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Outer Banks Season 1 Ending Explained

Contains spoilers for Outer Banks

Outer Banks, which premiered its 10-part first season on Netflix April 15, 2020, begins as one type of show and morphs into several others over the course of its initial run. What starts as a sun-baked look at the life of a scrappy group of teenagers living the island life off North Carolina evolves into an adventure story and treasure hunt when its main character, John B. (Chase Stokes), discovers a clue that leads him in search of a bonanza — the hunt for which may have claimed the life of his father. By the time Outer Banks ends, it's a full-blown crime story — with John B. and his friends, who call themselves "the Pogues," racing against nefarious forces and the long arm of the law.

It's this layered identity — scenes of idyllic hangs with the Pogues alternating with mystery and gunplay – that makes the show so compelling. When the series wraps up its first season, multiple people are dead, family ties have been severed, lovers have had their own stars crossed, and the treasure that's the catalyst for it all remains at large. It's a big setup for a second season of Outer Banks, but not without first unraveling events that change the lives of just about everyone involved. Hoist your anchors, and let's set sail into the twisty tide to see how it all shakes out.

Outer Banks' treasure islands

When we first meet John B., he's nine months into dealing with the disappearance of his father, Big John (Charles Halford), a treasure hunter who was searching for a trove of gold lost when a ship called the Royal Merchant wrecked. John B. and his friends Kiara (Madison Bailey), JJ (Rudy Pankow), and Poe (Jonathan Daviss) — collectively known as the Pogues — are working-class teens just trying to enjoy the kind of summer teens normally do. Their fun is interrupted when they come across another wrecked ship, the contents of which launch them on a search for the wreck of the Royal Merchant, its treasure, and, John B. hopes, some sign of his missing father.

However, it's not as easy as just following a series of clues. The initial discovery, after all, comes with a side of death, in the form of the washed-up body of "marina rat" Scooter Grubbs. With the Royal Merchant treasure worth some $400 million, you can bet that the Pogues aren't the only people trying to find it — and that includes the police, spearheaded by Sheriff Peterkin (Adina Porter), who's trying to figure out how Grubbs ended up dead. Plus, the Pogues aren't the only crew in the Outer Banks, and incursions from the rival Kooks are a concern, as is John B.'s unexpected romance with that faction's Sarah Cameron (Madelyn Cline).

Ward Cameron's tangled Outer Banks web

Into this already crossed-up situation drops Ward Cameron (Charles Esten of Nashville), who's initially portrayed as benevolent, offering to take John B. in and be his guardian. It turns out, however, that Ward's a bad, bad man. First, Ward attacks John B. when he refuses his offer to assist in the search for the Royal Merchant gold. Then, it's revealed that Ward was actually working with Big John in the search for the treasure, but betrayed his partner and left him for dead when his attempt to demand a larger cut of the find was refused. Finally, Ward manages to steal the gold right out from under the Pogues, loading it on a plane to be shipped to the Bahamas. Oh, and Sarah happens to be his daughter, which makes things all the more convoluted for John B.

As the first season of Outer Banks nears its climax, John B. attempts to stop Ward's plane from taking off by parking his van at the end of the runway. Sheriff Peterkin then shows up to arrest Ward. All's well that ends well, right? Think again. Ward's drugged-up son, Rafe (Drew Starkey), kills Peterkin, and Ward manages to pin the murder on John B. The treasure is shipped off to the Bahamas, and John B. is on the run — but at least he's not alone, as Sarah, disgusted with her father and brother's evil deeds, finds out where our young hero is hiding and goes to meet him.

Outer Banks' endgame

At this point, John B. and Sarah are on the run from just about everybody: the police, the Kooks, and Ward all want a piece of them. Thanks to the Pogues, they hatch an escape plan, with JJ commandeering his abusive father's boat, the Phantom, and offering it up to the fugitive duo. They flee the authorities, and while Ward pleads over the radio for the return of his daughter, John B. flips the script — telling Ward, and the police within earshot, that he knows Ward was responsible for Big John's death. Meanwhile, Rafe ends up being blackmailed by his drug dealer after he reveals the details of his and his father's murderous actions.

The climax comes with a pair of big dei ex machina. First, John B. and Sarah sail into the teeth of an approaching storm big enough to deter pursuit, deciding they'd rather face it together than turn back. Then, after they're capsized by a massive wave and drift out to sea, they're rescued by a passing boat that just happens to be on its way Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas. Coincidence? Sure, but it's also a solid setup for Outer Banks season 2: John B. can now continue his search for the gold, shipped by Ward to that island nation, that cost his father his life.