'Outlander' postmortem: EP Ronald Moore talks Geillis reveal, Claire's shocking choice
Spoiler alert! In its 11th episode, Outlander saw Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Geillis (Lotte Verbeek) prosecuted for witchcraft, which lead to the shocking discovery that Geillis is also from the future—1968, to be precise) While Claire was eventually rescued by Jamie (Sam Heughan)—and judging from the flogging she received, not a minute too soon—Geillis had no such luck and was hauled off to be burned at the stake.
“The Devil’s Mark” also saw Claire reveal her time-travel secret to Jamie, and tracked how she eventually chose Jamie over Frank when she was given the opportunity to return to 1945. Here, executive producer Ronald D. Moore breaks down some of the episode’s biggest moments, and teases what’s ahead when Claire and Jamie head to Lallybroch.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You packed so much into this hour. Can you tell me about the decision to address the trial, Geillis’s backstory, and Claire’s attempt to return home, all in one episode?
RONALD D. MOORE: I felt like the Lallybroch stories deserved their own section. And it didn’t feel that either the witch trial or Claire’s revelation to Jamie should be part of the Lallybroch story. The witch trial in and of itself is its own big deal, and then Claire telling Jamie the truth is another big deal. But neither one of those quite felt like they should be an entire episode. The nice thing about doing the witch trial in its present size [is that it] gave enough time in the episode to do the Claire revelation to Jamie, which is not a full-blown story but is a major moment in the book and in the life of the series. So it made sense structurally as I looked at how we were going to carve out the hours.
Episode 11 was very much a courtroom drama. What influenced you to go into that direction, and why put so much of the action in one place?
For that reason—because it’s a trial and there was something nice and familiar about making it feel like a trial. In the book version, they went outside more. There’s a lake, or a loch, that’s part of the action. But there’s something about being trapped in that room, in that space with the people that are rooting for you to lose—Claire and Geillis are literally surrounded by the faces of all these people that are rooting for them to die. It’s claustrophobic and intense. I also liked the location that they found, which is an actual church. That’s why we kept it in that same location.
Can you tell me about the decision to make Laoghaire such a prominent character, both within the entire storyline and in the trial itself?
The book takes you in different places for different periods of time, but when you’re doing the show, you’re sort of making choices about what works best. And we made the choice to highlight Laoghaire in the early beginning. Once you set up Laoghaire as the girl Jamie took a beating for way back at Castle Leoch in Episode 2, you’re already going, ‘Who is that? Why would he do that? Who’s that girl and where’s that going to go?’ And then Claire sees them kissing in the alcove, and it just felt that once you established that character in the series, you just wanted to play it up more strongly. So when we came back to the castle in Episode 9, it was just natural. We wanted to follow up more and push her forward, so that when we got into the trial itself, the people that are testifying are not new faces. And Laoghaire is a big, emotional character that the audience recognizes, so we thought, “Let’s give her a bigger role.”
How did you try to make Geillis’ reveal special, even for fans of the book?
There was a lot of discussion about what exactly we wanted to reveal about Geillis and when. We used the book, or even multiple books, since there’s a longer, deeper story about Geillis Duncan. All the fans are looking towards this episode as the big moment. So there’s two ways you can approach it. You can try to do it exactly the way the book lays it out, where there’s a satisfaction for you the reader to see it realized exactly. But there’s another way you can go too, which is to give them the moment but surprise readers with how you do it. Which I like, because it creates that moment of suspense for the fan, so that when they’re watching it, they’re also surprised.
So when we were going through the book, we laid out exactly how she tells Claire and moved some puzzle pieces around. The 1968 reference in the book was something that Dougal says to Claire much later in the story, in a completely different context. But in our story, by the time I get to that same scene with Dougal and Claire, in Episode 14, it felt a little bit irrelevant. It felt like I was going back to an old episode. It felt more relevant to put that information here and to deliver it in the most dramatic way in the heart of this episode.
The final scene with Geillis makes it seem as though she was burned at the stake—but we don’t actually see that happen. Does she really die?
That’s a tough one to answer. Fans of the book know what happens all too well, and I’d like to preserve that for the fans that have not read the book.
Will we ever learn more about her—and will we see her again this season? Or is that Season 2 territory?
She will not be seen the rest of this season. You will learn more about her story and who she was in subsequent seasons.
There’s a moment in the episode where Geillis is being passed through the crowd naked. That prosthetic belly looked incredibly realistic—how did you achieve that? It’s probably the best I’ve ever seen on TV.
Wow. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me, because that was not an easy one, let me tell you that. It was very difficult. The challenge was to come up with a piece that would work when Geillis is dancing naked with lots of movement. Those things tend to start pulling and bending, and creasing, and then ultimately tearing as an actress moves that much. So we had a lot of conversations about her body size and how advanced her pregnancy has to be. It has to be advanced enough that we see, the audience and Claire sees it, but not so pregnant that when she’s wearing her day-to-day clothes that everyone else knows she’s pregnant. You’re trying to walk a very fine line.
We had to go in during post and clean it up digitally. You’re cleaning the edges, and you’re making sure the shadow falls correctly. And in the subsequent scene in the witch trial when she exposes herself and is carried out, we had to go back in and actually enhance the prosthetic digitally. When you saw her being carried by the crowd on her back, the belly didn’t read as well. Suddenly, even though the shape was there and we hadn’t changed anything, the camera angles and the lighting distorted the shape. We had to go back in during post and sort of add some shadow and some texture to it so you kind of read the bump a little bit more. It was a lot of work, so it makes me very happy to hear that it looked believable.
Why is Jamie is so understanding of Claire’s ridiculous story? For all intents and purposes, he should be in disbelief over what he’s heard—but he’s not. Why is that?
It’s a lot of different things. First and foremost, Jamie is a special guy. He’s different from the other guys of his era. He’s educated, he’s smart, and he’s willing to think in bigger terms than a lot of his contemporaries. At the same time, he did grow up in Scotland. He did grow up in a world where they believe in magic and fairies and people going through time. There was even an earlier episode where a song was sung that talked about a traveler going to a set of stones that took her to a different place and brought her back. So he’s heard of stories like this—it’s part of his reality.
Then, there’s this personal experience with Claire. His belief is driven by the fact that she clearly believes it. She clearly believes this story. He knows she’s not insane—she seems pretty rational. She’s telling him about this crazy story that touches on other things he’s heard, and it’s a huge buy—but he’s willing to go there because there’s this intuitive trust for her, for what they have. So he’s willing to believe this crazy thing. And if he’s wrong, at least they’ll go down together.
Has Claire really chosen Jamie over Frank?
Claire has her chance. She could go back home and go back to Frank, but she walks away. She could go right to those stones. Jamie’s not there. It’s not like he’s begging her to stay. It’s completely in her lap, and she makes a conscious choices to stay.
At the end of the episode, Claire and Jamie begin their journey to Lallybroch. What lies ahead for them?
It’s the old story. He’s been dreaming about it, but be careful what you wish for. You go home, and your family’s still there. And Jamie thinks it’s going to be joyous, but there’s going to be complications and problems. Can Lallybroch live up to his dreams? Can he live up to his own expectations of what it means to go home and be the laird of Lallybroch? That’s the next chapter.