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Outlander – Books vs TV show: Lionel Brown ‘s death!

outlander lionel brown death

As most Outlander fans know (or should know) the Outlander TV series and its books are not exactly the same. In this brand new section, we will be comparing some elements between the STARZ historical-fantasty drama, Outlander, and Diana Gabaldon’s book series on which it’s based: let’s take a closer look at the case of the circumstances of Lionel Brown ‘s death!

OUTLANDER books vs tv show wedding ring
Outlander – Books vs TV show: Lionel Brown ‘s death!

The death of Lionel Brown, the man who led Claire’s kidnappers

As many will know, and just as many will not, the dynamics around Lionel Brown’s death in the fifth season finale are a notable element of divergence between the television series and the Outlander books.

In fact, unlike Diana Gabaldon’s books, where Lionel Brown dies in an almost accidental manner at the hands of the Fraser’s Ridge maid, Mrs. Bug, who smothers him with a pillow because of his long tongue, in the TV series we see Marsali carry out this act in revenge for what the man had done to Claire by performing a fatal intravenous injection on Lionel Brown.

Book version

As we entered the hallway and turned toward the kitchen, though, I heard an odd sort of noise from behind us. A peculiar kind of thumping or dragging outside, as though some large animal was lumbering across the hollow boards of the front stoop.

“What’s that?” Malva said, looking over her shoulder in alarm.

A loud groan answered her, and a thud! that shook the front door as something fell against it.

“Mary, Joseph, and Bride!” Mrs. Bug had popped out of the kitchen, crossing herself. “What’s that?”

My heart had begun to race at the noises, and my mouth went dry. Something large and dark blocked the line of light beneath the door, and stertorous breathing was clearly audible, interspersed with groans.

“Well, whatever it is, it’s sick or injured,” I said. “Stand back.” I wiped my hands on my apron, swallowed, walked forward, and pulled open the door.

For a moment, I didn’t recognize him; he was no more than a heap of flesh, wild hair, and disheveled garments smeared with dirt. But then he struggled up onto one knee and raised his head, panting, showing me a dead-white face, marked with bruises and glossy with sweat.

“Mr. Brown?” I said, incredulous.

His eyes were glazed; I wasn’t sure that he saw me at all, but clearly he recognized my voice, for he lunged forward, nearly knocking me over. I stepped smartly back, but he caught me by the foot and held on, crying, “Mercy! Mistress, have mercy on me, I pray you!”

“What in the name of—let go. Let go, I say!” I shook my foot, trying to dislodge him, but he clung like a limpet, and went on shouting, “Mercy!” in a sort of hoarse, desperate chant.

“Oh, shut your noise, man,” Mrs. Bug said crossly. Recovered from the shock of his entrance, she appeared not at all discomposed by his appearance, though substantially annoyed by it.

Lionel Brown did not shut up, but went on imploring me for mercy, despite my attempts to placate him. These were interrupted by Mrs. Bug leaning past me, a large meat-mallet in her hand, and dotting Mr. Brown smartly on the head with it. His eyes rolled back in his head and he dropped on his face without another word.

“I’m that sorry, Mrs. Fraser,” Mrs. Bug said, apologetic. “I canna think how he got out, let alone came all this way!”

I didn’t know how he’d got out, either, but it was quite clear how he’d come—he’d crawled, dragging his broken leg. His hands and legs were scratched and bloody, his breeches in tatters, and the whole of him covered with smears of mud, stuck full of grass and leaves.

I leaned down and plucked an elm leaf from his hair, trying to think what on earth to do with him. The obvious, I supposed.

“Help me get him into the surgery,” I said, sighing as I bent to get him under the arms.

“Ye canna be doing that, Mrs. Fraser!” Mrs. Bug was scandalized. “Himself was verra fierce about it; ye mustna be troubled by this scoundrel, he said, nor even catch sight of the man!”

“Well, I’m afraid it’s a bit late not to catch sight of him,” I said, tugging at the inert body. “We can’t just let him lie on the porch, can we? Help me!”

Mrs. Bug appeared to see no good reason why Mr. Brown ought not to continue lying on the porch, but when Malva—who had been pressed flat against the wall, wide-eyed, during the uproar—came to help, Mrs. Bug gave in with a sigh, laying down her weapon and lending a hand.

He had recovered consciousness by the time we got him man-handled onto the surgery table, and was moaning, “Don’t let him kill me … please don’t let him kill me!”

“Would you be quiet?” I said, thoroughly irritated. “Let me look at your leg.”

No one had improved on my original rough splinting job, and his journey from the Bugs’ cabin hadn’t done it any good; blood was seeping through the bandages. I was frankly amazed that he had made it, considering his other injuries. His flesh was clammy and his breath shallow, but he wasn’t badly fevered.

“Will you bring me some hot water, please, Mrs. Bug?” I asked, gingerly prodding the fractured limb. “And perhaps a little whisky? He’ll need something for shock.”

“I will not,” Mrs. Bug said, giving the patient a look of intense dislike. “We should just be saving Mr. Fraser the trouble of dealing wi’ the gobshite, if he hasna got the courtesy to die by himself.” She was still holding her mallet, and raised it in a threatening manner, causing Mr. Brown to cower and cry out, as the movement hurt his broken wrist.

“I’ll fetch the water,” Malva said, and disappeared.

Ignoring my attempts to deal with his injuries, Mr. Brown seized my wrist with his one good hand, his grip surprisingly strong.

“Don’t let him kill me,” he said hoarsely, fixing me with bloodshot eyes. “Please, I beg you!”

I hesitated. I hadn’t exactly forgotten Mr. Brown’s existence, but I had more or less suppressed the knowledge of it over the last day or so. I had been only too glad not to think of him.

He saw my hesitation, and licked his lips, trying again.

“Save me, Mrs. Fraser—I implore you! You are the only one he will listen to!”

With some difficulty, I detached his hand from my wrist.

“Why, exactly, do you think anyone wants to kill you?” I asked carefully.

Brown didn’t laugh, but his mouth twisted bitterly at that.

“He says that he will. I don’t doubt him.” He seemed a little calmer now, and took a deep, shuddering breath. “Please, Mrs. Fraser,” he said more softly. “I beg you—save me.”

I glanced up at Mrs. Bug, and read the truth in her folded arms and tight lips. She knew.

At this point, Malva hurried in, a beaker of hot water in one hand, the whisky jug in the other.

“What shall I do?” she asked breathlessly.

“Er … in the cupboard,” I said, trying to focus my mind. “Do you know what comfrey looks like—boneset?” I had hold of Brown’s wrist, automatically checking his pulse. It was galloping.

“Aye, ma’am. Shall I put some to steep, then?” She had set down the jug and beaker and was already hunting through the cupboard.

I met Brown’s eyes, trying for dispassion.

“You would have killed me, if you could,” I said very quietly. My own pulse was going nearly as fast as his.

“No,” he said, but his eyes slid away from mine. Only a fraction, but away. “No, I never would!”

“You told H-Hodgepile to kill me.” My voice shook on the name and a flush of anger burgeoned suddenly inside me. “You know you did!”

His left wrist was likely broken, and no one had set it; the flesh was puffy, dark with bruising. Even so, he pressed his free hand over mine, urgent with the need to convince me. The smell of him was rank, hot, and feral, like—

I ripped my hand free, revulsion crawling over my skin like a swarm of centipedes. I rubbed my palm hard on my apron, trying not to throw up.

It hadn’t been him. I knew that much. Of all the men, it couldn’t have been him; he had broken his leg in the afternoon. There was no way in which he could have been that heavy, inexorable presence in the night, shoving, stinking. And yet I felt he was, and swallowed bile, my head going suddenly light.

“Mrs. Fraser? Mrs. Fraser!” Malva and Mrs. Bug both spoke together, and before I knew quite what was happening, Mrs. Bug had eased me onto a stool, holding me upright, and Malva was pressing a cup of whisky urgently against my mouth.

I drank, eyes closed, trying to lose myself momentarily in the clean, pungent scent and the searing taste of it.

I remembered Jamie’s fury, the night he had brought me home. Had Brown been in the room with us then, there was no doubt he would have killed the man. Would he do so now, in colder blood? I didn’t know. Brown clearly thought so.

I could hear Brown crying, a low, hopeless sound. I swallowed the last of the whisky, pushed the cup away, and sat up, opening my eyes. To my vague surprise, I was crying, too.

I stood up, and wiped my face on my apron. It smelled comfortingly of butter and cinnamon and fresh applesauce, and the scent of it calmed my nausea.

“The tea’s ready, Mrs. Fraser,” Malva whispered, touching my sleeve. Her eyes were fixed on Brown, huddled miserably on the table. “Will ye drink it?”

“No,” I said. “Give it to him. Then fetch me some bandages—and go home.”

I had no idea what Jamie meant to do; I had no idea what I might do, when I discovered his intent. I didn’t know what to think, or how to feel. The only thing I did know for certain was that I had an injured man before me. For the moment, that would have to be enough.

For a little while, I managed to forget who he was. Forbidding him to speak, I gritted my teeth and became absorbed in the tasks before me. He sniveled, but kept still. I cleaned, bandaged, tidied, administering impersonal comfort. But as the tasks ended, I was still left with the man, and was conscious of increasing distaste each time I touched him.

At last, I was finished, and went to wash, meticulously wiping my hands with a cloth soaked in turpentine and alcohol, cleaning under each fingernail despite the soreness. I was, I realized, behaving as though he harbored some vile contagion. But I couldn’t stop myself.

Lionel Brown watched me apprehensively.

“What d’ye mean to do?”

“I haven’t decided yet.” This was more or less true. It hadn’t been a process of conscious decision, though my course of action—or lack of it—had been determined. Jamie—damn him—had been right. I saw no reason to tell Lionel Brown that, though. Not yet.

He was opening his mouth, no doubt to plead with me further, but I stopped him with a sharp gesture.

“There was a man with you named Donner. What do you know about him?”

Whatever he’d expected, it wasn’t that. His mouth hung open a little.

“Donner?” he repeated, looking uncertain.

“Don’t dare to tell me you don’t remember him,” I said, my agitation making me sound fierce.

“Oh, no, ma’am,” he assured me hastily. “I recall him fine—just fine! What”—his tongue touched the raw corner of his mouth—“what d’ye want to know about him?”

The main thing I wanted to know was whether he was dead or not, but Brown almost certainly didn’t know that.

“Let’s start with his full name,” I proposed, sitting down gingerly beside him, “and go from there.”

In the event, Brown knew little more for sure about Donner than his name—which, he said, was Wendigo.

“What?” I said incredulously, but Brown appeared to find nothing odd in it.

“That’s what he said it was,” he said, sounding hurt that I should doubt him. “Indian, in’t it?”

It was. It was, to be precise, the name of a monster from the mythology of some northern tribe—I couldn’t recall which. Brianna’s high-school class had once done a unit of Native American myths, with each child undertaking to explain and illustrate a particular story. Bree had done the Wendigo.

I recalled it only because of the accompanying picture she had drawn, which had stuck with me for some time. Done in a reverse technique, the basic drawing done in white crayon, showing through an overlay of charcoal. Trees, lashing to and fro in a swirl of snow and wind, leaf-stripped and needle-flying, the spaces between them part of the night. The picture had a sense of urgency about it, wildness and movement. It took several moments of looking at it before one glimpsed the face amid the branches. I had actually yelped and dropped the paper when I saw it—much to Bree’s gratification.

“I daresay,” I said, firmly suppressing the memory of the Wendigo’s face. “Where did he come from? Did he live in Brownsville?”

He had stayed in Brownsville, but only for a few weeks. Hodgepile had brought him from somewhere, along with his other men. Brown had taken no notice of him; he caused no trouble.

“He stayed with the widow Baudry,” Brown said, sounding suddenly hopeful. “Might be he told her something of himself. I could find out for you. When I go home.” He gave me a look of what I assumed he meant to be doglike trust, but which looked more like a dying newt.

“Hmm,” I said, giving him a look of extreme skepticism. “We’ll see about that.”

He licked his lips, trying to look pitiful.

“Could I maybe have some water, ma’am?”

I didn’t suppose I could let him die of thirst, but I had had quite enough of ministering to the man personally. I wanted him out of my surgery and out of my sight, as soon as possible. I nodded brusquely and stepped into the hall, calling for Mrs. Bug to bring some water. […]

The door stood ajar, as I’d left it. I pushed it open, and the strong pure light of the afternoon shone past me, illuminating Mrs. Bug in the act of pressing a pillow over Lionel Brown’s face with all her strength.

I stood blinking for a moment, so surprised that I simply couldn’t translate the sight into realization. Then I darted forward with an incoherent cry and grabbed her arm.

She was terribly strong, and so focused on what she was doing that she didn’t budge, veins standing out in her forehead and her face nearly purple with effort. I jerked hard on her arm, failed to dislodge her grip, and in desperation shoved her as hard as I could.

She staggered, off-balance, and I snatched the edge of the pillow, yanking it sideways, off Brown’s face. She lunged back, intent on completing the job, blunt hands shoving down into the mass of the pillow and disappearing to the wrists.

I drew back a step and flung myself at her bodily. We went over with a crash, hitting the table, upsetting the bench, and ending in a tangle on the floor amid a litter of broken earthenware and the scents of mint tea and a spilled chamber pot.

I rolled, gasped for breath, pain from my cracked ribs paralyzing me for a moment. Then I gritted my teeth, pushing her away and trying to extricate myself from a snarl of skirts—and stumbled to my feet.

His hand hung limp, trailing from the table, and I grabbed his jaw, pulling back his head, and pressed my mouth fervently to his. I blew what little breath I had into him, gasped, and blew again, all the time feeling frantically for some trace of a pulse in his neck.

He was warm, the bones of his jaw, his shoulder felt normal—but his flesh had a terrible slackness, the lips under mine flattening obscenely as I pressed and blew, blood from my split lip splattering everywhere, falling somehow away, so that I was forced to suck frantically to keep them sealed, breathing in hard through the corners of my mouth, fighting my ribs for enough air to blow again.

I felt someone behind me—Mrs. Bug—and kicked out at her. She made an effort to seize my shoulder, but I wrenched aside and her fingers slipped off. I turned round fast and hit her, as hard as I could, in the stomach, and she fell down on the floor with a loud whoof! No time to spare for her; I whirled and flung myself once more on Brown.

The chest under my hand rose reassuringly as I blew—but fell abruptly as I stopped. I drew back and pounded hard with both fists, smacking the hard springiness of the sternum with enough force to bruise my own hands further—and Brown’s flesh, had he been capable of bruising any longer.

He wasn’t. I blew and thumped and blew, until bloody sweat ran down my body in streams and my thighs were slick with it and my ears rang and black spots swam before my eyes with hyperventilating. Finally, I stopped. I stood panting in deep, wheezing gasps, wet hair hanging in my face, my hands throbbing in time to my pounding heart.

The bloody man was dead.

I rubbed my hands on my apron, then used it to wipe my face. My mouth was swollen and tasted of blood; I spat on the floor. I felt quite calm; the air had that peculiar sense of stillness that often accompanies a quiet death. A Carolina wren called in the wood nearby, “Teakettle, teakettle, teakettle!”

I heard a small rustling noise and turned round. Mrs. Bug had righted the bench and sat down on it. She sat hunched forward, hands folded together in her lap, a small frown on her wrinkled round face as she stared intently at the body on the table. Brown’s hand hung limp, fingers slightly cupped, holding shadows.

The sheet was stained over his body; that was the source of the chamber pot smell. So, he’d been dead before I began my resuscitation efforts.

Another wave of heat bloomed upward, coating my skin like hot wax. I could smell my own sweat. I closed my eyes briefly, then opened them, and turned back to Mrs. Bug.

“Why on earth,” I asked conversationally, “did you do that?”

“She’s done what?” Jamie stared at me uncomprehendingly, then at Mrs. Bug, who sat at the kitchen table, head bowed, her hands clasped together in front of her.

Not waiting for me to repeat what I’d said, he strode down the hall to the surgery. I heard his footsteps come to a sudden stop. There was an instant’s silence, and then a heartfelt Gaelic oath. Mrs. Bug’s plump shoulders rose around her ears.

The footsteps came back, more slowly. He came in, and walked to the table where she sat.

“O, woman, how have you dared to lay hands upon a man who was mine?” he asked very softly, in Gaelic.

“Oh, sir,” she whispered. She was afraid to look up; she cowered under her cap, her face almost invisible. “I—I didna mean to. Truly, sir!”

Jamie glanced at me.

“She smothered him,” I repeated. “With a pillow.”

“I think ye do not do such a thing without meaning it,” he said, with an edge in his voice that could have sharpened knives. “What were ye about, a boireannach, to do it?”

The round shoulders began to quiver with fright.

“Oh, sir, oh, sir! I ken ’twas wrong—only … only it was the wicked tongue of him. All the time I had care of him, he’d cower and tremble, aye, when you or the young one came to speak to him, even Arch—but me—” She swallowed, the flesh of her face seeming suddenly loose. “I’m no but a woman, he could speak his mind to me, and he did. Threatening, sir, and cursing most awfully. He said—he said as how his brother would come, him and his men, to free him, and would slaughter us all in our blood and burn the houses over our heids.” Her jowls trembled as she spoke, but she found the courage to look up and meet Jamie’s eyes.

“I kent ye’d never let that happen, sir, and did my best to pay him no mind. And when he did get under my skin enough, I told him he’d be deid long before his brother heard where he was. But then the wicked wee cur escaped—and I’m sure I’ve no idea how ’twas done, for I’d have sworn he was in no condition even to rise from the bed, let alone come so far, but he did, and threw himself upon your wife’s mercy, and she took him up—I would have dragged his evil carcass away myself, but she wouldna have it—” Here she darted a briefly resentful glance at me, but returned an imploring gaze to Jamie almost at once.

“And she took him to mend, sweet gracious lady that she is, sir—and I could see it in her face, that having tended him so, it was coming to her that she couldna bear to see him killed. And he saw it, too, the gobshite, and when she went out, he jeered at me, saying now he was safe, he’d fooled her into tending him and she’d never let him be killed, and directly he was free of the place, he’d have a score of men down upon us like vengeance itself, and then …” She closed her eyes, swaying briefly, and pressed a hand to her chest.

“I couldn’t help it, sir,” she said very simply. “I really couldn’t.”

Jamie had been attending to her, a look like thunder on his brow. At this point, he glanced sharply at me—and evidently saw corroborative evidence upon my own battered features. His lips pressed tight together.

“Go home,” he said to Mrs. Bug. “Tell your husband what you have done, and send him to me.”

He turned on his heel then, and headed for his study. Not looking at me, Mrs. Bug rose awkwardly to her feet and went out, walking like a blind woman.

TV version

As anticipated earlier, in the TV series Lionel Brown’s death carries with it a subtext of revenge and justice after all that the man put Claire through, including physical and verbal violence and rape.

Badly injured by the Ridge men in an attempt to get Claire to safety following her kidnapping and violence, Lionel Brown is taken to the woman’s clinic at Fraser’s Ridge. Claire herself is keen to fulfill her oath as a doctor and not kill him, albeit with difficulty, but the same cannot be said of her assistant and acquired daughter Marsali. The latter, in a gesture of extreme anger and exasperation as a result of the numerous insults the man kept inflicting on Claire, decides to perform a lethal injection on him that will extinguish him for good. A gesture of great strength that the young woman performs as a sign of revenge in the name of the woman who has helped, trained and raised her in recent years.

What do you think of this small but important difference between the Outlander series and books? Let us know your opinion in the comments!

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About Author

When Cristina Yang’s mankind hate, and Sherlock Holmes’ deductive skills meet Randall Pearson’s anxiety and Jamie Fraser’s multilingualism (featuring Claire Fraser’s curls and Kate Pearson’s voice).
Translator and feature article with a great love for cinema, TV series and books.


  1. Eileen says:

    Was I mistaken in thinking that Clair had deliberately left the syringe for Marsali to use?

    1. Chiara Lombatti says:

      I don’t think she did

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