Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser: The Outlander Character We Didn’t Know We Needed
Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser finally met his end in Outlander Episode 507, the Ballad of Roger Mac. We give tribute to the character and the actor who played him, Duncan Lacroix.
The day has come. The day I dreaded and had thought about since Outlander Season 2 ended with no sign of the Godfather on the battlefield at Culloden. Fans’ prayers were answered. He Lived. And, he lived well through 5 seasons of Outlander, the TV series. But inevitably this show change would have to burn itself out. Book readers reminded us of this fact daily. What was a controversial decision to keep the Godfather alive slow burned its way through our story. To say that his end was emotionally devastating for me would be an understatement. Sobbing and audible crying just isn’t my thing — normally. I did know it was coming, as most fans did. But the knowing didn’t lighten the grief or the emotional impact of Murtagh’s death scene in Episode 5.07. Whether you liked Murtagh’s continuance in the story or not, one thing I think every fan of Outlander should feel is what an honor and a privilege it has been to watch the evolution of Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser and to bear witness to the brilliance of the actor that has so ably and so tenderly portrayed him — Duncan Lacroix.
Book change aside, is it not Outlander’s relationships that are at the heart of this story? I think so and believe that Murtagh’s loss and the love we feel for him that made so many of us sob with sadness at his death, is a void we will feel for as long as we have this series to watch. Just as Jamie displayed his grief for a life without his protector who had always been by his side, I deeply mourn the loss of the surprising adaptation of this minor character in the book series. He was one of the original Highlanders from Outlander Season 1 and one of the last to perish. Let’s honor this character then by looking back at some of his best moments. These are the moments that made us care. They made us love the relationship that he had with so many. Jamie, of course, being primary, but also Claire and the extended Fraser-Mackenzie clans. Thank you, Duncan Lacroix for these moments as we look back and appreciate the goodness and strength you brought to this character and his place in the Outlander story.
“Still Waters Run Deep.” This was the title of my first blog post for Outlander Cast focusing on Murtagh and his rise to prominence as a major character in the story. It was, in fact, Murtagh, who with a punch, a few grunts and unfortunately for our heroine, a strategic bop on the head, managed to save Claire from the clutches of Jonathan Wolverton Randall and his dragoon of Red Coats in Episode 1.01, “Sassenach.” Dirty, messy and apparently quite smelly, it was hard to know at that time the role that Murtagh would eventually play in the story. It became quite clear, though, that this man played a special role in the life of Jamie Fraser. Our first indication was in a scene in Episode, 1.03, “The Way Out” when Murtagh recognized the feelings that were developing between the English Sassenach and his godson. The dialogue was lifted directly from the book but placed instead with Murtagh and not Old Alec from the stables. Seething with jealousy after seeing Jamie with young Laoghaire Mackenzie, Claire teases Jamie about his dalliance. When Jamie leaves in anger, Murtagh admonishes Claire and tells him Laoghaire isn’t Jamie’s destiny.
“He needs a woman, not a lassie and Laoghaire will be a girl until she’s 50.” I’ve been around long enough to ken the difference.” — Episode 1.03, ‘The Way Out’
It’s the first time I realized that there was a lot more bubbling beneath the surface. From my October 2015 blog post…
We begin to understand the deep love and devotion that he (Murtagh) has for Jamie as he looks to both protect and guide him forward in life and in love. We understand more about the relationship and the deep connection to Jamie and his mother when we see Jamie ask Murtagh before the wedding whether his mother would approve of Claire. Again, lines taken from another part of the book but so much more powerful inserted into this scene and delivered by Duncan. “Your mother had the sweetest smile. Claire has that same smile.”
But it was another controversial bit in Outlander Season 1, when the full measure of Murtagh was seen for the first time in Episode, 1.14 “The Search.” This episode, while held in great disdain by many Outlander fans, was one of my favorites of the season because we were truly able to see the man in full. Murtagh had more lines in this episode then he did in all the previous 13 episodes! We saw some subtle but lovable bits of humor when he burst in on Claire and Jenny’s Thelma and Louise exploits. However, it was amidst the frustration of the search for Jamie that we were treated to a touching and illuminating scene between Murtagh and Claire. “The Tale of the Tusks” told us so much about Murtagh’s relationship with Jamie. Murtagh’s story about the tusk bracelets he gave to Jamie’s mother, Ellen, conveyed everything we needed to know about this man and why his intense interest in seeing Jamie safe was at the heart of everything he did. We see it again in Episode 1.16. From my October 2015 blog post…
He promised his love, the wife of another man — a rival nonetheless — that he would spend his life protecting her son, who he now considers HIS son. Talk about tenacious. We see in Murtagh’s heart wrenching scene with Claire in the cave that his loyalty will never be shaken — either to Jamie or to the memory of someone he once loved but never possessed. And, again, Murtagh refers to his loyalty to Jamie’s mother in the no-translation-needed scene at Jamie’s bedside in “To Ransom a Man’s Soul.” You absolutely DO NOT need to understand Gaelic to know what Murtagh is trying to say. Brilliantly acted and delivered lines from a gruff, imposing Murtagh. But the dichotomy of his physicality and the sincerity of his words only makes it more believable and this character more endearing.
There were two additional Murtagh scenes from Outlander Season 1 that will forever stay etched in my mind. The first came during the dramatic rescue of Jamie from Wentworth Prison. Wordlessly but with strength and a nod to Jamie’s fragile state and dignity, Murtagh carefully wrapped a naked Jamie in his plaid and carried him to safety. It was such a brief moment on screen but so incredibly poignant and meaningful. The second was also a brief scene but it was of an ever present Murtagh on the bow of the Cristabel, watching over his broken godson as Claire and Jamie embrace and Jamie’s healing begins as they sail away to France and to a new life. Always Take a Murtagh. It is the final moment of the Outlander Season 1 finale episode and a powerful image that has stuck with me.
Murtagh in France. A veritable poisson out of water! The humor was evident in almost every episode starting with Murtagh’s iconic line about France smelling “like frogs.” One of my favorite moments came, though, when Jamie finally told Murtagh about Claire’s time-travel and knowing the future. Murtagh’s reaction both during and after, was played brilliantly by Duncan. You could see how Murtagh was willing to suspend his own beliefs out of love and loyalty to his godson and Claire. Duncan has always been able to convey so much with a look and those eyebrows! Another defining moment for Murtagh came in Episode 11 of Outlander Season 2, written by series author Diana Gabaldon. Diana had not always been on board with the Murtagh change but I am convinced that only Diana could have written such a powerful scene. Murtagh took his vengeance on the Duke of Sandringham. When the man makes a promise, he keeps it. The Duke lost his head and we saw Murtagh’s unwavering loyalty to Jamie and his family’s honor. It was a shocking turn of events but a real moment for Murtagh. But it was perhaps a scene in Episode, 2.13 “Dragonfly in Amber” that I will never forget. A man of few words, Murtagh offered just five words — “I’ll be dying with you.” Powerful words accompanied by a look between two men bound by family, trust and loyalty. Murtagh’s place was always by Jamie’s side in life, and in battle. They had fought beside each other many times but both believed this would be their final struggle together. That one Murtagh moment sums up the man and is my favorite from Outlander Season 2.
Ah, that voice. We knew it before we saw him. Found! The Godfather in Ardsmuir — with Jamie! He did outlast Culloden and my prayers and those of a collective group of Murtagh fans were answered. Except Murtagh was broken, sick and looking as if his survival might be short lived. The scenes with him and Jamie in the dark of the prison cell were so poignant despite the despair both men felt so acutely. Both were missing Claire but barely able to say her name or to acknowledge the possibility of the wee bairn surviving as well. Murtagh’s clutching of the remnant of his Mackenzie plaid told us all we needed to know about how our two warriors were faring. Not well. But, alas, together again. But, as Murtagh trudged off with the rest of the Ardsmuir prisoners to make the treacherous voyage to the Colonies, we wondered again, will he live? Classic Murtagh and classic Duncan throughout all these scenes. But, damn happy to have experienced the reunion and left wanting for more. Another droughtlander to wait…
As Outlander Season 4 began, many of us wondered where and when the Godfather might return to the story. And, in typical Outlander fashion, the production used Duncan/Murtagh’s distinct voice and form to reveal his presence before we could lay eyes on our now Silver Fox. Former Outlander Cast writer, Nikki Gastineau, wrote about this reunion in this blog post as the “best” Outlander reunion to date. I agree, it gave the Print Shop scene a run for its money. Raw emotion read on both men’s faces and Murtagh’s hearty laugh as he embraced his godson was a tonic to the soul. I was overcome with feelings of joy, happiness and relief seeing a very fit and hardy Murtagh once again. Memorable as well was the surprising reveal of the #Murcasta pairing, which further illuminated the Godfather’s fitness level. I guess being a smithy is more rigorous than I thought! Sprinkled throughout Outlander Season 4, as well, were some wonderful family vignettes when Murtagh’s seat at the table was a welcome sight. There was even a nod to my favorite Murtagh episode “The Search” and the return of the Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy. Claire instantly knew and it was a delight to see these old friends reunite. Part of the family once again, Murtagh rode the highs and lows of Outlander Season 4 along with the Frasers and always seemed to pop up when most needed. But the scene was set when it was revealed that Murtagh was a Regulator and an irritant to the Crown and Jamie’s benefactor, Governor Tryon. All of which brings us to Outlander Season 5…
So many Murtagh moments leading up to the final scene where I shed ALL my Outlander tears . However, before that, I might have let a few sniffles sneak out at the end of Episode 5.01 where for a few heartbreaking moments we watch Jamie release Murtagh from the oath to protect him. The raw emotion on Jamie’s face left no doubt that his desire to keep Murtagh safe overrode the love and the security he had felt his entire life protected by his kinsman and surrogate father. Stellar acting by both Sam Heughan and Duncan Lacroix as again we felt the connection and strong relationship between the men but also the connection and investment that we had made in this relationship. It felt like the beginning of the end.
We are left to reflect on that final death scene in Episode 5.07 when true to the oath yet again, Murtagh saves Jamie. In November of 2017 I wrote a blog post speculating on potential places in the story that Murtagh could land, should the show producers decide to let him live. Looking back on that post now, I do believe the avenue I ultimately hoped the show would take, proved to be the right progression for the Godfather. I had hoped the show would “let Murtagh be Murtagh.” From my November 2017 post…
So, why not just let Murtagh be Murtagh as we move forward in the story? He doesn’t need to be substituted for another character. He doesn’t actually have to play a large role in terms of scenes or lines. Because, as we all know, his lines were short and infrequent in most of Seasons 1 and 2. But, what Murtagh did say and, more importantly, what he did, impacted viewers at a deep level. This is just called talent, ladies and gentlemen, and Duncan Lacroix is to be applauded. I see no reason to fix what isn’t broken.
I stand by this, despite Murtagh’s storyline slightly altering Jamie’s story arc. Dramatic, episodic television succeeds when we care. When we care about a relationship and when that relationship connects us in some way to our own emotions and our feelings, it succeeds. Murtagh’s final scenes were why this character was kept as part of the story. Letting Murtagh be Murtagh connected us to our Outlander past. It linked us to Outlander Season 1 and all the reasons we came to love Outlander in the first place was embodied in the Murtagh character. Every step along the way, every Murtagh moment, reminded us of what we love about this beautiful, epic story that began in Scotland and continues in the New World. His death provides another touch point for my love of this series and the incredible actors, such as Duncan Lacroix, that make it transformative television.
Our original Highlanders will forever be a huge part of the story for me. And, with the death of this last, most precious character there comes a reckoning. I’ll look forward to seeing how Jamie Fraser fares going forward as there are many challenges yet to come. But, I am heartened to know that Murtagh spent his final moments with Jamie — as he did in the book series, and that at the end there was no pain. Perhaps that pain was transferred to all of us. What a remarkable gift as we bid farewell to this beloved character and outstanding actor. Thank you, Duncan Lacroix and thank you Outlander producers.
How do you feel about the Murtagh character and his final scenes? Was this a book change you supported?
Anne Gavin is a senior writer at Outlander Cast and frequent traveler to Scotland. Anne also writes a series of travel blogs called “The Scotland Diaries.” Her 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 travel series can be found at Outlander Cast by searching “Scotland Diaries.” Follow Anne on Instagram here or at Outlander Cast’s Instagram here, where many of Anne’s photos of Scotland are often featured.