Outlander spoilers for season 7, episode 1 follow.
Outlander left us with some gigantic cliffhangers at the end of season six, but as well as resolving a few of those in the seventh season premiere, ‘A Life Well Lost’, the episode also solves a long-running mystery about what happened to a memorable character Claire Fraser first encountered a few years ago.
Season six ended with Claire – accused of murdering Fraser’s Ridge resident Malva and her unborn baby – being taken away by Richard Brown and his band of vigilantes to stand trial in Wilmington. As the season ended, Jamie dodged Brown’s plan to ship him back to Scotland, and with Young Ian alongside, our favourite Highland hero dashed off to save his wife from the gallows.
The new season kicks off with Jamie and Young Ian en route to Wilmington, and Claire in jail there, burdened with the knowledge that, with the Revolutionary War looming, all courts are closed and destined to remain that way for years to come. (Though, as a fellow inmate points out, no courts means no trials, so less likelihood of being hanged).
With the help of Tom Christie (Malva’s dad, who is nursing a major crush on Claire), the Frasers are reunited before episode’s end (though the true murderer of Malva is yet to be revealed) and Jamie finally gets revenge on Richard Brown. So that’s a handful of those cliffhanger storylines wrapped up at least.
Oblivious to all this excitement, Claire and Jamie’s daughter Bree and husband Roger are hundreds of miles away. Roger is training to be a minister, and it is his encounter with a man at a camp full of British soldiers that answers a question that has been puzzling Outlander fans for a long while.
Roger is introduced to a group of conscripted men held in shackles by the soldiers, who mock him in front of his religious tutor, asking what kind of advice he could possibly give them that could help them now. Roger – who, like Bree and Claire has time-travelled from the 20th century – says the first wise thing he can think of, which turns out to be “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” – boxer Muhammad Ali’s famous 1964 quote that would mean nothing to 18th-century prisoners.
However, there is one man amongst them who does recognise the saying, and it is none other than Wendigo Donner.
Yes, the same Wendigo Donner whom Claire met when she was abducted by Lionel Brown and his men at the end of season five, who disappeared before Jamie and friends arrived and rescued Claire (yes, we know Claire needs rescuing a lot, but she’s rescued Jamie a few times too, so, as Jamie would say, “fair is fair”).
And the same Wendigo Donner who we briefly glimpsed in season six (episode five) in Wilmington jail after he stole some jewellery from an acquaintance of Claire’s.
As fans (and readers of Diana Gabaldon’s novels) will already know, Donner is a time traveller, too (which explains why he stole the jewellery as you need precious gems to be able to travel through the stones). He’s one of the ‘Montauk Five’ – a group of Native American men who were reported as ‘missing’ in the 20th century, but who actually travelled from 1968 back to the 18th century in an effort to persuade tribes to ally with British forces in the upcoming Revolutionary war and hopefully change history in their favour.
Claire already knows what happened to one of Donner’s companions, Robert Springer, as he travelled back further in time than they had planned and became known as ‘Otter Tooth’ to a tribe that took him in. He was eventually killed for his ‘madness,’ after he ranted a warning for years about Native American tribes being almost wiped out in the future, and none of the tribe believed him.
But the real question has always been what happened to Wendigo Donner after that fleeting appearance last season, and what happened to the other time travellers he came with – and now we finally know (about Donner, at least).
Roger is, of course, shocked when Donner says “Ali,” to him, recognising the quote, so he goes over to speak to him. Donner tells him who he is and Roger instantly recoils, remembering that Donner was part of Brown’s gang and present when Claire was attacked.
Donner promises he had no part in that and wanted to help her get away, but that he is now conscripted to the British Army following his time in prison, when all he wants to do is return to his own time.
He explains to Roger that he and four men made it through the stones, but they were split up as they travelled through time and he never saw the others again.
In Gabaldon’s Outlander book ‘The Fiery Cross’, Brianna remembers reading that of the missing five Native American men in 1968, one was found dead in the 20th century, his journey through time clearly having gone wrong. Since we know what happened to Springer and Donner, it is therefore likely that the other two travellers in the group also had problems and possibly ended up elsewhere in time – perhaps even further in the past.
Donner asks for Roger’s help to escape, but when Roger tells his wife, Brianna objects (“you’re not Steve McQueen in The Great Escape,” she sternly tells Roger).
Roger eventually decides to follow the words of the Bible – “God helps those who help themselves” – which presumably means he gives Donner the snacks and strong-looking hammer Roger has in his bag, and then leaves him to get on with it rather than fully aid his escape.
Either way, we’re sure this isn’t the last time we – or the Fraser family – encounters Wendigo Donner. It’s just a matter of where, and indeed, when…