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'Outlander' showrunner reveals how the pandemic changed Season 6, teases more time travel twists
Outlander executive producers discuss the unusual way that Seasons 6 and 7 were written and if the standing stones will reappear anytime soon.
With the return of Starz's Outlander on March 6, most devoted fans of the series and Diana Gabaldon's ongoing books are just happy to have fresh episodes to enjoy after a two-year hiatus. But there's also been a lot of chatter amongst the fandom about how Season 6 and the already greenlit Season 7 will weave in integral storylines from Gabaldon's books — including the time traveling elements that will only get more important going forward.
Because of pandemic shutdowns and production delays, Outlander Season 6 was truncated down to eight episodes, and Season 7 will be super-sized to include 16 episodes. Executive producer and showrunner Matthew B. Roberts tells SYFY WIRE that revising the scripts throughout Season 6's production was a first for the series.
"Once we started to break down, production wise, we didn't know what we could shoot and how we could shoot it," Roberts explains about changes that had to be made on the fly. "We had to revise the scripts as we started to go [back] to keep everybody safe. And then with Caitriona's pregnancy, we wanted to make sure she was safe, and that she worked only to a certain point. We wanted to make sure she got out and had enough time to deliver her baby."
With the extra moving parts impacting Season 6, Roberts says it ultimately had a domino effect on what had been planned, and already written, for Season 7. In particular, it changed how they wrapped up or extended stories meant for Season 6.
"That was a little bit of a juggling act to go what was the best spot to end [Season 6]?" Roberts details. "And then once we all decided let's just do a super-size Season 7, where do we begin? Once we decided where to end Season 6, we just knew where we were going to end. The challenge was how to integrate. We couldn't just leave those stories. We couldn't just start Season 7 and not finish. But it worked out great. I will say I'm really happy with what we have for Season 7 right now. I don't want to talk too much about that because Season 6 is amazing. But Season 7 is going to be..." Roberts making an explosion sounds adding, "Well, tune in!"
Asked if more time travel or the standing stones, which the Fraser clan will have to reckon with again in Gabaldon's book storylines, will make a return soon in Season 6, Roberts only teases, "I think that the stones...you might need to wait until Season 7."
Going back to Season 6 plot points, Roberts says he was happy to feature a flashback to Ardsmuir Prison in Scotland for the first episode, "Echoes," to set up the season's main antagonist, Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones). "I love that we were able to show the Ardsmuir stuff; that really sings," he assesses.
"That wasn't in this book," he clarifies of Gabaldon's A Breath of Snow and Ashes which is the primary narrative source for the season. "That [scene] was in the previous book [Editor note: A Fiery Cross]. But the audience needed to see that and I didn't want to have Jamie just talk about it. We wanted to show it."
Roberts continues, "I love bringing back some of the older characters so that we see some familiar faces. And I love seeing the growth of Fraser's Ridge so you see the community growing. When we put the stables up, you just visually immediately go, 'Wow, man, The Ridge is really growing!' Even though the timeline is pretty short between the end of Season 5 and the beginning of Season 6, not a lot of times gone by. But we always like to show in the new season some newness, some new growth, some new places, and I think we we've done that."
He adds, laughing, "I wouldn't do it again starting in January, but the snow gave us a new look. And that's one of the things that has always given me pleasure over Outlander, it's not the same show every season, whether that's new characters or a new look. And I think this season, the snow and the weather really gave us that in the magical sunlight. Scotland is a character and she has been playing North Carolina for the last couple years really well. Maril says she deserves an Emmy and I'm all on board for that."
New episodes of Outlander premiere Sundays on Starz at 9pm EST/PST.