Television endgames are never easy to get right, especially when taking the lead from existing source material. But that is made infinitely more challenging when that source material isn’t finished. It happened with the much-maligned series finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Series creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss had to reconcile the deadsprint to their ending with what they knew was to come in George R. R. Martin’s still-incomplete book series A Song of Ice and Fire.
Starz’s Outlander is about to face a similar dilemma. Just ahead of the current two-part seventh season, Starz announced the series will end with a 10-episode eighth and final season. This means it will likely conclude before Diana Gabaldon, who authored the books on which the series is based, has completed the 10th installment. Gabaldon has been coy on whether the 10th novel will actually be the last in the sweeping love story of Claire and Jamie Fraser. But with an average of six years between the releases of the two most recent installments — the last of which came out in November of 2021 — fans know they are in for a long wait to find out.
On screen, there’s still plenty of time and episodes left before fans have to say goodbye to Claire and Jamie, as played by Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan. Part 1 of Season 7 only concluded this week, with Part 2’s eight episodes set for 2024.
But the looming end of the series has sent Season 7 into storytelling hyperdrive, with producers planning to adapt Books 6, 7 and 8 by the end of the supersized 16-episode season. Then, Season 8 will cover the ninth book, Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone, along with whatever insight Gabaldon shares about her master plan for the future. (For reference, Outlander previously focused on one book per season before COVID brought an early end to Season 6.)
This uncertainty about where Outlander the TV series will put a period on its story comes at a moment when it also has to begin devouring material just to make it to the finish line Gabaldon has published. Most of Gabaldon’s larger twists and turns remain intact, but the pacing is — by default — starting to feel like flipping through a history book to look at the pictures.
The first challenge of Season 7 was to finish the rest of Book 6, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, which was left incomplete by the shortened Season 6. Even though this season finally tosses the Frasers and family into the storm of the American Revolution, viewers actually waited longer for their first glimpse of the frontlines.
In “Snow and Ashes,” Jamie raises an army of men from Fraser’s Ridge in Western North Carolina and fights for the cause of liberty at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge outside Wilmington. Gabaldon’s inclusion of this Feb. 27, 1776 battle was important, as it is one of the most consequential in American history and the first major Patriot victory in the war. In the context of Outlander, it is even more significant because Scottish Highlanders suffer the most losses fighting on behalf of the King.
But the TV series skips all of it. In fact, the first true fighting isn’t seen until the season's final two episodes at the Battles of Saratoga. Jamie started his American journey as a Loyalist before inching toward the Sons of Liberty’s cause, an allegiance he solidified by fighting against his Scottish brethren at Moores Creek. It’s also where he kills Donald MacDonald, a character the series spent time developing in Season 6 only to forget about after a brief appearance in the Season 7 premiere.
In place of Moores Creek, Jamie and Claire celebrate her exoneration for Malva Christie’s murder by simply going back to the Ridge, taking a breath and settling into a montage of passing months that moves the story from 1775 to 1777, and into the heart of Book 7, An Echo In the Bone.
It might be a peek into what Outlander will look like in its final seasons — a story told at breakneck speed with a tight focus on its main characters. It’s a noticeable change for a show that once luxuriated in the quieter moments between Claire and Jamie’s misadventures, and gleefully placed them at flashpoints in history just to watch them navigate notable figures and global politics. Now, with finite time to work through nearly 2,000 pages of story in a single season, gone are the days for nuance.
This is not to say Gabaldon’s story is being lost. After the Big House at the Ridge burns down as prophesied, the Frasers still travel north to New York’s Fort Ticonderoga and eventually Jamie fights with the Continental Army at Saratoga. Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and Roger (Richard Rankin) step through the stones back to the 1970s to get their newborn daughter treated for a heart murmur. Even William Ransom (Charles Vandervaart), Jamie’s grown illegitimate son and a proud Redcoat, manages to get- wounded and stranded in the Great Dismal Swamp. The season also ends with the Frasers arriving back in Scotland for the first time in a decade.
But in Gabaldon’s dense tones, these are the basics. Other story lines, many involving the supporting cast — the saga of Lord John Grey’s (David Berry) family, Young Ian’s (John Bell) rising body count that sends him on the run, the entire sea battle in which the family find themselves — are all gone. In fast forward, the richly drawn ensemble is slowly losing definition with the end in sight.
In spite of all, fans can only be so frustrated with the condensed and expedited storytelling in Season 7. Gabaldon’s books have always been Olympic feats of adaptation with necessary cuts made page to screen, and the TV series ending on its own terms (and that of its stars) is admirable — and a lot better than cancellation. Viewers just better keep eye drops handy over the next 18 episodes, because if they blink, they might miss a great deal of Outlander’s endgame.
Outlander Season 7, Part 1 is streaming on the Starz app. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Hunter Ingram is a TV writer living in North Carolina and watching way too much television. His byline has appeared in Variety, Emmy Magazine, USA Today, and across Gannett's USA Today Network newspapers.