'Outlander's Opening Title Sequences, Ranked

- Outlander -
'Outlander's Opening Title Sequences, Ranked

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone, say could that lass be I? Merry of soul she sailed on a day over the sea to Skye... We all know Outlander's theme song "Skye Boat Song" by heart, and I was literally singing it to myself as I put fingers to keyboard. Over the last five seasons of the Starz drama, we've heard seven variations of the titular theme song, each with slight differences depending on the location and growth of Outlander's resilient lead couple, Jamie and Claire. And now, it's time to rank them.

The song itself is an adaptation of the traditional Jacobite lament cataloguing Bonnie Prince Charlie's escape from the fateful Battle of Culloden. (And that battle, of course, is a major storyline and turning point in the series' early seasons in its own right.) Outlander's composer Bear McCreary relayed on his blog back in 2014 how the song's vocalist (and his wife) Raya Yarborough helped him modify the words from Sir H. Boulton's to another set of lyrics by Robert Louis Stevenson. "These are much better suited to Claire’s story, and after we altered a few consonants to change the gender of the speaker, they connected even more directly," he wrote.

While the different versions contain some variations, each one still features a select set of scenes: a stag, the back of Claire's calves as she runs through the woods, and druids dancing in the darkness, all tied together with the imposing rocks of Craigh na Dun bearing the Outlander title.

So how does each version rank?

7. Season 3's Separation

After the dreaded Battle of Culloden, Claire returns back to the future with Frank and heads to Boston, while Jamie barely scrapes from the trenches of warfare alive. And the opening titles do not shy away from their lovelorn separation, which makes this sequence the most heartrending to behold (although the music is still gorgeously haunting).

While for the first two seasons we'd see Frank turning the knob of the radio in the opening title scenes, now we see Claire turning the knob of a television set, displaying the modern times they now find themselves in and a clear departure from the world Claire had created with Jamie.

The sequence also features multiple images of soldiers falling at Culloden and their bodies being collected in a wagon after it's all over, which is a brutal reminder of the cost of war. And we see a lost Jamie looking out to the sea, most likely thinking of Claire and their bairn, hoping she made it, missing her, and remembering when they sailed out to sea to France and she told him she was pregnant for the first time.

Season 3's opener crystallizes their divide, and it's more than our hearts along with Claire and Jamie's (sorry, Frank) can bear.

6. Back to Scotland

The companion to #7 on this list, the opening title sequence of the back half of Season 2 starting with Episode 8, "The Fox's Lair" is filled with dread. Why? Because we know what's coming when Claire and Jamie return to Scotland from France. It's what they have been trying so, so hard to prevent from happening — the bloodshed on Culloden Moor. But tragically, fate had other plans.

After the more peaceful moments of the stag and Claire in the forest, the scenes accompanying the theme song that follow echo the impending doom and sadness Jamie, Murtagh, Dougal, and their fellow Highlanders will face, as we watch the Jacobite army race across fields, strategize in war tents, and bear the Jacobite flag.

The drums in the theme song also amplify the war to come, building towards the beats of a military drumline charging their troops onward as they stomp to their death march, pitchforks and muskets raised. It's a momentous version of the theme song, if not foreboding.

5. Jamaica

The tropical percussion of the Jamaica theme song, which first appears in Season 3, Episode 9, "The Doldrums," ushered in the most outlandish departure from the conventions of the show and opening sequence thus far.

As Jamie and Claire head to Jamaica (well, really, South Africa doubling for the Caribbean island) to find Young Ian halfway through the season, "The Skye Boat Song" naturally adapts too and is the most drastic change we've heard musically, with the warmth of the beachy drums and brushes of the trees enveloping us in the balmy change of locale.

We were so used to seeing Jamie and Claire traverse through continental Europe, whether it's Scotland, England, or even France, that exchanging marshes and rivers for sands and oceans mirrors the well of excitement and anticipation of greatly expanding the world of Outlander as we'd previously known known it to be.

4. America the Beautiful

Ah, the arrival of Fraser's Ridge. The New World serves as the hope of Jamie and Claire finally crafting a stable world of their own together, literally from the ground up, as they begin to foster a community on their acres of land in the Carolinas.

The opening titles see Jamie and Claire adjusting fairly well to their new climate, with shots of Jamie returning from a hard day's work and Claire gathering water "just around the riverbend." The gentle opening of Season 4's "Skye Boat Song" picks up with a country banjo plucking away string by string, just as Jamie and Claire build their cabin and future together log by log.

The sequence also previews the vast nature of their time in the Americas, not only building wise, but also with what's been established already, as we visit Jocasta's grand estate River Run and see the Native American tribes Claire and Jamie will soon meet. The bluegrass sound rightfully envelops us into a world Jamie and Claire are only just dipping their feet into but will soon make their new home.

3. France

Season 2's introductory theme song is the first departure from the original that we encounter, as Jamie, Claire, and Murtagh head to France where duels with Black Jack Randall, cobblestone streets, and glamorous red dresses await them.

After Frank turns the familiar knob on the radio, the music changes from the expected Celtic melodies to strings that feel categorically Parisian in flair, and signaling for the first time that Outlander is going to alter its theme songs to reflect the journey of its characters. Sure, some shows change the scenes of their opening credits with each passing season, but the music doesn't necessarily change in tandem. Yet another reason why we appreciate Outlander's painstaking attention to detail to enhance the story.

The particular string instrument McCreary adds to the composition is in fact a viola de gamba, as he shared with Mashable, which provides a Baroque influence on the theme song's sound. The refined music parallels the sophistication of King Louis XV's French court. Well, amidst all the scheming and gossip that fill those gilded palatial halls.

2. Season 5's America Revisited

What I love so much about Season 5's opening title sequence is the challenge it provided for McCreary. Normally, the musical adjustments reflect a sweeping geographical, as well as emotional, change for the characters, whereas in Season 5, the Frasers just rooted themselves more deeply into their life in the Americas.

Hearing the stripped down choral version of "The Skye Boat Song" and overlapping harmonies in Season 5's sequence feels so intimate yet vast by the booming nature of their voices reminding us all of "the mountains of rain and sun."

Most of the scenes in the opening title sequence for Season 5 also swap out the regular ones we've come to know, with Roger and Bree peering over a field of smoke and buffalos roaming instead of stags. But one shot fondly calls to mind the closing image of Season 4's opening sequence, with Claire and Jamie looking out below them at the land they've inhabited, similar to when they first took in the sights of Fraser's Ridge.

1. The Original Song of a Lass That Is Gone

But how could any version compare to the very first opening title sequence of Season 1, when Claire initially tumbles back through the eons to 18th century Scotland and Raya Yarborough's voice guides us down the rabbit hole along with her?

Even the images punctuating the bagpipe-strewn opening titles bask in a mythical kind of light, evoking the fairytale spell of Craigh na Dun beckoning Claire forth to her destiny. Like when we see Claire running in her Highland garb and Jamie donning his dashing tartan, you just can't help but feel as if you're awash in a land that time could never make a heart forget.

And as I mentioned above, the OG theme song also introduces us to the mainstay images that recur throughout the six other sequences, like Claire's mud-strewn calves as she runs in the forest, the dancing druids, the commanding stag taking stock of the land below, and Jamie and Claire riding off into the unknown.

Most importantly, Season 1's theme song is the launch point that not only the other sequences build upon, but also functions as the show's throughline. It's the lifeblood that centers our characters and is a symbol of stability from season to season. No matter where they go, who they meet, and even if unforeseen forces tear them apart for however long (but not forever, as we know these two will always find their way back to each other), the theme song will be there. Every episode. To lead us back home with the song of a lass that is gone.


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Images: Starz

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