On the fourth and final season of the Starz drama series Black Sails, things are ramping up, as Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) hopes to strike the final blow against civilization and take back Nassau. But in order to succeed, Flint must rely on Silver (Luke Arnold), who is trying to figure out if he’s really capable of living up to the Long John Silver myth.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, executive producers/co-showrunners Jon Steinberg and Robert Levine talked about the show’s most recent shocking death, deciding just how that character would meet his end, how that death will affect things going forward, where Jack Rackham (Toby Schmitz) and Anne Bonny (Clara Paget) go next, the Billy Bones (Tom Hopper) and Captain Flint dynamic, the role of Israel Hands (David Wilmot), the women of Nassau, and what they’re most proud of accomplishing with this series. Be aware that there are some major spoilers discussed.
Collider: I’m excited to be talking to you about this season of Black Sails, but I’m also sad that it’s the final season. And Episode 3 of this last season was a real tough one to watch, with that horrific death season.
JON STEINBERG: Somebody asked if there is anything more disturbing coming down the road, and it’s a definitive no. That’s a ten out of ten on the gross scale for us.
We know that most of these pirates are likely to die, in some horrible way, this season. How did you decide the way Blackbeard would meet his end, along with the way you wanted to capture his demise?
STEINBERG: It was complicated, in the sense that there were certain things we knew his death needed to do. We knew it needed to be a spectacle, within that world. It needed to be something that added to the legend of him. We knew we wanted it to be a moment in which we could see Woodes Rogers really expose the kinds of cruelty he was capable of and the darkest of his dark side. And we knew that the added complication was that we wanted to somehow, in the midst of it, have Teach save Rackham’s life. When we combined all of those things and tried to figure out what it was going to look like, it matched up perfectly with this set piece that we’ve been aware of for awhile, but just never really felt tempted to do, in terms of the keelhaul, until it was the right moment. All of those things lined up neatly, to make this feel like it was the time to do it, and that it was going to send off this character that we’ve become really invested in, in a big, mythic way.
Were there conversations or any input from Ray Stevenson into how he saw it all playing out, or did he just have to deal with whatever make-up, prosthetics and crazy stuff that you threw at him?
STEINBERG: He dealt with a lot of make-up and crazy stuff. He was a total trooper through hours and hours of sitting in that chair for prosthetics. It was really important to Ray that we respect the historical record, through the whole run of this character, but specifically with the way he went out, and it was really important to us, too. At the same time, he really appreciated that it isn’t just the historical Blackbeard’s story we’re telling. It’s the story of this character who is distinctly a part of this show. The challenge was to figure out how to serve both. While the details of this stuff don’t match the historical record – he was keelhauled and it wasn’t done by the Governor of New Providence Island in the Bahamas – it was done for the sake of spectacle and his body was made a symbol of, afterwards. So, there were truths to it that felt right, even if the details were adapted for the sake of the show.
How long did that scene take to shoot and what were the biggest challenges in having it turn out the way that we saw it?
ROBERT LEVINE: I don’t remember the number of days, but it was an elaborate sequence, so it was many, many days. Keelhauling is something that’s familiar, as a term, but maybe not in its specifics. We were surprised, as we dove into the research, to find that there wasn’t a ton of explanations about what it actually was. It gave you the sense that it was something that was leveled more as a threat than as something that was ever followed through on. So, we had to figure out how you’d do it, not just for the sake of filming it, but for the sake of the logistics and story. I guess you could say that was fun, but not with a capital F. We figured out how to do it in a way that would make it the most visually and dramatically effective, and you saw the results.
How will the death of Blackbeard affect things, going forward?
STEINBERG: As much as we try to be careful about killing characters off, there comes a point sometimes where you’re just staring at a story reality that’s impossible to deny, which is that, if Long John Silver is going to be the new king of the pirates, the old one has to be gone. The passing of the torch from the old generation, or the guys from the old neighborhood, to this character who we’ve known for the run of the show, but who has only, very recently, become the character from Treasure Island and assumed that identity, it had to happen. I think we tried to be careful in making sure that Teach was dead before we had scenes where we felt our Silver was Long John Silver. There can only be one of them, at a time. I think that’s a big deal. And it’s a moment where Rackham starts to get a sense that his place in the mythology of piracy might be a little different than he thought it was going to be. He isn’t one of those guys and he doesn’t have the capacity that Teach has. He wouldn’t have handled things that way. He wouldn’t have been strong enough to do what Teach did, in surviving that long. He has to find a new place for himself and a new type of legacy that he can try to leave behind.
After seeing what happen to Vane and then watching what happened to Teach, where do Rackham and Bonny go from there?
LEVINE: Nowhere good. It’s going to be difficult. It becomes a challenge for Rackham, both in the immediate life and death stakes, but also in a broader sense of someone who is always looking for his place in the world and thought he had it. He’d finally come to a place where he felt like he was a peer of Blackbeard, and there was a certain peace in that for him and Bonny. They felt like, “Once this war is over, we can move on.” Now, that’s not possible, in a couple directions. There’s more figuring out to do. The rest of the season, for both of them, is very much devoted to that question.