By now all Outlander fans should know that when an episode starts off with gratuitous shots of shirtless Jamie, something awful is on its way. Those rockhard Colonial Abs™ are meant to soften the blow of impending tragedy. Unfortunately, all the Colonial Abs™ in the world could not distract us from the heartbreak that goes down in “The Ballad of Roger Mac.” In most episodes, just seeing Jamie have to grapple with wearing an actual red coat as he fights against his Scottish brothers would be brutal enough (it is unnatural), but here that is just an appetizer to the devastation. Guys, Murtagh is dead. Roger has been hanged. No one is okay. We haven’t had an installment of Outlander this tragic in quite some time. This one’s going to leave a mark.
We’ve known for a while that Murtagh probably wasn’t going to make it out of this Regulator Rebellion business alive. And with last week’s gut-wrenching rejection from Jocasta (my wounds are still raw!), his death felt more imminent than ever — he had said his good-bye, for all intents and purposes. Still, the way that our beloved Silver Fox goes out is a shock to the system. Like Jamie, it’s easy to be in denial.
It’s not like Jamie doesn’t try his hardest for a different outcome. When Governor Tryon and the King’s Army roll up with a legit cannon and a boatload of artillery, Jamie tries to explain that the Regulators are mostly farmers with knives and pitchforks. Tryon couldn’t care less. When the Regulators send over a petition of demands that could lead to a truce, Jamie tries to get Tryon to consider it, but Tryon’s just like, LOL that’s so cute but no way in hell. You’d think people would at least humor Jamie on his goddamned 50th birthday, but no. He goes from satisfying birthday sex to being continually reminded that he’s probably going to be responsible for his godfather’s death. There’s not even cake, you guys. This is a terrible birthday!
Not only does Jamie have to deal with Tryon’s troops just aching to murder some Scots — I’m sorry, “put down a rebellion” — but he also has to deal with some in-fighting amongst his own militia, because Jamie can never have enough problems to deal with at any given time. While he’s handing out pins of fabric for the men to wear so they aren’t confused with Regulators out on the battlefield, and trying to teach the young Findlay boys that in war you can never waver, who should stroll on in but Isiah Morton. Wanting to stand and fight with your men is nice and all, but Jamie and Claire risked their lives to allow him to escape with the love of his life Alicia Brown during their stint in Brown Town, and now he’s back. The Browns who joined the militia are not pleased. As if Jamie doesn’t have enough on his plate!
Jamie deals with all of this stress by taking a quick bath in a river and then cutting open his hand and using the blood to call on the guidance of his uncle, his war chief, his murder victim, Dougal MacKenzie. It’s called self-care, guys. Look it up. As Jamie is growing increasingly pained by the thought of fighting the Regulators, there is one last glimmer of hope to put a stop to this battle before it even begins, and it arrives on horseback: Bree.
Bree rides into the army camp with some interesting information. Once she heard where the battle was to take place — Alamance Creek — she couldn’t shake the feeling that she had heard of it before. And then it hit her: She studied this battle in a history class: The militia handily wins and many believe it is the “spark” that leads to the American Revolution. Regardless of what changing the outcome of this battle could do to history, they need to warn Murtagh that if the Regulators go through with this battle, they will lose and it will be devastating.
It’s Roger who volunteers to go. The warning has to come from someone who Murtagh not only knows, but knows is from the future. Regardless of if Roger keeps Jamie’s little white surrender handkerchief of truce thing with him in case things get dicey, there’s just no way this excursion doesn’t end badly. It is Roger MacKenzie’s way.
Roger finds Murtagh in the middle of delivering a fiery speech. I’ve never had to talk someone out of going to battle before, but like, I’m pretty sure nothing you say is going to deter the guy who’s screaming “his blood will soak this ground!” with just hours to go. Roger tries his best, though, and it looks like Murtagh does in fact bring up retreat to his top guys, but this ball is already halfway down the hill, you know? No one is giving up and Murtagh won’t abandon his men. So, Roger begins his sad trek back to the King’s Army camp, hoping to get there safely before the battle begins. On his way, he runs into Morag MacKenzie, his ancestor and the woman he helped survive Bonnet’s Boat Ride From Hell. Roger can’t help himself, I guess, because he runs up to her as if they are best buds, so he can check on her and also warn her that her husband fighting with the Regulators isn’t a good idea. Unfortunately, when he goes to hug her good-bye, her husband walks up, gets the wrong idea, realizes Roger is with the King’s Army, and Roger ends up with the butt of a rifle to his face. I don’t know guys, does Roger just love getting captured by hostile groups? Could the man find a new hobby?
Meanwhile, Jamie’s back at camp trying not to barf while Tryon forces him to wear a red coat. This is truly the most offensive thing Jamie’s ever had to do — a man who has murdered, BTW — and you can see on his face that a little piece of his soul has died. Dang, even when Claire spots him standing there in his red coat she knows immediately how cruel this is to do to him. And then, with one swoony sentiment about how “there may come a day when [he and Claire] shall part again, but it will not be today,” Jamie is gone. They march into battle. THIS IS HAPPENING.
Honestly, I wish the Brown Town Clowns knew we had much more pressing matters to attend to in this episode instead of their little misogynistic family drama. Alas, I should mention that during the battle Isiah Morton gets shot in the back and it was clearly by a Brown Towner and not an enemy Regulator. When Claire calls the Head Mr. Brown out on that while she’s fixing up both Morton and Brown in the medic tent, he gets offended that a woman would talk to him like that and so crushes up her one vial of penicillin. Ugh, that was supposed to help EVERYONE. He is the truest of dicks.
The battle at Alamance proceeds as both predicted and foretold by history. The King’s Army dominates the Regulators and it ends pretty quickly. As things draw to a close, Jamie is still out in the woods in battle mode. Eventually, he comes upon a Regulator he knows, but the guy isn’t having Jamie’s talks of peace. He goes to shoot Jamie — but is stopped! He is knocked unconscious by Murtagh! Murtagh saves Jamie! But before Jamie can walk over to his godfather to thank him, one of the Findlay boys follows Jamie’s orders and does not waver — he immediately shoots Murtagh in the chest. It happens so fast, it is almost unbelievable.
A distraught Jamie lays his godfather against a tree, but it’s apparent the guy is too far gone to help him. He tells Jamie that he saved him because he would never betray the oath he made to Jamie’s mother, even when Jamie asked. He tells Jamie not to be afraid, “it doesn’t hurt a bit to die.” And then he touches his godson’s face and he dies. Jamie refuses to give up on him. He gets help to drag Murtagh to Claire’s tent and screams at her: “Do something! Save him!” Claire has the awful job to look at her husband and tell him she can’t. Ugh, friends. Friends. Gather around for a virtual hug because this scene — Sam Heughan, my lord! — is GUTTING. “You cannae leave me,” Jamie cries out at Murtagh’s body. But the man is gone. Like, I know I’m in a vulnerable state right now because of [motions all around], but full disclosure: I’m tearing up as I write this. Yes, our TV Murtagh lasted much longer than Book Murtagh, but it is still far too soon. (Emotionally speaking, that is; story-wise, TV Murtagh’s arc in America has really worked.) Outlander won’t be the same without him (or Duncan Lacroix!). Even though I was preparing myself, this really fucking sucks.
Jamie leaves the tent and rips into Tryon for massacring these men, tells him that his debt has been repaid and he no longer has duty to the King, and then he tosses that red coat on the ground, for good measure. Tryon is pissed but he can’t do much about it at the moment.
Jamie is reeling from, you know, losing the greatest man he’s even known, etcetera, etcetera, but he can barely wallow in his grief before he spots Bree bawling at some trees because Roger has still not returned. Jamie, Claire, Bree, and some of the Fraser’s Ridge men set out looking for him amongst the Regulator prisoners, but can’t find him. Then, they happen upon some Redcoats following Tryon’s orders to execute any of the prisoners the Regulators were holding at that time. They see several men hanging from a tree with hoods over their heads … and then Jamie spots the white handkerchief of truce he handed Roger sticking out of one man’s pocket. Roger has been hanged. They go to bring his body down as Bree watches in horror and it cuts to black. A tragedy for another day, perhaps?