How Outlander Season 4 Is Dealing With The Novel's Rape Scene

outlander standing stones

Warning: major spoilers ahead for Outlander Season 4 and the fourth novel in the Outlander book saga, called Drums of Autumn.

For a show largely known for its love story, gorgeous actors, and breathtaking landscapes, Outlander has never shied away from exploring the ugly sides of life in the 18th century, and a number of characters have found themselves the victims of traumatizing sexual assault. Male and female characters alike have been raped in the story, usually because the rapes happened in Diana Gabaldon's book saga on which the series is based. A heartbreaking sexual assault happens in the fourth book, Drums of Autumn, when Brianna is raped after traveling back in time to reunite with her mother. Outlander showrunner Ronald D. Moore has spoken out about how much of the rape will or will not be featured in the show, saying this:

We've always been guided by that principle. We have a history of it with the show itself [so the question becomes] how much of this material is in the show, when do we do it, when do we decide not to do it and why are we making that choice. You have to approach it on a case-by-case basis and this is obviously a big story point so it wasn't really an option not to do it. It's more a question of how you're going to do it and what it meant to that story in how you presented it.

Outlander has never followed the events of the books exactly as they're written, and the show actually changed a rape scene from the third book to be entirely consensual because the rape was not deemed necessary for the story they were trying to tell. Other horrifying rape scenes were included, and they were awful enough that viewers would have been justifiable in averting their eyes, but they were relevant to the narrative. Certain pivotal plot points couldn't happen without the sexual assaults, and so Outlander adapted them. As Ronald D. Moore explained in his chat with THR, the rape of Brianna is one such assault.

outlander brianna

In Drums of Autumn, Brianna travels back in time to reunite with Claire and meet Jamie. Very unfortunately, she crosses paths with new Season 4 villain Stephen Bonnet -- who has already been established as worse than Black Jack Randall -- who rapes her. The assault doesn't happen as just another excuse to establish how psychopathic Bonnet is. Bree ends up pregnant with a child, although it's not clear in the book if Bonnet is the father. The pregnancy makes for a significant storyline for Brianna, and it's hard to imagine the show leaving it out.

Of course, it will undoubtedly be horrifying and heartbreaking to watch the rape happen. Outlander executive producer Maril Davis explained how Outlander will depict the assault:

As in everything we do with this show, like Jamie's rape in season one, we're not trying to ever be gratuitous. We're trying to depict things as they really happened in that time. Every scene moving forward, we're trying to do something where you understand why the character is struggling so much but not doing it in a gratuitous way... We're sensitive to what's going on in this time right now, but we're also filming something that's a historical piece. So we're trying to do that with both hats on.

Outlander will evidently show restraint with the depiction of Brianna's rape, as it did with Jamie's back in Season 1 and other rapes in the following seasons. It sounds like the episode in which the terrible act happens will show as much as needs to be shown for the sake of the story, and no more. Outlander may be somewhat gratuitous with the steamy sex scenes, but that won't be the case for the rape. The series will apparently be as sensitive as possible with a distinctly horrifying plot twist.

We'll have to wait and see exactly how the rape scene is ultimately portrayed on screen. Outlander will return for Season 4 later this year on Starz. For the details that have been released as of now, be sure to swing by our breakdown of what we know so far about Outlander Season 4. For viewing options while we wait for more Outlander, take a look at our midseason TV premiere guide and our 2018 Netflix premiere schedule.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel, but will sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation.