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Dear 'Succession' fans, we need to talk about Shiv Roy in that series finale

There's nothing quite like siblings.
Sarah Shatz/HBO
There's nothing quite like siblings.

HBO's Succession ended a four-season run on Sunday night. And Siobhan Roy's final choice, which determined the fate of her father's empire, exemplifies what the show has been best at, and what its devotees love about it.

Note: We're about to talk about the Succession finale and its fallout, so if you haven't watched it and you plan to, this is where you can hop off the train.

Who is she? One last time before the show fades out: Siobhan Roy, played by Sarah Snook, is the youngest child and only daughter of the media mogul Logan Roy, played by Brian Cox, who died in the third episode of the final season. She goes by "Shiv," and if your first thought is, "Shiv, like the knife?" the answer is, "Yes, exactly like the knife."

  • She has been married for a year-ish to Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), a Minnesotan striver so pliable that he once literally volunteered to go to prison (and drink toilet wine!) to take heat off her family. 
  • Shiv is pregnant with Tom's baby, conceived just before their marriage collapsed, as Shiv softly cooed to him, "I don't love you."
  • At the last possible minute, Shiv voted to let her family's company be sold to Swedish tech weirdo Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), who handed the CEO position to Tom. This dealt a devastating blow to her older brother Kendall (Jeremy Strong), who has only ever wanted to be CEO (and maybe become a rapper). 
  • What's the big deal? Narratively, Succession was about whether any of the Roy children could escape their father's legacy as a terrible parent who made them into what his oldest son, Connor (Alan Ruck), once called "needy love sponges." (Answer: No. Needy love sponges 4-ever!) But Shiv's big move is what the show was about as a television event.

  • Succession belongs to the era of HBO prestige dramas that has lasted for roughly 25 years, give or take. Those dramas rose at the same time as online discussions of TV, episode recaps, and the expansion of TV criticism. 
  • There's no obvious successor, as it were, to Succession. HBO is in the middle of fussing with its brand, the writers guild is on strike, actors and directors might follow, and some of the biggest shows HBO has now, including The Last Of Us and House of the Dragon, are based on things that already exist, rather than being entirely new stories the way this was.
  • Even though Shiv's choice wasn't a shock on the level of the unexpected cut to black at the end of The Sopranos, it's similar in that there are lots of interpretations, and the show isn't going to tip which one is right.

  • Can't get enough? Listen to the Pop Culture Happy Hour full recap of the Succession finale.


    Choices were made.
    / HBO
    /
    HBO
    Choices were made.

    What are people saying?

    Because Shiv knew that Matsson, the aforementioned tech weirdo who bought the company, would appoint Tom as CEO, there are lots of ways to read her choice and her accompanying announcement to Kendall that she just didn't think he'd do a good job.

  • Was she just honestly convinced that Kendall would be a terrible CEO? Rolling Stone's Alan Sepinwall says, "She gets no personal benefit from this vote, nor from explaining to Kendall why she is going that way. The only reason to say this is because she believes it."
  • Was she thinking about her child's future, believing the company would be more stable being owned by Matsson and run by Tom than owned and run by her brothers?
  • Was she pushed over the line by Kendall's behavior when she stepped out of the board meeting to think and Kendall followed and hounded her, then got into a physical fight in a glass-walled office?
  • Was she thinking about her own position and her own security?
  • So, which one is it?

  • The point isn't that any one of these takes is right. The point is that to understand the way this great drama works is to understand that there are a hundred ways to think about Shiv: As a woman boxed in by misogyny; as an operator out of options; as a scheming Lady Macbeth; as an impetuous egocentric who couldn't stand to be beaten; or as a woman who was raised to be a needy love sponge and saw a tiny bit more love coming from her husband than her brothers. None are entirely right, all are a little bit right, it really doesn't matter. 
  • The point is that the show's position was secured by the ripeness for analysis. And in this case, it's even more tantalizing, because creator Jesse Armstrong is doing almost no press, likely because of the writers' strike. So whatever postmortems you might get that would suggest that this or that answer is "right," they're not forthcoming. We are left with Shiv Roy — literally "Queen of the Knife" — and the choice she made. 
  • Learn more:

  • 'Succession' has ended — and the point was never who was going to win
  • Pop Culture Happy Hour recaps the 'Succession' finale
  • How composer Nicholas Britell created the sound of 'Succession'
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.