This Succession Symbol Could be the Key to Understanding Kendall Roy

On Succession, Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) enjoys a literal and literarily fraught relationship with the natural world.

Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) on Succession
Photo: David Russell | HBO

This article contains spoilers through Succession season 4 episode 6.

Most of the brilliance of HBO’s Succession lies in the density of the dialogue between the characters and the Shakespearean themes of loyalty, betrayal, and toxic familial relationships that twist and turn on a whim. As the show starts to come to a close, though, fans have an even greater hunger to analyze the purpose of the Roy children’s lives. Will Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) ever outgrow his self-deprecation and face his childhood demons associated with his father? Will Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) sit down and actually grieve the death of Logan and revive her relationship with husband Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) like an emotionally well-developed individual?

Most of all, what will be the fate of the Roy family’s number one boy, Kendall? Jeremy Strong’s character is the most volatile of the bunch, a man who so desperately wanted to please his father, yet resented how Logan never approved of his own approach to business and life. Kendall is a dramatic and grandiose person, the definition of go big or go home. Sometimes analyzing his actions isn’t enough to fully determine where he’s headed. This is where we as audience members must look for other signs of symbolism and metaphorical storytelling to understand the entire picture. 

Kendall just had one of his biggest successes of the show in season four episode six “Living+.” His charismatic speech on stage to a group of investors about the direction of Waystar under his vision rather than Logan’s was the first time in a while that Kendall validated his confidence in himself. He celebrates in the final scene by taking a swim in the ocean, something that immediately brings to mind all of the other times that pools and other bodies of water have played a key part in Kendall’s story. 

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Strong talked to Vulture about the complicated nature of Kendall’s dip in the ocean and what it meant at this point in the character’s life. “There were big swells that day. Kendall is always somebody who is up against these big waves coming at him. He has had to go through more than anyone. I loved the metaphor of that.”

Water is a powerful device on our planet, both in literary storytelling and literally in the natural world. It can serve to show when someone is being overwhelmed by the circumstances of their existence, and it can also accompany a person and make them feel like the most powerful person in existence. Strong continued to explain to Vulture this juxtaposition of how water operates symbolically for Kendall, and how the positive side of the coin was able to win out in “Living+.”

“The wraith and the superbeing are both in there [Kendall]. The superbeing is what we see coming to the forefront here, but the wraith is waiting in the wings, hiding in plain sight at all times, to pull him down. The superbeing feels that. And at the end of the episode, when I shot it, it was going into these big swells, but there was a feeling of invincibility that I had as Kendall — just taking on these waves.”

This aforementioned wraith that Strong is referring to famously reared its ugly head in the penultimate episode of the third season when the Roy children are in Italy for their mother’s wedding. Kendall has almost hit rock bottom at this point in the season, feeling utterly alone and out of touch with reality. He goes for a dip in a swimming pool and lays belly down in the water. Many theorists thought the character had committed suicide in the week leading up to the finale, and this isn’t something that was lost upon Strong.

The actor goes on to say to Vulture interviewer Matt Zoller Seitz, “When he [Kendall] says, “I need something absorbent in my life, that he needs an Eiger to climb, he means he needs something that will allow him to be above and to ward off the whirlpool, the vortex, of his addiction and even, in a sense, his suicidality.”

In a way, Kendall Roy and water itself work as one entity. Kendall is constantly going from outlandish highs to morbid lows, and this is congruent with the way water can both kill human beings through drowning them and make them feel the ultimate joy in life through swimming, boating, surfing, and more. 

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Water also has been a symbol of rebirth for Kendall throughout the show, especially at the end of the first season when he gets a waiter killed by doing drugs with him behind the wheel of a car. The two crash into the water, and only Kendall re-emerges with the potential to live a different life going forward. The waiter dies on the scene. 

Vulture interviewer Matt Zoller Seitz comments that “the accident that reconnects him [Kendall] to his father at the end of season one plunges him into water, from which he emerges. The incident happens at night, in the rain, so it’s a satanic rebirth almost.” Strong responds, “Yeah! That’s right.”

All of these instances of Kendall interacting with water are vital to understanding where the character is on his semi-manic scale of emotional turmoil. Kendall is simultaneously the easiest and hardest character to understand in Succession because of this. As fans, it’s best for us to look to the water anytime we want to get a pulse on the destiny of Kendall Roy. It may just lead to the most concrete answers we so eagerly desire while watching the conclusion of this family’s tale. 

New episodes of Succession premiere at 9 p.m. ET on Sundays on HBO.