Spoilers for Outlander Season 5 Episode 7, “The Ballad of Roger Mac,” below.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had a good death on Outlander,” Duncan Lacroix declares when I ask how he feels about his character’s demise. “Not since Lotte’s character [Geillis Duncan] in season 3—no one that’s been on the show that long.”
Fans won’t share his sentiment. Lacroix’s Murtagh Fitzgibbons is an Outlander stalwart, Jamie Fraser’s (Sam Heughan) loyal godfather and one of the few people who knows the truth about Claire’s (Caitriona Balfe) time-traveling past. The character’s death is a rare surprise for a show based on a book series; on the page, Murtagh died in Scotland decades earlier, but the show resurrected him for a compelling storyline set in the Americas. Predictably, social media reacted to last night’s episode with overwhelming grief, especially combined with the evident loss of Richard Rankin’s Roger. But Lacroix has no regrets about saying goodbye to the character: “It felt like the right timing.”
Outlander, though famously escapist television, plunged viewers into an hour of anguish with “The Ballad of Roger Mac,” starting with Governor Tryon’s (Tim Downie) order that Jamie adopt a British red coat for battle against the Regulators—a group of rebels for which Murtagh is a leader with a price on his head. Jamie, torn between his allegiance to his godfather and securing his family’s home under British rule, watches helplessly as Murtagh succumbs to a bullet. He has just moments to grieve before he’s off in search of his missing son-in-law, Roger, who appears to have been hanged by a group of angry Regulators in the show’s final moments. “It’s probably a bit unfortunate timing,” Lacroix acknowledges of the episode airing in the midst of a global pandemic, but jokes that the curmudgeonly Murtagh would “love social distancing.”
Below, Lacroix discusses his last day on set, taking Murtagh beyond the books, and why he’s not participating in the Outlander virtual cake bake-off.
Tell me about shooting the goodbye scene with Sam.
I was told it’s from the book—Jamie’s remembrance of what Murtagh said to him at Culloden. So even though we went against Diana’s books and kept him alive, we kept the essence of his death and just postponed it.
It was a weird day. Usually I’m not that emotional, but for the first time I kind of separated myself from Murtagh and felt really, really bad for him. [Laughs] And the fake blood we had was like strawberry jam, so it pretty much attracted an entire wasps’ nest to my chest—me and Sam were waving around through wasps. In fact, we ended up filming it twice because there were problems with the way it was cut, and we filmed the death scene under the tree again, in the winter time.
So you shot it and thought you were done with it, then had to go back and re-shoot it?
Yeah. [The first time we shot it], I still had stuff to do [after the death scene] which was weird. But the scene with me lying on the triage table was the very last thing we did in terms of pickup shots at the end. It was nice that the final thing I had to do was be dead.
Those scenes are devastating.
Well, you’ve got the funeral to come yet. Maria [Doyle Kennedy] sings a song, an old classic Scottish folk song. It’s one of the most haunting things I’ve heard. It made me blab a bit when she played it to me.
How did you feel about that relationship with Jocasta, a storyline that also doesn’t appear in the books?
That was an amazing scene to go out on with her in episode 6. It was well-written, and working with someone of Maria’s caliber is incredible. It was a really quiet set, and the scene just intensified [as we shot] that whole day. There were so many tragic things about Murtagh this season; I had four or five scenes that are tearjerkers. When he said goodbye to Jamie at the end of episode 1, and then the Jocasta scene and the death scene. His whole journey ended up tragic, but it’s fitting he got to go out on his shield, saving Jamie. I’m happy that happened.
That Jocasta scene really underscores that he’s secretly a romantic.
He’s always been a romantic! [Laughs] From day one!
But the character’s so gruff!
Gruffly romantic! It was mentioned to me before that they were surprised he was able to say, “I love you,” but I didn’t feel that way when I was playing that. I think once he knows what he’s doing, he’s quite direct. He doesn’t lie, he doesn’t play games, but it does take him an awful long time. I think that’s why he probably lost Ellen, his first love. He’s a shy, shy guy, at least around the ladies. [Laughs]
Was there anything not in the script that made it into the final cut of this episode?
We try and improvise, but we’re never allowed. The scripts supervisor comes up and smacks us around the back of the head. I always manage to get a few takes, and then pass it off as if I don’t remember my lines, but eventually you have to stick to the script.
Aging hasn’t changed Murtagh’s reckless nature. Why do you think that is?
I think the horror of Culloden and the years in indentured servitude made him more reckless than he was before. You see it in his first two seasons: he’s not a politically motivated man. He just wanted Jamie to get away from Culloden and he wanted to kill Prince Charlie and get it over and done with. But now, after the entire Highland way of life was decimated and his home and Jamie were ripped away from him, he became embittered and hardened and found solace in fighting back any way he could. He has always had a sense of injustice.
You knew Murtagh was coming back after season 3, right?
We knew before season 3 that he was going to come back. There were various stories—he was going to turn up in Jamaica, leading a slave rebellion. Some weird drugged-up Murtagh hallucinating. It was like a Colonel Kurtz Apocalypse Now scenario. It was a great story.
What’s your favorite memory from the last six and a half years of shooting?
Season 1 was special because we were all thrown together and didn’t know how successful the show was going to be. For a lot of us, it was the first big American show with all that money behind it. We all got on so well—I’ve got lifelong friends now with Graham [McTavish], Sam, and Caitriona, all of them.
This is production designer Jon Gary Steele’s final season. Do you have a favorite set of his?
The Paris apartment in season 2. The whole thing was built two or three stories [high, with] a courtyard. I like getting space between scenes, but you would walk into another room of the apartment, and you’re still in the 18th century. There was a scene where I was discussing something with Jamie and I’m on this chaise lounge, and [the audience] would never be able to see it from the camera angle, but the entire ceiling was this ornate mosaic. The attention to detail that man brings is insane.
Will you be taking part in the Outlander stay-at-home baking challenge?
I’m ignoring it, in case they ask me. I have no idea how to bake anything. I can show people how to do beans on toast. Or maybe I’ll spend my one allotted trip to the shops to buy a Sara Lee and bring it back and pretend I did it. Just have the box sitting in the background somewhere. What did Sam make?
Yeah, I find that very hard to believe. Did they film him actually making it?
Then I call BS on that one.