[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Saturday's episode of Black Sails. Read at your own risk.]
Look who's back!
Saturday's episode of Black Sails opened with a member of England's Royal Navy torturing a man on the beach. The man in question? The believed-to-be-dead Billy Bones (Tom Hopper), who was last seen falling overboard under mysterious circumstances that were possibly related to his knowledge of Captain Flint's (Toby Stephens) true motivations for hunting the Urca de Lima. Needless to say, Billy's survival could pose big problems for Flint.
"We wanted to own that Billy is, within this crew, beloved," executive producer Robert Levine tells TVGuide.com. "He's a character that they all respect and like, and the loss of him matters. So, the fact that he's back very much has an impact. Both his loss and his return have potential for massive reverberations within the crew, and within Flint's story, and the story at large."
Indeed, Billy's torture at the hands of the British suggests a far more nefarious power coming after the pirates and others whose livelihood is based on New Providence Island. "The hope is that he is the eyewitness that can come back and make it real," executive producer Jonathan E. Steinberg says. "When he warns everyone that this thing is coming, you understand that it isn't theoretical. It's something that he experienced and suffered under firsthand."
But will the men believe Billy? And will the truth about his little dip in the sea some to light? "Both the issue of how Billy fell into the water and what happened to him after he was pulled out of the water are critical to understanding who he is going forward," Steinberg continues. "The Billy story this season is about unpacking what happened in between seasons and how it'll affect him going forward. There's elements of mystery to it. There's still many questions in the narrative, and a lot of the energy is learning what exactly happened and what exactly his intentions are."
To get a clearer picture of those intentions, TVGuide.com chatted with Hopper about coming back from the dead, how much Billy has changed during his ordeal and why he might not be as hell-bent on revenge against Flint as you might think. (Plus: Check out some exclusive sneak peek photos!)
Billy's not dead! Were you always in on the bigger plan the creators had for your character? Tom Hopper: Before I got the job, I didn't know that was the story line. But halfway into the first season, John and Robert got in touch with me and wanted to let me know very quickly that I wasn't dead when I read Episode 6. So, that was nice to hear. It was quite exciting as an actor to see where they wanted to go with him, what it could become. I knew that he was going to be captured by the English and tortured. But it became far more interesting and much deeper than that. It's the start of changing him to what he might become in Treasure Island.
Given his current situation, he might wish he was dead!
Hopper: That form of torture that he's going through is basically a form of extreme sun exposure. And the leather jacket, when they pour water over it, it tightens and makes it really hard to breathe. [He has] no water. So, he's extremely dehydrated and when we next see him, he's in a bad way.
If we assume the English are trying to get information about Flint or pirates in general, what does it say about Billy that he hasn't given them up, despite what happened on The Walrus?
Hopper: What it says about him is he's very loyal to the cause. When pirates take a vow, it's a vow of brotherhood for each other, and Billy's very loyal to that. Whether he's loyal to certain men — i.e. Captain Flint — will remain to be seen, but I think it certainly shows what he's like as a person and why he does what he does. I think he has a feeling towards the Navy, the English, the other side of civilization at that time. He doesn't want anything to do with it. But going on from that, he'll soon be tested in all manner of ways.
Will we ever learn exactly what happened between Flint and Billy on the side of that ship last season?
Hopper: I don't think there's necessarily a definitive answer. It's hard to define what actually went down on the bow of the ship because neither of them are willing to come clean on what they think happened. There's more mystery in that than meets the eye.
So there's not a flashback or a re-contextualization of where their relationship is?
Hopper: There's not really a flashback. It's more what you'll eventually see [when] he comes face to face with Flint again. What will be interesting is to see how he deals with that, how he wants to move forward, and what he feels is the best for himself and the crew moving forward. He will always have the crew's best interest at heart, and whatever he feels is the right thing to do at that time, he'll do it.
It sounds like Billy doesn't necessarily want revenge, which is surprising. Then again, most of what Billy has against Flint has already come out into the open. Is it that lack of ammunition that stops Billy from going after Flint?
Hopper: Yeah, [revenge] is not necessarily motivating him. But when Billy returns, he will learn of what happened to Gates, and that's maybe something that will keep him wary of Flint. He won't necessarily let his full guard down. It's a different kind of ammo that he's going to hold onto, I think.
Do you think letting Flint be for now is a smart choice for Billy?
Hopper: I think he's grown up a lot. I think he's realized what he needs to do to survive in this world. Billy now knows that if he can make the right decisions, if he can be in control of the men around him, then he'll be all right. He knows that the world that he's in now is a much tougher world than he maybe once thought it was, because he knows that there's a threat coming from outside of Nassau. So, Flint is a smaller thing to him now.
So, in some ways, Billy has an advantage over Flint?
Hopper: Exactly. He's seen something on the front line, and he knows what the threat is. He feels that it might be his job to try and educate or to lead a certain group of men out of that crew to make them know what they might face.
Is it also possible that Billy doesn't go right at Flint because he's trying to lure him into a false sense of security?
Hopper: I think what's important is that Billy is trying to play a cleverer game. He knows that he can't necessarily trust anyone, really. He knows that he can look out for himself, and by doing that, he can survive, because that's ultimately what he wants to do. But he's quite clever about it.
So, what happens when we next see Billy?
Hopper: He has managed to get away from the island that he's been tortured on and he ends up being washed up on the shore, basically. He gets found by John Silver, and Silver can't allow him to go back with the men until he knows what [Billy's] going to say about Captain Flint. Because Captain Flint, at this point, is the only way that Silver can get back to the gold.
Are some of the men suspicious about how exactly Billy escaped his torturers? Do they think he might actually be coming to them as a turned spy?
Hopper: There's certainly suspicions for certain people, and I think that's why Silver is quite wary of him. I think Flint is, as well... So, yeah, there's certainly some mystery there for the crew, because it is a bit odd, how he somehow managed to escape.
Does Billy see his mission as a way to ultimately become a captain himself?
Hopper: Billy isn't interested in leading a bunch of men. I think he's interested in being a part of them, but I don't think he's necessarily interested in leading them, apart from making sure that they all survive. The one thing I've learned about Billy in Season 2 is that he has this kind of ease about just being there and doing whatever he can to make sure that this crew is all right, because he cares for them. But I don't think he wants power. I don't think he wants to rule the crew. I think, as you'll see, he has other motives in his mind.
Black Sails airs Saturdays at 9/8c on Starz. Are you glad Billy is back?