Outlander season 7 spoilers follow.
Now in its seventh season – with a final eighth season to come – historical fantasy drama Outlander has focused on the love story between 20th-century nurse Claire Randall and 18th century Scottish highlander Jamie Fraser, whom she first encountered when she visited ancient Scottish standing stones and accidentally travelled back through time (leaving her perfectly decent English husband Frank behind).
Over 70-odd episodes, the fiery couple have endured torture, war, nearly being burnt at the stake, a shipwreck, poisonings, being shot at, being wrenched apart and separated by centuries, the loss of their first child, and numerous other tragedies that underline what an enduring and determined romantic TV couple they are.
But while Claire and Jamie provide the central romance that draws many fans in, their love story – which does have some calm, happy moments and all that sex that Outlander is known for – isn’t the most moving or achingly sad one on the show.
That honour goes to the love between Jamie (Sam Heughan) and his friend Lord John Grey (David Berry), which is highlighted once more in the second episode of season seven.
Once again on opposing sides – Lord John is a former British officer and Jamie will be fighting with the rebels in the Revolutionary War that is looming – the pair meet for a heartbreaking goodbye that sums up their complicated relationship that began decades before.
While their first meeting back in season two was almost comic – a very young Lord John (played by Ladhood’s Oscar Kennedy) encountered Jamie and believed he was rescuing Englishwoman Claire from the highlander’s clutches – the pair were reunited after the Jacobite Rising when John became the new warden at Ardsmuir Prison and discovered Jamie was one of the prisoners there in season three.
The men slowly built up a friendship – John realising that Jamie’s fellow prisoners regarded him as their leader and spokesman – with Jamie telling John about his love for his wife Claire (who at this point had gone back to the 20th century to raise their daughter Brianna) and the two of them sharing their grief after John disclosed that he lost a close friend at Culloden (“some people you grieve over forever”).
However, John misinterpreted their friendly intimacy as something more, only to be rejected, and it became clear that the quietly spoken soldier was already in love with Jamie as he sat alone afterwards, a single tear running down his face.
While John is gay (and having to hide it due to horrendous 18th-century laws) and Jamie is not, theirs is nonetheless a true love story that builds from their time at Ardsmuir. John is the one who secured Jamie’s new position as groomsman at the wealthy Helwater estate after Ardsmuir was closed, and he regularly visited his friend there for a game of chess. He is also the one who raises Jamie’s illegitimate child, William, as his own and gives Jamie news of his son every time they cross paths.
When Jamie and Claire arrive in Jamaica at the end of season three, John greets his friend with joy (and you truly feel sorry for him when he realises Claire is there, too) and reveals that he wears the sapphire that Jamie gave him for safe-keeping when they were at Ardsmuir, “to remember our friendship”.
The pair are loving friends, and have the shared bond of William – which John points out to Claire when they have a moment alone together in season four (he is delirious with fever, so we’ll forgive Lord John for being a bit catty about his and Jamie’s relationship as he tells Claire, “you’re envious of the time Jamie and I shared together”).
While this does feed into a bit of a tired TV trope of the gay friend being secretly in love with the straight protagonist, their relationship is far from one-sided. John knows they can never be more than friends, but has come to terms with that, and Jamie truly loves John as someone that he trusts completely – not just with his son but also with his daughter Brianna when Jamie has to be away from her, too.
It’s always a joy when Sam Heughan and David Berry have scenes together as Jamie and John, but their encounter in the second episode of season seven adds another heartbreaking twist to their story.
On opposing sides, and with William now grown up and soldiering for the British Army, Jamie visits his friend for what is one of the saddest goodbyes in Outlander (and we haven’t forgotten the gut-wrenching one when Jamie sent a pregnant Claire away through the stones at the end of season two).
Jamie tells John the reason they are in Wilmington is to secure a jewel for Brianna (he doesn’t say it is needed for time travel through the stones, of course) and John gives him his treasured sapphire – “I’ve kept it with me the last 20 years – take it, for Brianna. It is my very great pleasure.”
However, it is then time for the two of them to say goodbye, perhaps for a long time, for their own safety.
“I fear we must sever all connection between us,” Jamie tells him, and both men look like their hearts are breaking. “Believe me, even in silence I shall remain your most humble friend.”
The pair part, John with tears in his eyes, and then we see Jamie in the corridor outside, looking just as bereft and on the verge of weeping.
If the Outlander series follows the books, this won’t be the last time the men are together (though – spoiler alert – a future reunion may not be very cheery), but for now their emotional goodbye and beautiful, unspoken love for each other remains one of the loveliest and saddest elements of the whole series.