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Who Was the Main Character? That, and Other Burning Questions, Answered in the ‘Succession’ Survey

Sarah Snook Kieran Culkin and Jeremy Strong in Succession.

Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin and Jeremy Strong in Succession.Courtesy of David M. Russell for HBO.
GQ polled several writers about some of the HBO series’ most lingering questions and debates.

Succession is finally over. Just when it seemed like the previous HBO series about a bunch of family members vying for power validated by birthright would be the last time we all collectively huddled around the TV for the same show, another series, well, succeeded in its wake. And while Succession may not be Nielsen-ratings popular like say, The Good Doctor, most would probably argue that over the course of its four seasons, the “discourse” grew too large, becoming unwieldy, deafening and at times, annoying.

But regardless of stan accounts that failed to see their faves as morally gray (at best) or people treating the series as mystery box television with clues and theory-bait meant to foreshadow future plot twists, Succession was damn fun to watch in concert. From the live-tweets firing off every Cousin Greg one-liner, to the No Context accounts posting perfectly freeze-framed stills,  Jesse Armstrong’s casually bleak dramedy was always fun to talk and debate about. So in honor of the series finale, GQ is running the discourse back one last time. Below, we asked several writers, GQ and otherwise, and crucial members of the Succession-faithful like the co-host of the show’s original podcast, to way in on questions that don’t pertain to these final episodes specifically, but rather, have always lingered over the series. Some answers may surprise you.

Where does Succession rank on the HBO Mount Rushmore?

It’s Tony, McNulty, Larry and Logan for me. And when Zaslav reads this and turns it into a T-shirt, I want my cut. But truly, an HBO top four is like Letterboxd favorites for me—two mainstays and two slots you change up now and then depending on the mood. If I’m being honest, Vincent Chase had just as much an impact on me as Kendall Roy. And as a recent SATC devotee, we can’t forget to consider breaking up the Boys Club for Carrie Bradshaw. — Frazier Tharpe

While I suspect it won’t have the lasting cultural impact of the early aughts heavy-hitters, it is the finest of the modern era. Go ahead and carve Cousin Greg’s face next to Selina Meyer’s. — Gabriella Paiella

I try to avoid “Mount Rushmore” as a framework and still think it’s a little early to know exactly where I’d place Succession among HBO’s very best, but it’s definitely in the conversation. — Julian Kimble

At this point my HBO Rushmore is SuccessionThe SopranosThe Larry Sanders Show, and Curb Your Enthusiasm (and my Crazy Horse is Kevin Dunn holding his giant coffee thermos from Veep). — Paul Thompson

It’s way too early to tell in my opinion. Like, it’s definitely higher than, I don’t know, Entourage and Luck, but will it be up there with The Sopranos and The Wire when we look back in a couple of years? Maybe? Give it some time. — Esther Zuckerman

I wouldn’t dare to rank them because I value the sanctity of my Twitter mentions, so I think it’s more that HBO has been able to do what no Roy ever could: gracefully pass the baton from one era to another. First came The Sopranos, then The Wire, then Game Of Thrones, then Succession. My prediction is White Lotus comes next. — Kathryn Lindsay

Third behind The Sopranos and The Wire, and in front of True Detective (Season 1) and Curb Your Enthusiasm. — Angel Diaz

It’s behind The Wire and Sopranos but that’s it. Firmly at No. 3 and comfortably on the HBO Mt. Rushmore, for me. — Zach Frydenlund

It’s cracked the top three. It’s a perfect jewel box of a show, and it gets in line just behind The Wire and The Sopranos in eternity. — Abe Beame

I hold many HBO series dear but I’m going to commit and say Succession goes in the top spot. — Gabrielle

Could it have gone one more season? 

Hard no. Logan’s death—while it did, in fact, make sense dramaturgically—left a huge, Brain Cox-sized vacuum that no amount of squabbling between his bozo kids could fill. — GP

Given the lack of Cyd Peach and Tabitha this season: yes, but only another Logan season. — Hunter Harris

No, I just think it’s weird that, per Jesse Armstrong’s account of events or Sarah Snook revealing that she didn’t know until the finale table read, the season wasn’t entered into with that mindset. Declaring a new season to be the final is one of the thrills of dramatic television—it makes every moment from premiere to finale feel weighty and reflective, and every narrative choice even more interesting. Thankfully, Armstrong and his writers were seemingly able to reverse-engineer that feeling. — FT

Absolutely. Five seasons always felt right to me, but I’m a big proponent of walking away on your own terms. — JK

No, they ended it at the perfect time. There was only so many battles Kendall, Shiv, and Roman could have with each other about who would take over. — ZF

It definitely could have gone for one more season, but should it have? I am a big supporter of shows ending while they still have juice in the tank, and the longer Succession would have gone on the more it would have just repeated the same beats as before. This was already a potential problem earlier in the run where I started to question: Is every season going to end with Kendall either staging a rebellion or crawling back to Logan? Jesse Armstrong was smart to shut the series down before it started to drag. (Now, please, no one start asking about a revival.) — EZ

If Logan was still with us, one would be able to make the argument, but I’m content with this decision. — AD

Probably, those writers can do anything, but I understand Jesse’s rationale. It sucks when a great series overextends itself then ends up being remembered that way. I’m not sure what would’ve happened with Succession, but pulling the plug is a kindness to fans and a real winner’s decision. Plus, while I thought killing Logan early this season was smart, I don’t think the show would’ve worked for much longer without him. — Gabi

I’m sure everyone involved could come up with eight or ten more episodes of compelling TV, but the story is done. It’s called Succession; I’m interested in the way Logan’s decline and death ripple through his family and inner circle, not in the day-to-day operations of Waystar. In four years, they should reconvene for a Christmas special where the filming of Dr. Honk: The Man Who Can Talk To Cars 2 (Still Talkin’) is interrupted by a terrorist attack that gets traced, incorrectly, back to Oman, vaulting Connor into the center of an international crisis. — PT

By the second episode of this season, I was lamenting that the show had gone stale. It was gearing up to be another eight episodes of the same people generally ending up in the same situations, just with new acerbic retorts—and then Logan died. The rest of the season ended up blowing me away, but only because they pulled this bold move up top. To continue on would mean changing the stakes in a similar way, and that would feel forced and unnecessary. I watched the finale in dread that the show was going to break character in this way, killing another Roy or, even weirder, giving them a neat and tidy conclusion. This meal-fit-for-a-king smoothie of betrayal, disappointment, and, ultimately, freedom was the only way Succession could end. — KL

Who, if any of the kids, was actually the best successor? 

I’m clearly and unambiguously underlining Kendall’s name. Shiv didn’t have the background or the experience and Roman was too much of a joker. So, Kendall. Yeah. Um. Okay. Good. — GP

Roman, but I think Kendall was right: he didn’t want it enough. I don’t think Roman needed the job or the title in the primal, devastating way Kendall did. Roman just wanted Logan’s attention. Ironically, I think, that made him better in boardrooms because he wasn’t blustering when he threatened to tank a deal — he probably really meant it! — HH

Maybe this is naive of me but I think Kendall would’ve made a great CEO—he had a mind for the old ways things were done and sharp instincts for the new, like Vaulter and GoJo. (How fitting that Kenny initiated his own demise.) He wasn’t ready when we first meet him, blasting Beastie Boys and getting sonned by Lawrence, but the events of the series sharpened him enough. He just would’ve continued to be a terrible person otherwise, whether making spineless decisions like letting Roman push Mencken through, or, you know, continuing to forget his kids exist 85% of the time. — FT

None of them. Come on. They are not, as Logan said, serious people. For a while there I might have said Shiv, but she consistently makes horrible decisions to girlboss her way to the top, and choosing to align herself with Matsson this season was an utter disaster. Roman is a baby who sends pictures of his dick to people and uses his assholery as a facade for his weakness. I will always  be a Conhead, but stick to your decanters, buddy. Kendall, I guess, has always been closest to the right choice, but is also a giant mess who takes himself way too seriously. The only person who should ever be in charge of anything is Willa, a DGAF queen. — EZ

None of them. They each had a little bit of Logan Roy in them, but none of them had the full package to be the next Logan. Kendall was the closest but we saw in the last scene with the three of them that he simply couldn’t be the guy. — ZF

The irony of the whole series is that the consequences of the neglectful and often vengeful parenting of their father resulted in literally none of them being fit to take over the company. Other than himself, I don’t think Logan wanted anyone to run Waystar Royco—least of all, his kids. — KL

Kendall. — AB

It’s probably Kendall, whose loyalty is ultimately to the Overton window: he can talk all he wants about disruption and reinvention, but if I’m a Waystar stock holder, I can feel confident that while he lacks some of Logan’s instincts, there’s a reasonably high floor. He’ll wake up at 4:45 to do tai chi, listen to Beanie Sigel on the way into work, and occasionally fly into fits of rage, but for the most part he’ll delegate, delegate, delegate. Roman is liable to strip the company for parts at the first perceived slight, and Shiv has so little self-knowledge and such high self-regard that she’d fend off all help with one hand and steer the conglomerate into the proverbial ice berg with the other. — PT

They had Shiv looking like a bumbling idiot at times, but I think she wouldn’t have done a bad job. She’s political enough and smart enough to head Waystar. But let’s be serious here, it was always Kendall. That he always ultimately melted down was because Logan fucked his mind up so much as a kid. But it’s Kendall, Shiv, Roman, in that order.— AD

None of them are built for it and they would’ve been better off if they all just accepted that, but I think it’s Kendall. Roman exhibited keen business sense at times, but he was impossible to take seriously. Shiv was up against misogyny (primarily Logan’s), but wasn’t as deft a maneuverer as she fancied herself to be. Connor? Never up for consideration. Kendall’s confidence was a facade and he stepped on the rake frequently, but he was best suited to sit on the throne and underwhelm. — JK

None. They could maybe hack it for a little while but would eventually be crushed by the weight of their vast and varied limitations. — Gabi

Who was the main character?

New York City itself. Sorry, wrong HBO show. But if I had to pick: again, Logan’s death only underscored how much it all revolved around Logan. — GP

Technically the first scene of the show is Logan Roy pissing on the floor. But for all intents and purposes, we start and end the series with Kendall for a reason. It’s his machinations, failures and emotional state that the action in any given season revolves around. — FT

It’s a show about Kendall. The middle 37 episodes exist to get him to the place he should have been in the pilot—a place his father knew he had yet to access. — PT

Shiv, but Kendall of course thought it was himself. Shiv has the thorniest, most dramatic arc, and I do think Logan wanted it to be her more than he wanted it to be Kendall or Roman. Shiv has the most robust and complicated personal life: the stuff with Tom, the stuff with Caroline. Succession doesn’t play misdirections, but Shiv, herself, does. She was never as righteous as she wanted to be, and it took her all these years to realize it. Kendall was just the easiest to understand. — HH

Greg, weirdly enough. The siblings often existed in very siloed storylines, and the only throughline between any of them was Greg, whether they wanted him there or not. — KL

Succession was truly—beautifully—an ensemble show, but it always came back to Kendall, didn’t it? Kendall was the anointed successor from the beginning and the plot always revolved around his issues and his whims whether he’s going on a bender that results in the death of a caterwaiter, sucking up to his dad, or rebelling against his dad. — EZ

The main character was the Roy Family. It was all of them. — ZF

Logan and his kids, but if we’re getting granular it’s about Kendall. — Gabi

In my eyes, it’s Kendall. From the moment we meet him, psyching himself up for the Vaulter meeting to “An Open Letter to NYC” early in the pilot, this is about his descent. — JK

Kendall is the main character. It was always him. Himdall Logan Roy. HLR. — AD

What’s the best episode of Succession?

I have nine words for you: season two, episode three — “Hunting.” Boar on the Floor. — AD

“Nobody Is Ever Missing,” the first season finale. The moment the dramatic stakes ratchet up with Kendall’s accidental murder, while still giving us some of the funniest moments of the entire series (Roman’s rocket blowing up! So much Tom humiliation!). It’s when Succession goes from a pretty good show to a must-watch. — GP

“Tern Haven,” the episode at the Pierce family dinner table. It was the first episode when we got the Roys, as a family business and as a family unit, really squirm. There are so many great lines in that episode, and the level of character building of Pierce family members in some throwaway moments was just really masterful. I’m also partial to the siblings dynamic in season three’s “Mass in the Time of War”: that is really the happiest we ever see them, skulking over to Kendall’s just to roll their eyes at all his big promises and pronouncements. — HH

With all due respect to “Austerlitz,” “Chiantshire,” and “Connor’s Wedding,” the only choice has to be something from season 2, undoubtedly the show’s imperial phase. And from there, it’s “Tern Haven,” far from an episode you could show to a neophyte or a non-believer to win them over (because, as Hunter details above, the joy is in watching the Roys squirm for once, something you need context to appreciate). But it’s a masterclass in everything the series does well from filmmaking to dialog, to casual displays of wealth and power—Logan angrily punches a helicopter ceiling and then yells at the pilot when he objects. Brian Cox and Mark Mylod in particular are absolutely blacking out in that instant-classic dinner scene, which also marks the first occasion Shiv Roy reveals she is in fact, Not Her. — FT

My personal favorite is “Prague” but the right answer is either “Hunting or ”Connor’s Wedding.” — ZF

“Connor’s Wedding.” Logan’s death was so stark and sudden and empty, allowing the siblings’ performances to take over the entire screen. The one continuous shot, Kendall going to find Shiv, Tom on the other end of the phone…it gives me chills! — KL

It’s a tight race, but the season 2 finale, “This Is Not For Tears.” — AB

“Nobody Is Ever Missing” — Gabi

Too Much Birthday,” where Kendall throws the birthday bash from hell featuring theme rooms and a giant vagina. It just has so many of my favorite Succession tropes: Kendall acting like a cocky fool only to be very sad; Shiv letting her guard down; antagonistic Tom and Greg antics. It has so much stupid rich person shit and is a feat of production design. That said, “This Is Not for Tears” is a masterpiece. I mean, it starts with Cousin Greg’s embarrassing testimony to Congress and also features Shiv and Tom’s brutal heart to heart on the beach. — EZ

I’m partial to the second and second-last episodes, “Shit Show at the Fuck Factory” and “Church and State.” They’re the most direct lines to the show’s emotional and thematic centers: the practical and spiritual reactions to Logan’s death. — PT

“Connor’s Wedding” made a very strong case, but I’m going with “This Is Not for Tears” by a narrow margin. There’s the signature gross display of wealth, personal and professional callousness, plus a surprise: Kendall the punching bag hitting back. Want to show your tyrant of an old man that you are, in fact, “a killer”? Drag him down with you when he tries to throw you overboard. Kendall counter-striking without pissing down his leg is what Logan always wanted, as well as the surprise that unexpectedly thrust the show in a new direction without feeling like a “twist.” — JK

What’s your most controversial opinion about Succession? 

It had it from the pilot. — PT

I’m glad it’s ending. — GP

That Kendall Roy is one of the best characters in TV history. All networks, all genres, all series. He’s there. — ZF

Greg has always been the most morally bankrupt character. — Gabi

What the fuck ever happened to the Pierce deal? I know Nan Pierce is filing an injunction to either make Shiv and Tom divorce or take it back. — HH

I watched the entire first season and in a single sitting hungover on my couch a few months after it came out. After episode one I remember texting my friends, “This show makes me want to be rich so badly.” Then I finished episode ten and sent a follow-up message: “Never mind.” I also didn’t find the “ludicrously capacious bag” bit as funny as everyone else seemed to. Like, it was funny! But I don’t think it warranted merch.— KL

Kendall should’ve died at the end of season 3. — AB

Kendall beginning the season high on rebellion just to die after that dinnertime face-off with his father by accidental, drunken suicide, would’ve been deliciously dark—but realistically, I think that takes the show on a much more divergent path than Armstrong envisioned. So instead I’ll say, the finale’s final shot reminded me of The Shield’s, a take you probably haven’t seen too much because too many of you are woefully laming on The Shield. — FT

Perfect show, no complaints. — AD

Who gave the best performance?

Brian Cox. What a legend! Even though I have a theory that his constant speaking out about his disdain for Jeremy Strong’s method acting is actually an elaborate method acting game he’s playing with Jeremy Strong. — GP

I want to say Sarah Snook, because I don’t think another actor could’ve played Shiv with all her knotty ambitions and jealousies. She’s also the flailing know it all—she sees the right, PR-savvy action but never wants to take it on. But then I think about the hundred faces Matthew Macfadyen made in that Italy scene where Shiv said Tom wants her even though she doesn’t love him and … put that scene on the Jumbotron, he’s doing it! — HH 

It’s ultimately Jeremy Strong, with an enthusiastic honorable mention to Kieran Culkin—both performances are arguments for TV as a medium, more layered and internally conflicted than virtually any actor would be capable of building inside the confines of a two-hour feature. Two caveats: Matthew Macfadyen steals Season 3 from under each of them, and Brian Cox’s performance has somehow become underrated; the contrast between his explosive newsroom speech in “Rehearsal” and the urbane restraint he shows in “Tern Haven” is remarkable.  — PT

Honestly? Tom and Greg, the Disgusting Brothers World Tour. They make me cringe and squirm and laugh and laugh. Nicholas Braun has to act like Greg in real life. There’s no way someone can tap into a character like that and not be some kind of weirdo. Then you have Matthew Macfadyen, who just has a Tom Wambsgans-type face—it’s very waspy, just perfect casting. — AD

Matthew Macfadyen was the actor that consistently blew me away. Look, everyone was great, but what Macfadyen did was something truly special. Tom Wambsgans was someone I had never seen before on television: A craven striver who was at turns awful and lovable, both the most pitiable character on screen and the most wily. There was the baseline skill involved in his performance that was impressive—he’s a Brit doing an American accent that has showmanship baked in. Tom is a Midwesterner attempting to sound like the fancy people that surround him. But, beyond that, maybe no character made me laugh more or feel more. His scenes opposite Shiv are alternately bizarrely sexy and utterly devastating. — EZ

Kieran Culkin, especially this season. He managed to give the most heartbreaking, sympathetic performance just one episode after viscerally disgusting viewers with his depravity. King shit! — KL

Succession is a triumph in ensemble acting, but Jeremy Strong and Brian Cox split the first-place votes on the MVP ballot over here. They have different approaches to acting (as Cox told everyone, more than once), but the results? Stellar. Strong nailed every nuance of Kendall’s doomed quest for glory, breathing life into a vulnerable man irreparably damaged by his father without ever letting you forget that he wasn’t shit, either. And regardless of whether Logan was bellicose, playfully sadistic, or utterly disgusted by everything around him, Cox made him so captivating that his presence loomed over the show in absentia. — JK

If there was any series that deserved an ensemble Emmy the way they do for the SAG Awards, it’s this one. Faced with a choice, it’s Jeremy Strong. But since he’s always the favorite, I’m going with Brian Cox, who truly is doing work just as incredible as his method fake-son, but rarely gets similar acclaim. A shortened appearance this season will probably continue that streak. — FT

This is the hardest question. Succession is an ensemble show and nearly every performance is pitch perfect. I’ll say Kieran Culkin evolved the most as an actor and Jeremy Strong gave the best performance, although I already want to caveat these. — Gabi

Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, and Matthew Macfadyen. I know this is a cop out but all three put together a masterclass week in and week out. Sarah Snook also deserves some love here because she made Shiv one of the most hatable characters we’ve seen in a long time. — ZF

An impossible question that even for the subjective individual makes you interrogate what you look for in performance, because each character is using a different instrument masterfully. But gun to my head, Brian Cox. — AB

Did following reactions to the show on social media improve or worsen the viewing experience for you? 

I’ve been a viewer since season one, so it was wild to watch Succession go from “basically unheard of” to “nonstop discourse generator” online. I’ve let myself get annoyed by it, but ultimately am glad the show got popular and inspired so many good conversations. It’s also kind of fun to observe the deep online culture around the show. I love the memes, the sense of monoculture, and I’m so lucky for the many pals I’ve made. And of course without social media there would be no RoyCast. — Gabi

Neither. I found some people to be insightful and others to be insufferable, but none of them significantly impacted how I engaged with the show. — JK

Booooo. Worsen, by a mile. The Zapruder film-style analysis of every frame. Forcing me to learn the word “babygirlification.” But when it really got bad was when it felt as if, by season three, the show was aware of it and deliberately playing to Twitter. — GP

They improve them for me, especially the no context accounts and the memes. I will miss them. — AD

It’s always fun to have a watercooler show, but there is such a thing, across all entertainment fields, as being too popular, so much as to invite truly harebrained takes from fans and haters alike. We bailed out just before it became interminable. — FT

I honestly cannot understand the obsession with tracking the tiniest details. Kendall’s kids (the show cares about Kendall’s kids about as much as Kendall does), Roman’s kids from the pilot, tracking the timeline — it’s very like “pleasure to have in class” bio personified. But genuinely I have had the time of my life writing the power rankings for my newsletter, and just generally lobbing our favorite lines back and forth. People who misread Shiv are only slightly more annoying than people who misread Kendall — actually maybe that’s my most controversial opinion. — HH

I generally enjoyed having an appointment show we were all watching and could discuss the next day—a return, perhaps for the last time, to the fabled monocultural gathering at the water cooler, but I will say the last week of conspiracy sleuthing bordered on a Reddit thread had me dreading the finale. — AB 

I mostly ignored the social media chatter around the show during the last season. People tried to turn it into GoT with the theories but it was never that, and for good reason. — ZF

Not necessarily, it was more that around season three it became so clear they were putting stuff in because they knew it would get screen-capped and shared across social media. Luckily, they cooled that off a bit this season, since it turns out people will make memes every episode whether it makes sense or not. — KL

I’d say neither! I loved the tweets! Maybe I was just following the right people, but I mostly just encountered people having a good time. I’ll miss that. (I had one bad run in with some stans. Alas standom is as standom does.) — EZ

I find it really easy to ignore. — PT

A bonus question: Who should get a spinoff? 

Obviously Succession: WAGS. I hear Bravo is circling it now. — HH

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