Black Sails Comes to an End as War With England Intensifies

Ileane Rudolph
Black Sails
Starz

After the addictively exciting Black Sails signs off, anyone who tuned into Starz’s adventure drama will never again see pirates as simply time-honored kids’ costumes, brigands with eye patches and parrots perched on their shoulders. (Well, in ads, that caricature is seemingly immortal.)

There were only a couple of faux pirates and—thank heavens—not a single “Ahoy, matey” at Black Sails' New York Comic Con panel on Friday, but there was plenty of passion and great sadness in the room as the show made its final appearance at the convention.

This will be the fourth and final season of the show that artfully blended history, literature (Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island) and original drama. The producers and actors paid tribute to a series that explored the complex men and women who made the world of early 18th century piracy, breaking not only bones, but lots of stereotypes along the way. On Black Sails, pirates could be gay, black, women and revolutionaries who believed in a rough democracy with few hierarchies.

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“When the season begins, Captain Flint [Toby Stephens] is on the verge of changing the world in a meaningful way. He’s so close,” says executive producer Jonathan Steinberg,

Luke Arnold, Hannah New, Jessica Parker Kennedy , Tom Hopper and Clara Paget shared the stage with executive producers Steinberg, Robert Levine and Dan Shotz. Toby Schmitz (the irresistible Jack Rackham) made a guest appearance via Arnold’s phone, blowing kisses to the assembled. Of the original stars, only Stephens and Zach McGowan, whose indelible Charles Vane went to the gallows (like the real pirate) last season, were missing. “Getting rid of Vane—and Zach—sucked,” Steinberg admitted. “The one guy you never thought would leave this world.”

Although when it came to specifics of future storylines, lips were mostly sealed, but a 15-minute clip from the upcoming season was shown. It was a tense, bloody and heartbreaking sea battle, and everyone, both at the panel and in the earlier press room, was happy to talk about the final episodes’ themes, the show’s value, and the evolution of their characters.

Also discussed: the very fit state of Tom Hopper’s physique, prompted by his shirtless torso that graced the cover of a men’s health magazine helpfully held aloft by the moderator, TV Guide Magazine’s West Coast Bureau Chief Jim Halterman. Yes, that made the muscled Hopper blush. Halterman also showed the assembly a preview copy of the soon to be full-length comic book by Schmitz that tells the story of Jack Rackham and his companion Anne Bonny written in Jack’s own ironic voice.

For those who want more Black Sails, the producers want you to know that the show’s conclusion after four seasons was organic. “We realized the story was coming to an end several seasons ago,” Shotz says. “We wanted to hit that moment that leads up to the book Treasure Island. You’ll look at the book from a different lens when the series ends.” Look for Treasure Island “Easter eggs” this season. The finale will leave some “space” before the book begins, Steinberg reveals.

Expect a number of new characters, some from the Robert Lewis Stevenson novel. “The new faces are connected to old faces, and will fill in their stories,” Steinberg promises. Expect a good deal of time and tension surrounding the relationship of Flint and Silver, he stresses, and on the war between Britain and the rebellious pirates, who says Steinberg, wanted to free themselves and the slaves of the colonial power. “London was scared s--tless. The stakes couldn’t be bigger,” he notes.

Here’s some tidbits shared by the show’s stars about the cut-throat life in the Caribbean three centuries ago:

Luke Arnold (John Silver, who’s to become Treasure Island’s most memorable character; a onetime outsider who was taken on Flint’s ship as a cook and slowly became his confidante and a growing power himself):
"The evolution of the character that has taken place was so much that I almost changed character every season. But, still there’s a pretty strong line how we get from the beginning to Treasure Island. Though he never was a joiner, he was very good at adapting, that’s how he became a central figure in the pirate world. Now at the center of this war, he’s got strong friendships and a romance, which puts more weight on him than ever before. Flint and Silver now have a genuine respect and friendship and Silver has to figure out who’s he going to side with in the war. The legend of Long John Silver will be placed on him this season and he’ll decide whether to assume that mantle. It’s a really fantastic finale. It’s heartbreaking but there’s a lot of candy too. And crazy cool s--t."

RELATED: Blackbeard Shares His Discontent in Men on Black Sails (VIDEO)

Hannah New (Eleanor Gunther, a powerful merchant’s daughter turned pirate accomplice, death row convict and finally ally to Nassau’s British overseer):
"Physically this show was very intense, especially for the boys, but we had the costumes. The corsets! And having to walk around in sand in high heels! The show has been wonderful in portraying the reality of that world for women; the threats they faced and their limited options. Season 4 is a very self-reflective one that analyzes who these characters are and what they’re fighting for. Eleanor is faced with incredible danger; her actions definitely come back to haunt her.”

Jessica Parker Kennedy (Max, the onetime slave, prostitute and lover of both Eleanor and Anne, who became an astute businesswoman despite the sexism and racism that many times stripped away her power):
"For me Max is a good guy. Every time new people come into her life, she needs to be on their good side to survive. Max joins the anti-British resistance with Billy Bones, but if it’s more beneficial to her to go to the other side, she’ll do that. Survival is a continued struggle for her—she’s been to hell and back—and this season pushes her to her furthest limits. She’s the most complicated, smartest character I’ve ever played."

Clara Paget (Pirate Anne Bonny, based on an actual female brigand, whose long term relationship with Rackham was endangered by a passionate affair with Max):
"Playing Anne Bonny [a real female pirate] was very liberating. Instead of being a pretty waitress, I had to make sure I was dirty enough! At the end of the season, we’ll see her in a leadership role. She gets her confidence back after last season, when she was kicked off the crew and lost herself in the brothel scene. Now, she’ll be the glue that holds the boys together. I hope the strong women on the show can inspire young women to be as strong as our female characters are."

Tom Hopper (Billy Bones, familiar from Treasure Island, a onetime sailor who was kidnapped into the British navy as a child):
"Billy’s had a massive journey since the show’s beginning and is now the de facto resistance leader; he knew he had to carry on after Vane died and do justice for the whole pirate world. Silver doesn’t realize what Billy Bones has been doing and that might affect his relationship with Billy, who wants Silver to help him push Flint to the side. By the end of the season you will definitely see how Silver and Bones have the potential to be the characters in Treasure Island. And you’ll get to see what Billy looks like with a beard!"

Black Sails, Season Premiere, Sunday, January 29, 9/8c, Starz