Spoilers ahead for Outlander season three and the Outlander book series.
In Outlander’s season-two finale, a 1968-chic Claire Randall learns that Jamie Fraser, the love of her life who she left behind in 1746, miraculously survived the bloody Battle of Culloden. But how? Those who haven’t read Diana Gabaldon’s book series wandered through the long droughtlander until Sunday’s season premiere wondering how in the hell Jamie could possibly survive. After all, Culloden was the battle that decisively ended the Jacobite uprising and Highland culture: If the Scots didn’t die fighting, they were rounded up and executed soon afterward. A well-defined jawline and swole arms can save a person from an awful lot, but Jamie and Claire were pretty much resigned to the fact that he would die. But then he didn’t. What gives?
“The Battle Joined” provides the answer to this big mystery: It’s all thanks to Sir John William Grey. If you haven’t spent the past 14 months meticulously rewatching Outlander, you may not remember this character from his brief appearance in season two. Thankfully, Vulture has put together a handy guide to all things John Grey to jog your memory and explain why he’s the key to season three and beyond.
Where have I heard of this guy?
John William Grey made his TV debut at Jamie Fraser’s Training Camp for Dudes Who Want to Kill Redcoats in “Je Suis Prest.” He’s a 16-year-old British soldier who sees the Scottish campfires, finds Jamie alone, and takes it upon himself to try and bring Red Jamie down. This plan does not work. Regardless, Jamie and Claire trick him into believing that she is being held prisoner, and if Grey doesn’t give them information on the redcoats, Jamie will torture and kill her. Grey falls for it and hands over valuable intel that leads the Jacobites to victory in the Battle of Prestonpans. Jamie doesn’t want this kid’s blood on his hands, so instead of killing him, Jamie spares his life and sends him back to his troops (where he’ll no doubt face consequences). Since Grey values honor above all, before he’s taken out of Jamie’s sight, he also swears that he owes Jamie a life — but once he repays him, then he’ll go ahead and kill him. Jamie pays little attention to this vow, but Grey’s final words are important: “A Grey does not forget an obligation, sir.” While it has less of a ring to it than “a Lannister always repays his debts,” it carries the same powerful foreshadowing. It’s clear that Jamie will run into Grey again.
So, is that debt repaid?
You betcha. In the season-three premiere, Jamie is one of the few Scots left (barely) breathing after their failure at Culloden. Not even able to walk, he takes refuge with Rupert and Co. until the imminent arrival of the English. When the redcoats find them, they announce that they’ll all be executed — Jamie, badly wounded both physically and emotionally, welcomes a quick death. Unfortunately for the giant ginger (but fortunately for the rest of us), one of the Englishmen, named Lord Melton, recognizes Red Jamie as the man who spared Lord John William Grey. You see, Grey is Melton’s little brother, which puts Melton in quite a pickle: Red Jamie is one of the most notorious traitors around, but the Greys are men of honor. By killing Jamie, he’d render his brother’s word worthless and ruin his family’s reputation. Even Jamie is like, “Big whoop, who cares?” But to Melton, it is a very big whoop. So the guy finds a loophole: He puts Jamie on a wagon and secretly sends him back to Lallybroch, believing Jamie too weak to survive the journey. Jamie will die, but it won’t be on his hands. Everybody wins!
Long story short, John Grey’s debt is repaid … but Melton didn’t get the memo that Jamie Fraser can survive anything.
Will we see John Grey again?
Of course we will! Outlander recasted David Berry in the role of John Grey, an actor who definitely doesn’t look like he’s 16 years old, which makes sense because Grey is in his 20s when he meets Jamie again in Gabaldon’s book series. (In case you didn’t already believe 18th-century Scotland was a small world, when Jamie ends up in a Scottish prison years after Culloden, Grey is the governor of that very same prison.) You’d think that whole “I’m going to kill you” promise would make things awkward, but in the books, the two men eventually form a bond. What does makes things very awkward, however, is the fact that John Grey develops romantic feelings for Jamie.
Although Jamie rebuffs him, Grey’s affections toward the Scot ultimately work out in Jamie’s favor. I won’t spoil exactly how that happens, but book readers know the two men’s lives become intertwined in surprising ways for a long time to come. Suffice it to say, Lord John William Grey is an integral part of Jamie and Claire’s story.
What else should I know about John Grey?
Well, he is such a beloved character that Gabaldon gave him his very own spin-off. The Lord John series follows John as he solves mysteries (Lord John and the Succubus, anyone?) and gets in romantic entanglements. He’s a complicated character driven by honor: As Lord John readers know, Grey’s family was dishonored when he was just a boy, after people assumed his father was a Jacobite sympathizer. Instead of casting off his family’s problematic titles, though, John Grey keeps them all. Family and the military are important to him, and his loyalty to both is difficult to reconcile with his sexuality. Being gay is outlawed in 18th-century Scotland, and being outed would bring scandal to both his family and his fellow soldiers, as well as prison or worse for himself. This fear doesn’t prevent Grey from pursuing romantic relationships, but it does make it easier for him to enter into marriages with certain people for mutual protection. Like so many characters in Outlander, John Grey goes on a journey. His story in the Outlander universe is expansive, and it’s just getting started.