The Our Flag Means Death crew breaks down the finale's tender, swashbuckling romance
Avast! Here be SPOILERS. Do not proceed until you've watched episodes 9 and 10 of Our Flag Means Death.
You know what they say about pirates: Sometimes the real treasure isn't the plunder, but the relationships you find along the way.
That old adage takes on an unexpected poignancy in the season finale of Our Flag Means Death, HBO Max's ridiculously delightful pirate comedy. The swashbuckling series is loosely based on the real-life adventures of Stede Bonnet (played by Flight of the Conchords' Rhys Darby), an 18th-century aristocrat who abandoned his privileged upbringing to seek adventure on the high seas. Along the way, the inexperienced "Gentleman Pirate" finds an unexpected ally in Edward Teach — better known as the fearsome Blackbeard (Taika Waititi).
On its surface, Our Flag Means Death is a goofy farce, a workplace comedy about the trials and tribulations of life at sea. But like any good sailor, the show ventures out of shallow waters and into unexpected depths. In addition to being very, very funny, Our Flag Means Death has proved to have some of the most delightful queer representation on television right now, and the show has depicted openly gay characters (like Nathan Foad's Lucius) and nonbinary characters (like Vico Ortiz's Jim) with a refreshing depth and sincerity.
But the show's emotional core has always been the relationship between Stede and Blackbeard. Over the course of the series' 10 episodes, audiences have watched the two pirates develop a mutual respect and eventual affection for each other. (While the foppish Stede teaches Blackbeard which fork to use at dinner, Blackbeard teaches Stede how to survive a sword to the gut.) Eventually, in episode 9, the two pirates confess their romantic feelings for each other, sharing a tender, beachside kiss.
Show creator David Jenkins tells EW that Stede and Blackbeard's romance was always part of his initial pitch for the series — and one of the things he and the writers found most creatively fulfilling.
"To me, [Stede and Blackbeard's relationship] is the reason to make the show," Jenkins explains. "When Taika and I were first talking about it, he was like, 'Oh yeah, that's the show.' I first started reading about Stede and how he befriended Blackbeard and we don't know why. Very quickly, it was like, 'Oh, it's a romance.'"
Waititi agrees, but the actor (who also directed the first episode and serves as an EP) jokes that Jenkins had an ulterior motive.
"David just wants to piss off homophobic historians," Waititi says with a laugh. "He just wants to hear them go, 'That never happened!'"
Jenkins says he pitched the show as a "rom-com, essentially," eager to explore how two very different people could find comfort and fulfillment in each other. For Darby and Waititi — who've been friends and collaborators for more than a decade — that opposites-attract energy was what intrigued them, too.
"It all stems from this mutual interest and fascination with one another," Waititi explains. "Blackbeard's seen it all, and he sees this guy who's given up everything to be a pirate, when he knows nothing about the ocean life. It's a pretty courageous thing to do, to give your life away — your cushy life where you're really rich — and instead go out into these very perilous situations. Blackbeard would see that as a very crazy and adventurous thing to do. He's looking for adventure in his life because he's seen it all."
"For me, Stede is discovering what it is that he's searching for," Darby says. "It's not just adventure; it is to feel something. That's what he didn't have back home, with his marital state and his wife, who was chosen for him, as is the way with aristocracy. He had such an easy life, but it was devoid of any feeling. That's why he took off on this adventure, and he found feelings straight away."
"I think you're always fascinated by the thing that is different to yourself," Waititi adds. "I don't want to go out with myself. I get attracted to people who surprise me and who I can learn from. It starts off like that with these two: They're learning from each other, then they learn about each other."
Still, Bonnet and Blackbeard don't exactly get their happily ever after. The season finale follows Stede as he goes home and attempts to make things right with his wife, only to realize that his heart still belongs to the sea — and to Blackbeard. Meanwhile, Blackbeard takes Stede's disappearance as a personal affront, and the heartbroken pirate regresses to his previous state of cruelty, plundering, and chopping off the occasional crew member's toe.
So, what comes next for our two star-crossed captains? Jenkins, Waititi, and Darby are all tight-lipped on where Our Flag Means Death might sail to next. A second season hasn't been announced yet, and Jenkins and Waititi joke that while they're waiting to hear about the future, they are planning to take Stede's ship and open a "SeaBNB," where "people can come and stay on it and get the pirate experience."
But although the future remains uncertain, all three men say they're particularly proud of how audiences have embraced Our Flag Means Death — and eagerly followed them aboard.
"We were proud that we could pull it off because we are kind of known for silliness and humor," Darby says. "What we're not known for is being able to evoke any deep-seated emotions or things like that. It was a challenge, but one that I hope we pulled off."
Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.