Warning: major spoilers ahead for the Season 3 premiere of Outlander, called "The Battle Joined."
Outlander may be best known nowadays for the dreamy (and steamy) love story of Claire and Jamie, but it is fundamentally a story about a woman who has somehow traveled back in time and is faced with living nearly 200 years before she was born. The show has been pretty vague over the years about how exactly Claire ended up in the 18th century and what kind of effects she could have on the timeline. Now, "The Battle Joined" may have settled the question for us with the Battle of Culloden.
Claire has been making changes to time ever since she first arrived in the 18th century. Her mere presence could have been enough to upset the 1700s status quo, as she intruded on the lives of a whole bunch of Scots and even some English. Then, she started actively bringing her 20th century sensibilities to the 18th century Scots. Her methods of healing and preventing sickness had never been seen or used in 1700s Scotland, and those could have been enough to change time.
Then, there's the fact that Claire was saving lives all over the place once she ended up in the past. In fact, if she hadn't turned up when she did, Jamie himself would have died of his wounds. If the lives she saved were those of people meant to die in the 18th century, she was altering the future in some huge ways. Some people even died because of her, and perhaps they were people who were meant to live long lives that contributed to history in the original timeline. We just didn't know, and it was possible Outlander was setting us up for a rude awakening at some point in the future.
Claire could have been doing great harm to the timeline without even trying ever since she stepped foot in the past. For most of the series, we've only been able to wonder how her actions in the 18th century might affect the 20th century. The Season 3 finale may have finally given us our answer: Claire's actions in the past do not impact the future timeline.
The Battle of Culloden seems to have occurred exactly as it was recorded in the history books and recalled by Claire when she ended up back in time. Culloden was the Scots' last stand when the charged the field at the English, who were far better prepared for the fight. Despite all of Claire and Jamie and even Murtagh's efforts in Season 2 to prevent the Jacobite uprising, the battle happened as it always did.
Even Claire's prophecy to Black Jack Randall that he would die at Culloden didn't change his fate. Back when Claire first taunted him with the day of his death, I was convinced that it would be a loophole that would allow him to avoid his death and live on to menace Claire and Jamie. Her warning could have backfired spectacularly. Instead, Black Jack Randall fought on Culloden field as he had in the original timeline, and he died in his showdown with Jamie, leaving a pregnant wife behind who would continue the Randall line all the way to Frank in the 20th century. Sure, the father of the child was actually Randall's brother, but that was likely always the case and it was simply not recorded in the history books.
The death of Black Jack Randall and the Battle of Culloden going as they had in the original timeline indicate that Claire's actions in the past won't actually change the future, no matter what she does. Her actions likely were always part of the timeline, and her attempts to subvert the history she knew actually resulted in that history coming to pass. The Battle of Culloden may have occurred because Claire and Jamie tried to meddle, not in spite of it.
While it's kind of a bummer to think that all the carnage of Culloden may have occurred due to Claire and Jamie's actions, we can at least rest easy that we can probably stop wondering if Claire's actions in the past will have an impact on the future. For those of us who are sticklers for rules when it comes to time travel, it should be a relief to stop worrying that Claire's actions will result in something horrible happening in the present. Her meddling in time already happened and resulted in the timeline she knew before she came to the past, so there's nothing she can do to ruin the future.
Basically, we can probably stop worrying about effects on the timeline and enjoy Outlander for the wonderfully heartbreaking saga that it is. The Outlander school of time travel is clearly different from that of Doctor Who or Back to the Future or even Legends of Tomorrow, and that's really for the best. To discover what's in store next for Claire and Jamie in either of their timelines, tune in to Starz on Saturdays at 8 p.m. ET for new episodes of Outlander. Our fall TV premiere guide can help you find what else to watch in the coming weeks.