[This story includes spoilers for the third season of Netflix’s Outer Banks.]
Outer Banks delivers a complicated goodbye to a pivotal character at the end of season three.
The new season of Netflix’s teen adventure series focuses on the friend group known as the Pogues in their latest treasure hunt, this time for the gold of El Dorado. Although John B. (Chase Stokes), Sarah Cameron (Madelyn Cline), Kiara (Madison Bailey), Pope (Jonathan Daviss), JJ (Rudy Pankow) and Cleo (Carlacia Grant) manage to find the loot and thwart villainous Carlos Singh (Andy McQueen), they are about to lose everything when Singh’s henchman Ryan (Lou Ferrigno Jr.) gets the jump on them. When Ryan threatens to kill Sarah, her father, Ward (Charles Esten), lunges at him, leading both men off the edge of the cliff and plunging to their deaths.
This provided a final moment of redemption for Ward, who was not always easy to hate throughout his three-season run, despite serving primarily as an adversary to the Pogues. He also wasn’t the only patriarch to die at the end of the season, as John B.’s father, Big John (Charles Halford), also perished shortly thereafter.
During an interview with , Esten discussed the season’s multiple alternate endings, his thoughts on both John B. and Sarah losing their dads in the same episode, why this was the right time to depart, what he’s heard about season four and how he feels about this role being far different from the one he was known for playing on ABC’s Nashville.
How did you feel about season three and the ways in which Ward got to evolve?
It’s been very gratifying to me because it’s not often that the bad guy gets any kind of emotional arc. But from the very beginning, they put it in the lines, and they allowed me to run wild with it, is that other side of Ward that makes people not exactly sure they hate him (laughs) — where they might just see a human being under there.
It was gratifying to get to explore that, but it also made total sense to me because, at the end of season two, Ward has everything — all the gold, the cross, he got away. Once he recovers, he won. And meanwhile, the Pogues have nothing — literally the shirts on their back, and they’re on a deserted island — and they have everything. Because they have each other. They have the family that Ward has supposedly always been fighting for, and to my mind is the real treasure of the show. (Laughs.) We’re all chasing this gold, but in the end, they walk away with that, and Ward walks away with nothing. Not only that, he’s walking away with these horrible memories of laying his hands on his daughter, choking her.
The other thing is, not only does the audience not really know to the end, I don’t know how soon the writers knew how it was gonna go out. It was just an interesting line to follow of, is he authentic? Is he feeling this? Is he using this to get the other gold? Why should anybody trust Ward? The answer is, they shouldn’t, but that doesn’t mean things can’t happen within him.
This season ends with an emotional moment as Ward gets to redeem himself, but then we see him fall off the cliff. At what point did you know where his path was heading?
It’s hard for me to know the time because we overlapped episodes so much. But the scene itself came very, very late in the game. There were different outcomes of that scene. To my mind, we landed on the one that is by far the most meaningful and the most interesting. Sometimes things just work out, and a lot of it is the writers being utterly available to what’s gonna work in that moment and what’s gonna really make the audience feel something.
There’s a spot early on — in fact, in one of the ads — where Ward is with Sarah. It’s the first time they’ve seen each other since they were on the boat and the terrible fight at the end of that scene. Sarah is telling Ward how much he’s hurt her, and he’s saying how sorry he is. Later, she says, “Remember when you told me you would do anything for me?” And Ward looks at her, and he says, “Anything.” It was just true in the moment. If he was being authentic — and that was always the question — well, he ends up proving it, which is really special and sweet to me because I love the human beings, man. They’re fascinating and interesting and maddening and glorious, in all these different ways. So you don’t want to play anybody that’s less than that. You want to play somebody that has all these facets.
It was a really wonderful thing to get to play Deacon Claybourne on Nashville because he had all those facets. He could be a bastard. People remember him as a good guy and a good father, but man, he choked out his share of people (laughs) and got in those fights and just was terribly toxic in a million ways, early on. So that was great to play. I wouldn’t necessarily know, when I came here, I would get a guy with that many facets. But I will say that early on, when we were talking about me coming aboard, they hired me because they knew the Deacon character. From the very beginning, the writers weren’t looking for just a full-on bad guy twirling his mustache. In the beginning, they wanted somebody that the audience would think was a good guy. But later, they were also very excited that there could be some good in this bad guy — enough to be a little confusing, but a little interesting to watch.
Death can be a relative term on this show, but should we assume that we won’t see Ward in future scenes? Could there be flashbacks, and do you know if you’ll have any involvement in season four?
I actually don’t know at all. Obviously, that’s a possibility. I would say it’s a flat-out impossibility that I come back, short of a flashback. Not only did we already do the head fake, it’s intentional that it wasn’t off of a cliff into the ocean, where nobody knows anything. They could have done that. It was intentional that there he is, right there, and then they buried him.
I am torn because I love the show, and I love the people that work on it. Even if it wasn’t as beloved as it is by the public, that would all be true, and it would be hard to be going. (Laughs.) But on top of that, it’s this smash that families, young people love. But I know that, in the end, my job is to serve the character and the story. I want to be a part of why it’s great — I wouldn’t want to do anything that was less than that and hang around for a long time where people are like, “Oh, he’s still around?” You want to end well, is what they say, and that’s not just for story — that’s for people, that’s for characters. That part of it gives me such satisfaction that it helps an awful lot with knowing I won’t be there day to day on the set with all these wonderful folks.
There’s a beauty with Big John and Ward’s deaths and that both of those characters leave the show at the same. I wonder if you got that sense.
I did, too. I thought it was real poetic.
You mentioned Nashville, and both shows have allowed you to embody memorable characters. How does it feel to look back on those two roles?
I feel so grateful to have had these two characters. It’s a tough town. You rarely get one great character, and there’s wonderful actors that never got that one character. But then I know that often, once you get that one, they go, “OK, you’ve had yours.” (Laughs.) So to have had this other one, and both of them being so different, I was so grateful that it was never a “Deacon lite” that I was being offered, which can happen as well: “Oh, you did that thing? Well, come kind of do it on our show.” This was not that in any form. These are bold characters that I could sink my teeth into.
Music is clearly an important part of your path. Tell us about your new single, “One Good Move.”
As a creative person, it’s extremely gratifying, in some ways, that this had to go on hold a little bit while I was doing the other part. I could certainly write while I was in production — and did, including writing some of the songs on his album on Zoom when I was in the hotel room in Barbados on lockdowns. That’s a great thing about music, which, if I’m honest, has my heart first. While I’m working, I’m in my trailer finishing up a song or working on some lyrics. I feel enormously satisfied just stepping right back into the musical aspect of it all. We’re finishing up this album — it’s almost done. The first single off it drops on March 3rd, and I’m so happy with it. If I have to step out of the Outer Banks boat, so to speak, I’m stepping onto a ship that I love so much.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Outer Banks season three is currently streaming on Netflix.