it with his trademark humor.
“I mean to set a quick pace, so try to keep up,” he insists to the soldiers, marching bravely towards his death and refusing to be cowed by his enemies. The camera lingers on Jamie as he leaves, with the gunshot coming fast and the perfunctory “next” from the British officer coming even faster.
While it’s obviously agonizing to watch Claire and Jamie grieving for each other throughout the premiere, the executions of the Highlanders are particularly resonant because we know that they actually happened — Jacobite casualties at the Battle of Culloden numbered anywhere from 1500 to 2000 — and that clash was a precursor to the clearances that followed, leading to the destruction of Highland culture and the outlawing of weapons and clan tartans, further designed to crush the independent spirit of the country.
The historical reality adds another layer to the poignant scene, but it’s the performances that really make it soar. O’Rourke brings a stoic depth to the Rupert’s final moments, perfectly balancing his character’s courage and resignation with a subtle undercurrent of fear that he tries to obscure with gallows humor, while Heughan once again proves the multitudes he can convey with just a look — Jamie’s anguish, guilt and pride reflected clearly in one touching Gaelic farewell.
It’s the end of a pivotal chapter for Outlander, which captured our hearts thanks to the band of scrappy Highlanders who (grudgingly, at first) welcomed Claire — and us — into their world back in Season 1. The show won’t be the same without them, but just like Jamie, we’ll never forget them.
Slàinte Mhath, lads.