A look at Young Ian Fraser Murray, the first in a series of posts we’re calling Outlander Character Journeys.
Of all the Outlander characters, the two with the most dramatic arcs of change are Roger MacKenzie and Young Ian Fraser Murray. It’s fitting that the show runners decided to parallel the emotional key pivots of both characters together in Outlander Season 5. Ian is joyful, exuberant, kind-hearted and loyal with an unquenchable thirst for adventure that often lands him unwittingly in the clutches of trouble. We first know him as a Highlander teen, raised in the wake of the post-Culloden clearances. He’s the wide-eyed, innocent, youngest son of the Murrays. longing to break from the mundane life of Lallybroch. He craves the adventurous life of the uncle he idolizes. In the novel Voyager, Jamie tries to explain Young Ian to Claire when she first returns:
“‘It’s not that he canna look out for himself,’ Jamie explained, amusement winning in the struggle of expressions on his face. He’s a nice capable lad. It’s just—well, ye ken how things just happen around some folk, without them seeming to have anything much to do wi’ it?’” – Voyager, Diana Gabaldon
A mishmash of people, experiences and cultures shape him … and with each encounter he mutates, adapting each component into his ever evolving identity. Eventually he hones into a fierce and lethal Mohawk warrior… but somewhere inside, especially with those he loves, we still see the remnants of the heart-filled highlander boy we love.
Ian flirts with danger from the day he is born, harkened by the appearance of an ominous raven. As he innocently gazes into the eyes of his uncle, holding and welcoming him to the world, Redcoats arrive and ransack the house searching for weapons or The Dunbonnet. On the verge of a squalling cry as they hide in a closet, this harrowing event marks the first of many for wee Ian.
We see Young Ian again as a teenage runaway. He has run away from home to join his Uncle Jamie in Edinburgh, craving a taste of adventure as a part-time sedition printing, liquor-smuggler. In just a couple episodes, the audience falls in love with this eager, happy-go-lucky boy who, to his parents’ dismay, habitually ends up in the middle of misadventure. We watch him navigate his first crush and sexual experience after some advice from Fergus …
Unfortunately, his virgin encounter ends with Ian fighting for his life with the agent of the Crown, causing a fire in the printshop and narrowly escaping death. Not your typical “first-time” aye?
Upon their tumultuous return to Lallybroch, Ian charms us again, being the only Murray to continuously show Claire true kindness.
However, Young Ian soon finds trouble again. Leoghaire has shot Jamie, leaving him unable to swim and retrieve the Silkie Island treasure to pay her annulment demands. Ian eagerly volunteers. Somehow, we already know this will not end well. It doesn’t. Once again, Young Ian finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. To Jamie and Claire’s horror, pirates, hired by Geillis to retrieve the treasure, abduct Ian off Silkie Island and take him across the sea to Jamaica.
Now he lands in the clutches of a half insane Geillis, who sacrifices virgin boys. Ian watches as his fellow imprisoned boys are brought to The Bakra and never return. When his turn comes, Geillis drugs him and discovers he’s related to Jamie and Claire. His lack of virginity eliminates his use as a sacrifice for now, but she rapes him instead.
Eventually, she does plan to kill him in Abendawe cave as a blood sacrifice to aid her travel back to her time. Jamie and Claire rescue him just in time. Ian lies bound and gagged, covered in accelerant and about to be set on fire.
Ian will have yet another near miss before Outlander Season 3 ends — Just a wee hurricane that kills half the crew and washes their wrecked ship on the shore of Georgia.
Young Ian’s American Journey
Outlander Season 4
Young Ian’s Season 4 journey begins with Jamie determined to send him home. Ian, thrilled to be on this adventure in the New World, haggles in every way to stay. The Fraser genetics for stubborness certainly took root in Young Ian. He soon wins his iconic faithful K9 companion, Rollo, dicing with sailors to Jamie’s shock.
In short order, pirate Stephen Bonnet robs the Frasers and kills their friend, Leslie. Ian witnesses the horrors of slavery at his Aunt Jocasta’s plantation, and finds a new hero in mountain man John Quincy Myers as well as an affinity for all things Native American.
When Governor Tryon grants Jamie 10,000 acres of mountain land on the treaty line, Ian asserts his manhood and self-responsibility. He shows no fear of the unknown and reminds Jamie of all he has already endured. He is a man and can make up his own mind. He is staying. Jamie realizes the truth in his words and agrees. We can already sense that Young Ian has inherited great courage and tenacity. Ian is a character that, while incredibly loyal, always marches to the beat of his own drum.
Together, Jamie and Ian face the dangers of the isolated North Carolina wilderness, complete with rugged terrain and dangerous wildlife. They clear a patch of land out of the frontier, build a starter home and negotiate peace with the area Cherokee (for whom Ian develops a true wide-eyed fascination and connection). Ian begins to absorb the frontier life into his own persona, as well as the Indian customs and language of his Cherokee friends .
- Worst Adaptive Choice: As a book reader, my least favorite adaptive choice regarding Ian’s character came in Episode 406, “Blood of My Blood,” when Lord John and Willie visit Fraser’s Ridge. Young Ian wasn’t in that episode, you say? No, he wasn’t, and that is the point. The powers that be set Ian’s presence aside to make room for Murtagh (who should not have been alive, but I won’t go there). While “Blood of My Blood” probably ranks as my 2nd or 3rd favorite episode of the fourth season, it was a critical miss to lose Ian’s presence and early interactions with Willie. It may seem irrelevant now, but this choice will have significant ripple effects if the show exists past Season 6 when Ian’s past memory and knowledge of Willie matters. More retrofitting will be required.
When a cousin he never knew he had drops in from nowhere, Young Ian accepts and embraces her without question… a sure sign of his absolute love and trust in his Uncle Jamie and Auntie Claire, who have become second parents to him.
Bree and Young Ian build a close connection. The show lightly touches on it, but Ian also develops a light crush on Bree (Ian has an eye for the ladies, period). Bree puts an end to the notion of “kissing cousins” when Jamie lets her know that Ian is a wee bit smitten.
However, Bree and Young Ian grow to truly care for each other as family. So, when he believes Roger raped and impregnated her, murder is on his mind. Ian protects those he loves.
After Jamie brutally beats Roger, Ian sells him as a slave to the fierce Mohawk from upstate New York. When all is revealed, and the family is estranged, Young Ian does all he can to heal the the bad feelings. He often bridges divides among those he loves. Ian determines to do all he can to resolve this mess, and he accompanies Jamie and Claire to upstate New York to find Roger — but not before offering his own hand in marriage as a fall back.
In a final act of selflessness, Young Ian trades himself permanently to free Roger. He gives his word to turn from all he was and become Mohawk. It’s an emotional gut punch in the Outlander Season 4 finale to see Young Ian say goodbye to Jamie and Claire.
However, once the decision is made, Ian embraces it. He has found an affinity with the Native American culture and wants their acceptance. He flies impressively through the initiation gauntlet, and the last view of Ian in Outlander Season 4 is a blinding smile of pride. It’s bittersweet to lose Young Ian, but you sense he will find joy with this new family. On a recent episode of the Outcasts podcast, John Hunter Bell, who plays Young Ian, said that this iconic smile was the final take of the scene.
Outlander Season 5
We only see Young Ian Murray in the last five episodes of Outlander Season 5; however, each of those episodes hold iconic moments for Young Ian that reveal the man and warrior he has become.
- Best Adaptive Choice: I applaud the writers’ adaptive choice to bring Ian back early and present his story in parallel with Roger’s. The only downside was the loss of a fantastic scene (one of my favorites) involving Roger and Jamie when Ian returns. They gave it a nod with the boar, but we lost Roger in the scene heroically covering Jemmy with his body. However, it feels very natural to align Ian and Roger together in this story and forge a bond between them. In the books, they don’t really develop any kind of closeness until much later. As a matter of fact, they specifically feel awkward around each other for awhile. I always wanted more connection between Young Ian and Roger, so I thought this was a terrific choice. I just hope in future seasons, we get the Roger/Jamie moments we lost as well as more heroic moments for Roger.
After no word for a year and a half, Young Ian surprisingly returns to Fraser’s Ridge in Episode 508, several months after the Battle of Alamance. Rollo, ever faithful to “Wolf’s Brother,” is running by his side. Roger has lost his voice and spirit because of his hanging, and living in deep despair and grief. Ian breaks onto the scene in heroic fashion, but he has greatly changed in looks, skills and demeanor.
Young Ian’s time with the Mohawk changed him into a very different man than the one we left at the end of Outlander Season 4. He has completely adopted the Mohawk culture in dress, hair and facial tattoos. He even moves differently. I must admit that I questioned whether John Bell could pull off the fierce Mohawk warrior that Ian becomes. However, he surprised me, especially in this episode and the finale.
While he is home to stay with no explanation, we can tell something is very wrong. “Ian Murray has lost the thing most important to him,” Outlander series author Diana Gabaldon told Parade Magazine. “His loss isn’t explained in detail, but we (and Roger) gather that the thing he’s lost is his (unknown to us) wife. Ian has all the 18th century skills that Roger lacks, but he hasn’t got his wife any longer. Roger has. Neither man is dealing well with his grief and loss. Each of them pushes away all well-intended gestures from family and friends. They know they don’t fit anymore. Not just into the structure of the family that longs to embrace and heal them—they don’t fit into their own lives.”
When Ian first Sees Roger, there is a connection there. Roger is a bit overwhelmed. Here is the man that gave up everything to save him. There’s so much he wants to express, and Roger feels even more downhearted that he has no words. Likewise for Ian, here before him is the reason for all of Ian’s unknown story. Neither can fully express in the moment, but Jamie recognizes the bond, and he realizes some time alone together may be just what they both need.
Jamie sends them off alone together to survey the new land granted to Roger by Governor Tryon. Maybe together they will find a way to overcome their grief and start to heal.
“They are two lost souls, and putting them together to kind of help mend each other is something that we discussed a lot,” says Showrunner Matt B. Roberts. “Young Ian is very stoic and reserved and not talkative, so the worry was, ‘Hey we’re getting these guys out in the wilderness together, not talking to each other… What are these scenes gonna be like?’ But, the dynamic between the two of them really just shines,” Roberts said.
Maril Davis, executive producer, adds, “And really these two men are just bonded for life anyway just from last season. Having seen one just sacrifice himself for the other, so that bond is something that I hope will just carry on.”
“We see their struggles played out more or less in parallel, to the point where they find themselves alone together in the woods,” Gabaldon says. “Away from helpful, well-intentioned people who don’t understand a damn thing. But they understand each other. They fight each other, but they fight to that understanding.”
You can see both of them relax somewhat without the family’s expectations. Ian watches Roger stand on the cliff edge, assuming he is considering suicide. Roger turns away, but then, later, the twist comes. Ian had planned his own suicide with Claire’s poisonous hemlock root. Roger knows something is wrong when he sees Rollo is tied up. He finds Ian burying his weapon, and Roger knows what that means.
“Each man is able to step back from his own grief for a moment, in order to deal with the other man’s loss, if only momentarily, and they go back together to the place they used to call home, not yet healed, but with the strength to bear their burdens back to the fight.” Gabaldon says.
“It is a very moving scene … This is like the emotional climax of Young Ian’s whole return here,” Bell says of he and Roger’s confrontation and outcome. “I am so happy the way it came out. This was such a generous scene because, you know, we were really allowed to go as much as we wanted, me and Richard at the time, at each other… I can also remember being quite nervous about it because it is THE emotional moment, and Stephen (Woolfenden) the director on that block … he was able to tell me exactly what I needed to hear right at that moment, which was, ‘Trust your instincts, you don’t need to show us everything, but trust yourself’… When somebody can really pinpoint exactly what you needed to hear in that moment to get the best performance, it was amazing. Yes, I was really pleased with that scene… I’m really proud of it.”
“Young Ian is being seen constantly as this … I would say someone who exudes joy to everyone, and here he is in such a broken place,” Bell added. “Ian has gone through so much in (the) short period of his life. It’s incredible that he’s actually been able to keep this strong for so long. So, obviously, whatever happened with the Mohawk, we’ve not gone into it yet. I am sure we will eventually learn about this, but that has obviously affected him in such a way that he is no longer able to find happiness. And it’s only through Roger, does he actually begin to see a bit of light … a bit of hope, you know? Which is kind of ironic in a way because there’s Roger, being very in his head, also in the same position, but these two men actually finding each other and seeing each other helps them both… I love how beautiful that is.” – John Bell on Outcasts.
“At the end of the scene, there’s just that little bit of hope, which is something I think we are all needing at the moment,” says Bell. “For Roger to kind of (say)… without saying it ‘bad times will end … this is not going to last forever. You need to keep fighting.’ And sometimes you just need to hear that. And in that moment… yes, it’s the drama of Outlander, and it’s the huge thing, but what it really comes down to is someone telling you what you needed to hear at that right moment.”
Young Ian has another huge moment in the next episode, “Monsters and Heroes,” after Jamie is bit by a venomous snake while hunting. Jamie has a great fear of amputation, and we see Ian square off on Jamie in a way he never would have before his time with the Mohawk. He calls out Jamie’s hypocrisy and excuses. Young Ian shows great maturity as well as love and respect for both his father and Fergus. He has truly gone from boy to man.
That disappointment in Young Ian’s face and words hits Jamie square in the heart. Young Ian administered tough love. He held up Jamie’s shame like a mirror that he couldn’t ignore. While Claire’s later intimate, connective actions take credit for bringing Jamie back from the edge of death, I have to believe that this speech from Ian gave Jamie the push he needed to accept whatever would happen if he chose to live.
In episode 510, “Mercy Shall Follow Me,” Ian takes on the disguise of a gentleman to entrap Bonnet. He seems completely uncomfortable in this masquerade, and he takes back his own persona with relief. Ian is much more in his element raiding Bonnet’s island to rescue Brianna from his clutches.
Episode 511, “Journeycake,” brings great revelations for Young Ian. After witnessing an opal explode in wee Jemmy’s hands, Jamie and Claire reveal the family secret to him, bringing Ian into the very small circle of people that “know” about time travel. He reveals a secret of his own—Otter Tooth’s journal. When Young Ian first first returned, we saw hints of resentment in young Ian. He knew they were keeping an important secret from him. Now Ian is “in the know” and this will bond him even closer to the Frasers and Mackenzies. I love this scene because we get a glimpse of the wide-eyed wonder of the boy we left with the Mohawk. “I knew you were a fairy, Auntie Claire.”
As Ian begins to contemplate possibilities of time travel, Roger and Bree plan a trip back through the stones. We gain a few more hints about the tragedy that occurred during his time with the Mohawk. Ian wants to travel back. He wants to change things. Sadly, Claire and Bree must deliver the bad news that he can’t. Dejection hits Ian hard. Again the audience wonders, “What happened?” It will be a long Droughtlander until we find out. This episode also reminds us of the bond forged between Roger and Ian. Roger gives Ian his land after they’ve gone, and he asks Young Ian to accompany them to the stones to save grief for the family. Ian watches with shock as the small family disappears. He touches the stone himself, just to be sure—nothing.
In the finale episode, we get a stark vision of the loyal, protective but very lethal warrior Young Ian has morphed into when he and the Mackenzies (of course they didn’t really go) return to the Ridge and discover the Brown gang has abducted Claire. It’s a war-cry, and Ian applies his warpaint with deadly seriousness as he prepares to hunt for Claire’s captors.
He fights with agility, precision and chilling ferocity. Armed on one hand with a tomahawk and the other with an Iroquois war club, he reflects the fierce spirit of Mohawk and Highlander. The skills he learned from his time with the Mohawk emerge as he kills without a second thought to save his aunt.
When Ian comes to the clearing with John Quincy Myers and Fergus, and he lays eyes on a brutalized Claire, his blood lust remains hot as he looks to Jamie. She has an oath upon her. She can not take life. It is Jamie and the men of her family that will be her hand of revenge this day. Ian’s “chief” gives the order. “Kill them all.” Young Ian turns without hesitation with weapon-laden hands to kill the group of men on their knees. Again, we are a bit stunned to see this side of our happy-go-lucky Young Ian as we listen to the sounds of the massacre.
I think back to the earlier confrontation with Brown in Episode 511 when Ian said defiantly, “We can protect ourselves.” No doubt about it. Don’t mess with the Fraser clan. I’m sure Ian’s words come back to Richard Brown after Jamie delivers his brother’s dead body to him. We leave Outlander Season 5 knowing this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Richard Brown.
Our last view of Young Ian Murray shows a joyful young man playing with his dog around the family he loves. This contrasts with the deadly rescue a few scenes before, and it leaves us with a sharp illustration of the dual complexity of Young Ian Murray. He is loving and warm, but also a verra fierce warrior. Young Ian remains loyal, always ready to protect his family at all costs, so much like Jamie Fraser.
In the Outcasts podcast, David Berry asked John Bell if we should even still be calling this character “Young” Ian. How much more growing up does he have to do? Hasn‘t he earned the right to just be Ian now?
“He’s still got a whole lot of story to go. Let’s hope we get to tell it, but I like ‘Young Ian’… keep him young,“ Bell replies. “Plenty of time to get old. He can still be Young Ian for now.”
What are your favorite Young Ian Fraser Murray moments?