Why Keeping Murtagh Alive On Outlander Was 'A Fantastic Idea' Despite Challenges, According To The Showrunner

outlander season 4 duncan lacroix starz murtagh hands up
(Image credit: Starz)
(Image credit: Starz)

The fifth season of Outlander is on the way, and it hopefully won't waste any time in paying off on the big Murtagh cliffhanger. Season 4 ended with the reveal that Jamie had been tasked by Governor Tryon in raising a militia, hunting down the Regulators, and killing their leader, who just so happens to be his beloved godfather. It's difficult to imagine Jamie actually going through with killing Murtagh, but no fan can definitively rule it out. Why? Well, because Murtagh died a long time ago in the books.

In the books, Murtagh died at the Battle of Culloden, and Jamie was too severely injured himself to remember precisely how it happened. There was no survival and imprisonment at Ardsmuir, no being shipped off to the American colonies, and definitely no becoming a Wilmington blacksmith who moonlights as the leader of the Regulators. He's a variable whose very existence has forced the show to veer off from the books in some significant ways, and that has naturally presented challenges.

Despite these challenges in adapting the source material for a show that has Murtagh very much alive and in the mix, showrunner and executive producer Matthew B. Roberts explained that keeping Murtagh among the living was a "fantastic idea" that actually helped with bringing the books to the screen. Here's how Roberts put it:

That in itself has been a challenge. Keeping Murtagh alive was a fantastic idea — it really helped and gave Claire and Jamie someone to talk to. As we know in the book, Claire has a lot of internal dialogue. It’s great and you can get into her head, but in the series, it was hard, so keeping someone that they know and trusted alive was important. That ended up being Murtagh.

A significant portion of Diana Gabaldon's grand Outlander novel series is actually written in the first person from Claire's point of view, so naturally the show had to lose a lot of her thought processes. After all, the show can't just have Claire constantly narrating episodes without the narration becoming a hindrance. Claire also can't just be talking to Jamie about every single thought that crosses her mind, especially if they're separate or not on the best terms with each other. Enter Murtagh.

According to Matthew B. Roberts, Murtagh fit the bill as somebody Claire could talk to in order to let viewers into her mind. He did know her from way back when she first accidentally traveled back in time, and they teamed up to try and find Jamie after he was captured. He also is one of the few 18th century folks who knows Claire's time travel secret. He made sense as somebody she would be open with.

Outlander Season 5: What We Know So Far

As helpful as Murtagh has been as an outlet for Claire's thoughts, his continued existence does mean that the story can't just progress as it does in the books. The Regulators aren't as big a deal on the page, and Jamie doesn't have a strong relationship with the leader. In the show, Murtagh is one of the closest people in the world to Jamie, and he's a major enough character that his presence has a big impact. And now he's involved with Jocasta!

All things considered, it's no surprise a cast member suggested Season 5 will likely be quite different from the fifth book. Matthew B. Roberts went on in his chat with Parade to explain how keeping Murtagh alive impacts Season 5:

What we realized after keeping him alive is it does affect a lot of the story going forward. At the end of four, when he’s still alive and he’s a regulator and he’s being hunted, it shades how we tell the story in season five, and I will say that it definitely is a part of season five.

Will Murtagh continue to impact Outlander moving forward, or will he finally be killed off and removed from the equation? Could Outlander remove him without killing him off? He is a fugitive in the American colonies, after all. Could he return to Scotland, perhaps to deliver the unhappy news to Jenny about what happened to Young Ian? How will Outlander deal with the challenges of Murtagh?

Season 5 will deliver at least some answers. Starz hasn't announced an official premiere date for the fifth season, but a sixth season has been confirmed, so Murtagh could be around for another couple of seasons. My money is on Outlander Season 5 debuting at some point in the mid-to-late fall this year. We'll have to wait and see. You can always pass the time by watching the first couple seasons of Outlander via streaming.

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.