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The Ending Of Outlander Season 5 Explained

Contains spoilers for Outlander up to and including season 5, episode 12, "Never My Love"

While much of Outlander's fifth season is explicitly focused on adapting the events of author Diana Gabaldon's fifth book The Fiery Cross, the show is known for plucking critical moments from previous and future books when putting each of the popular novels to the screen. Like Outlander showrunner Matthew B. Roberts explained to Deadline, "As in seasons past, we always look ahead and behind to see if there's any way to add in something we've missed or bring up a future bit that may be appropriate to the upcoming season."

When it came to the season 5 finale, that meant taking one of the harshest moments for Claire Randall Fraser in Gabaldon's sixth book, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, and dedicating an entire episode to the brutal, life-changing experience. Not only did Outlander season 5, episode 12, "Never My Love" plot the emotionally excruciating sexual victimization of one of its two leading characters, but it also marked the third sexual assault in the Fraser family. Being set in the 1700s means that violence in general is no stranger to Outlander and its characters. But the adaptation and impact of the Outlander season 5 finale will undoubtedly have lasting — and perhaps far-reaching — consequences in the long-running Starz series' future.

Here's the ending of Outlander season 5 explained.

Claire's knowledge and an accidental printing catch up to her in a violent way on the Outlander season 5 finale

Earlier in the season, Jamie (Sam Heughan) requests that Fergus (César Domboy) take a note to the printer. Moving with haste, Fergus grabs the first sheet he sees on Jamie's desk, and after taking down his message, heads to the printer. But what becomes evident during a trip to the neighboring community of Brownsville is that the sheet Fergus picked up had on the back of it the preventative health care leaflet Claire (Caitriona Balfe) had been writing. That was only intended for the women of Fraser's Ridge. It was ultimately printed and used by women in Brownsville — including the wife of alcoholic abuser Lionel Brown (Ned Dennehy) — to prevent pregnancy. The ending of season 5, episode 11, "Journeycake" saw Lionel discover Claire wrote the newspaper article under the pen name Dr. Rawlings.

Brown and a mob of men from Brownsville descend on Fraser's Ridge and kidnap Claire. They plan to force Claire to confess that she's Dr. Rawlings to the women of his community who look so fondly on her. As they drag Claire through the North Carolina woods, they also attack her with their fists and knives, and eventually gag her. At one point, she nearly escapes, bartering with one man who believes she's an actual witch. But Lionel prevents it, and as punishment, brutalizes Claire again. After Claire is tied to a tree as the men make camp, another named Wendigo Donner (Brennan Martin) reveals to Claire that he is a time traveler from 1968. Claire pleads with him to help her, but he simply re-gags her, saying they must wait until the rest of the men are asleep. Before that can happen though, Lionel, his nephew, and the rest of the men sexually assault Claire.

Claire returns to the ridge with Jamie and her trauma

After a failed attempt to travel back to the 1960s through the stones, Bree (Sophie Skelton), Roger (Richard Rankin), and Jemmy return to Fraser's Ridge with Young Ian (John Bell). But upon their arrival, they find Jamie and a band of men arming themselves as they ready to head out and find Bree's mother. Ian and Roger both join, as do Fergus and the twins, Josiah and Keziah (Paul Gorman). Eventually, the group finds Lionel and his men in the woods, and an all-out slaughter ensues. Jamie discovers Claire battered and bruised while tied to a tree. As Jamie tries to coax Claire back to him, he and the rest of the men of Fraser's Ridge begin to realize what has happened. To enact justice for Claire, Jamie has the remainder of Lionel's men murdered in front of her and asks that the still-breathing Lionel be brought back to the ridge for questioning.

Once back on the ridge, Lionel is left in surgery. Jamie is in a fury, but Claire tries to quell his anger by downplaying what's happened to her. In a bold and powerful testament to her resilience, Claire declares that after surviving imprisonment, miscarriages, and war, she will survive this, too. "I am supposed to be shattered by this. Well, I won't be," she says, defiantly. 

Following Claire's confession, Bree and Roger make one of their own. While helping Claire bathe, Bree begins to see the cracks in her mother's armor, recognizing them from her own assault at the hands of Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers). She doesn't press Claire, but Bree does assure her that if and when she's ready to talk, she has a shoulder and an ear. Once back at her own cabin and in bed with Roger, her husband admits that during the fight with Lionel's men, he killed one of them.

Lionel meets his end as Claire and Jamie try to move forward in the Outlander season 5 finale

Jamie's plans to question Lionel are out the window the very next day. When Claire goes down to the surgery with the help of Marsali (Lauren Lyle) to address her attacker's wounds, she becomes overwhelmed. In a brief, crushing moment, Claire picks up a scalpel before dashing out of the room and breaking down in a corner of the house. After Claire leaves, Lionel begins to taunt Marsali, aware of the fear he creates. But Marsali reminds him that she never took an oath to do no harm, stabbing Lionel in the neck with a syringe full of hemlock. Upon finding a fraught Marsali, Jamie comforts her before taking the man's body back to Brownsville. As Lionel warned, Richard threatens his revenge on Jamie and Fraser's Ridge, seemingly suggesting the fire that has been long foreshadowed to kill Outlander's leading couple.

Jamie refuses to respond, opting to go home to his wife and fight that battle another day. He underscores his choice with a sweeping and emotionally charged speech on the ridge — stating that what a man will kill and die for are often the same, and in this case, they are his love. At the house, Bree and Roger reveal that they've made peace with staying in the 1700s, as their home is where family is. Meanwhile, Jamie eventually joins Claire on the porch, where she looks out and states she's thankful for the ordinary day, one of the last they'll face as the Revolutionary War looms.

But the final moments of the Outlander season 5 finale are some of its most quietly powerful amid the difficult story. As Jamie and Claire lie in bed intertwined, Jamie asks how Claire feels, and she quietly responds with a single word: "Safe."

The events of Outlander's season 5 finale were a major departure from the books

The episode's final scene caps off a storyline plucked from one book and placed into the TV timeline of another. In an interview with Elle, star Caitriona Balfe revealed that the Outlander team's decision to show Claire's rape storyline sooner had a lot to do with Claire's development in The Fiery Cross.

"In book five, there isn't a whole [a lot] of Claire in comparison to the other books," Balfe explained. "Her story is on the back burner a bit. I think this is part of the reason Matt and Maril [Davis, executive producer] decided to pull this storyline from book six."

But it wasn't just the timing of the episode that was significant or different from its source material. Those who have read A Breath of Snow and Ashes know the traumatic event went from a single sexual assault by a faceless, nameless man in Diana Gabaldon's books to a mob of men and a dissociative episode — a vivid alternate universe within which Claire could escape her attack. In an interview with The New York Times, showrunner Matt Roberts explained why.

"We've had multiple assaults on the show, and we were wondering how Claire survived hers because emotionally, it doesn't seem to affect her in the books as much it did Jamie or Brianna. How was Claire able to survive in a different way?" Roberts said. "I thought if we show her leaving her body to go into the dream-escapes, that could mitigate what's happening visually."

In the same interview, Balfe also revealed that the approach of Netflix's Unbelievable served as a guide for how they sensitively tackled filming Claire's assault. "We had so many conversations about how to empower Claire," the actress said. "You never really see the attackers. We didn't want to give them any space."