‘Our Flag Means Death’ Team on Stede & Blackbeard’s Romance and Letting Go in the Finale
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Season 1 of Our Flag Means Death.]
Creator David Jenkins takes two historical figures — Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and Blackbeard (Taika Waititi) — and mixes them together for a surprisingly sweet romance that’s filled with highs and lows. In the final two voyages of the season, the pirates find themselves in quite the pickle as they’re taken into custody by the English under an “Act of Grace” technicality.
From there, the men must make bold choices about their lives moving forward and regarding each other as hints of romance turn into a seaside kiss. Torn between a life of service to the Crown in exchange for their safety, and hitting the open seas once more as pirates, Stede is put in a special predicament when his old childhood antagonist Chauncey Badminton (Rory Kinnear) leads him into the forest late one evening.
Tormented with the demons of his past, particularly the family he left behind, Stede decides to return to them after Chauncey accidentally shoots and kills himself, leaving the “Gentleman Pirate” in the clear to run. Stede’s decision doesn’t exactly go over too well with Blackbeard though, who is left waiting for him at the docks before he decides to return to the Revenge and its crew sans Stede.
During his reappearance at home, Stede’s family barely embraces him as they’d begun moving on without him. Seeing where he stands with them, and realizing how much he misses Blackbeard (who he addresses by his real name, Ed), Stede fakes his own death to leave his family on better terms and get back to his true love.
So, what exactly made creator David Jenkins decide to take this romantic comedy route? “When I was pitching [the show] to people, I’d be like, ‘Okay, so it’s about Stede and Blackbeard, and then they hit it off and then they fall in love.’ And then people are like, ‘Okay, cool,’ Jenkins shares. “And then they really fall in love, and become intimately involved.”
It becomes quite clear from Episode 5 onward that the romance is where this delightful series was headed. “We’re so conditioned for it to be like a bromance that I think looking at Stede’s story, the beats of it, the biggest mystery in it to me is why did Blackbeard take him on?” Jenkins says, remembering his research into the real-life pirate the show is inspired by.
“The only explanation was that they had a relationship,” Jenkins notes, revealing the inspiration behind this tale. “Like they fell in love, or at least at the very least they were having sex. It just seems to me like there was a relationship there. That’s the only thing that made all of the beats of the story as it happened, come together for me. And very quickly it was like, ‘oh, that’s the show.'”
Despite the building tension between Blackbeard and Stede all season, the show concludes its tenth episode with Blackbeard heartbroken and setting sail with a revised crew and Stede bumping into his abandoned shipmates on a small island. So the question is, why did Stede opt to settle things with his family rather than follow Blackbeard?
It had to do with Chauncey’s last words to Stede in which he notes that ruined a lot of things in his life, including Blackbeard. “He had got rid of his beard, for Christ’s sake,” Rhys Darby notes. “It just sort of dawned on him that he had ruined [Blackbeard’s] life,” the actor adds. As viewers will recall, Blackbeard made the sacrifice to join Stede as a servant to the Crown in order to save his love’s life and in doing so had a bit of an identity crisis.
And so, Darby says, “He felt like if he loves something, let it go,” and that’s why Stede left Blackbeard without a word. “There’s that moment where he just went, ‘Oh God, I’m going to have to just leave this because otherwise, this guy is not going to be who he’s supposed to be.'”
It takes some time though before Stede realizes he can’t go on without Blackbeard, sharing a heart-to-heart with his wife Mary (Claudia O’Doherty) where he finally admits his feelings for the fearsome pirate. “He realized where he’d gotten to in his life and there with his wife I really love when they’re sitting at the edge of the bed and he asks her what love is like, and then he realizes that he’s kind of experiencing that as well,” Darby remarks.
So, with Stede now knowing he’s head over heels for Blackbeard, it may take some convincing on the other side to get them back together. “Blackbeard’s devastated and has to deal with that and with the fact that he put himself out there and it didn’t happen,” Jenkins says. The season concluded with the now-beardless Ed Teach sobbing tears in a near-empty captain’s quarters that had been rid of almost every reminder of Stede.
“I think he has every intention of finding this guy again and saying, ‘Hey, I love you,'” Jenkins says of Stede’s continuing journey. “But when [Stede] goes to find [Blackbeard], he’s gone and his crew’s been abandoned. And so watching them try to negotiate that, that’s a good rom-com beat,” he adds.
While the show has yet to be renewed for another season, Jenkins does acknowledge the spiral Blackbeard is experiencing as the finale closes, noting that if the show were to continue, Waititi’s character is “definitely headed towards [becoming] the monster that people always rumored him to be.”
The showrunner also acknowledges that although Stede and Blackbeard are based on real historical figures, should their story continue, it might not follow those historical beats so closely. “I’m less interested in serving the beats of [their historical lives],” says Jenkins. “So the show is much more about these two people and how they negotiate each other. As long as that’s working and is interesting and there’s a story there, I think you can push the reality of it away and just continue to follow the story of these people in this relationship.”
Here’s hoping Our Flag Means Death sets sail again for a continuation of Stede and Blackbeard’s love story on HBO Max.
Our Flag Means Death, Streaming now, HBO Max