Spoilers for Outlander season 5 episode 10, “Mercy Shall Follow Me,” below.
Tonight’s Outlander ends with a gunshot, a hard-fought conclusion to one of the saga’s most harrowing chapters. Its target is Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers), the pirate responsible for much of clan Fraser’s suffering in the last two seasons. Its source is Brianna (Sophie Skelton), who finally delivers the death blow to her rapist—but not before he sneaks in one last hit.
This episode of Outlander, “Mercy Shall Follow Me,” marks another departure from the show’s source material. Though we’re still in season 5, Bonnet’s death comes from the sixth book in Diana Gabaldon’s series, and the show tweaks it slightly. Here, Bonnet kidnaps Brianna and hides her at a brothel in a vain attempt to prove he can become a gentleman. He believes her son Jeremiah is his child, and he wants to raise the boy so he has access to the fortune he’s set to inherit. Brianna plays along with Bonnet’s plot, and Skelton excels at balancing self-preservation with barely concealed disgust. But when Bree can’t fake a kiss with Bonnet, he snaps, first sleeping with a prostitute in front of her, then trying to sell her into sex slavery. Claire (Caitriona Balfe), Jamie (Sam Heughan), and Roger (Richard Rankin) save her at the last minute, but once Bonnet is hogtied and ready for slaughter, Bree asks to put him on a proper trial for his crimes. Later, as he awaits his execution—death by drowning—Brianna puts a bullet in his head.
Below, Skelton breaks down the events of “Mercy Shall Follow Me,” what she thinks Brianna is thinking in the episode’s final moments, and teases what’s to come for the rest of season 5.
How did this storyline come to be? There are some noticeable changes from the books.
It’s actually based on a true story. There was a girl who was kidnapped by her rapist and she did read to him, mainly to placate him, but also to try and pass the time. The one thing I talked to the director about was that I didn’t like that Brianna went towards the bedroom. I really pushed against that. It’s the last place [she’d go]—she would be hiding near the door if anything. That’s why that next line comes in: “Oh, my friends can join if you want.” That pulls Brianna away from the main door on instinct. You know when you say no to someone and your instinct is to go toward them as if to stop them? That’s the way I wanted to bring Brianna toward the bedroom—without her initiating moving there.
There is that underlying fear that Bonnet can strike again anytime. It’s so disconcerting for Bree that he’s being so nice. She knows he can do a complete 180 with no warning. She’s trying to keep him calm and placate him, and as soon as he advances toward the bedroom, she thinks, I can’t escape right now, but what can I do to hold this off as long as possible? You don’t really see this shot, but Brianna sees the books and that gives her the idea. She knows she could’ve angered Bonnet when he makes a face like he can’t read, so she says, “I’ll sit and read to you.” It calms Brianna in a way and makes her feel like she’s with Jemmy. She’s really missing him. She’s never had this much time away from him before, and leaving a child for the first time is always a very tricky thing for a new mother. She’s definitely hoping Bonnet will fall asleep, but when he wants to know the ending, she starts to panic because she can tell he’s probably getting bored.
Are you reading Moby Dick in quarantine?
No, and what’s really embarrassing is I never actually read it. When Brianna was talking about it I had to give it a quick Google: Are these the real words she’s reading to Bonnet or is she making it up?
You did a lot of research on Brianna’s experiences last season. Did you do anything specific for this episode?
When Brianna goes to the jail in season 4, I did a lot of research into how women react when they see their aggressors again. I wanted Brianna to come across very strong, but I’m also aware that when you’re sexually abused, your body can take over and dictate how it’s going to go, even if your mind wants to stay calm. I also went back to all my research for the rape scene. I wanted Brianna to be brought back to that night again. She’s been trying to suppress it this whole time, but when Bonnet—for want of a better word—mounts Eppie, Bree’s back at that moment in the tavern. She’s brought back to that night and the rape.
I kept asking myself how Brianna kept her nerve during these scenes. Then I realized she’s probably spent a long time thinking about what would happen if she met him again.
She has been thinking of this moment for a very long time. I think being kidnapped by him was the one thing she never imagined. She thought it would come with him hurting someone she loves or trying to take Jemmy. But now that she’s in these circumstances, it’s nice to be able to show her tiny clipped remarks and grimaces. She really is walking a fine line and not annoying him so he flips the switch and hurts her again. It’s an interesting dynamic—it’s not the reunion she thought.
Does she regret going to the jail?
I always found it really tricky to put myself in Bree’s head for that moment. I don’t know if I could’ve done what she did, but I think she had to do it. She was making a point in saying, “I’m going to rise above and give you one little bit of goodness in this world before you leave.” But I also think she did it so she could look at Jemmy and not see Bonnet. It was hard for me. I would think that she would regret it, but I actually don’t. Brianna can be hot-headed and act on a whim, but she’s very calculated. She knew what she was doing when she went there and she thought about it over and over and over again. She’s not the type to regret her decisions. She lives the consequences and moves on. She probably would’ve done the same again if she could go back, but she would’ve made sure he was dead [Laughs].
Are you and Ed able to keep things light between takes?
It depends on the day. These are really tricky scenes because we film them over continuous days, which means you don’t get a lunch break—you literally stay on set all day, like 11 or 12 hours. It’s pretty intense. You always have the moments where you try to bring a little bit of lightness in, and Ed and I get on really well and we’re always happy to have a laugh. But the thing I love about working with him is that he is so intense. Ed is very method. He really does stay in character. In season 4 there was [a woman on set] who was like, “I just can’t look at Bonnet. He’s creeping me out. I’m scared of him.” And she meant it in a good way. He’s so Bonnet and you really feel that vibe on set. He’s gives a hundred percent on his takes. I’m gonna miss working with him.
Although he absolutely battered me to shit on the beach scenes. I was in bare feet and oh my goodness, he stood on my feet about 20 times. Someone came up to me and they’re like, “Is that real blood on your ankles?” I was like, yep! When you’re dragged down a hill in a corset, let me tell you, your spine does not work for you. My neck was buggered. [Laughs]
I always forget you’re in the corsets! When Bree points it out after running on the beach with Claire, I thought, I do not envy them.
The scene with Caitriona and I on the beach, I actually added in that line about the corsets, because sometimes I feel like it’s not mentioned enough. They’re from the future and these things are still foreign to them. That’s not something you get used to overnight. I remember them saying “don’t add that one” and I was like, “But we should!” Modern women are watching and we need to appreciate that stuff like that was difficult.
We need more scenes like that between Bree and Claire.
I know! She and Bree have come so far. They had such a strange relationship and now they’re almost friends more than mother and daughter. Even those tiny, simple scenes. It doesn’t have to be anything heavy. I love working with Caitriona. It’s nice when you actually have the women supporting each other. There was a lot of animosity with [people like] Laoghaire, so it’s really nice when you see the women as a team.
Let’s talk about the final scene, with Brianna shooting Bonnet after he’s sentenced to death. What did you think of that?
I love that Roger asks Brianna why she did it, and I love that Brianna didn’t answer. I don’t really want anyone to know her feelings, and in all honesty, I can find many reasons why she did it. She could’ve done it for revenge. She could’ve done it purely to make sure he’s dead—he has a very good habit of slithering his way out of any problem. For me, there’s almost an element of mercy in that. It’s like she did in the jail scene—I’m going to show you one tiny bit of goodness in this world. But I do like the mystery on Bree’s face. You don’t know if she doesn’t know herself or if she’s just not telling you.
Was it always going to be Bree killing him, like in the books? Or were there conversations about changing that?
There’s a lot in this script where Jamie and Roger are talking about who should kill Bonnet. Like, I don’t even know why this is a conversation, guys. He’s Brianna’s. That’s why the scene on the beach [after they capture Bonnet] is good—they say it’s Brianna’s choice. She tries to do the right thing. She doesn’t murder in cold blood. She gives him a trial. And in that way you’re protecting her family too. They’re not murderers. It’s done somewhat legitimately. I think there was some talk of Roger doing it, but I felt very strongly that Bree should [kill him]. Initially I think they were trying to end on Roger looking at Bonnet after Bree walks away, but this moment is [about] Bonnet and Brianna’s eye contact. It’s this unspoken thing between them and no one else knows what it’s saying.
The scenes between you and Richard in episode 8 are some of my favorites from the season. Can you talk about approaching them from Brianna’s perspective?
Brianna has been through a horrible trauma and she has her own PTSD, and a lot of people talk about PTSD as if it’s past tense. Brianna’s still going through it and she still struggles every day. She’s still afraid of sleep. She sees Bonnet and her demons and she has nightmares. She keeps things very insular and she’s very strong—she doesn’t like to burden her family—but just because people aren’t talking about something doesn’t mean they’re okay. Brianna is very good at tying herself together with a smile but when she’s on her own, we see that she’s still struggling. And that’s one thing I like about this season and about episode 8, because we really realize it.
She has been so patient with Roger and I find that very admirable. She never turns to him and says, “Months have passed. Get over it.” She tries to keep him safe and give him humor and be affectionate. She’s tried everything, and at this point it’s like, “You know what? This is tough love and it’s not even about me. It’s about our son and it’s about me having to be the tough one to pull you out of this.” We see her trying every avenue and coming to a dead end. I don’t think she’s plans it, it’s just like, “I can’t handle this anymore. I really, really need you.”
What can you tease about the rest of the season?
I love that every episode feels like a mini movie this season. It’s so fast paced and there’s still so much more to come. Everything comes to a climax in [episodes] 11 and 12. And you see a lot more of the family together. It’s tough because there are so many characters and so much to fit in and we don’t always get those intimate family scenes. There are some relationship scenes coming up that are really strong and beautiful.