'Outlander' Stars Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe Debate Jamie and Claire's Ever-Evolving, Always-Intense Romance

Carrie Bell

The honeymoon is most definitely over.

The relationship of Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser has always been tangled and tortured and complex — as you probably expect when a wanted Highlands hunk from the 1740s hooks up with a feisty, independent World War II combat nurse who has accidentally fallen through time to keep them both safe from a sadistic English captain who happens to be the distant relative of her present-day spouse. But in the last few episodes of Outlander, they have taken complicated “noisy displeasure” to a whole new level, thanks to the close calls with rape and death, slapping, name-calling, giant blowouts, corporal punishment, cutlery-assisted makeup sex, and ignored commands.

And the actors who play the seemingly star-crossed lovers could not be more tickled with the rising tension, intensified feelings, and constant threat of tragedy. “[In the first eight episodes], we’ve set up this thing, created this beautiful romance, and they were momentarily completely happy,” Sam Heughan (Jamie) tells Yahoo TV. “Now it just gets more and more intense. They’re going to be tested a lot, completely destroyed, and tainted by this other man. And that’s the tragedy of Outlander. It’s so fun. Now we get to really play.”

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Caitriona Balfe (Claire) echoed his warning about the second half of Season 1’s amplified action and propensity for darkness. “Outside events threaten to tear them apart, and it was hard to get my mind around all of these tragic things that happen to her — the loss of Frank, being thrown into a strange land and time, the physical abuses, the psychic abuses, having to watch someone she loves be threatened,” she explains. “I keep thinking, ‘How does she keep getting up?’ By this point, she must be like, ‘Enough! I want to go home now!’ It is too much for one person to handle, but it is also a testament to her resilience. She is such a strong character, and that’s one of the things I love most about her.”

Balfe feels that the intensity was kicked up a notch the minute they made it official. “They are both strong, passionate, independent people who have chosen to come together. Well, they didn’t entirely choose that, but they did choose to love each other, and being married changes how other people, like Laoghaire, interact with them and the personal stakes,” Balfe adds. “Them navigating these new parameters is what I find really interesting to play and to watch. It is a new marriage and realistic in that it is flawed. They fight. They make up. They have to learn to compromise and when to hold to their convictions, but it all comes out of their intense metaphysical and romantic bond.”

Both agree that the root of many of their issues is the fact that they are simply from different eras and cultures. Heughan worries that it may be an unconquerable divide. “It may never be bridged. Ultimately, the gap is the time difference, and as modern as this relationship has been up till now — Jamie’s very understanding, forward-thinking, and he likes that Claire is different and challenges him — he’s still a man of the time, and everything he knows about being a husband he has learned from that era. How does he accept everything that she is and still live a life, be safe, protect her, and fit into his world?”

Jamie delivering a spanking as punishment for ignoring his orders to stay put and therefore endangering the group, and Claire’s threatening, sword-and-sex reaction is a case in point. Balfe defends her character’s choice to not stew in “quiet anger.”

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“It was their first big fight. Things got said that hurt. That spanking and that fight were not going to be reconciled by simple ‘sorrys.’ She couldn’t just be like, ‘OK, all is forgiven. Love you.’ For her, that was not acceptable. So when she pulls the sword on him in [episode] 9, she is drawing a line in the sand, demanding respect, reestablishing her power, and saying, ‘I will love you so much, but I will never love you more than I love myself.’ He thinks if he just delivers the punishment, gets it over with, cracks jokes, and says a quick ‘Sorry,’ everyone will just accept what happened and things will just go back to the way they were — but sorry, Jamie, that’s not how women work.”

But she also understands where her new husband is coming from. “This is the thing. You can’t fault Jamie either. She did endanger the whole group whether she meant to or not. It is what Dougal expected of him. In that day and age, men did punish their wives. That is all Jamie has ever known,” Balfe continues. “This is where we see the marriage can work. She may not be OK with what he’s done, but she can understand it in the context of the time period. That’s what you have to ask for in a relationship. Maybe we can accept each other within that context. But it is a battle for her because it is not who she is or acceptable where she comes from.”

It is also easier for her to reconcile Claire staying because Jamie is trying to meet her halfway. “I loved that sentiment when he says basically, ‘Maybe for us it has to be a different way,’” Balfe says. “That’s why she has fallen so hard for him. He has an emotional sensitivity that is very modern. His willingness to live differently than his peers and be challenged by her or include her is progressive. He is very well-educated and has traveled the world despite him wanting to give off the rugged, Jamie Fraser boy-of-the-land vibe. In a sense, he is sort of the 1740s version of her. But he is a work in progress.”

Related: 'Outlander’ Star Caitriona Balfe Makes Her Choice: Jamie or Frank?

Heughan adds, “Every day with Claire is a learning experience for him. Before Claire fell from the sky, life was so easy for Jamie. He only had himself to worry about. Now, Jamie constantly has to deal with the fact that he has a wife and responsibility. He’s idealistic, stubborn, he has pride, and he doesn’t always do the right thing.”

Given where Claire lands herself at the end of the April 11 episode, “By the Pricking of My Thumbs,” might another big blowout be on the Highlands horizon? “I don’t want to be the one that ruins anything, but I think it is likely safe to assume this will not be their last argument,” Heughan cracks. “But I prefer the complications. If it was all plain sailing and romance, it’d be a boring show.”

Outlander airs  Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.