Let’s Talk About the Fates of the Roys and Their Rivals at the End of Succession

9 minute read

Warning: Spoilers for the series finale of Succession follow.

Succession has ended. Tom Wambsgams is the CEO of Waystar Royco. Kendall is alone, without his children or siblings to comfort him, on a bench staring out at the Hudson River. Roman is getting a drink. Shiv has officially taken on the role of Lady Macbeth. And Connor is coveting his dad’s old medal collection while he awaits word on whether he will become Ambassador to Slovenia or go back to hyper-decanting wine in a blender as his main pastime. They’re all a bit better off without Logan’s toxic presence, but a bit lost now that they no longer live under his shadow.

The finale of Succession takes us from the Roy siblings’ home of New York to their mother Caroline’s house in the Bahamas and back. Roman recovers from the wounds he incurred when he threw himself into a protest after fumbling his eulogy at Logan’s funeral. Kendall lobbies his siblings for their support in a vote against the GoJo deal. Shiv finds out that GoJo CEO Matsson, none-too-happy with a published magazine cartoon of Shiv pulling his strings, is planning to replace her with her own estranged-ish husband. The Roy siblings briefly form a united front. In a moment of childlike levity, they crown Ken king and force him to drink an abhorrent concoction of British condiments from their mother’s fridge.

But the peace does not last long. By promising each of his children the kingdom at some point in their lives, Logan created craven heirs with insatiable desires who would rather destroy themselves than see one another win the throne. Shiv eventually decides to vote against her brother (and, essentially, with the husband who betrayed her). Physical fights ensue. Ken yells, “I’m the eldest boy” at some point, a last nasty poke at poor Connor (who is, of course, not even in the room to defend himself). The vote moves forward. Ken loses Waystar Royco for good, and the Roy children are left filthy rich and utterly empty. Here’s a breakdown of where everyone ended up—and some symbolic moments you may have missed.

Read more: 15 Shows to Watch After Succession

Tom “won”

Matsson and Tom's game-changing heart-to-heartCourtesy of HBO

Let’s be clear. You do not “win” the game of Succession. Anyone who took Logan’s throne would have to betray everything and everyone they loved, sacrifice any ideals they may have held, and generally become a shell of a human being in order to fulfill their duties as a slave to capitalism and the bottom line. But yes, sure, Tom “won” the role of Waystar Royco CEO. He managed to steal the job from his pregnant wife (rude) and somehow still persuade her to stay with him (power corrupts, absolutely, I suppose). His years of sycophantic behavior paid off. Enduring the Roy children’s barbs about his Midwestern background, crawling around on the floor like a boar, and saying unspeakable things to the woman he loved were totally worth it in the end—right?

Kendall lived despite all the ominous water imagery

If Tom won, that means Kendall lost. In a scene that paralleled Ken’s attempted coup against his father in Season 1, Ken enters a board meeting confident he’ll finally win the Waystar throne only to be betrayed by a sibling—though this time it’s Shiv who votes against him, not Roman. At several points throughout the episode, it seemed as if Roman and Shiv’s wavering on the idea of Ken as CEO might literally kill their brother—he even says so himself.

As I’ve written before, Ken has a precarious relationship with water. He has had some ominous moments submerged in pools: His Chappaquiddick-esque car accident ends Season 1; Season 2 begins with an ominous shot of a depleted Ken in a tub at a spa; Season 3 opens with Ken submerged in an empty bathtub; and in the penultimate episode of that season, it looked like Ken had drowned in a pool in Italy.

The writers know this and have been playing with fan expectations about Ken and water all season. Notably, Ken celebrated his Living+ victory with a calming swim in the Pacific. In this final episode, when Ken decides to take a midnight dip at his mother’s house, you would be forgiven for thinking that he might finally meet his watery grave. (The camera leaves him out of frame for unsettlingly long while his Shiv jokes about murdering him, and Roman talks about the possibility of sharks in the water.)

Shiv and Roman decide against fratricide, but Ken encounters water one final time in the episode, in the very last scene of the series. When Shiv states her intention to vote to sell Waystar Royco to GoJo, paving the way for Matsson’s victory against Kendall, Ken makes the comment about how he might die if he does not get the CEO job. After the vote, a miserable and defeated Ken walks to the Hudson River. But he does not jump. Whether that’s because Colin, his father’s old body guard, is trailing him or because he does see some future for himself in which he runs another company, we don’t know. (Hey, whatever happened to the Pierce deal, anyway?) He may still be processing what just happened in the board room. Surely the audience is meant to wonder what he’ll do after the screen goes black, but it seems that even if Ken’s spirit is dead, his life goes on in one way or another.

Roman is better off, actually

Kieran Culkin hiding out at his mother's Caribbean home in the 'Succession' finaleCourtesy of HBO

Roman is a masochist. That was made abundantly clear in the last two episodes when he sought to replicate his father’s physical abuse toward him by picking a fight with a mob and then essentially asking his brother to reopen the resulting stitched-up wound. The scene with Ken, especially, was disturbing. Up until this moment, Ken had been Roman’s greatest defender against Logan, lashing out at their old man when he took a swing at the youngest brother. But Ken seemed to become Logan in that scene, and had Ken succeeded in his bid to run Waystar Royco, no doubt the two brothers would have continued to develop a toxic relationship that mimicked the one Roman had with his father.

In Roman’s final scene, he’s alone in a bar drinking a martini. He briefly smiles. The man is dirty rich, and he’s free. It’s true, he never wanted to run Waystar Royco. He just wanted his dad’s approval. Now that burden is gone, and hopefully Roman can begin to figure out who he is away from his father’s shadow.

Shiv is reduced to being the CEO’s pregnant wife

Tom and Shiv, happily ever afterCourtesy of HBO

The men on Succession have never been feminist, but boy, oh boy, did Shiv’s pregnancy announcement reveal the true and awful depths of sexism in her world. Would-be President Mencken hates her because of her political views, yes, but he also makes several disparaging comments about her gender and the fact that she is expecting. (We still don’t know, by the way, if Mencken will ultimately become president, though we do know he immediately reneged on his deal with Roman to stop the GoJo deal going through.)

Matsson sees Shiv’s pregnancy as a liability in her bid for CEO. Plus, as he admits to Tom, he wants to sleep with her. Given his history of shipping blood to his crushes, his libido could prove a problem. So, as Matsson puts it, “Why don’t I get the guy who put the baby inside her instead of the baby lady?” Charming.

Shiv’s exile was inevitable in a world built by Logan, a man who Shiv admits “could not fit a whole woman in his head.” But Shiv also makes the decision to, essentially, hand her husband the job of CEO at Waystar Royco after he has betrayed her—twice—and stay by his side afterwards. Is this Shiv accepting her depressing role in this world as someone who must stand behind the buffoon rather than be taken seriously herself? Or is she playing some long game for power and thinks Tom is more manipulable than Ken? Or does her speech on the plane about how she and Tom should stay together for practical and logistical reasons—the closest Shiv has ever gotten to pouring her heart out—betray her true feelings? We’ll never quite know.

Greg was saved, despite being a snitch

Tom and Greg, sorting out their differences in the series finaleCourtesy of HBO

Are Greg and Tom the only true romance on Succession? Perhaps. Greg sneakily translates Matsson’s secret conversation in Swedish and finds out that the tech billionaire has no intention of making Shiv CEO. The Roy cousin, who has always sold any and all information to the highest bidder, then sends that info to Ken, giving the Roy siblings time to band together and muster votes against GoJo.

When Tom finds out that Greg snitched on him, the two get in a slapping match in a bathroom. But Tom quickly forgives Greg and decides to keep him on at the new company. Perhaps Tom is impressed by Greg’s hunger for power. Or perhaps Tom, who has played punching bag to the Roys for several seasons, has developed real sentiment for Greg, the one Roy who showed him some respect—kind of, sometimes. Plus keeping Greg as a whipping boy will bolster his ego. Greg, like the vases and paintings in Logan’s residence, gets a purple sticker: he’s worth keeping around, after all.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com