Spoilers ahead for the Season 4 premiere of Outlander on Starz.
Outlander returned to the airwaves for its fourth season with a premiere that proved the whole new world isn’t going to be easy for the Frasers. Although things were looking up for Claire, Jaime, and Co. despite their dire circumstances at the end of Season 3, the final moments of the Season 4 premiere were devastating.
New villain Stephen Bonnet and his pirates attacked the Frasers as they traveled via boat, and Bonnet did something seemingly small that will likely be a very big deal down the road, based both on the events of the show and of the fourth book. Let’s start with the show before moving onto the book.
Here’s what happened. Despite Jamie and Claire helping Bonnet escape a hanging earlier in the Season 4 premiere, Bonnet and his crew of pirates staged an attack on their party while they traveled by river toward River Run, owned by Jamie’s Aunt Jocasta. The men of the party seemingly got the worst of the attack, as Jamie was beaten, Young Ian was attacked, Jamie’s friend Lesley had his throat slit, and even the wolfish Rollo didn’t escape unscathed. Claire wasn’t seriously injured.
Claire did, however, lose something very significant to her, and it could be a key plot point later on in Season 4. Left alone in the cabin with Bonnet, he loomed over her and (although his words couldn’t be heard thanks to “America the Beautiful” playing over the entire scene), clearly demanded both of her wedding rings. Despite her terror, Claire made a desperate attempt to hold onto her rings by swallowing them.
She managed to get one down her throat, but Bonnet grabbed her by the throat and forced her mouth open before she could swallow the other. Bonnet got his hands on Jamie’s ring to Claire, meaning that she had managed to hang onto Frank’s. While losing either ring would have been a blow to Claire — she did love Frank once upon a time, after all — losing Jamie’s has dangerous implications.
The unfortunate loss of Jamie’s ring came shortly after Jamie and Claire had a talk about how Jamie has never and will never be able to offer her riches and jewels galore. All Jamie could give her was that ring. In a touching (but not altogether surprising) moment, Claire made it clear that the wedding band and sign of his love was all she needed from him.
Naturally, because this is Jamie and Claire and the universe seems determined to punish them whenever something happy happens, the pirate attack came shortly thereafter. Throw in the fact that Jamie had the ring made out of the key to Lallybroch way back in Season 1, and neither Fraser is probably going to take its loss lightly in the long run.
Given that this particular plot twist went down differently on the show than in the fourth book in Diana Gabaldon’s saga, I can’t say if one of them will take Bonnet’s theft better than the other. My money is on Claire being more pragmatic about it. The key to Lallybroch is more significant to Jamie than Claire, and he never takes it well when he can’t protect the people he loves. Whatever happens for them in the aftermath, neither will likely have a very clear head when it comes to Bonnet.
It was bad enough that he betrayed them after they helped him; now he has a piece of Lallybroch and the symbol of Jamie’s love for Claire in his possession. Considering a ring relatively crudely made out of a key isn’t exactly going to fetch Bonnet much on the market, he’ll probably keep it as a reminder of what he pulled over on the Frasers, and that could be even worse for Jamie, Claire, and people around them.
Bonnet keeping the ring bodes poorly for a character other than Jamie and Claire. Here’s where we get into some book spoilers. If you don’t want to know any of what happens in the fourth book of the Outlander series, called Drums of Autumn, turn back now!
In Drums of Autumn, Stephen Bonnet does get his hands on one of Claire’s wedding rings after attacking the boat, but it’s not Jamie’s. No, Claire successfully swallows Jamie’s ring and saves it. Frank’s gold ring is the one that Bonnet makes off with, setting off a sequence of a events that will result in a terrible crime against Brianna after she makes her journey to the past.
While trying to find her parents in Colonial America, Brianna happens to come across Stephen Bonnet, and she recognizes one of his rings as the one Frank gave to her mother. She wants that ring from him, but not knowing what kind of man he is, she’s not prepared for what he does to her when she visits his cabin to try and barter. Although she does ultimately get the ring from Bonnet, she unwillingly pays a terrible price that will stay with her for a very long time.
Stephen Bonnet stealing one of Claire’s rings in the premiere indicates that the sequence of events that sends Brianna to Bonnet will proceed at least quite similarly to how it proceeded in Drums of Autumn, and that means awful things for Claire and Jamie’s daughter. A big question now is how the theft of Jamie’s ring in the show as opposed to Frank’s ring in the book will impact the arc.
Considering one clue about an arc for Roger from the Season 4 credits, big parts of the aftermath should be similar between the two. If Brianna recognize’s Jamie’s ring on Bonnet and then events proceed as they so heartbreakingly do in the book, Jamie will undoubtedly blame himself even more on the show than he did on the page. It could also mean that the show intends to keep Bree’s focus on her biological dad rather than keep her conflicted on behalf of the man who raised her.
Assuming Brianna does return Jamie’s ring to Claire, her mom’s reaction to its return might be quite different from what it was in Drums of Autumn as well. In the book, Claire kept the return of Frank’s ring hidden to protect Brianna’s secret, as she didn’t want Jamie or others to know what Bonnet had done to her. Would she keep the return of Jamie’s ring a secret?
Revealing its return would be a giveaway to Jamie that Brianna had encountered Bonnet, and Jamie undoubtedly learned in the Season 4 premiere that bargains with Bonnet do not go as planned for anybody but Bonnet. Claire might be inclined to keep it from her husband. That said, she would almost certainly want to wear the ring again, and perhaps she would want Brianna to at least see that she appreciates having it back. We’ll have to wait and see.
At this point, we should probably steel ourselves for Bonnet’s theft of the ring to kick off the sequence of events that will result in something traumatic for Brianna. To see what happens next, check out new episodes of Outlander on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on Starz.