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Credit: Starz

Outlander's 'The Ballad of Roger Mac' depicts the devastation of war

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Mar 29, 2020

Spoiler Warning: The following discusses detailed plot points from the Season 5 episode “The Ballad of Roger Mac.” If you haven’t had a chance to watch yet, go back through the stones and return once you have.

SASSENACHS. I don't even have a chipper greeting for you this week; I'm too emotionally compromised. Whatever stakes I thought there'd be from Tryon basically deciding to go to war with the Regulators after all were just multiplied, and I've got to be honest with you: I'd almost forgotten about this show's ability to completely devastate me until I had a chance to sit down and watch tonight's episode in full. I'm still reeling, as I'm sure you are too, so let's try to parse through it all together.

Previously: Another wedding! This time, it was Jocasta and Duncan Innes, although the bride-to-be was clearly revisiting some rough memories from her past — so clearly it was the right moment for Murtagh to show up for one final heart-to-heart that forced them both to realize the timing just wouldn't be right for them to be a thing now. Across River Run, Jamie and Claire had what could arguably be considered their first Big Married Fight in a while when Jamie decided to wager Claire's gold wedding ring from Frank in a game of whist against walking-cloud-of-baby-powder Phillip Wylie, although they eventually made up doing something they're very good at (each other) and found themselves a way of getting close to Stephen Bonnet (hopefully with the aim of offing that dude for good). And back at Fraser's Ridge, Roger used a little clever ingenuity to scare an incoming plague of locusts away from the farmers' crops (poop, it was poop), while a little birdie by the name of Gerald Forbes spilled the beans to Bonnet that baby Jeremiah has just landed the inheritance of River Run. BILLY BOYD, HOW COULD YOU.

Credit: Starz

We're officially in 1771 now, folks, and the militia is heading to Hillsborough for the inevitable confrontation with the Regulators. As war looms, it's also the morning of Jamie's fiftieth(!) birthday, and Claire wakes up in the tent they're sharing to find her husband taking stock of all his parts, as well as reflecting on the fact that he's officially reached an age his own father never lived to see. But right now, it seems like no better time for a round of morning lovin', complete with Claire stripping off her nightgown while singing the sexy, Marilyn Monroe-style version of "Happy Birthday." Sometimes you have to get it while the getting's good, because after that we basically smash-cut to Jamie and his company of men (including Roger, who shows up late to fall in line) assembling alongside Tryon's redcoats. At last count, they've got over 1,000 men prepared to face the Regulators. Plus they've got CANNONS. Can you say overkill? Jamie points out that their opponents won't be equipped to face this level of artillery, but one of Tryon's officers basically retorts with the equivalent of, "Well, they should've thought of that before they decided to be MEANIES."

Later, Reverend Caldwell (who married Roger and Bree back in the day, aka the beginning of this season WHAT IS TIME) appears at the camp with a petition from the Regulators that includes certain demands, intent on resolving the conflict without any unnecessary bloodshed. One look at the paper and Tryon is already shaking his head, but he assures Caldwell the Regulators will have his answer by noon the following day. The moment the reverend leaves, however, Tryon orders his men to remain at arms throughout the night and prepares to request the Regulators' surrender. It's clear he has no indication of yielding to any of their demands, but his response feels motivated by his own sense of pride and not any real duty to drive out a threat. Meanwhile, Brianna's staying with friends of Aunt Jocasta close by when word reaches them about the militia's planned attack across Alamance Creek. The name is enough to trigger a history memory for Bree, and in the morning she races on horseback to the camp in order to warn her parents: The militia will win, and some consider this battle the spark of the American Revolution.

Credit: Starz

Then Jamie decides to hatch a plan of his own: If he can get a message to Murtagh warning him that the Regulators are doomed to fail, maybe he can convince his men to retreat and effectively prevent the battle from ever happening at all. There's a potential risk that the Revolution might not be spurred from this moment in time, but there's also a chance that it could happen at some other point, and Jamie's not willing to risk the men in his charge any more than he has to. Roger volunteers to be the one who delivers the message across the line — given that Murtagh knows he's from the future, he'll be able to trust what Roger has to tell him is the truth. But by the time Roger gets to the Regulators' side of the creek, Murtagh has just finished giving a rousing speech to his men and the idea of surrender couldn't be further from his mind. According to Jamie's godfather, the Regulators have double the number of men and their bravery, but Roger reminds him that lion-heartedness isn't going to measure up against, you know, actual cannons. In the morning, Tryon issues a call to the Regulators to lay down their arms and surrender within one hour, but it's a demand this group has no intention of obeying.

While Roger's still on the other side of the creek with the Regulators, he encounters a familiar face: Morag MacKenzie, who, as you'll recall, Roger's path first crossed with back in Season 4 when he found himself traveling on the same ship with his direct ancestor and her young son. Their friendly reunion, which culminates in Roger initiating a hug, is witnessed by Morag's husband William (played by none other than Graham McTavish in what appears to be some decently bushy fake eyebrows and a dark brown wig), who's none too pleased about his wife cozying up to a strange man. Roger attempts to defend himself and his honor, stating that he's married as well and the embrace was purely innocent, but given that tensions are running high throughout camp, MacKenzie's not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Roger and William come to blows when the man lashes out at Morag in anger, but Roger's eventually knocked out with the butt of a rifle and dragged away. Back at camp, Jamie's worried that there's no sign of his son-in-law's return yet, but doesn't have time to dwell when Tryon calls him over to present him with a red coat of his very own. He and Claire have a chance to reconnect before he reminds her that today is not the day they're meant to part — especially if that obituary Brianna found for them way back when is any indication.

Credit: Starz

The battle begins, and it's painfully obvious that the militia is very reluctant to openly fire on their fellow Scots. Jamie's message to his men is one of capture, not kill; no one should take a life unless they absolutely have to. The Regulators are ill-equipped to deal with a well-trained army, already shrinking back into the woods, and the militia begins its forward advancement to follow them in. Within the trees, it's pure chaos, but the Regulators are slowly being whittled down. Jamie finds himself on the business end of a rifle from Lee Withers, but Murtagh intervenes, knocking out his fellow Regulator before he can shoot his godson. Unfortunately, the same hesitation doesn't come from one of Jamie's militia men, who fires on Murtagh from behind his colonel. It's an ultimately fatal wound, and Jamie chides his godfather for saving him in spite of being released from his oath. As Murtagh slowly loses consciousness, he reaches out to Jamie with his final words: "It doesn't hurt a bit to die." Sides be damned, Jamie immediately brings Murtagh back to camp and implores Claire to do something to help him — but it's too late, and Jamie stumbles out of the medical tent, numb with grief, to find Tryon rolling up all smiles to congratulate him on their win. "You and I both know what happened here," Jamie spits out. "What you have done is kindle a war for the sake of your own glory." He throws the red coat down at Tryon's feet, declaring that he's fulfilled his duty to king and country.

In the bloody and emotional aftermath, Roger still hasn't turned up — so Jamie, Claire, and Brianna start searching for him amidst the wounded and the dead. At this point, there's an eerie sense of dread that falls over everything the longer they continue to look for him, and when the family comes upon the bodies of three men who have been hanged by the neck and left to die, their faces shrouded by brown sacks, Jamie recognizes his son-in-law by the white cloth he'd given Roger to tuck into his pocket: a flag of surrender, to wave if he needed to use it. Jamie begins to bring Roger's body down, and as we linger on Brianna's horrified expression, it's a cut to black.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:
- I had a feeling Jamie's recruitment of the Brown brothers would prove to be a mistake, and we find out firsthand just how volatile they can be when Lionel Brown knocks Claire's prized syringe of penicillin out of her hand in the medical tent and crushes it beneath his boot. Then again, I'm not sure why Isaiah Morton decided he needed to show up and fight, considering he a) already pissed off the Browns by running away with Alicia and b) went and got himself injured anyway (possibly from not-so-friendly fire, as Claire cleverly deduces?).
- Look, Jamie might be 50 now, but I can't be the only one who was really appreciating the view when he decided to do a little shirtless creekside bathing and blood ritual prayer. Bless you, Outlander, for this brief gift amidst an hour of heartbreak.

That’s it for now, Outlander fans! Feel free to sound off in the comments about your favorite moments this episode, as well as your predictions for where this season will go, or tweet at us over at @Syfyfangrrls. OK, but Roger's not dead, right? Roger can't be dead. I FORBID IT FROM HAPPENING. We've lost too many people already! (Pour one out for Murtagh.) See you next week!

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