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This post contains frank discussion of Season 4, Episode 5 of Outlander, titled “Savages.” Proceed with care.[hhmc]

If Outlander author Diana Gabaldons time-traveling romances depend on anything its a strong current of serendipity—or, if you prefer, fate. How else would characters lose and find each other again and again across centuries and continents in a time when there was no social media, texts, or email to help re-connect? Viewers got a heavy dose of that special brand of destiny this week when two characters were reunited after years of painful separation. Well offer up one last chance to leave before the spoilers come flying fast and furious courtesy of the episodes surprise guest star in the article below:

Ever since it was announced that he would be coming back, Outlander fans have been eagerly awaiting the return of Jamies long-lost godfather Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser (Duncan Lacroix) who was last seen in early Season 3 looking worse for wear and on his way to the colonies. In the books, Murtagh died in the Battle of Culloden, but the show has prolonged the characters life due to his popularity with fans (and with the writers themselves). “Not to be bigheaded about it,” Lacroix told Vanity Fair with a laugh and some false bravado via phone earlier this week, ”but Im great!” The fan favorite dove into the visual references of his reunion with Jamie, Murtaghs new look, and even gave some slight hints about his characters future on the show.

According to Lacroix, there was an earlier plan to bring Murtagh back to Jamies side long before this episode: “He was meant to come back in Season 3 in Jamaica and they would find him up in the hills somewhere with a ragtag band of escaped slaves. That didnt quite work out, I think this is better.” That chance meeting would, perhaps, have been just a tad too much serendipity. Instead of stumbling upon Murtagh in the hills, Young Ian and his uncle Jamie find the Scotsman working as a blacksmith in the colonies in a pair of scenes that intentionally recall the emotional highlight of both the novel Voyager and Season 3 of the show: the famous print shop reunion of a long-separated Claire and Jamie.

Granted, there are only a few ways one can make a surprising, emotional reveal cinematic and an over-the-shoulder mistaken identity conversation is definitely one of them. (In fact, its not the only scene like it well see this season.) But Lacroix admits: “The print shop, yeah, theres an echo of that. The back is turned. Youre aware of that when youre approaching these scenes, that these are supposed to be big moments.” In both the Claire and Jamie reunion and the two Murtagh reveals, audiences see beloved characters—Jamie, Murtagh, then Jamie again—speaking uncharacteristically gruffly to someone they think is a stranger before softening in the face of emotional overwhelm. Murtagh, at least, didnt faint.

Still the Murtagh scenes are shot for maximum impact. Fans have been on the lookout for the character and so most would have recognized Lacroix the moment he started talking—even as his back was turned to Ian and the camera stayed locked on his blacksmithing tools and the movement of his hands. But audiences got to sit with that knowledge for a bit and, with a healthy dose of dramatic irony, anticipate the moment when Jamie himself would share in the fandoms joy of finding his godfather back at his side. The print shop scene operated with the same degree of tension as audiences waited for Jamie to figure out what they already knew. For Outlander to give the Murtagh/Jamie reunion similar weight and visual cues underlines just how important this particular familial connection is to a show that often gets an unfair reputation for being purely interested in romantic love or sexual tension.

“Ive had to live in a cave in Tibet for two years,” Lacroix jokingly says of his attempt to duck all the theories and questions about when and how his character would return. Since the show version of Murtagh has out-lived his book counterpart, the opportunities for where he might go next and what he might do feel endless. Book readers have been having a field day trying to guess how Murtagh will fit back into the plot which, Lacroix says, has been “a bit weird” for him. He even quit Twitter so as to avoid being asked. But a common theory was that Murtagh would double for a book character called Duncan Innes who has been cut from the series. In the books that Duncan, a compatriot of Jamies, goes on to marry Jocasta (Maria Doyle Kennedy). Diana Gabaldon has repeatedly insisted this will not be Murtaghs fate.

But the actor did confirm that hell be closely involved with the Fraser family for the forseeable future. Without spoiling exactly who he mentioned, Lacroix expressed his joy at getting to work with a performer who plays a character Murtagh hasnt met yet. “That was invigorating,” he said with evident glee, ”working with the younguns.” That energy was clear from the immediate chemistry Lacroix shared with Young Ian actor John Bell.

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And while there was much by way of cast and crew that was familiar to Lacroix, his transition back to the show after so long away wasnt immediate. Lacroix channeled that distance into his portrayal of a Murtagh who has been so long separated from his beloved godson: “I did feel like I wanted to—I needed to fit back in. Now that the [Fraser] family are back together, its not an easy—a natural thing to ease back in. That was a bit true for the first few episodes I was back. Same but different.”

Murtaghs new look also underlines that alienation and a sense of a world that has passed him by. Lacroix says the aging process on Murtagh came together at the last minute with a snowy wig he affectionately calls “The Gandalf” in reference to Sir Ian McKellens long wizarding locks in The Lord of the Rings. The fact that Murtagh with his white hair and ruddier face looks like hes aged much more than Jamie and Claire is not just about the show keeping Sam Heughan and Catriona Balfe looking improbably, sexily youthful despite having an adult daughter together. “I think its symbolic of all that lost time he had,” Lacroix explains. “Your hair just turns white with lack of hope.”

But its not as if Murtagh has been sitting around pining for his lost family. The show has turned the character into a politically-motivated Regulator—an early Revolutionary sect that grew out of North Carolina. “I see Murtagh as a Founding Father,” Lacroix jokes, “he should be on the back of the dollar bill.” This lean into American politics is part of what Lacroix calls a “leap in the dark” and a “gamble” on behalf of the writers who are straying more and more off the path that Gabaldons books laid out for them. If that notion is causing any book readers to panic, I would suggest taking Gabaldons advice:

This new Regulator storyline all dovetails rather nicely with what a Murtagh who survived that devastating Scottish/English battle that kicked off Season 3 would be feeling. “Theres so much of Murtagh who wants to re-run Culloden,” Lacroix explains. “He lost so much. He had Scotland taken away from him. He had Jamie taken away from him. This is a kind of continuation of that battle with the redcoats. You had a lot of Scottish ex-patriots [in North Carolina] who would be more willing to fight.” All in all, thats bit more interesting than another wedding, isnt it?

Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Joanna RobinsonJoanna Robinson is a Hollywood writer covering TV and film for VanityFair.com.

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