The Ending of 'Outer Banks' Season 3, Explained

R.I.P., [spoiler].

madelyn cline chase stokes outer banks season 3
(Image credit: Jackson Lee Davis/Netflix)

Spoilers for Outer Banks Season 3. After starting off with a premiere that featured a rescue from the deserted island, a plane crash, and a kidnapping within the first 20 minutes, it was clear that the third season of Outer Banks would go big with its latest treasure hunt, the 500-plus year legend of El Dorado. By the finale, the Pogues are headed to South America with everything they need to solve the mystery, and rescue John B's dad from the season's Big Bad in the process. This mission brings the crew to their extremes both physically and emotionally, as they reach the highest highs and the lowest lows.

Time for a breakdown of that epic finale, including its two surprising deaths and the time-jumping setup of what's next for the OBX crew.

John B and Sarah find Big John and set off for El Dorado (with Ward).

At one point in the episode, John B's (Chase Stokes) voiceover tells the legend of the Guajiro king setting up seekers of the El Dorado gold to be "tested by the Jaguar god," and that only those who are good, wise, and lucky could maybe be found worthy of the treasure. The OBX kids are leaning heavy on the lucky part of that quotient as they arrive in the Orinoco Basin via Ward's (Charles Esten) plane to rescue Big John (Charles Halford) and find the gold. John B, Sarah (Madelyn Cline), Pope (Jonathan Daviss), and Cleo (Carlacia Grant) are only working with a janky map from Neville and the promise that a river guide named José will be able to help them, but after what seems like less than an hour of fruitlessly asking around for this random José, John B and Sarah just happen to find Big John himself when they hear his cursing from a basement window. Then, even though JJ (Rudy Pankow) and Kiara (Madison Bailey) caught a separate ride with the drug smuggler that JJ owes (named Barracuda Mike), they run into Pope and Cleo before they even get off their bus to Tres Rocas. At this point the crew should have caught a plane to Atlantic City to win riches instead of all this treasure hunting.

Once John B and Sarah's random firecracker plan actually works as a distraction method, Big John escapes Singh (Andy McQueen) and the threesome make it to the dock, where they actually find José. But it turns out that Ward got there before them, because of course he did. He claims he just wants to protect Sarah, but there's also a huge chance he just has visions of gold dancing in his eyes. Big John freaks out when he sees the dude who tried to kill him, but Singh's on their tale. And so, Romeo, Juliet, and their dads set off on the treasure hunt, with the rest of the Pogues borrowing a boat from Barracuda Mike (who reminds JJ that he owes him a big cut of the gold).

madelyn cline chase stokes carlacia grant jonathan daviss outer banks season 3

(Image credit: Jackson Lee Davis/Netflix)

They decipher the path to El Dorado, but Ward sells them out to Singh.

The next morning, after the foursome spend the night by the river, Big John, John B, and Sarah set out on the day-long hike to make it to Solana before the solstice. (They leave Ward behind since his injury from last season is still slowing him down.) The entire way, Big John is being pushy and impatient, partly because achieving his lifelong goal is more important than being a non-asshole father, and partly because he thinks Sarah is spying for Ward. 

Eventually the group does make it to a stone platform called the Temalacatl in time for the solstice, where they're able to use the gnomon of Solana (which acts as a sort of sundial) and Pope's family heirloom/Rosetta Stone to decipher the glyphs and figure out the path to the gold. They're almost done with the code when, at the final minute, Big John refuses to say the solution out loud. John B and Sarah stand up for themselves—after all they've done to help, Big John still doesn't trust them??—but he's keeping mum because Singh's pointing a gun at him.

Now, the night before, we saw Ward text his location to someone while everyone else was asleep. Because Ward's gonna Ward, he sold out Big John and John B so he could protect Sarah, while Singh assumedly kills the Routledges and takes the gold for himself. Singh gets a villain monologue that doesn't make him any more of an effective villain—dude's been a bit of a dud this whole season—before the standoff devolves into a shootout. Ward demands for Sarah to come with him, but she actually points a gun at him and shoots above his head to get him to leave her with John B and Big John. Rough for the Cameron family, but Big John finally trusts Sarah.

andy mcqueen charles halford outer banks season 3

(Image credit: Jackson Lee Davis/Netflix)

John B and Sarah find the gold!

At first it seems like the Johns and Sarah were able to get out of yet another shootout unscathed, but as their making the final trek to El Dorado, Big John is moving a lot slower. He says tells his son that he just got grazed, and the threesome continues on to the super-secret location that the gnomon revealed. ("No tongue but always speaking. I am nothing but hold everything." A cave. It's a cave. That's it.) Once they get deep into the secret mystical cave, Sarah figures out that they have to go through a wormhole where Big John won't fit, and she and John B keep going by themselves. They use the final gnomon riddle ("The true and patient seeker needs not light to see.") to find a secret opening, and after a hop, a skip, and a cavern jump, they find the cave of gold.

Unfortunately, as John B and Sarah were collecting a sack full of loose gold, Singh had followed  Big John's blood trail (morbid) into the cave. He's waiting with a gun as they surface from the inner cave, while Big John's hiding in a corner. Eventually the treasure hunter comes out holding a stick of dynamite, threatening to blow up the passageway to El Dorado if Singh shoots his son, but the villain retorts back that he doesn't believe Big John would destroy his chance to ever see El Dorado for himself. It seems like Big John hesitates for a moment, but he chooses to make his biggest sacrifice, throwing the lit dynamite onto a ledge near the opening. As he and the kids run away, Singh makes his way to the dynamite and is just able to grab it right before it explodes, killing him and sealing off the cave to El Dorado forever. (More on that in a bit, but for now just let the dramatic effect linger).

madelyn cline chase stokes outer banks season 3

(Image credit: Jackson Lee Davis/Netflix)

Big John and Ward [spoiler].

Now, as Big John, John B, and Sarah were finding El Dorado and dealing with Singh, two other groups were making their way to the cave: the rest of the Pogues trailing further behind, and Ward apparently right on their tails. So when the three adventurers finally take a rest so the wounded Big John can catch his breath and get a look at the gold, guess who shows up pointing yet another gun at them. Earlier, as Ward was making his way to the El Dorado cave, he was reeling from flashbacks of how his daughter had completely lost her trust in him (mostly scenes from the season 2 finale). Rather than those flashes making him rethink his horrible parenting choices, it seems that they just made him angry and resentful of Big John, who now gets a "happily ever after" with the gold, a son who loves him, and Ward's own daughter who hates Ward. It looks like Ward's going to finally finish the job he attempted to complete long ago, and kill Big John.

Luckily, as Ward was monologuing, the rest of the Pogues had followed the sound of the cave explosion, and they're hiding nearby while Ward's holding their friends at gunpoint. There's a moment where they prepare to storm in with the machetes they got from Barracuda Mike that's either hilarious or kinda sweet, but when they actually do surround Ward with threatening poses I let out a good chuckle. Then Big John eggs on Ward to shoot him, and John B steps in front of the gun, and then Sarah steps in front of the gun, and the Camerons both start crying, and the scene actually does get a bit touching. The magic of Outer Banks, people.

To bring the mood up to tense again, Singh's top henchman Ryan (who's played by Lou Ferrigno, Jr.!) appears out of the jungle near Big John and points a gun at his head. Even though Big John rightfully reminds him that his boss is dead and there's no reason for him to even be there, Ryan was also Singh's friend, so he's pissed and wants revenge (and I'm assuming gold, but revenge first). He sets up to shoot Sarah first, but Ward sacrifices himself, running at the good—taking several bullets in the process—and tackling him over the edge of a well-placed cliff.

Sarah's gutted, but that isn't the only tragic moment we're getting this episode. It's clear that Big John has lost a lot of blood and is fading fast. The Pogues get him too the boat, but they can't make it downriver to a doctor in time. In his dying moments, the father tells his son to hold on to Sarah, and kind of apologizes for being a rough dad to have. And with that, John B and Sarah have won their biggest victory and suffered their biggest loses.

charles esten outer banks season 3

(Image credit: Jackson Lee Davis/Netflix)

Eighteen months later, the OBX kids are recruited for another treasure hunt.

I skipped a good amount of romantic plot points in all the treasure-hunting, so here's a quick rundown: Pope and Cleo finally kiss while they're hiking to El Dorado! John B and Sarah have a sweet reconciliation while they're in the inner cave. Also, JJ and Kiara had finally kissed in Episode 9 when he broke her out of the wilderness camp after her parents had her abducted. (A lot happens in this show.) So all the show's ships are together and all is right with the world, minus John B and Sarah grieving their dads.

After the show includes a touching, voiceover-filled scene of the Pogues holding memorials for Big John and Ward, the finale fast-forwards eighteen months, as the Pogues are back in the OBX being honored for solving the 500-year-old mystery of El Dorado. Pope and Kie's parents are cheering them on, Topper's (Austin North) looking on with a salty expression, and Rafe's nowhere to be seen. The gnomon is also being displayed as a cultural artifact, as well as Denmark Tanney's diary and remaining effects. Also, per John B's exposition dump, "Kie's saving turtles, Pope's going away to school, and JJ bought the charter boat," while John B and Sarah have a "killer surf shop." If you have any questions for how the past eighteen months led up to this moment, it'll probably be best to hang on to them until season 4.

Speaking of season 4, there's a new face among the party-goers, who expresses his admiration for all of the treasure-hunting these kids pulled of. He says that he's looking for partners to investigate a mysterious manuscript: a 1718 captain's log belonging to Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard. Strap yourself in Pogues, we're going pirate hunting!

Season 4 has already been renewed.

Netflix and the OBX cast announced the season 4 renewal a week ahead of season 3's premiere, with the young stars revealing the news at the streamer's Poguelandia music festival in Huntington Beach, California. In a People interview, Madison Bailey teased that the new treasure hunt feels like a "fresh start" for the show.

"[Fans] should interpret it not as the end of an era, but we are very much summing up seasons one and two with a button," she said. "It can go really anywhere. I think we have a bit of a clean slate."

She added that she hopes that the Pogues get a "solid win" in the new season, and that the season 4 treasure hunt "feels like a job opportunity."

"I hope they embrace this new challenge with more wisdom and I am excited to see where the relationships go and how have they've matured over these 18 months," she said.

Quinci LeGardye
Contributing Culture Editor

Quinci LeGardye is a Contributing Culture Editor who covers TV, movies, Korean entertainment, books, and pop culture. When she isn’t writing or checking Twitter, she’s probably watching the latest K-drama or giving a concert performance in her car.