'Outlander' Cast Previews a 'Darker, Fractured and Intense' Season 6 (Exclusive)

The new season of the beloved drama, starring Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, premieres March 6 on Starz.

Fear not, loyal fans, the "Droughtlander" is nearly over!

Outlander returns for its sixth season on Sunday, March 6, and while it may be a welcome return for devoted followers of the Starz series -- adapted from Diana Gabaldon's book series of the same name -- there's plenty of drama and some dark times ahead for the Fraser clan. 

Season 6 will find Claire and Jamie Fraser (series stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan) on the brink of the American Revolution, but before they can sort their loyalties to crown and country, they must deal with the problems at the homefront.

Looming this season are the aftermath of Claire's brutal kidnapping and assault by Lionel Brown and his men -- as well as Marsali's eventual murder of Lionel himself -- the arrival of Tom Christie and his family to Fraser's Ridge and the unknown threats posed by the revelation of other time travelers within the family's circle. And Outlander put it all together in a COVID-restricted season.

"I'm so proud of our cast and crew," executive producer Maril Davis told ET's Will Marfuggi during the show's season 6 virtual junket. "They did such an amazing job, but it's important to do it. Outlander is not a show which could be COVID-friendly, so to speak. I know a lot of shows went back to the drawing board, said, 'OK, how can we rewrite the storylines to make sure that we don't have a lot of people in the scene. There are no intimate scenes.' That's not this show, unless we were completely going off book." 

"We just tried our best to keep everyone safe so we could continue to tell the kind of stories we wanted, she added. "Our production really did an amazing job... We condensed season 6 and got all the good material in there. And then we're going to give you a supersized season 7, which will present its own challenges."


For now, there's plenty to ask Davis and her fellow EP, Matthew B. Roberts, as well as the Outlander cast -- Balfe, Heughan, Sophie Skelton (Brianna "Bree" Fraser MacKenzie), Richard Rankin (Roger MacKenzie), Lauren Lyle (Marsali MacKimmie Fraser) and César Domboy (Claudel "Fergus" Fraser) -- about what's ahead in season 6. Read on to see what they had to say about all the drama ahead.

ET: What are three words you'd use to describe season 6?

Caitriona Balfe: Oh, god. Oh my god.

Sam Heughan: Yes. Oh my god...It's really tough. Darker, fractured and intense.

Sophie Skelton: Ooh, fast, frantic and fearful. 

Richard Rankin: Mine are, Oh my god. Jesus Bloody Christ. What the hell? 

César Domboy: Struggle. Trauma. Healing.

Lauren Lyle: Faith, healing, trauma... again.

Maril Davis: I'd say betrayal... devastation and turmoil.

Matthew B. Roberts: I say, hold your breath.

At the end of last season, we saw Claire endure an incredibly traumatic ordeal -- even by the show's standards. How is she coping with the aftermath of her abduction and moving on this season?

CB: Well, I think when we first see Claire, on the surface, she's trying to put a brave face on and go about her daily life as if everything is fine and everything's normal, but really, underneath that, she's really struggling. And we explore the PTSD that she's experiencing and we explore how that trauma is affecting not only her, but the whole family, and what her coping mechanisms are this season. I think prior to this, Claire is someone who has always been able to compartmentalize things and put something in a box and move on, and that just doesn't serve her this season.

Jamie was there to rescue Claire, but it was Marsali who dealt the final deadly blow to Lionel Brown, killing him as he lay on her operating table. How does she handle the consequences of that in season 6?

LL: I think it's the first time you see her maybe not handling it. I think you always have her coming from a place of complete strength... this is the first time [she's] not coping. She doesn't have the support of her husband. She doesn't have the support of anyone, really. She doesn't talk to anyone about it. So I think it's the first time we see her in a darker, more unstable place... And eventually, obviously, that all falls out.

CD: And still, she's the one keeping it together, though, because Fergus is so malfunctioning. We have so many kids and she's the one that has lived the trauma. But Fergus is such a man of his time that he puts all the guilt on himself, on the things he should have done that he didn't do and lacked. And I think thanks to Marsali, the family is still functioning because of her, because Fergus is really helpless. 


Clearly there are tensions between the two, which perhaps aren't going to be eased by the arrival of a new baby, but what is the status of Fergus and Marsali's relationship at the start of season 6?

CD: I think the thing is, those tensions are so not driven by the lack of love they would have for each other. That hasn't moved a bit. I think Fergus loves this woman, I think they love each other so much. It's just like, I think Fergus at some point doesn't know how to love anymore. He's just so confused with, what's his worth? And it was so important at that time. It was not only about getting comfy and sorted with your wife, you needed to have a place in society, in the community. And before the end of season 5, Fergus is already so, so. Like, "I cannot pull a plow, I don't know what to do with this." And the fact that he cannot save her, save the day, really it's a problem for him. But it's not driven by lack of love he'd have for Marsali. He loves her. He wished he could have been more there for her, I think.

LL: [Marsali] is completely isolated. She has no one at this point. This little unit that they've always had, and this little, cool, fun, young couple that don't fight? They doesn't exist in this moment. You meet them at that point, and you meet her at the end of her tether. Marsali's never been at the end of her tether, the tether doesn't exist. She comes from a place and a time where it can't. And all of a sudden, it has to, and she's sort of lost and stuck. And it's a strange thing to watch her husband, this person that she's jumped on a boat for, for love, suddenly in this adult space of, "Yeah, we can't just love each other and be silly little teenagers anymore. We have to choose to stay and choose to work on this marriage in a way that we can support each other." Because there's no other choice. 

Another couple faced with an unexpected fate this season is Bree and Roger, whose attempted journey through the stones brought them right back where they started. How is their decision to stay in the 1790s going to affect them and their family?

SS: Well, a really funny thing that we actually talked about during that scene was that wherever they go, there's going to be chaos and they don't know what they're going into. Because, we were saying, they could go back to the future and the war could still be going on. It could be World War III, for all they know. There could be new technology they're not privy to, they wouldn't have passports, they wouldn't have ID, they wouldn't have money. All these things that actually, kind of either way, is really scary at this point. So they're in this weird hybrid where they kind of don't belong. They belong everywhere and nowhere in terms of the two timeframes.

It changes them this season, I think, because we actually just get to a point where we see them without a choice. They're like, "OK, we're here for good now. So let's just really go at this together and just make a life for ourselves here." Even though there's so much crumbling around them, them as people and as a couple is actually the most calm and grounded and secure that we've seen them.


RR: Yeah, it frees them. It frees them up. Without that question constantly hanging over them and that thing between them of going home or not going home, it opens them up to other things and I think it's then that they go, "Right, this is home. This is where we belong. What is our purpose here? And how can we help and how can we belong here?" So it definitely takes a big weight off of them. And as a couple too, I think. And I think we really see that in season 6.

[Roger] has become more a man of that time, and he's starting to apply himself in that way. And he has been accepted by Jamie, he's part of the family. The family are pretty solid now as a unit, and I don't think that's a question which is hanging over Roger -- which I think it had done previously. So I think he has the support and the love of the family, and vice versa, and I think that just allows him to follow a different path and to gain the experience and skillset required to succeed, I suppose, in the the century and be there for his family. 

As the Fraser clan bands together, there are newcomers to their land, as Tom Christie and his family move to Fraser's Ridge. What sort of threat to the peace do they represent?

MR: Out of all the- what we call villains on our show, antagonists, whatever you want to call them, Tom, to me, stands out in that he's not a villain. He feels he's so righteous and right about everything that he's doing, and he has God at his back. And Jamie has trouble dealing with that too, because he knows that Tom's coming to from a good place, he's just not always doing the right thing. I think that's what gave him trouble at Ardsmuir, when they knew each other at Ardsmuir, and I think that Jamie's hoping against hope that Tom has changed over the years. That's what we'll see unfold -- that relationship and that battle.

SH: We find out, obviously, the prior relationship or animosity, I guess, between [Jamie and Christie], was this challenge of power. And Christie arrives and yeah, it's a rather unwelcome arrival to Fraser's Ridge. It really signals the beginning of this sort of unraveling, I guess, of the Frasers' popularity at the Ridge and also the status quo. So they all have their own individual storylines and relationships, but yes, the Christie family as a whole are not the neighbor you really want. Jamie is quite forward-thinking, quite a modern man, but I think there are people that obviously would have their feet stuck in the past and would follow Tom Christie and his teachings.

CB: It's that religious fundamentalism that he wields. And it's very unaccepting of women or any kind of modern forward-thinking. As Sam said, it's a very dangerous thing that he kind of holds over people.

RR: Between the ending of season 5, which was quite horrific, and the impending American Revolution, we have this thing up rooting itself from within Fraser's Ridge.

SS: Just the last thing you need.

RR: There is a lot going on.

SS: Christie turning up is bound to cause some [tension], even if it's just that Jamie's trauma is coming back to him a little bit. He's got this constant reminder in front of him. So it's a really interesting dynamic to bring a whole new family into the family and see how that goes. The Frasers themselves seem to be more of a unit this season. There's no kind of inner quarrels, it's now them dealing with other people coming in and unsettling from within. So it's a very cool season in that sense.

MR: To me, a villain like Bonnet or Blackjack or Geiliss, you knew what you were getting, and with the Christies, you don't. And I think there's even more surprises as we go forward. Not only season 6, but maybe in season 7...

The Christie family also brings tension in the form of Tom's daughter, Malva, whose name may raise warning sirens among book fans. At the start, however, is it an apprenticeship under Claire that might find her butting heads with Marsali?

LL: [Marsali] has the responsibility of that, and then the responsibility of all the kids, and then there's a new baby on the way, and then there's Fergus, [who] is not well -- it's like, there's only so much she can handle. And she has to move away from being in the surgery a lot more, which is something that was quite challenging and something that you see as a frustration. For a woman that has been given this choice and given this new world that wasn't necessarily going to be available to her otherwise, that had been opened up to her... And now everything else that is traditionally what she's meant to deal with, she has to deal with. So not getting a chance to be part of that is a challenge for her and a struggle.

And you see that with Malva a little bit. Malva comes in and there's a little bit of rivalry between them at the beginning, a loving rivalry, but there's a little bit. She's the new kid on the block.

CD: But she doesn't stand a chance against Marsali, does she? 

As the show continues towards the impending American Revolution, there is the looming issue of how much Claire knows about how it all plays out. How does that affect her head space and plans for the safety for her family?

CB: Yeah. Unfortunately, she knows the outcome, but it's all those really important steps that lead up to it that she's not so clear on, which would be much more helpful to them. I think it's a really tough position that they're in. I think Jamie carries sort of the larger brunt of that burden, with having to decide where his loyalties are, his allegiances are, at any given time, because they know that at a certain point, they're going to have to go against the crown.

But at this present point, the crown is who kind of rules the law and you have to appease them and you have to be seen to be loyal to the crown at this point. And so it's a really delicate balancing act that they're trying to do at the moment.

There was also a revelation last season that Claire and her family aren't the only time travelers. How will the introduction of people like Wendigo Donner affect our group moving forward?

MR: I'm going to say, time travel will always be a part of this show. How? You might have to tune in to see.

And there are obviously always the ramifications of how knowledge from the future can affect the present.

MR: We definitely have long, long conversations about how one thing may affect other things. I think Claire says it a lot: "We're going to do what we're going to have to do to keep our community safe. And if that gets out, then so be it." But we have ways, and the books have ways of cutting that off in the perfect moment when you need to, so it doesn't go worldwide.

We have a safety net, in that we don't have the media, we don't have social media in Outlander. So, even news of the shot heard around the world, say, well, that doesn't get to Fraser's Ridge for six months, eight months. So, news of big, miraculous invention can't get out as long as you keep quiet about it. 

Such as, perhaps, Bree inventing matches? 

SS: I love it. She's just like, "Guys, this is going to be one of the most staple household things. These are going to be amazing. Everyone needs these!"... The week when we were shooting it, we were joking about the fact that Brianna goes back in time to save Jamie and Claire from a house fire. And then she's in the house like, "Hey, I made fire!" So I think maybe next, she should bring water in a more accessible way...

RR: She does kind of, though. She's doing plumbing, isn't she?

SS: That's what I was trying to say... in a discreet way.

RR: Oh, apologies.

SS: That's the problem with being virtual -- I can't just elbow you!

Outlander season 6 premieres March 6 on Starz. Check out the season 5 bloopers in the video below!