Television

Here Are All the Clues That Set Up Succession’s Huge Plot Twist

Turns out the HBO show has been dropping hints all season.

A man in a gray suit with his brow furrowed walks down steps in a garden
Jeremy Strong on Succession. Graeme Hunter/HBO

This article contains major spoilers for Succession’s “Chiantishire.”

A lot of plot unfurled in Sunday’s episode of Succession, between most of the cast heading to Tuscany for a wedding and a major move for Waystar Royco potentially derailed by a dick pic, but you had to keep paying attention up to the episode’s very end to know that it also left one of the show’s main character’s fates hanging in the balance: The final moments of the show suggested that the Roy son who’s been a thorn in his family’s side all season, Kendall (Jeremy Strong), may have drowned. If you’re still in shock, you’re not alone. Surely the show couldn’t kill off such an important character—except that this is HBO, the network that offed Ned Stark at the end of Season 1 of Game of Thrones. Anything is possible. (And, with this event taking place in the penultimate episode of the season, it would seem to follow a certain prestige TV pattern.) Now, we don’t know whether Kendall actually drowned; it was left intentionally ambiguous, so until next week’s season finale, we won’t be able to say for sure. But once you begin to consider that this could be the start of a post-Kendall Succession, in hindsight certain things that have happened this season start to look like more foreshadowing. Let’s take a closer look at the scene where it may—or may not—have happened and how this season of the show might—or might not—have been building up to it.

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In the scene itself, we see Kendall and his kids at a pool at what is presumably the house they stayed in while in Tuscany—obviously, it’s insanely beautiful and luxurious. Kendall lies face-down on a pool float, holding a beer. Last we saw him, he had a difficult conversation with his father, so we could expect him to be dejected about that. His kids, Sophie and Iverson, go inside, and when Iverson tells his father he’s going, Kendall acknowledges him, seeming awake but drowsy. We watch him float like this for a bit. Then we cut to a shot that looks essentially the same, except Kendall’s head is no longer on the float—I had to rewatch the scene looking specifically at Kendall’s head placement to see what happened here, because he goes from very much safely on the float to very much not. The camera starts filming from below (the float is see-through), and we see Kendall drop his beer and it bobs through the water. It’s hard to tell and we don’t know for how long, but it looks like Kendall’s head is partially submerged, at least long enough for a few air bubbles to form in the pool. We stay on that shot for a while before the episode cuts to black. So that’s all we see in the episode itself. Nothing happened for sure, so the next episode could easily start with Kendall waking up, gasping for breath. Or it could start in a much worse way. (And there’s always the possibility that he doesn’t die, but ends up needing serious medical help.)

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One big argument on the side of “Yes, it happened, Kendall’s a goner” is a scene that took place earlier in the episode, at a dinner between Kendall and his father, Logan (Brian Cox). Kendall, who’s been at war with his dad since the end of Season 2, when he very publicly betrayed him, was told to stay away from Logan while they were all in Tuscany for Kendall, Roman, and Shiv’s mother’s wedding. A frustrated Kendall approaches his dad anyway and asks him to meet him for dinner so they can finally hash it out. Logan acquiesces but doesn’t trust Kendall: When the two are served dinner, Logan calls Iverson over and asks him to try something on his plate—i.e., to make sure that he’s not being poisoned. Kendall says to his dad, “Who do you think I am? You think I want you dead? I’ll be broken when you die.” Kendall assumed that he’d definitely outlive his dad—which would make it all the more surprising and poignant if, at the end of this episode, something happens to make it so he doesn’t. There’s more of this kind of talk as Kendall explains to his father that he wants out of the company: If his father allows him to leave, he’ll be “a ghost,” he says, and he won’t even speak at Logan’s memorial service. He may, in fact, turn out to be a ghost who doesn’t speak at Logan’s memorial—for much more concrete reasons.

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In that same conversation, Logan brings up the caterer whose death Kendall was partly responsible for. At the end of Season 1, Kendall and a waiter from his sister’s wedding got into a car accident after they left the event in search of drugs. After swerving to avoid hitting a deer, the car ended up underwater, and while Kendall was able to get away, he failed to save the waiter. Logan helped cover it up for Kendall, and he ends their encounter, at which Kendall is intent on proving that he’s a better person than his father, by throwing that back in his son’s face. Logan specifically dwells on the manner of the young man’s death, wondering how many minutes it took him to drown, how long he knew he was going to die. It would be a sad echo if Kendall died the same way, only too drunk to even know what was happening.

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But it wasn’t just this episode that contained potential allusions to Kendall’s perishing. Think back to the previous episode, with Kendall’s 40th birthday party. A big sign at the party might have been even more than a prop meant to demonstrate Kendall’s affinity for Biggie Smalls: “Notorious Ken: Ready to Die.” Was that truer than we even knew? You can also go all the way back to this season’s premiere for more water imagery: When we first see Kendall, he is hiding in a bathroom, breathing heavily and thinking about what he just did (betray his father on TV): We see him lie down, fully clothed, in a bathtub. There would certainly be an emotional resonance in the season taking him from emotionally drowning in an empty tub to actually drowning. Beyond that, Roman predicted early on in the season that Kendall’s rebellion against the family wouldn’t last, saying, “Kendall will self-destruct because it’s his favorite.” He was right that it didn’t last—Kendall himself said he wants out. His father said no to that request, but Kendall’s will to self-destruct has always been strong. In about a week, we should know just how strong it is.

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