Diana Gabaldon killed Murtagh at Culloden in the novels. The death at that point in the story was important to her, and to Jamie’s development.
Diana Gabaldon understandably has mixed feelings about Murtagh being alive in Outlander Season 5. After all, she killed the character off at the Battle of Culloden, and this was an important moment for Murtagh’s story and for Jamie’s future.
Of course, TV shows work differently. Side characters can end up playing a bigger role than they did in the books. That’s certainly the case for Murtagh, who had the chance to bond with Claire in a way he never did in the novels. We got to see a more fleshed-out character than is possible in a book that is from specific viewpoints instead of a third-person POV, which the series is.
From a TV show point of view, it’s easy to understand why Murtagh was kept alive. His death ended up being very much like that in Culloden, sacrificing himself for Jamie. The ending also leads to the same thing as Culloden.
However, Diana Gabaldon told Parade that Murtagh’s death being at Culloden was important for Jamie. It marked a deeply emotional price to Culloden for Jamie, losing the man who was such an important figure in Jamie’s life. Jamie didn’t just suffer the physical wounds of the battle or the loss of Scottish Highland culture, but he lost the most important man in his life.
He was still grieving that loss when Claire returned. He didn’t even remember how Murtagh died at first, as the battle was just a blur to him. He remembered it at a last point in “Voyager,” which adds to the heartbreak for Jamie.
The loss is seen the most during the seven years in the cave and the three years at Ardsmuir prison. Jamie was alone. He felt alone. Everyone he cared about was gone in some way. Had Murtagh been in Ardsmuir with him, like during Outlander Season 3, Jamie wouldn’t have felt as broken as he did in “Voyager.”
Keeping Murtagh alive changed a lot for Jamie. The death doesn’t have the same impact for Jamie’s growth after Culloden, but it will affect Jamie moving forward. This is going to catapult Jamie into fighting against the Crown, which we’ve started to see on Outlander Season 5, Episode 7.
Outlander airs Sundays at 8/7c on STARZ.