Written by: Anne Hawkinson
The Duke of Sandringham started it – and Murtagh finished it. The brutal justice delivered in “Vengeance Is Mine” was a long time coming and the pinnacle of a pressure that had been building ever since the Petition of Complaint (against Jack Randall) was drawn up by Ned Gowan and delivered by Jamie and Murtagh to the Duke of Sandringham at Norwood House way back in season one. Let’s take a look back at the road Murtagh took to get here, and why that long and winding road made vengeance oh so much sweeter. . .
In “The Pricking of My Thumbs”, Murtagh interrupts a very intimate moment between Jamie and Claire to inform Jamie that the Duke of Sandringham is in town. Though Murtagh is understandably skeptical of the Duke’s reliability in being Jamie’s “get out of jail free card,” Jamie’s renewed sense of hope at clearing his name is palpable. Once they met, the Duke promised to deliver the complaint to London on Jamie’s behalf and, in the process, clear Jamie’s name if Jamie would appear to be the Duke’s “second” in a duel with Andrew MacDonald. The rationale for the duel was to resolve some unpleasant gambling debt. Favors must be returned “in kind,” the Duke tells Jamie,“if I scrub your back, I would expect mine to be equally clean.”
Jamie agrees, despite Murtagh’s objections. He wants to return to Lallybroch a free man, make babies with Claire, and live happily ever after. A duel seems like a small price to pay for that destiny. The formality of a duel takes place and it looks like all is going according to plan until Jamie is injured during a post-duel fight that breaks out between Jamie and members of the MacDonald clan. As Jamie lies on the ground, the Duke takes the Petition of Complaint out of his pocket, promising to deliver it as agreed.
Murtagh was not present at the duel, but you can wager he somehow felt responsible for what happened to Jamie, even though he warned him against this plan. But as Jamie’s keeper, he commits to memory the Duke’s betrayal of him. You can imagine that a man such as Murtagh does not easily forget harm that comes toward his kinsman at the hands (or mouths) of others. Colum has no sympathy for what Jamie has done (at the request of the Duke) and orders him to accompany Dougal to Dougal’s home for an unspecified period of time. Murtagh is left behind, but you can be sure he is brooding over what happened and filing this incident away for future recall when the time is right.
Fast-forward to France. Murtagh has joined Jamie and Claire, and they’ve been invited to the Palace at Versailles. Murtagh is all shined up, admires Claire’s red dress, and can’t stop staring at the “swan dress” worn by the mistress of the king. It appears the evening will be uneventful until Murtagh sees the Duke of Sandringham in the next room. Heated emotions rise to the surface as Murtagh hurries to confront the Duke. “Judas – you’ll pay for your treachery,” he snarls, pulling his dirk, but Jamie stops him before he has a chance to act, reminding him that instant death comes to any man who brandishes a weapon in the presence of the king. Murtagh shows great restraint for a fiery Highlander, especially one bent on revenge. Be patient, Murtagh – your time will come. I’m certain.
The encounter with the Duke at bay, Murtagh forces his hatred and desire for revenge below the surface and focuses on helping Jamie and Claire with their plans to stop the Jacobite Rebellion. But, the night of the big dinner party turns tragic when Murtagh, Claire, and Mary Hawkins are attacked in an alley on their way home. Murtagh is outnumbered three to one and is knocked unconscious. Without his protection, Mary Hawkins is raped, and the pregnant Claire nearly so, until they identify her as La Dame Blanche and run for their lives.
“I failed you,” he tells Jamie at the warehouse the next morning, referring to the attack in the alley, head sunk to his chest in shame. Even though he was outnumbered and attacked from above, Murtagh cannot forgive himself for putting Claire and the baby in danger, and for what happened to that “wee lassie.” Jamie reassures him as best he can and Murtagh leaves him with a vow, “I will lay just vengeance at your feet, or be damned.” Murtagh doesn’t know who’s behind the attack, but it adds to the heated sense of justice he feels the need to seek. The layer of foreshadowing continues as our path to vengeance winds on.
Further in season two, the plans to thwart the Jacobite Rebellion have failed, so the plan now is to win everything else, including the Battle at Culloden. The Battle at Prestonpans was a landslide victory, but political wrangling resulted in Jamie and his army ordered north to Scotland. Along the way, the group is attacked by British soldiers and is forced to seek sanctuary in an empty church. Claire gives herself up as a hostage, and Jamie and Murtagh are on the trail to rescue her (I’ll remind you that this is after Murtagh pulls loyalty rank on Dougal). They have no idea where Claire is until they encounter Jamie’s long-time friend, Hugh Munro, who delivers a note informing them that Claire is being held at the home of the Duke of Sandringham – and he’s set a trap to catch “Red Jamie.” The Duke is back, and you can just anticipate what’s to come with bated breath. Murtagh and Jamie formulate a rescue plan for Claire, and Murtagh’s “hatred meter” for the Duke is probably now off the charts.
The stage is set: they come in different doors, with Jamie bursting in and Murtagh silent. Jamie overpowers Danton, the Duke’s valet and member of the gang who raped Mary, and while he’s recovering from the blow, Mary stabs him – payback for the pain and humiliation she’s had to endure. Amidst the chaos, Murtagh stands silently at the back of the room, glowering in fury and ready to explode. He slinks in like predator stalking his prey and listens to Claire reveal the Duke’s dirty little secret – that the Dukewas behind the attack in the alley that resulted in Mary’s rape, Claire’s near-miss, and Murtagh’s feelings of failing in his promise to Jamie to watch over them.
The Duke denies it all, even as Jamie has him by the throat. “You know me, Jamie. I would never countenance such a vulgar thing as a rape!” Jamie seems willing to toss the old man back and leave with Claire, but Murtagh won’t rest until justice is served. That justice is solidified when Claire counters that rape was the Duke’s idea! That news rattles Jamie for sure, but that doesn’t hold a candle to how it ignites the fury within Murtagh. The slow burn is now a full boil.
With all of the power and pent-up anger he’s been harboring, he grabs an ax and – in one of the more gruesome scenes Outlander has aired – ends it once and for all. Amidst the sprays of blood, he swings three times. Just three times. His conviction for vengeance is so intense that three swings are all it takes. Over his head, with determination and emotion, he severs the head of the Duke in a truly graphic manner. Vengeance delivered, his anger and hatred fade nearly as quickly as they escalated and he calmly carries the Duke’s severed head to Claire and Mary. Kneeling, he holds it out to them and announces, “I kept my promise. I lay vengeance at your feet.” Deed done, vow fulfilled. Thank you, Murtagh.
The road to vengeance was definitely long and winding, but well delivered when the time came. Not that it was ever in doubt, but this storyline completely solidified that hell hath no fury like a Murtagh scorned, especially when it comes to his unwavering loyalty to Jamie, Claire and anyone else left in his charge.
What did you think of Murtagh’s slow burn to vengeance? Were you shocked by the gory ending to this story? Please sound off below!