The end of Black Sails might be in sight as Season 4 will be its final chapter, and Luke Arnold, who plays John Silver, might have cut his hair — the universal sign that an actor has moved on from a project — but several traces of piracy linger at New York Comic Con.
For one, we are in a meeting room called “The Chart Room.” It doesn’t look quite as much like a space on Flint’s ship as its name suggests — neither the Walrus nor the Man O’War have snack tables or squashy couches — but the walls around us are adorned with the sorts of old-timey maps that Silver has spent many scenes pondering. For another, although there is no mistaking Arnold for his character when he has short hair, is wearing jeans and a t-shirt and offering a smile that is far more sincere, he’s also wearing a decisively Black Sails-esque gold skull ring on his index finger.
It flashes under the overhead lights as he stretches on the couch, a little gingerly, as if he pulled a muscle. Clutching his side, he explains, “My body’s still recovering.”
He’s referring to Silver’s physical state in Season 4. As featured in Treasure Island and the latest trailer, the pirate’s leg has been even further removed. “It sucked,” he laughs. “The peg leg in Season 3 was alright, but Season 4, the left leg is pretty much strapped up all the time and we also made the crutch a bit short, which looked good but is physically a terrible thing to do. Most physios say you should use two crutches, not one, because your alignment will tilt to the side. And that’s what happened. Everything on my right side got stretched; everything on my left condensed.”
The crutch was also a challenge to Arnold’s double, Ben de Jager, who really is missing a leg. “A lot of the iconic shots of Silver, generally from the back, are [de Jager]. But he either has a really good prosthetic or two crutches. We both struggled with having to get around on one leg and one crutch for shooting this.”
Lest you worry that this new development will restrict Silver’s involvement in the action, Arnold hints at a horse scene in Silver’s future. “There are ways to get on a horse that are practical, but there are ways to do it that looks good,” he says. “Between [Ben and I], we’d work out making sure that in all these things, we put Silver in the strongest looking position.”
By “strongest,” he doesn’t mean he wanted to look cool. As we saw in Season 3, Silver feels he must look the part to his men, even if he’s in excruciating pain. “I can’t look weak,” he told Madi in Episode 6.
How will Silver’s horse maneuvers compare to Charles Vane’s? Only Season 4 will tell.
According to Arnold, Silver’s life won’t only get more complicated on a physical level — it will also see change in his mental state.
“There’s a bit of a Godfather thing going on,” he says. “Usually, he’s running around getting information delivered to Flint or working it out with Billy. But in Season 4 he’s at the center of everything that’s happening. We’ve never seen him in that position before.”
But, like everything else about his characterization, it will feel natural, because Silver’s entire journey has been leading down this path. “When you’re not emotionally connected to people, it’s easy to bounce from one place to the next and not worry if things go bad,” he says. “Because he could always just move onto the next thing. That’s gone in Season 4. He’s rooted to the spot in a different way that he never was in the seasons before. Silver’s evolved to a point where it’s not about him anymore.”
Although Silver is a different man than he was in the first two seasons, there’s one plot thread from earlier that will be revisited. Recall that during his turn as the crew’s resident storyteller, Silver used the name “Solomon Little” at various points. Early in Season 2, he featured in one of Silver’s stories as a fellow boy in his orphanage; in a later tale, he was a man Silver knew who had gone to Charleston.
“He talks about Solomon Little, and they’ll be hearing him using Solomon Little again in another story. You get a sense it’s not the complete truth,” Arnold says. “We delve into this a bit in Season 4 — the idea of Silver’s backstory and how truthful he’s being with people around him.”
But, he adds, Silver’s backstory is less important to his identity than it is for others. “For some characters, it’s really important to know where they came from, because that influences who they are. With Silver, it’s so much more about who he becomes than who he was.”
Between that fireside chat with Flint, and Billy building the legend of Long John Silver back in Nassau, the Season 3 finale saw Silver become his most dynamic self yet. But though that hour was filled with epic battles on land and sea alike, one of its best moments was simple: Finally seeing Silver share a scene with Jack Rackham. As it turns out, it wasn’t only a treat for viewers.
“It was a long time coming,” says Arnold. “He stabbed me through a wall in Season 1, but then that’s the first time we actually got to have a moment. [Toby] Schmitz and I are such good mates; to finally get to work together — even when it was essentially him handing me a bottle of rum — was nice. There are some great meetings that happen in Season 4. We get to see some new people come together.”
Aside from new character pairings on the horizon, of course Silver’s most intriguing relationship is always with Flint. About their dynamic going into Season 4, Arnold says,
“They’re best buds is really the thing. Flint’s a rock star, and when the rock star brings you into their world, everyone succumbs to it. Even though Silver and Billy were always on the outside like, ‘Fuck him, he’s our leader but we never want to be seduced by what Flint is,’ I think when we begin Season 4, Silver has been sucked into that. They’ve got a mutual respect. They’ve accepted that they’re friends. They’re the pirate kings together.”
But, anyone with a cursory knowledge of Treasure Island knows it won’t be smooth sailing between the two men. The seeds are planted during their fireside chat at the end of Season 3, when Flint finally opens up to Silver about his motives and his past with the Hamiltons.
“You follow Flint because you think he’s the smartest; the best tactician,” says Arnold. “He’s saying that he’s going to lead them to a better future, that it’s all about changing civilization for the good of all, but when you find out it’s about something so personal and vulnerable then you start to question whether you should put your faith in someone who’s doing something for personal means. For someone as intelligent as Silver, I think that rings some alarm bells.”
About whether he has a favorite Flint and Silver scene from all three seasons so far, Arnold says,
“That scene by the chest in the Season 3 finale was special. We did all those as one block, and with [Toby Stephens] being a theater actor, it was great to do that like a play; this 15-minute scene that goes through all these big moments. But [my favorite] would have to be the two of us trying to get that rubber fucking shark in the row boat and everything that entailed. That was the first time it got to be just the two of us doing a big sequence together to that extent. We definitely top that in Season 4 — there is so much Flint and Silver stuff and it gets really, really deep. There’s a lot to look forward to on that side.”
Season 4 premieres January 29 on Starz. In the coming months, look out for video interviews with Luke Arnold, Tom Hopper, Hannah New, Clara Paget, and Jessica Parker Kennedy, as well as with the showrunners.