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Series / Black Sails

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A pirate's life for me.

Black Sails is a historical drama about the The Golden Age of Piracy created by Jon Steinberg and Robert Levine that aired for four seasons, from 2014 to 2017, on Starz.

Intended as a prequel to Treasure Island, the series focuses on Captain Flint, his allies (most prominently a certain lovable scoundrel by the name of John Silver) and his rivals during the Golden Age of Piracy, their relentless pursuit of the gold that will one day become Flint's treasure, and their ongoing war with 'civilized society'. It's a good deal Darker and Edgier than Pirates of the Caribbean and its like, and it took up the mantle of Starz's signature show after Spartacus reached its end.


  • Adaptational Heroism: Billy Bones and Long John Silver show a lot more morality than their counterparts in Treasure Island, where they are motivated almost purely by simple greed.
  • Anti-Hero: It's a show about pirates, so there's no traditional hero. Our protagonists are all morally questionable at best.
  • Anyone Can Die: At least one major character dies every season, in addition to numerous supporting ones. The show also plays fast and loose with history, meaning that even legendary pirates such as Ned Low can meet an early end.
  • Apologetic Attacker: Flint kills Gates, whispering his apologies and looking genuinely distraught while he does it.
  • Arc Words: "As always, to traitors." Though it's not said as often as some examples of this trope, the concept repeatedly arises in regards to the philosophical struggle for Nassau. Whenever someone betrays the pirate brethren of Nassau, such as Richard Guthrie in Season 2, or all the pirate captains save Vane, Rackham, and Flint in Season 3, they are killed and publicly displayed accompanied by the words, "as always, to traitors."
  • Artistic Licence – History: The show is based on stories of real pirates in and around the real pirate republic in Nassau, but only loosely.
    • The Historical Domain Characters have their backgrounds and stories modified to suit the plot of the show.
    • Some liberties are taken with chronology.
      • Benjamin Hornigold is portrayed as a grizzled old veteran sailor, when in reality, at the time of his death he was only 39 years old.
      • Hornigold apparently knows about the collapse of the Jacobite rebellion and James's flight to France approximately nine months before James even got to Scotland in the first place.
      • Anne Bonny is a key member of Charles Vane's crew, and the lover of his quartermaster Jack Rackham, in 1715. Historically Rackham and Bonny didn't meet until 1718, by which time he was a captain in his own right. She may never have met Vane.
      • The pirate republic seems well established and even beginning to decay in 1715, when in fact it was just getting started.
      • Season 2 features Captain Ned Low as an antagonist; Low's pirating career didn't begin until 1721, and he didn't become a captain until 1722. He also wasn't killed by Charles Vane.
      • Season 3 reveals that in the show's backstory, Edward Teach was ousted from Nassau by conspiracy between Eleanor Guthrie, Benjamin Hornigold, and Charles Vane. In reality, it was Teach who conspired to oust Hornigold from their joint venture. Also, this apparently took place eight years before the start of the show, circa 1707/08, with Teach being a well established, feared pirate long before that. In reality, Teach doesn't appear in historical records at all before 1714, and sailed with Hornigold until 1717.
    • Blackbeard was not killed by Woodes Rodgers, nor was he killed as a prisoner. He died in battle against Robert Maynard, by a stab to the back after suffering numerous other wounds from both sword and gunshot.
    • Jack Rackham's Rule of Cool sunglasses are in fact Edwardian proto-safety goggles for railway users.
    • The Walrus having a doctor on the crew is a downplayed example, as pirate crews generally didn't bother with a medical professional, and patched themselves up. Alarmingly, if a surgery was needed, the cook would be called for as they would have the most experience with delicate knife work. However, there were the occasional medical professionals, who were very valuable in the crews that were lucky to get ahold of one, so the Walrus having a surgeon is still within the realm of possibility.
    • The crewmen of the Spanish man of war wear outdated uniforms, resembling Habsburg-era fatigues rather than the colourful French-style justacorps they should be wearing by the 18th century. Although this might be somewhat chalked up to the series's setting being still an early era into the country's Francophile reforms, it also happens that the uniforms featured are black, a color presumably chosen for thematic reasons that was never used in the Spanish Navy at all.
    • At least one Spanish marine can also be spotted wearing a morrión-type helmet, which by this time would be almost a museum piece.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: For all their bickering, Vane and Rackham's somewhat heartfelt farewell in "XXII." shows some genuine, if still vitriolic affection between them.
    Jack: Godspeed, Charles.
    Charles: Fuck you, Jack.
    • Anne Bonny and Jack Rackham's Odd Couple relationship has its ups and downs, but it always comes back to them declaring their devotion to each other.
  • Badass Boast: Having put the fear into those who have accepted the British's regime of Nassau, helped by the violent crushing of Dufresne's skull with his metal leg after the latter defiantly mocks him, Silver leaves with a impressive example. Later, when Billy is propagandizing a leader for the pirate rebellion (having been grown increasingly discontent with Flint) he uses the incident to coin Silver's infamous nickname.
    Silver: Tomorrow you will join us. Or you will all be looking over your shoulders, the rest of your lives. My name is John Silver, and I've got a long fucking memory.
  • Badass Bookworm: Dufresne is the Walrus's nerdy accountant who never participates in combat until he's forced to by Billy. During the fight, he chews through a sailor's neck. Afterwards, he cuts his hair and starts taking a more proactive role in piracy.
  • Bald of Authority: Mosiah, who seems to speak for a sizable number of the black members of Flint's crew until Captain Vane murders him.
  • Batman Gambit: At the end of the pilot, Flint devises such a plan to stop Singleton's attempt to seize captaincy. He notices that someone was in his quarters and must have fiddled with Vazquez's log, so he presents Singleton as the culprit before his crew. He knows that Singleton will choose a duel rather than a trial by the crew. After he kills Singleton, he pretends to find the missing log page on the corpse and hands a blank page to Billy Bones as 'proof'. At this moment, he has no guarantee that Bones will support him since Bones, over the course of a night, has pulled a gun on him, called him out on his crap and openly wondered if Singleton shouldn't be captain. Flint hopes that with Singleton dead, Bones will see no other choice but to lie for him. Flint is correct.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Characters are often seen with scabs and bruises from recent battles, but they all fade eventually, leaving no scars.
  • Birds of a Feather: Flint and Eleanor. Both proud, driven and (most likely) unhinged given their obsession with achieving their goals. They're also The Not-Love Interest to each other, as their reliance on each other makes up the crux of the storyline for the first two seasons.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Silver sabotages the war effort and brings about peace, bringing an end to the carnage of Flint's rebellion. In doing so he betrays his only true friend and the woman he loves, and while she stays with him, it's implied he's irreparably damaged that relationship. Flint is reunited with Thomas and the two embrace and kiss, but are condemned to live the rest of their life as prisoners in a labor camp (with the possibility that Silver actually just killed Flint to end the war, telling the former to Madi as one last lie). Billy survives but spends the rest of his life a broken man afraid that his former crewmates will find him and exact retribution for his betrayal. Rackham and Bonny are together and still pirating but their historical fate is waiting for them over the horizon.
  • Black Vikings: Joji the Japanese pirate runs on Rule of Cool. While it's possible that a single Japanese sailor might somehow get himself onto a Caribbean pirate ship, the show takes place during a period of extreme seclusion in Japan, where the Japanese government actively prohibited its people from leaving. There were Japanese Catholic communities who settled in Mexico in the 17th century, however, so it's possible that he descended from them.
  • Body Horror: In the second episode, the syphilitic pirate whose face is rotting away...
  • Book Ends: In the first episode, John Silver hides from a battle with a cook, who asserts that he doesn't have to fight. In the final episode, Silver is participating in a battle and encounters a man hiding from battle who pleads that he's "just a cook". Silver's disgust with the man shows his Character Development.
  • Boom, Headshot!: A pretty surprising one takes out Miranda.
  • Bowdlerize: The preview version has all of the swearing muted and all of the nudity and blood blurred out.
  • But Not Too Gay: The entire series runs on this; with lesbian and straight sex scenes being common, and women constantly nude, but male nudity being rare and gay male sex scenes completely non-existent.
    • Flint had relationships with Miranda and Thomas, but despite his love for Thomas being claimed as the driving force behind the series — his relationships with Miranda gets much more on-screen focus as she haunts his consciousness (whereas Thomas is hardly mentioned). Flint has on-screen sex with Miranda (even if he doesn't seem to enjoy it) and kisses her in full-view to the camera. He is never shown engaging in sex with Thomas and their kiss is shadowed by the darkness.
  • Call-Back: In the first episode, John Silver is found by pirates, cowering below decks in the ship they have just taken. When questioned, he claims to be the cook. In the last episode, Long John Silver finds a man cowering below decks in the ship he and his men are attacking.
    Silver: "What are you doing down here? Are you a fucking coward?"
    Coward: "Please, sir. I'm just the cook."
    • The parallel is clearly not lost on Silver.
  • Call-Forward: As a prequel to Treasure Island, it has several to the book.
    • John Silver's job on the ship is as ship's cook, much like his position in the novel. He eventually becomes quartermaster under Captain Flint, as he claims in the book.
    • In the book, Silver has lost his leg up to his hip, using a crutch to move around. In the show, he loses his leg below the knee in Season 2 and is warned in Season 3 that if he doesn't start using a crutch, he'll lose more of his leg.
    • Silver's nickname "Long John" makes its first appearance in Season 3. It's explained as a threat to those who cross him that his memory is long, and he won't forget their insult.
    Silver: My name is John Silver, and I've got a long fucking memory.
    • In the book, Silver has a wife of African descent who is never portrayed but manages Silver's financial interests while he is away. In Season 3, Silver gets paired with Madi, a woman of African descent who is implied to become his wife.
    • Billy Bones reintroduces the old pirates' legend of the "black spot". An older Billy receives a black spot in the book.
  • Camp Straight: Jack Rackham is foppish, not very good in a fight, and more cultured than normal for a pirate, but he's only ever shown to be interested in women (and mainly just Anne).
  • Character Development: John Silver goes from a cowardly opportunist trying to con his way through pirate life to a legendary pirate leader.
  • Cool Boat: The Walrus and the Ranger are two major boats in the show. The oddly unnamed Spanish Man o' War is another one, with nearly 100 guns.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Brawls between pirates are all very dirty affairs.
  • Cradling Your Kill: Flint snaps Gates's neck when he goes to reveal Flint's deception to the crew, possibly costing him the Urca. Flint clearly didn't want to kill Gates, but felt he had to. Afterwards, he holds Gates's body and cries because of how much the treasure is costing him.
  • Cruel Mercy:
    • Claimed in-universe. In the first season finale, Vane decides not to kill Rackham and Anne Bonny for killing their own crew-mates, and instead tell everyone what they did, ensuring no one will ever sail with them again, which he claims is worse than death; they'll have to run a brothel and never be pirates again.
      • Since a safe, comfortable and lucrative career isn't quite so awful, there's a good chance he's just using it as an excuse to not kill what might be the closest thing he has to friends. However, him being Charles Vane, the "pirate by choice" par excellence, it's clear he's still not going easy on them; Rackham and Anne also prove not to be happy with that life, as they soon try to find a way to sail again. This is likely Vane sparing their lives while still punishing them terribly.
    • Rackham ends up dealing one out to Rogers. Instead of killing him, he captures him with Flint's help and forces him to sign a treaty to end the war, and then gets Eleanor's grandmother to buy Rogers' debts and force a default, so that he's tried and imprisoned, with all of his failures becoming a matter of public record.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • In the first season finale. Flint manipulates the Spanish Man o' War into a perfect position to take several volleys of raking cannon-fire from both the fore and aft by the Walrus and the Ranger. The Man o' War takes everything they have, and then simply turns around and blasts both of them to pieces in seconds. Flint knew this would happen, and was trying to disable its rudder to prevent it.
    • The battle in the Season 4 premiere ends up being a massive defeat for Flint. He loses two ships and most of his men are killed or captured.
  • Dark Action Girl: Anne Bonny is an extremely skilled, and ruthless, fighter.
  • Darker and Edgier: Than more recent pirate fare, and much darker and edgier than Treasure Island.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Miranda's corpse is displayed during Flint's trial; the crowd pelts her with rotten fruit. The corpse of Charles Vane remains hanging from the gallows in an iron cage for three days, as per the customs of the time.
    • Ned Low's head is mounted on a pike on the beach for all to see after Vane kills him, officially to take his ship and his prize, actually because he was threatening to kill Eleanor.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Jack Rackham, particularly during the negotiation between Flint and Vane during episode 3.
    • Gates also has shown a tendency towards this, again in the aforementioned negotiation. Before he was reduced to screaming incoherently at Flint, that is.
    • John Silver is a master, and most of his interactions involve some sort of snark.
  • Democracy Is Flawed: Pirate culture is much more liberal and democratic than the authoritarian societies of the civilized world. Pirate crews operate as a democracy, with their leaders elected and any major decisions voted on by all crew members openly due to the autocracy of the monarchies. A running theme shows the complications that arise from this. Pirate captains are constantly worried about how to sell their grand plans to their short-sighted and selfish crews. Many schemes are hamstrung or outright ruined because the captains must campaign for the crew's votes. However, the system also prevents captains from becoming tyrannical and forces them to operate within the crew's best interest.
  • Didn't See That Coming/Out-Gambitted:
    • Eleanor Guthrie manages to masterfully create her own empire, with a consortium of captains as her allies. Then in the first season finale, Vane storms the fort with a consortium of psychos no one even knew about, and manages to ensure he is her top partner.
    • The entirety of Season 2 is revealed as this for just about everybody concerned with the Urca gold plot, with John Silver manipulating events to make sure he wins out overall. However, losing his leg forced him to re-evaluate having the gold versus being the Quartermaster to a loyal crew. He even says as much to Flint when he owns up to his schemes in Season 3.
  • Dirty Coward: The cook on the merchant ship in the beginning episode obviously thinks of John Silver like this, although Silver sees himself as an opportunist. The cook is a hypocrite because he himself is hiding and abstaining from the fighting on the pretext that he is a cook and thus it is not his job to fight.
  • Doomed by Canon: Zig-zagged. The show plays loose with the lives of its real-world characters, but some do share the fate of their historic counterparts: Charles Vane and Blackbeard. Others may be doomed to meet their historic fate after the show's conclusion.
  • Doom Magnet: A discussed trope in the Season 3 finale: John Silver notes that those closest to Flint have all died, and implies that it's Flint's very actions that bring about their doom; however, when Flint asks whether Silver fears he'll be next now that he is in the same position, Silver surprisingly replies that he instead fears he (Silver) will be the end of Flint. He is eventually proven right.
  • Dramatic Irony: In Season 3, Billy brings back the Black Spot, a mostly forgotten pirate superstition, and uses it to terrorize those who have abandoned the pirate cause. The plot of Treasure Island starts with a much older Billy receiving a Black Spot and dying from terror.
  • The Dreaded:
    • Charles Vane, captain of the Ranger. Dropping his name and that of his ship provokes an Oh, Crap! reaction from another pirate captain.
    • Edward Teach's Establishing Character Moment has him reveal his true name to the honor guard of his previous wife, which provokes a sudden reaction.
  • Dying Truce: After mortally wounding a sailor on board a ship his men have just overpowered, Vane sits down with him for a reasonably friendly chat, in which he even provides his victim with a drink.
  • End of an Era: The time for the pirates of New Providence Island is running out. A British warship has arrived in the Caribbean with an arrest warrant for Richard Guthrie: without a safe haven on the island and the ability to sell their loot through the Guthries, the pirates will not be able to maintain their ships or pay the crews. Flint has predicted this long ago and is pursuing the treasure galleon as a way to raise enough funds to avert or at least manage the coming disaster. Gates supports the plan as One Last Job before he has to give up piracy. Eleanor, knowing she is about to lose her freedom and independence, does not hesitate to throw her support behind them.
  • Enemy Mine: When the Spanish invade Nassau in "XXXIV" and begin to lay waste to everything in their path, Julius and his rebel slaves make common cause with Silver and his pirates to fight them off. Likewise Eleanor, who had Flint as a captive, is forced to unchain him so he can fight beside her and her own men.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Anne is introduced carving someone up with her sword and dagger, establishing her as a Dark Action Girl.
    • Charles Vane is established in his first scene as a badass pirate captain, but we don't learn how badass he is until a later scene when simply dropping his name makes another captain run away.
    • John Silver is established hiding from a pirate attack and admitting freely that he'd do just about anything to save his own skin.
    • Edward Teach gives a monologue about his history to the angry family of his previous wife, then slaughters all three of them.
  • Everyone Is Bi: Eleanor Guthrie, Max, Anne Bonny, Captain Flint, and Lord Thomas Hamilton all have relationships with both men and women, though some more passionately with one sex than the other.
    • Arguably Subverted due to historical sexual behavior looking different from contemporary sexuality. The exact contemporary labels applied to various characters is hotly debated by fans.
      • Max is only shown to sleep with men for money, whereas she sleeps with women for love, indicating that while sleeping with men is her job, she may or may not be interested in it.
      • After Anne Bonny falls in love with Max, she tells Jack Rackham that she "can't be [his] wife" despite him remaining the most important person in her life. Interpretations of this line differ. Some see it as Anne saying she does not love him romantically, while others point to scenes like Jack's rescue in XXVI (S 3 E 8) as a contradiction of this particular interpretation.
      • The exact nature of the relationship between Captain Flint, Thomas Hamilton and Miranda Hamilton is vague. It is clear all three of them care for each other deeply, but the exact manner of this is open to interpretation, particularly where Miranda is concerned. E.g. we don't actually know Thomas and Miranda's relationship was ever sexual. It's assumed to be, since they're married, but Miranda does have a history of infidelity, and Thomas doesn't seem to care in the least; while they are always affectionate with each other, Thomas seems much more interested in Flint.
  • Evil Wears Black: Flint predominantly wears black and is utterly ruthless, no matter the relative morals of his end goals. Blackbeard also wears black. After Vane kills her father, triggering her violent reprisal against Jack's crew and Max, Eleanor also wears black (in mourning, but still). And, after siding with the British, Benjamin Hornigold swaps his royal blue frock coat and white shirt for a black coat and dark blue-grey waistcoat.
  • Eye-Obscuring Hat: Anne wears a hat that generally covers half of her face. Because she hardly ever takes it off, it's several episodes before her whole face is shown on screen.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Hornigold and Dufresne switch sides at the end of Season 2 and are working for England as pirate hunters in Season 3. This is historical fact in the case of Hornigold.
  • False Flag Operation: Portrayed faithfully as the pirates' modus operandi. Pirate ships close in with their target by posing as harmless merchant ships at first, pretending to drift innocuously into the target's path before finally revealing their weapons and crew and flying the black flag. Flint sees it as an "art": reveal yourself too soon and the target will run away; too late, and the enemy crew will panic and try to fight back instead of surrendering. He exploits Dufresne's inexperience in the field to reclaim his captaincy.
    • Silver uses the massive crosses on the Spanish Man o' War's sails, that would make her look like an enemy ship, to justify to Flint's plan not to sail into Nassau's harbour in view of the fort to a skeptical crew member.
    • Blackbeard also uses this method when sailing to Maroon Island after Vane's death; the pirates initially think it's backup for the English until Jack recognizes him for an ally because of the characteristic formation of his fleet. Reversed later, when he plans on using it to surprise Rogers' fleet but Jack convinces him to raise the black instead, because "to be underestimated is a terrible gift".
  • Fatal Family Photo: "XXXI" opens with Capt. Berringer looking at a locket containing pictures of his wife and child. The episode ends with his throat being cut, the locket falling from his hand into the dirt.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Claimed by Vane to explain why he doesn't kill Anne or Jack for killing the last remaining members of Vane's crew. After all, since everyone knows Jack betrayed his sworn brothers because of a woman (Anne's involvement being downplayed, Jack's greatly exaggerated), he will never sail beneath the black again, which Vane reckons will "sting worse than death". (It certainly would for him.) Possibly just an excuse, as Jack's the closest thing Vane has to a friend.
  • Friend in the Black Market: The Guthrie family run the black market in Nassau. Pirates rely on them to fence their stolen bounties.
  • Follow the Leader: Despite its grittier aspirations, it probably wouldn't have been greenlit without the success of Pirates of the Caribbean, which was the first production in a long time to escape the famous curse on pirate-themed films.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The plot of the first season revolves around the crew of the Walrus trying to track down and capture an extremely rich Spanish treasure vessel. This is the same treasure that Treasure Island revolves around, so we know where it's going to end up.
  • Foreshadowing: During Flint's sex scene with Miranda in Season 1, he looks bored and disinterested. Come the finale, we know why. And also why he was so pissed when Miranda showed that book to Eleanor's father: it has a loving inscription from Thomas to James that would have outed Flint, at least if Mr. Guthrie is aware of his first name.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Charles Vane is mercilessly beaten, buried alive, and left for dead. He climbs out of his hole in the dead of night and, naked and covered in mud, stabs Albinus to death and assumes command of his crew.
  • Gambit Roulette: The scheme to capture the treasure galleon is dependent on dozens of different things going right and a single failure can derail everything. Flint lampshades this to Billy when they are chasing the Andromache and he tells him that there is a one-in-three chance at best that they find their prey on the open sea and if they do find it, they have to catch it and then defeat its crew. If they cannot do so, the rest of the plan becomes moot since they need the Andromache's guns.
  • Genius Bruiser: Flint is this: as Thomas Hamilton points out, he's the son of a carpenter and yet is more literate than many of Hamilton's Eton contemporaries. It's remarked on that he often takes books as prizes for his piracy, and his cabin is full of them. It's also implied he taught himself Spanish, just so he could read a book gifted to him by the Hamiltons. The most feared pirate of Nassau, as it happens, is also a bit of a nerd.
  • Godzilla Threshold:
    • When Eleanor discovers just how dangerous Ned Low is, she goes to Vane for help even though she knows that his help would come with a large personal and political cost.
    • After being captured and tortured by the captain of the British warship, Billy becomes Flint's biggest supporter. He still despises Flint for his duplicity and causing so many deaths, but he sees Flint's plan as the only way to keep the British from forcefully retaking Nassau and hunting down the pirates.
      • Vane also decides to support Flint when after Peter Ashe's betrayal the English prove to not be able to tell one pirate from another.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Mosiah's black crew mates all seem to have extensive ritual scarring, and support Flint (at least after being bribed by Gates). Singleton challenges Flint's authority and wants to be voted in as captain, and also has many terrible scars across his face. Of course, since they're all pirates (and supporting or opposing Flint doesn't necessarily make one good or evil) this is all rather ambiguous.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: In Season 2, after he and Flint are captured by the Spanish soldiers of the ship they were trying to steal, Silver accepts an offer of freedom and gold in exchange for information, appears to leave with the gold and abandon Flint to his fate, and then takes advantage of everyone focusing on Flint to come back and bash the Spaniard's head in with a bottle.
  • Guile Hero: John Silver's method of operation.
  • Hero Antagonist: Woodes Rogers, the British Navy, and other pirate hunters are technically on the side of law and order, though they occasionally blur the lines and are sometimes dicks to make them less sympathetic, in favor of our Anti-Hero pirate cast.
  • Historical Badass Upgrade:
    • Anne Bonny reportedly held her own in ship combat, but was not accounted as being otherwise special. In the show, however, she's upgraded to a badass, Dual Wielding killing machine.
    • Jack Rackham. In reality he was an infamous drunk who was captured easily by the British because he happened to be passed out in the hold of his ship when the British came upon his ship. His portrayal as a refined man of cunning is a far cry from the actual man.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: While the pirates are Anti-Heroes at best, they're made a lot more sympathetic by portraying them as idealistic, freedom-loving rebels from a corrupt and authoritarian British regime.
  • Historical Domain Character: Charles Vane, Benjamin Hornigold, "Calico" Jack Rackham, and Anne Bonny. Season 3 adds Edward "Blackbeard" Teach and Woodes Rogers. The series finale introduces "Mark" Read. Eleanor Guthrie represents the Guthrie clan, an Scottish merchant family who lived near Nassau and dealt with the pirates (though there were no powerful female members like Eleanor and her grandmother, and the family never interfered with pirate politics).
  • Hollywood History: The show is only loosely based on historical fact.
  • Hollywood Tactics: The beach assault on the pirate position, examined in detail here and here.
    • The British warships for some reason fire only one (quite effective) broadside before ceasing fire and landing the infantry, rather than simply continuing to bombard the pirates' breastworks from sea where they receive no return fire, like the Landing at Kip's Bay early in the American Revolution, where the British navy bombarded the Continental Army positions in New York until they fled, allowing the British Army to land unopposed.
    • The pirates' defensive works consist almost entirely of a thin wooden palisade, which is far less effective against artillery than a simple trench and parapet.
    • The landing party lands and attacks directly in front of the pirates' line, exposing itself to the defenders' full force, even though both of the pirates' flanks end randomly in the open and could be outflanked with little opposition if the Brits just landed a few hundred yards up the beach in either direction.
    • Once ashore, the landing party stops to exchange fire with the defenders while they deploy mortars to do exactly what the ships did more safely and effectively earlier. Why they don't simply charge across the killing zone to carry the breastworks with bayonets and swords, as was standard in battles throughout the 18th century, is unknown.
  • Honesty Is the Best Policy: In the Season 2 premiere, when Silver and Flint are caught in their attempt to capture the Spanish warship, the officer of the watch offers freedom a reward of gold to whichever one of them will tell him who they are, what they hoped to accomplish, and how many more of them there are. Silver immediately answers all of the above truthfully, collects his gold... and brains the officer with a large bottle as soon as his back is turned.
  • Hypocrite:
    • While the likes of Woodes and Beringer might have a point in decrying the pirates as violent savages by the time of Season 4, it still undermined by them resorting to brutality in equal measure, not to mention being the representees of an empire fueled by brutal imperialism and widespread slave labor.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Skeleton Island, the uncharted, supposedly cursed island which becomes the hiding place of Flint's treasure.
  • I Owe You My Life: Jack saved Anne from her abusive husband, and since then she's felt that she owes her life to him.
  • Important Haircut: Dufresne crops his tousled hair short to coincide with his generally toughening up. In Season 3, Flint's hair is shaven, which may or may not have something to do with Miranda's death.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: In episode five, the Walrus' marksman is able to hit with two out of three shots using a black powder rifle, at a range of several hundred yards, from one moving ship to another.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: The Japanese member of the Walrus crew is introduced observing his katana being sharpened. It's implied that his standards of sword sharpness are far beyond normal.
  • The Lad-ette: Definitely Anne Bonny, and Eleanor to a degree.
  • Last Episode, New Character: The show makes us wait until the last few minutes of the Grand Finale to finally introduce Mary Read, whose absence among all the other famous Real Life pirates featured in the show caused considerable speculation across the four seasons.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Flint is this to Vane. Vane is this to Ned Low, who exists primarily to show that yes, there are pirates considerably worse than Charles Vane, which helps to swing Vane's growing status as an anti-villain. Max becomes this to Eleanor. Depending on what part of their character you consider, Silver is (eventually) this to Flint, or vice versa.
  • Lineage Ladder: Calico Jack Rackham starts his Motive Rant by listing off his male ancestors as a line of fathers like so:
    My father was a tailor, in Leeds. As was his father, and his father's father. Time was, if a man on the Avendale road asked where he might find the finest clothes in northern England, he was pointed towards the shop of a man named Rackham. Then, the men who sell wool decide they prefer not to compete with the men who import fine cotton, and as the men who sell wool have the ears of the men who make the laws, an embargo is enacted to increase profits, and calico disappears. And my father's business, that he inherited from his father, and his father's father, begins to wither and die.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: The foppish, intellectual Rackham and the gruff brawler Anne.
  • Meaningful Echo: Silver's two speeches, to Flint and to Madi, in the finale.
    "This is not what I wanted. But I will stand here with you for an hour, a day, a year, while you find a way to accept this outcome so we might leave here together. For if not then I must end this another way."
    And then...
    "The pirates will be leaving here. The chiefs. But I will stay and I will wait — a day, a month, a year — forever. In the hopes that you will understand why I did what I did."
  • Mooks: British soldiers, in spite of wearing red shirts, are actually mooks because they're enemies.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Subverted by the Goliath. Jack points out that it's named after the greatest disappointment in the history of warfare. The captain agrees with him, but explains that his crew like it, so he can't change it.
  • My God, You Are Serious!: When Flint proposes a suicidal plan to attack a Spanish Man O' War grounded on the beach, John Silver immediately volunteers. When Flint starts to talk his plan, Silver is stunned to realize that he's actually going to do this as he assumed this was a cover for the two to escape.
    • Also Silver is incredulous when he realizes Madi actually means to go through with Flint's plan to swap the cache for the end of British rule in Nassau.
  • Never Found the Body: Happens a LOT. Billy Bones, John Silver, Madi, Thomas Hamilton, the entire Walrus crew. On this show, someone isn't dead until they're dead on screen.
    • Sometimes they aren't dead even when they are killed onscreen and buried. See Season 1 Vane.
  • Nerd Glasses: Dufresne wears spectacles, establishing him as the nerdy accountant in the beginning of the show. Subverted when he Took a Level in Badass; he still wears the glasses because he, you know, needs them to see.
  • Non-Action Guy:
    • For a pirate, Jack Rackham is a real wimp. His strength is cunning, while Anne Bonney does his fighting for him. He starts to toughen up a bit after he gets his own ship, though he's visibly pained during his first command on realising that the only way out of a difficult situation is for him to fight a rival, veteran captain in single combat. He cheats, wins, then lies and schemes his way out of retribution by the other captain's crew.
    • Dufresne starts out like this, but once forced into action, takes to it with a degree of relish.
    • John Silver spends pretty much the entire series doing his best to avoid fights, preferring to talk or backstab his way out of combat situations. Ironically, after his injury he becomes much more willing to face up to danger, marking something of a turning-point for the character.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: This is a major problem for Flint and his allies in enacting their plan for Nassau. The pirate crews will cooperate only as long as it is in their best interests and will turn on Flint and each other as soon as the situation changes. In Season 3, Flint's grand pirate alliance crumbles in a matter of minutes when the other pirates find out that Woodes Rogers is offering a full pardon to any pirate who abandons Flint's cause. Flint not being present and presumed dead didn't help matters.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Jack Rackham and Woodes Rogers have a few of these conversations, in which Rackham asserts that Rogers isn't as morally superior as he seems to think.
  • Not So Safe Harbour: Nassau.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Flint and the crew of the Walrus as the giant Spanish Man o' War prepares to unleash a fifty-gun broadside on their ship.
    • Rackham and Anne, twice. First when they hear someone has taken over the fort with them very much suspecting who was responsible, and then when Vane shows up in the brothel.
    • A minor pirate who runs afoul of Charles Vane has this reaction upon learning who Vane is.
    • In the Season 3 premiere, three brothers confront the man who divorced their sister. They discover that their sister lied about the identity of the husband and that they have just drawn their weapons on Blackbeard.
  • Outlaw Couple: Rackham and Anne, in line with their historical backgrounds.
  • Only Sane Man: Billy Bones and Gates support Flint but think his plan is somewhat crazy. Mr. Scott fills a similar role for Eleanor, trying to discourage her from loaning money to Gates because pirates are a poor investment.
    • In Season 3, Silver pretty much fills this role for Flint.
  • Pet the Dog: Silver's grief at Muldoon's death, Vane being "kind" to Abigail, Flint being kind to Abigail, Flint's whole backstory arc, and also Vane killing Ned Low for Eleanor, though it's debatable whether that actually casts him in a more favourable light.
  • Prequel: The show is a prequel to Treasure Island. It reveals how Captain Flint put the Treasure Island got there and provides backstory for other characters from the book, including Long John Silver, Billy Bones, Israel Hands, and Ben Gunn.
  • Rape as Drama: Max is repeatedly raped by Charles Vane's crew.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil:
    • Hammund is established as a particularly horrible bastard by the fact that he makes a point to rape Max, despite having just been told she'll make it more enjoyable if it's consensual.
    • When Vane takes Abigail hostage he warns her guard in veiled but clear terms that she's not to be raped.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: Depending on who you're talking to, Edward Teach was either routed from Providence Island by an alliance of Eleanor and Vane, or left willingly so that he wouldn't be forced to kill his misguided protégé.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Delivered by John Silver in XXV (s. 3, ep. 7) to the pirates in Nassau who took the King's pardon after pledging to defend it against England.
    • Miranda's glorious one to Peter Ashe, even though it doesn't end well for her.
      "What do I want? I want to see this whole goddamn city, this city that you purchased with our misery, burn. I want to see you hanged on the very gallows you've used to hang men for crimes far slighter than this. I want to see that noose around your neck and I want to pull the fucking lever with my own two hands!"
    • In "XXVII", Eleanor gives Vane an absolutely vicious one for her final rebuke of him.
      Eleanor: "You're not a man. You're deformed. Unformed. Flesh, bone, and bile, and missing all that which takes shape through a mother's love. You cannot comprehend what you took from me or why it was good, because there is no goodness in you. There is no humanity in you, no capacity for compromise, nor instinct toward repair, nor progress. Nor forgiveness. You are an animal. Nassau is moving on from you, and so am I."
    • Flint to Silver, after the final betrayal.
      Flint: "All this will be for nothing. We will have been for nothing. Defined by their histories, distorted to fit into their narrative, until all that is left of us are the monsters in the stories they tell their children."
      Silver: "I don't care."
      Flint: "You will. Someday, you will. Someday, even if you can persuade her to keep you, she'll no longer be enough, and the comfort will grow stale, and casting about in the dark for some proof that you mattered and finding none, you'll know that you gave it away in this moment, on this island. Left it in the ground, along with that chest."
  • Red Herring: Ned Low is introduced early in Season 2 with much ominous promise, and on arrival in Nassau establishes himself as the first really overt challenge to Eleanor's authority even within her own tavern. All signs point to his being the season's major antagonist, or at least one of the major ones. He's then fairly abruptly killed by Charles Vane to prove a point.
  • Red Shirt: Non-named pirates die as needed during action scenes.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Even after escaping Charlestown, Flint continues to shell it in retribution for Ashe's betrayal of him and Miranda.
    • Arguably all his actions since before episode 1 have been an effort to avenge Thomas making the whole show one for him. As revealed by his argument with Miranda at the end of the first season, he has no intention of stopping until England is on it's knees begging for his forgiveness.
  • Rule of Cool:
    • Jack Rackham's hipster sunglasses in the pilot, making him look even more like a pirate Nick Cave.
    • The presence of a samurai on the Walrus crew, although this one is at least possible, as the British Empire had commerce all over the world at the time.
    • Captain Flint's signature, very modern-looking black leather coat.
  • Saved by Canon: As the series is a prequel to Treasure Island, any character from the novel is safe. So anyone familiar with Treasure Island won't be surprised to find that Billy Bones survived falling overboard in Season 1, and also in Season 4.
  • Seadog Peg Leg: John Silver loses the lower part of his leg at the end of Season 2. In Season 3, he is using a metal peg leg to move about. He is warned that he should be using a crutch instead since the amputation is still too recent for him to use a peg leg. He risks reopening the wound and losing the rest of his leg.
  • Setting Update: A rare reverse example, in that it pushes the setting of Treasure Island BACK in time. Word of God is that the show begins about twenty years before the timeframe of the novel — which would place the events of Treasure Island about 1735; the book is in fact set in 1760 (it's understandable that they'd want to bring in all the famous pirates who were around in the 1710s, though.)
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Despite many movies and shows, such as Pirates of the Caribbean, using ships with rigging configurations from the late seventeen and early eighteen hundreds, this show takes pains to use the older configurations that were actually used in the era of piracy.
    • While much of Blackbeard's final combat is fiction, some details are taken from the actual account, such as being surprised by a sudden attack of sailors emerging from below decks.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: The conclusion is best described as a Bittersweet Ending, but given the sheer amount of violence and mayhem of the past four seasons, things turn out surprisingly well for most of the cast. Flint is reunited with Thomas, his Lost Lenore whom he believed to be dead. Silver and Madi are seemingly on the verge of reconciliation. Max is thriving on Nasseau, with Idelle and Featherstone in administrative positions. And Rackham and Anne Bonny sail off for more pirating adventures, their historical fates forestalled... for now.
  • A Threesome Is Hot: Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny and Max. Given their love triangle, it's apparently a bad idea for all involved. After the first time, Max notes that Jack completely ignored her, since he's only interested in Anne. The second time, Jack and Max start to enjoy each other, which makes Anne jealous, though she quickly admits she shouldn't be.
  • Threesome Subtext: Captain Flint, Miranda and her husband. Each has been intimate with the other two, though not necessarily at the same time.
    • Though it's also possible Miranda and Thomas were not intimate, despite being married.
  • Torture Always Works: Defied. John Silver states, “Torture won't work. I have an extremely low tolerance for pain. I'll say anything to make it stop.”
  • Twice-Told Tale: The show is a prequel to Treasure Island, following the posthumous character Captain Flint and featuring John Silver and Billy Bones as young men.
  • The Voiceless: Joji, the Japanese pirate on Flint's crew, never says a word in the entire series. He does seem to understand English, as he reacts to orders and comments by others, but still doesn't speak.
  • Villain Protagonist: Some may be more bloodthirsty or others more moral, but ultimately just about everybody is a pirate, or close enough. And they're all willing to kill, rape, and steal to get what they want – no matter who the unfortunate target of their anger is.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: This is a recurring problem for the protagonists. They will form an alliance to accomplish a goal but the participants have different ideas on what should be done and who should be in charge. The alliance then disintegrates in in-fighting.
  • Winds Of Change: In season 3, the Walrus is becalmed in the Sargasso Sea after the crew sails through a storm to escape pirate hunters. With rations running low, Flint and Silver go off in a lifeboat to retrieve food. During this undertaking, Silver reveals how he stole the Urca gold through deception, earning him Flint's respect. The wind starts blowing again soon after they return to the ship with shark meat, indicating the significance of Flint and Silver's newly-solidified partnership. They end up sailing to the uncharted island inhabited by their eventual allies, the Maroons.
  • Would Hit a Girl: After Eleanor punches him, Vane floors her with a right cross. The conversation that follows makes it clear that this was necessary to maintain his authority with his crew, but he shows absolutely no hesitation or regret.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: In Season 3, the pirates have finally secured the treasure but their dreams of a new Nassau are hitting massive roadblocks that no amount of gold can solve. Further, their actions have caused people with real power in Britain to take notice of the pirate problem which means that a big anti-piracy crackdown is coming their way. And building off of that, no matter how plucky and clever they are, a small island of ragtag pirates will not be able to fight off something on the scale of a world power forever.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • John Silver refuses to tell Flint the Urca's entire course, convinced Flint will kill him if he does. When Flint points out he could do that once they do capture the Urca, Silver comments he's hoping "they'll be friends by that point". Ultimately, Silver proves useful to Eleanor, so she tells Flint she expects Silver to survive.
    • As of the end of Episode 7, the crew, headed by Dufresne, the new quartermaster, decide to kill Flint after the Urca's prize is captured. This is shared with Mr. Gates, who, in light of his recent misgivings with the captain, consents to the plan. This results in Gates' death at Flint's hand.
    • In Season 2, Dufresne decides to betray Flint again and hand him over to the English in exchange for a pardon.
    • In Season 4, Billy suggest to Silver that they kill Flint and Eleanor instead of going through with the bargain they made, because he thinks Flint is more trouble than he'd worth and they don't need him anymore, but also probably because he just hates the two of them.
    • In Season 4, after Billy turns on Madi and Flint, Silver decides he's more valuable as a bargaining chip than an ally and hands him over to the Underhill slaves to win their favour.
  • Young Future Famous People: Mary Read makes an appearance in the series finale.