The following contains spoilers for Outlander season 5.
Rewatching Outlander season 5 on the newly released DVD & Blu-ray set will remind fans once again how hard it was to say goodbye to Murtagh this past season. It turns out it was just as hard for Murtagh actor Duncan Lacroix to say goodbye as well.
Murtagh in season 1 quickly became a fan favorite because of his position in the Fraser family. He was Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) godfather and sworn to protect his position as Laird. As Claire (Caitriona Balfe) adjusted to Highland life, Murtagh is also there to lend a helping hand. “I was extremely grateful as an actor, and I was aware that I was very grateful for the fans’ reaction to that character as well,” Lacroix says.
Outlander fans who read the novels know Murtagh originally dies during the Battle of Culloden at the end of season 2. The decision to keep Murtagh in the story was developed much earlier than fans would expect. Lacroix recalls “I was talking to a couple of producers and they said, ‘Well, we want to keep you alive because we want some sense of continuity rather than kill everyone off from the first couple of seasons and just have Claire and Jamie left.’”
Adding that thread of continuity on the show began with Lacroix filming Murtagh’s role in the battle. He recalled: “You literally could not see a thing so we’re just running blindly and your sense of distance just goes, so it’s just like, ‘Okay, any second now I’m going to come across someone,’ just out of the blue. Knees were flying into faces. People earned their money that day.” Jamie and Murtagh bonded through the shared trauma of Culloden but were then separated by the British transporting Highlander rebels to the American colonies.
Originally the writers planned for Murtagh to return in season 3 as part of the Jamaica storyline but those plans were scrapped in favor of his reappearance in season 4. “I would have liked, in an ideal world, to have explored what was happening to him in those intervening years once he was sent to North Carolina,” Lacroix says. “All the stuff you don’t see happen on screen, and how that affects him and how that makes the character you see that comes back in season four.”
Along with wishing to explore more of Murtagh’s journey towards becoming a Regulator, Lacroix also wanted the chance to work with departed cast member Tobias Menzies. “He’s a very interesting cat.” Lacroix says. “I would have liked to have had a few more scenes with him somehow. Especially as Black Jack, he brought such an incredible intensity to that role and he’s such a brave actor.”
Murtagh’s evolution into the leader of the Regulator rebellion in season 4 caused a stir for Outlander fans who read the series. Jamie’s conflict between Governor Tryon’s demands for a militia to fight the Regulators and his sympathies towards fellow Highland Scots was presented in a more abstract fashion. The decision to personalize the conflict not only gave Lacroix another chance to develop Murtagh as a character but also a chance to expand his own knowledge.
“It’s a history that I was aware of before,” he says. “And I just had done British history in school, imperialism, and colonialism, but it was interesting to find the nitty-gritty detail because I hadn’t heard about The Regulators and that element of the American story before.” Murtagh becoming the face of the rebellion allowed first-time viewers a path towards understanding the world of Fraser’s Ridge.
Murtagh’s storyline was not just memorable due to the politics of the time, but also because of the added dimension of Murtagh’s relationship with Jocasta Cameron (Maria Doyle Kennedy). Fans not only appreciated the expansion of a beloved character but also how the relationship upended television and genre tropes. It is incredibly rare to see two characters “of a certain age” falling in love and having a physical relationship. Lacroix says of these scenes with Doyle Kennedy “I think the script was there for that, but there were things you just can’t account for…But there was professional chemistry there that just seemed to work magically.”
All of the relationship and political tension comes to a head during the season 5 episode “The Ballad of Roger Mac”. Murtagh’s Regulators face Governor Tryon’s troops in a battle they’re sure to lose. Despite repeated warnings from Jamie and Roger Mackenzie (Rik Rankin) that the government will squash the rebellion, Murtagh is resolved to stand up for the poor farmers.
The experience of filming Murtagh’s final battle was also a moment in contrast compared to Culloden. “There was a huge amount of energy in season two, it was so much more fun because we were just pelting around in our kilts, bumping into each other, demolishing, stumbling,” he says. “[Season five] was more laden with emotion. We were both aware it was the end of that character and it was going to be a special moment.”
As a result, the directing of the Battle of Alamance Creek scenes had a different feel. “Stephen [Woolfenden] is very good on knowing that at this stage of the game, the characters are so embedded in us, there’s not a lot of direction that needs to be done character-wise,” Lacroix says. “It was all about two stages staging, blocking it, and then just letting us go at it.”
Fans were moved to tears by Lacroix’s performance, as Murtagh was dying on Claire’s operating table. “I tried to show the physicality of what would happen if you were shot, and hyperventilating,” Lacroix says. “But all the emotion was on his side, so kudos to Sam because he was sensational.”
Just as fans grieved for the end of Murtagh’s story, Lacroix had to process the end.“It’s weird. When you’re in there doing it season after season, you don’t think that much, and then when I was filming the death scene, it all sank in,” he says. “I got really emotional, not just for the scene, but just for the whole experience coming to an end.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s anyone’s guess as to when Lacroix will pop up in a series or movie again. But when he does, rest assured that the character he’s playing will have the same steely resolve as Murtagh…