Outlander's Caitriona Balfe on Claire's Devastating Grief

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Photo: George Pimentel/Getty Images

Spoilers ahead for the most recent episode of Outlander.

Claire had so much hope heading to France. She and Jamie were going to change the world! Prevent the Jacobite rebellion! Alter the course of history! But even with her knowledge of the future, Claire couldn't stop certain events from happening. She couldn't thwart everyone who supported Bonnie Prince Charlie. She couldn't keep two mortal enemies from dueling each other. And she couldn't save her unborn child. In one of the most devastating scenes this season, Claire's daughter is stillborn, even as she herself is on the verge of dying from a postpartum infection. Actress Caitriona Balfe chatted with Vulture about Claire's grief, and how she feels about both husbands now.

Even though she was pregnant during the first half of the season, do you think Claire had more agency?
It's an interesting shift. Last season, I feel like Claire was very reactionary, and all of these events were sort of coming at her fast and swift. She didn't really have time to absorb any of the events, really. She would get captured, and then they would be on their way somewhere, and then something else would happen. It was all very fight or flight. Survival.

But this season, she was experiencing a huge life change, being pregnant for the first time. And in French society, she almost had less freedom than she had in Scotland, because of the role that women are supposed to play. The first few episodes, she was relegated to drawing rooms and apartments, and you could feel her frustration building. It was quite a suffocating thing to do, even as an actress! But that was great for the internal journey of Claire, because she was dealing with a lot of things in private, and she knew she had to keep them to herself, because Jamie was still suffering so much from the events of the end of last season. And in a way, because she wasn't quite the outsider in France the way she was in Scotland, she learned she had even more freedom and agency.

What was your reaction when you first found out what would happen to end the pregnancy?
When I first got the script Toni Graphia wrote, I was sobbing, reading it. I just felt very grateful to be given such a wonderful storyline, and wonderful material to work with. It's a huge tragedy for Claire, and I've done quite a bit of reading about grief. I think there's so many women who either have themselves or who know somebody who has been touched by the tragedy of miscarriage. It's something that I really just wanted to hold a space for, Claire's grief, Claire's experience. It was pretty tough. We had about five days where the whole sequence happened, so you're in that very emotional place for quite a long time.

For Claire, it's compounded by the trouble she and Frank had conceiving, how she thought she might be infertile. She didn't know at the time that Frank was sterile ...
I think she felt for the longest time that she wasn't able to have kids, and then there was the joy of becoming pregnant. But then it was always difficult, because it was such a struggle to share it with Jamie. But they did have so much hope. So when she lost the baby, it was the worst thing that could happen. Then there was all the guilt, and everything that came with it, so it was pretty powerful stuff.

You shot the hospital scenes in a church?
We shot it in this Glasgow cathedral, and it couldn't have been a better surrounding to do that in. It's this beautiful old church, and I think it had changed denomination back and forth between Catholic and Protestant over the years, but it had about five altars inside of it. I'm not a particularly religious person, but I was brought up to be religious, and I was just very aware of the sacredness of this place, and the fact that here was the place that thousands of women over the last couple of centuries had come, seeking solace for whatever their loss was, and probably some of them had very similar situations. I was just very aware of the power of that place, and the history of the women who'd probably come there. It was a very special place to film in. So I would just go and sit quietly upstairs and try and absorb that.

You had a prosthetic baby. I think they were looking to have prosthetic placenta as well ...
Yeah, we didn't do that. I can't remember what it was made out of, but they did have certain material that was the placenta. But the baby, yeah, I mean it's incredible what people can do. I think everybody was sort of wary holding it or touching it, because it really did look like a baby that had died. It was really heartbreaking. You can't touch that without being moved by it. It was a very quiet few days on set.

Do you think Claire would have been able to make the decision about sleeping with the king -- purely as a transaction -- if it had not been for the fact that she just lost the baby?
I think at that point, when she has lost so much, it's a devastation, just something that she'll never get over. So her capacity for what is painful and what is sacred to her, it's shifted. For her, just to get Jamie back and to have him, that's worth anything.  

Because of the flash forward at the beginning of the season, we know, however, that when Claire returns to her own time, when she returns to Frank, she will be pregnant once more. Do you think because we're reminded of Frank's love for her, it makes it easier to understand this huge sacrifice that Claire asked of Jamie, to ensure Frank's existence? Why she would feel his duel with Black Jack was a betrayal?
I think you have to understand that even though Claire will never love Frank the same way ever again, he still was her first love. You have to understand that's what she holds dear, and that's why she fights for his life in France. I think everyone is always rooting for Jamie and Claire, and they understand the depth of that love, and how tragic it must be to have lost him and then be back. But Frank has done nothing wrong! He's only loved her. And here is a wife that just up and disappeared on him. He's mourned that loss for two years, and then she's back, and you see the joy in his face, and the hope. He feels like everything's going to be okay again, and then she just completely destroys that dream within him. Her heart is with someone else.