In the sixth episode of Black Sails Season 4, “XXXIV,” Eleanor Guthrie dies in the arms of her old friend and father figure James Flint. In an ironic twist of fate, she’s killed by a member of the army her husband Woodes Rogers brought to her doorstep, not as an act of deliberate betrayal, but because Rogers believes his plan is superior to hers. It’s a tragic end for Eleanor, yet in retrospect, it feels inevitable.
For all four seasons of the political pirate drama, she’s been a woman of contradictions. She’s idealistic yet ruthless, impulsive yet calculating. All the while, actress Hannah New has brought this often hard character to life with vulnerability and compassion. New spoke to Inverse about Eleanor’s death, that final fight, and more.
How long have you known Eleanor’s death was coming?
At the beginning of Season 4, [creators Jonathan Steinberg and Robert Levine] spoke to me about it. Obviously it’s sad to be leaving the show, but I think it was time for her. Everything that most affected her was falling apart, and for me the satisfaction is being able to either complete a character’s objective or let them go. It was important that she had this opportunity to have a reconciliation with Max and be present with Flint again. I was glad that it had been set up in such a beautiful way, that it wasn’t just something that came out of the blue.
It was something that we’d spoken about a long time ago as well, when researching Eleanor’s backstory. The first Spanish raid to the island was very significant because her own mother died; it was a childhood trauma that stuck with her. We didn’t flesh it out in any scenes, but it was very present throughout my whole experience of playing Eleanor.
The fight leading to her death was your biggest action scene. What was that like for you?
It was great; I’ve spent three years going, “When am I going to get a sword? When am I going to get to wield weapons and kick some ass?” I was so invested in the fact that her death was going to be this epic battle. When I got the script, originally there were eight different weapons, eight different ways in which she was viciously grappling to save her own life. [The number] got cut down slightly, but it’s very symbolic of who she is. She just grabs the things she has at hand and fights to survive. That’s a beautiful metaphor for what she’s had to do throughout the whole four seasons.
After the fight, she dies in Flint’s arms. How do you ultimately see their relationship?
From Season 1, we’ve seen that ideologically they are in line, ever since that speech that Flint gives about Odysseus taking the oar and walking inland until it’s mistaken for a shovel. That, for her, triggered something very early on and caused all the conflict between her alliance with Vane and her ideological alliance with Flint. At the end of the day, it’s almost like she’s passing on this ideology to him as she dies. She’s had to let go of the island — the thing that drives her — and the only person that she feels will take that responsibility and move the island forward would be Flint. If the pirates are going to win, it would be Flint.
Do you think she believes Flint when he lies to her about Rogers’s involvement in the raid?
I think she absolutely does. She has such an idealized view of who Rogers is and that’s the one thing she’s been holding onto throughout all of this, that he will do everything for her and for her child if he knew. That very simple lie was one of the kindest things anybody could have done for her in that moment.
Which moments of her arc have you enjoyed playing the most?
In Season 3, the confrontation scene with Vane in the cell was one of the most visceral and elemental moments for Eleanor. That was such an amazing scene and it was done so well because we shot it with Steve Boyum, who comes from the stunt world but he’s also a great dramatic director. The anger and the build into this physical outburst was incredibly satisfying to play. Then for this season, the scenes I’ve been able to play with Anna-Louise Plowman. She has this way of just moving you by a single look. A third is the scene where she talks with Max about what their relationship was and is.
What’s next for you after Eleanor?
I just got back from doing a guest star role on The Strain, the Guillermo del Toro show on FX. It was great to work with Rupert Penry-Jones, who played Hamilton in Black Sails. I’m just excited to watch Black Sails with everybody now. I’ve seen up to Episode 10. There are some very beautiful locations and amazing performances coming up in the next few episodes.
Did you keep anything from the set?
Me and Jess [Parker-Kennedy] were chatting the other day because a lot of our dresses were being auctioned online. We were like, “I can’t believe I’m never going to wear that again!” But actually, it’s really cool that somebody else is going to wear it and enjoy it. Hopefully, it will turn up at some convention. I didn’t [keep anything] and there’s is one thing that I would really love: the bunch of keys that Eleanor wore in the second season. That was something that we designed with the costume department as a symbolic emblem of her having keys to the city and controlling the island economically. That would be my prized possession.
What will you miss most about playing her?
It’s been incredible to play someone who is so flawed but so driven. The main thing I will miss about playing someone as tenacious as Eleanor is that immediacy of never knowing what’s going to happen to her — to make plans only for them to completely fall apart. The writers did a really great job of it being very unpredictable as to how she would get herself out of most situations. [I'll miss] never knowing what the next challenge would be.
The fourth and final season of Black Sails is currently airing on Starz.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Photos via Starz, Getty Images / Frederick M. Brown