“As you know, we have a term called ‘Droughtlander’—I think two days [after season three ended] people started agonizing when the new season was coming,” executive producer Matthew B. Roberts told me and a group of journalists during a visit to the Outlander set earlier this year. “People want it, which is great, and the more they want it, the more we want to deliver bigger and, I guess, better episodes.”
In other words, Droughtlander is a necessary evil if fans want the high quality (and highly entertaining) show they’re accustomed to. And after visiting the studios in Glasgow, Scotland, I can tell you this: It’ll be worth the wait once the series returns on Sunday, November 4.
Season four ups the ante as Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) forge a new life in colonial North Carolina. Naturally, this adventure comes with a lineup of new characters, stunning scenery, and, yes, sexy times. Here’s a spoiler-free breakdown of everything I know—so far—about the new season of Outlander.
There will be a lot more of Brianna and Roger.
Last season Claire went back through the stones to reunite with Jamie, but her decision came with a sacrifice: She left their daughter, Brianna, behind in 1960s Boston. Season four will show Brianna dealing with her mother’s absence—and turning to family friend Roger for help.
“She’s essentially become an orphan,” Sophie Skelton, who plays Brianna, explains. “She went from having two parents, to one, to three, and now she’s left with nothing. She doesn’t know where Claire is, if she’s OK, if she found Jamie, if she even went to the right time period. Roger is the one person who can understand that, so it brings them a lot closer.”
Richard Rankin, who plays Roger, says this will reveal a side of the good-natured Scot we haven’t seen yet. “He’s still the historian he was, but different events unfold for him,” he explains. “A lot of them orientated around Brianna, a lot of them not. Which is nice because you haven’t really seen Roger without Brianna, or at least thinking about her, or pining after her, or just generally being madly in love with her. Season four is a completely different beast for Roger, for all of the characters. The scope of the story really opens up. It becomes a much grander, much bigger adventure. I think the stakes are high.”
You’ll also see Jamie finding new ways to connect to Brianna.
Of course Claire misses her daughter, but this season will also go deeper into Jamie’s feelings about Brianna. “When we started the season, I really wanted it to be a love letter to Brianna,” Heughan says.
“The only way he can get close to her is by almost forging this country into a sort of safe place for her, that when she grows up, it’s a good place to be. He’s sort of planting the seeds of America. He’s one of the first forefathers of America, and he’s doing it for her. And that’s nice, that he has that connection.”
A new character, Jocasta, enters the picture.
After Jamie and Claire land in colonial America, they travel to North Carolina, where Jamie’s aunt, Jocasta, has settled. “[Meeting Jocasta is] a really important moment [for Jamie],” Heughan says. “Jamie’s mother and father have always been a very strong presence in his mind, and in his life, so for him to meet his last relative—and that she looks and sounds so much like his mother—is really big for him.”
Their reunion doesn’t come without some complications, though. Maria Doyle Kennedy, who plays Jocasta, describes her as “a woman who is clearly nobody’s fool, she doesn’t suffer fools gladly, although she sees them everywhere.” She’s a formidable person, somebody who is used to running the show. So, in other words, a true match for independent Claire. Though they don’t always share the same views of the world, “she can’t help but be attracted to this incredibly opinionated and empowered woman. She doesn’t meet women like that.”
Another new addition: Introducing Stephen Bonnet.
I won’t say too much about Bonnet, because spoilers, so just know that Ed Speleers will be playing the Irishman. “He’s a tricky man,” the actor says.
“There’s a lot of levels to him, a lot of layers. I think he has a very particular view on the world. Whether that’s due to circumstance, whether that’s due to nature, nurture, all of this—what actually he’s really about, who he really is, will all be unraveled all in good time.”
You’ll be surprised how well Scotland fills in for North Carolina.
Rather than move the cast and crew for season four, the Outlander team decided to continue filming at its Glasgow studio. Roberts says he flew to North Carolina and drove across the countryside to see the Blue Ridge mountains for himself, to ensure accuracy. Turns out the two landscapes were more similar than many would think.
“I’ve taken a few pictures in North Carolina and I’ve taken pictures [in Scotland], and I play a little game on Instagram where I’ll say, ‘Where am I?'” Roberts tells me. “Many of our North Carolina fans will say, ‘You are absolutely in North Carolina, and I’ll be somewhere in the Trossachs.'”
Heughan says he also traveled to North Carolina on Diana Gabaldon’s advice: “It was just remarkable how similar it was [to Scotland]. You just realize that’s why the Scots, when they immigrated to America, settled there. Because it really does feel the same.”
Experts were brought in to help develop the Native American characters.
“When I was in North Carolina, I met with the Cherokee, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee,” Roberts says. “We [later] signed them on to be consultants. As much as humanly possible, we’re trying to be accurate to that culture. And [we plan to] do the same with the Mohawk. We will tell the story as best we can: historically accurate.”
That effort also included casting First Nation and Native American actors and bringing them to Scotland to film. “Hollywood has not always portrayed the American Indian in the most sensitive fashion,” Roberts explains. “We will tell as much of the truth as we can and be sensitive to it.”
Oh, and there’s another new character…
Those who’ve read the Outlander books will be excited to know that Rollo, Ian’s wolf-hybrid pet, will be in the mix this season. “I love him so much,” John Bell, who plays Young Ian, says of his new companion.
“He’s the coolest companion to have because everybody loves him, you know? [Rollo and Ian] come as a pair.”
A recurring theme this season: home.
“This season is really about establishing a home and family,” Heughan says. “For Jamie, it’s all about that. He’s arrived in America and finally has all of the people around him that he loves. It’s a great opportunity for him.”
Roberts echoes this, saying: “This season we’re focusing on home—what home means to people, what family means to people. Jamie and Claire, over the course of their 200-year relationship, haven’t really had a home. They’ve always been trying to find that place to stay.” Even Jamie’s family home, Lollybroch, was never really his and Claire’s. So this will be their first chance to find and build a home of their own.
The fact that it’s in America is even more important to Jamie and Claire. “Obviously Claire has a very emotional connection with America,” Balfe says. “That’s where she raised her daughter, it’s where her daughter was born. And that’s something that really makes her want to stay there.”
Outlander returns to Starz on Sunday, November 4.