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The 8 Most Important Episodes To Watch Before ‘Outlander’ Returns

It’s been 12 hours and 381 days since Outlander took its love away from smitten fans of the epic romantic saga of Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser (Caitriona Balfe), the stubborn English World War II combat nurse from 1946, and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), the traitor rebel Scotsman with a steadfast heart from 1743, who upend space and time to build a family and life together. The lag between seasons is merely a blip when considering these star-crossed lovers spent 20 years apart with two centuries dividing them, but their absence stings nonetheless.

When Outlander returns for a fifth season on Starz Sunday, Feb. 16 with the premiere available on demand Friday – a glorious Valentine’s Day treat – the Frasers finally appear settled in the New World with war, death, disease, revenge-seeking villains, time travel through ancient ruins, and seafaring catastrophes behind them. But with the American Revolution on the horizon, loyalties will be tested.

Before embarking on the next chapter of Jamie and Claire’s bittersweet adventure, we take a look at the eight most important episodes in the series’ radical run. And be sure to check out our exclusive video interview with Balfe and Heughan below:

Season 1, Episode 7: “The Wedding”

Outlander made its reputation on steamy, jaw-dropping sex scenes and Jamie and Claire’s wedding night sets the stage for all the electrifying coitus to come. Desperate to keep Claire from being turned over to the vicious Black Jack Randall and the British army, Dougal concocts a plan to ensure her (relative) safety by marrying her off to a Scotsman. After half a season roaming about the Highlands, Claire is a vision in an ivory gown for the pair’s nuptials, despite self-medicating with whiskey to drown her guilt over betraying Frank, her 20th century husband. Jamie eventually wins her over with his sweetness, shy smile, strapping loins and a pledge that would melt anyone’s heart: “You have my name, my clan, my family, and, if necessary, the protection of my body as well.” The consummation of the marriage and Jamie’s deflowering happens fairly quickly; only later in the evening do the two painstakingly examine each other’s bodies and engage in a romp so vigorous, he thinks Claire’s squeals signal injury. She assures him those sounds are the sign of a “good lover.”

Season 1, Episode 11: “The Devil’s Mark”

War drama, rom-com, sci-fi adventure – Outlander takes many forms, but courtroom drama? Claire’s mysterious healing powers (or what those of us in 2020 consider basic medical training) and her friendship with fellow outsider, healer and husband-offing adulteress Geillis finds the two on trial for the practice of witchcraft. Witnesses come forward one-by-one, each with an axe to grind against the women, to detail their allegiance to the dark side, while Ned tries his damndest to quell the mob as their lawyer. Claire only escapes a fiery death and makes her way back into Jamie’s arms when Geillis sacrifices herself by claiming she’s been marked by the devil and shows off a strange scar caused by the smallpox vaccine. In that moment, the entire show’s trajectory is turned upside down with the reveal that Claire isn’t the only time traveler. Later, Claire reveals the truth of her own journey through the stones to Jamie, who trusts his soulmate despite the limitations of his own understanding. Believing a woman? One of the many ways Jamie is ahead of his time.

Season 1, Episode 15: “To Ransom a Man’s Soul”

Told mostly in flashbacks after Jamie’s rescue from Wentworth Prison, we find out in excruciating detail what actually transpired between Black Jack Randall and our ginger hero when he allowed the sadistic Redcoat to “have him” in exchange for sparing Claire’s life. More than a physical violation, Randall breaks Jamie’s spirit, brands his body and nearly severs his soul. It’s one of the most harrowing hours of television since the medium’s invention. Despite believing Randall dead, Jamie still wishes to leave this mortal coil upon returning to Claire, which confuses his wife. Jamie’s godfather and sworn protector Murtagh explains it succinctly: “He’s been tortured, raped, isn’t that reason enough?” The trauma of what Jamie endured will reverberate throughout the second season and beyond, but Claire succeeds in her tough love effort to jolt him into reclaiming his life with her and (surprise!) their future child.

Season 2, Episode 7: “Faith”

Claire goes into early labor during her sprint to stop Jamie from dueling Black Jack Randall (a punishable offense in France). The baby, a girl with copper hair, is stillborn while Claire slips in and out of consciousness in a makeshift hospital due to a frightening infection taking hold of her body. With Jamie incarcerated in the Bastille, Claire receives last rites from a priest and is told by Mother Hildegarde that she mercifully buried the child and bestowed her with the name Faith during an illegal baptism. Local apothecary Master Raymond sneaks into the hospital and uses some wizardry to massage the sickness away. Claire returns home after months of recuperating under Mother Hildegarde’s care. She’s despondent over the loss of her daughter and bitter at Jamie for breaking his vow to refrain from inciting violence toward Randall. When she finds out Jamie only challenged Randall to the duel after catching the vile bastard raping young Fergus — a street urchin turned beloved Fraser family errand boy — she manages to score an audience with King Louis to petition for Jamie’s freedom, fully knowing the price for such a request will be her virtue. Claire’s witchiness and time spent in the king’s bed earns not only Jamie’s release but a full pardon from the English crown. Upon Jamie’s discharge from prison, Claire relays meeting their child and sorrowfully cradling her lifeless body until Faith had to be pried from her arms. Instead of tearing them apart, the baby’s death cements the pair’s commitment to each other and their belief that pain of this magnitude can only be carried together. They visit the child’s grave before returning home to Scotland.

Season 2, Episode 13: “Dragonfly in Amber”

Running a whopping 90 minutes, the Season 2 finale encompasses so much as it teeters between past and present. In the present, Claire is an American surgeon visiting Scotland with Brianna, her vibrant red-headed 20-year-old daughter, who is the spitting image of Jamie while sharing the interests of Frank, the man who raised her and the only father she knows. Returning to the place her life changed for the first time in 20 years for the wake of Reverend Wakefield, who so gracefully assisted Frank during Claire’s disappearance, mother and daughter go on separate scavenger hunts to uncover secrets of the past. Claire looks to gain some closure over Jamie – who she’s certain died in battle – by taking a tour of their old haunts, while Brianna – aided by the reverend’s adopted son Roger – tries to figure out the real reason why her mother always seemed to live with one foot in another world. Confrontations ensue, with Brianna learning the truth about her heritage and Claire’s travels; unlike Jamie, Brianna finds Claire’s “delusions” too much to take.   

In the past, the ill-fated Battle of Culloden forges full steam ahead, despite Claire and Jamie’s best efforts to rewrite history. Jamie sends his kin home knowing the fate that awaits them if they stay and fight, but he vows to meet the English on the battlefield no matter the consequences. But first, he must escort Claire safely back to her own time to preserve the life of their unborn child. Claire resists mightily and their aching goodbye in front of the stones at Craigh na Dun will make you cry merely reminiscing about it.

Back in the present, Brianna and Claire run into the 1968 version of Geillis, now a fierce supporter of Scottish independence known as Gillian Edgars. It becomes apparent that Claire has stumbled on the moment in time her old friend travels through the stones. Hoping to stop her, or at least warn her about the death sentence awaiting her in the 18th century, Claire, Roger, and Brianna follow her, but arrive just as she reaches out to touch the solid rock. Witnessing Geillis’ vanishing, Brianna has no choice but to believe her mother and informs her that – thanks to a little detective work – Jamie didn’t die at Culloden. He lived! Jamie lived! And if there’s one fictional person in the world who understands what Claire’s feeling, it’s Jack “WE HAVE TO GO BACK!” Shephard.

Season 3, Episode 4: “Of Lost Things”

Claire, Brianna, and Roger do some major homework in Scotland (while Brianna and Roger do some major flirting) to trace Jamie’s 200-year-old steps before mother and daughter reluctantly return home to Boston. We then spend most of the hour following Jamie’s exploits as a groom/secret prisoner at Lord Dunsany’s estate in Helwater, England.

Betrothed to the old lump Earl of Ellesmere, Dunsany’s haughty daughter Geneva blackmails Jamie into providing her one night of passion. Afraid the revelation of his true identity will cost him his cushy post (servitude is better than eating rats in a cell), Jamie obliges the cunning virgin for a scene heavy in panting, but lacking in the reverence offered to Claire during their lovemaking. Geneva ends up pregnant and dies in childbirth. Knowing it’s not his, the Earl threatens to kill the baby in a tense hostage scene, but Jamie fells him with one shot. He’s already lost two children – one to the grave and the other to the future – and he’s not going to lose another. Grateful and oblivious, the Dunsany’s offer Jamie his freedom, which he turns down to keep a watchful eye on his secret son, Willie.

Jumping ahead eight years, Jamie is a dutiful servant to the young master and enjoys a brief release from the pain of losing Claire. When others start noticing the resemblance between Jamie and the young lad, he prepares to leave, not wanting to confuse the boy or raise suspicion. Before departing, Jamie asks old captor-turned-friend Lord Grey — who is engaged to Geneva’s sister, despite his lack of interest in women — to raise Willie. Out of friendship (and a little bit of lust), Grey agrees. Jamie whittles a snake out of wood for Willie, like the one his late brother once gave him, and forlornly rides off without looking back at the devastated boy.

Season 3, Episode 6: “A. Malcolm”

Reunited and it feels so good! Delayed gratification is on the menu as minor (read: tedious) interruptions keep the bodice ripping to a minimum. Claire returns to Jamie with photographs of Brianna in hand to find him living under an alias – Alexander Malcolm – and running a print shop. In true Jamie fashion, the shop is a front for his booze-smuggling operation. While the chemistry between the lovers smolders, the intervening 20 years makes them cautious with each other. They’re older, wiser, a bit battered and giddy to share the same air space once again. They catch up and share uncomfortable truths, like Jamie siring a son and taking up residence in a brothel. Then (finally!), the moment every thirsty fan rooted for arrives. Before Claire commands Jaime to “do it now and don’t be gentle!” the two savor undressing one another slowly, keen to remember every caress. The breathless encounter manages to act both as fantasy fulfillment and a real display of intimacy. Come for the chiseled body shots, stay for Claire worrying her nose is broken after Jamie accidentally head-butts her while repositioning.

Season 4, Episode 8: “Wilmington”

Brianna and Roger somehow find each other in Wilmington, N.C. after traveling separately through the stones in Scotland (for an era without mobile phones and Facebook, these characters bump into each other far too easily). Elated by their reunion, the young on-and-off couple immediately start some heavy petting. Conflicted by Roger’s desire to be engaged before taking Brianna’s maidenhead, she finally agrees to marry him. Without a clergyman in sight and their desire overwhelming the moment, they cut corners by participating in a handfasting ceremony, which in Scottish lore makes them as good as man and wife. The show handles their first time delicately, but with the same irresistible eroticism afforded the main characters. Things are going swimmingly until Brianna discovers Roger didn’t tell her about the obituary detailing Jamie and Claire’s early death by fire – which caused her to make the leap from the swinging ‘60s and him to follow her. They fight, they say things they don’t mean, they both throw out ultimatums and Roger storms off at Brianna’s request. Brianna returns alone to the pub and comes across Stephen Bonnet gambling with her mother’s treasured wedding ring, which he snatched when he robbed Claire and Jamie at knifepoint after they magnanimously helped him escape execution (what a guy). Brianna offers to buy the ring off Bonnet, but he has other forms of payment in mind. Instead of showing us the depraved act, we watch the other men in the bar simply ignore Brianna’s very audible and fervent struggles in the next room. It’s chilling. Claire also performs surgery in the lobby of a theater in the company of George Washington himself, while Jamie tries to warn Murtagh that his plan to rob a coach full of Red Coats carrying tax money is a trap. Never a dull moment for these two.

Outlander premieres Sunday, Feb. 16 at 8pm ET on Starz. The full series is now available On Demand through Sling. Click here to add Starz, no Orange or Blue subscription required!