Outlander Returns on W Network

The epic historical romance returns, as Claire and Jamie struggle to recover from the physical and emotional wounds of last season

The epic historical romance returns, as Claire and Jamie struggle to recover from the physical and emotional wounds of last season

As has become par for the course on the epic time travel love story, Claire and Jamie were united against the odds and in each other’s arms—again—at the end of season five. But whereas, in the past, it has mostly been the time-space continuum wreaking havoc on their affair, this time it was their forced separation by a gang of men, intent on punishing Claire for her futuristic feminist agenda, that threatened to tear them apart for good.

As we return to the seemingly indestructible couple in 18th-century North Carolina, the two are still experiencing reverberations from the savage attack that has shaken Claire to the core. “We explore how she’s unravelling in a way that we never have before,” says Caitriona Balfe, who plays Claire Fraser. “We’ve seen her deal with PTSD in a very light way before, but this is a whole different scenario. We realize that her usual coping mechanisms don’t serve her anymore, so she has to figure out a whole new way of overcoming this trauma.”

To overcome the experience of getting abducted from her home on the idyllic Fraser’s Ridge, then violently raped and beaten, Claire relies on her family and her husband, in particular. Yet even their unwavering love for each other cannot mask the cracks in the foundation brought on in the sixth season. “Finally, the Frasers have built their forever home, and an extended family,” says Sam Heughan, a.k.a. Jamie Fraser. “But we get to see that also start to unravel—from an external influence—and each character is really being challenged and tested. We see that home and family unit splintering and fracturing.”

A darker, more intense season is in store for the series that has never shied away from bold plot twists that leave their main characters forever changed. “I think the end of season five really lays a foundation of why it’s a lot darker [this time],” says Lauren Lyle, the actress playing Jamie’s stepdaughter Marsali Fraser, who survived being left for dead by Lionel Brown and his band of thugs. “It’s a completely new world that everyone on the Ridge finds themself in, because of the turmoil at the end of last season. It’s a lot more intense than it’s been. But [this season] is about healing and hope and moving forward. I think everyone’s struggling to do it. How they find their way there is a real maze.” (And that’s not even mentioning the inevitable approach of the American Revolution.)

While a heavier season, César Domboy, who plays Marsali’s husband Fergus Fraser, promises that the relationship turns are not just dour for the sake of added drama. “Everything is triggered by a good reason,” says Domboy. “It’s triggered by real-life traumas, the different abuse they’ve had to overcome. It’s very smartly written.” This year, the young couple’s character arc forced Lyle and Domboy to take their work off-set, to better understand their journey. “It allowed Lauren and I to have long discussions over pasta, where we’re like, ‘Alright, why do they do that?’ Because there are a million ways of fighting as a couple,” says Domboy. “We design our fights. How do we want them to [fight]? It was nice to calibrate that together.”

The series based on the bestselling novels of Diana Gabaldon continues to flip the script when it comes to viewer expectations—both in terms of character development and the pace of storytelling. “Season six is an absolute smörgåsbord of people coming in, and the chaos that ensues from that. It’s very fast-paced,” says Sophie Skelton, who plays Claire and Jamie’s daughter Brianna Fraser MacKenzie. “Often in other seasons, we get these calm, quiet moments, but season six is pretty go-go-go. I think it’s going to be a really fresh energy for the fans.”

The one thing that is guaranteed, as with every season of the series, is that the creative team doesn’t hold anything back. “I think our fans expect that of us—that we go to the edge, and sometimes even past the edge,” says showrunner Matthew B. Roberts. “That’s where we see the most change and the most pressure on a character—throwing in these things that are so unexpected, and historically have happened to people. We dig into the history of it, just like the books do, and we try to be as realistic as possible. And our cast and production embrace that. When they read new scripts, they’re like ‘Wow, we’re going for it this year.’”

The cast may embrace the unexpected in terms of their characters, but what grounds these storylines are the very real relationships that have developed behind the scenes over these past six years. “It’s something that you very rarely get, but it’s incredible when you do,” Balfe reflects. “As Sam and I have filmed season after season, all of those memories, they live within you as much as they would’ve lived within the characters. That’s something you can bring to every scene going forward.” 

Outlander returns Sunday, March 6th at 9 p.m. on W Network