Major spoilers ahead for Outer Banks season 1.
When looking for a buried treasure, it's good to have a compass to guide you. But the one Outer Banks' John B. Routledge (Chase Stokes) finds has even more importance to his search. So what exactly is the meaning behind the compass on Outer Banks? Well, for that answer, you have to learn a little bit about John B.'s dad, who had the compass with him when he disappeared on his search for sunken treasure.
We learn early on that the police assume Big John is dead, but his son isn't so sure. Before his disappearance, John B.'s dad told him that he was going to get lost. It now appears he did so without his compass, which has been in the Routledge family for generations. Now it's somehow magically made its way back to John B., but this might not be a good thing.
Each owner of the compass has paid a fatal price. John B.'s great-great grandfather Robert Q. Routledge first owned the compass in the early 1900s and was shot soon after he bought it. Next it was shipped to his son, John's B.'s great-grandfather Henry Routledge, who died in a crop dusting accident while he had it. Stephen Routledge, John B.'s grandfather, got it next and died in Vietnam. He was carrying the compass at the time of is death. John B.'s dad was the last person to possess the compass and he's now believed to have died at sea. "You have a death compass," Pope (Jonathan Daviss) tells John B., and it's hard to argue with him.
While bad fortune seems to follow this family heirloom, John B. believes it is the key to finding both his dad and the treasure. He knows the compass has a secret compartment where people can store notes. But instead of a note, John. B. finds the word "Redfield" engraved in there.
It's the "most common name in the county," according to Pogue, but John B. believes it's a clue to where his dad is hiding: the Redfield Lighthouse, his favorite spot. It's there that we learn about The Royal Merchant, a ship that disappeared in the Atlantic in 1829 with $400 million onboard. It's believed that it is off the coast of the Outer Banks and might have been pushed closer to shore thanks to a recent hurricane.
It's also a sunken treasure that John B.'s dad had talked about often. The blueprints of the ship were in his office before they were taken by two burly men who shot at him. Time is clearly of the essence since John B. isn't the only one looking for the loot.
When John B. mentions the compass to the lighthouse worker as a possible clue that his dad could be searching for The Royal Merchant things go sideways quick. Soon Sheriff Peterkin (Adina Porter) is threatening jail time unless he gives her the compass. He lies and says he doesn't have it, but it's lucky he does since it stops him from being killed by an electric fence. It absorbs most of the shock.
The near death experience encourages John B. to give the compass to Peterkin, who he believes he can trust. He also decides to give up the treasure hunt all together, but while burning his dad's handmade family tree, he realizes "Redfield" isn't a reference to the lighthouse. It's to his great-great grandmother Olivia, whose maiden name was Redfield.
At her home John B. finds a FedEx envelope with a map in it and an audio recording from his dad urging him to go find The Royal Merchant. "Finish what I started," he tells his son. "Go for the gold."
John B. has to do it without the compass, though, which is now in the hands of Sarah's dad Ward Cameron (Charles Esten). Ward was working with his dad to find the treasure, bankrolling Big John's search. When Big John said he wouldn't split the $400 million equally with him, Ward attacked him. Big John ended up hitting his head, but instead of calling for help Ward threw Big John overboard. He chose to save himself rather than help John B.'s dad.
The thing is, Big John didn't die, he washed up on another barrier island. But knowing he wouldn't make it, he carved the "Redfield" message in hopes his son would find it and continue his search. In the end, the compass might not have led John B. directly to the gold, but it set him on the right path. As cursed as the compass might be, John B. was right, it still had a little magic left in it.