Succession is the internet’s show, and when it hits us with one of the biggest potential plot twists in recent TV history, people will inevitably start to look for any clues about what comes next. At the end of the third season’s eighth episode, “Chiantishire,” Jeremy Strong’s Kendall Roy is facedown in a pool, clearly inebriated and appearing (maybe) to be drowning. It would be a surprising sendoff for the closest character the series has to a conscience, but it would also make a certain amount of sense.
Slate’s Heather Schwedel noted a number of indicators that may imply Kendall is really gone. The first being that this major twist took place in the season’s penultimate episode, which is a common pattern of HBO prestige programs from The Wire to Game of Thrones, where the finale deals more with the fallout of the previous week than it does present new developments. In the seventh episode, “Too Much Birthday,” there are clear references to The Notorious B.I.G., one of Kendall’s favorite rappers who died tragically at just 24. There’s even a sign that reads “The Notorious K.E.N.: Ready to Die,” a nod to Biggie’s debut album, but also a possible cryptic clue in retrospect.
There’s some very heavy-handed Christ imagery at the birthday, too, as some Twitter users noted. Kendall’s initial plan is to pretend to be crucified on stage, but he scraps it at the last second. Earlier in the show, he makes it clear he wants to take down his father without implicating himself, and the nixed crucifixion scene could be read as him refusing to go full martyr, which may be the only thing that could truly defeat Logan. Instead of metaphorically dying in statement fashion up there, he dies tragically and unceremoniously in Italy.
At the time of Kendall’s death, his father, sister, and many of the show’s core characters are focused on dealing with the fallout of the dick pic Roman meant to send to Gerri but inadvertently sent to Logan. It would feel fitting for the entire rest of the Roys to be focused on such an absurd conundrum while Kendall quietly passes away by himself. (His son leaves the pool area right before the final shot, meaning Kendall really is completely alone.)
Vulture even went so far as to handicap the odds of specific characters dying in the final season, putting Logan highest (lest we forget the health scare he had with Kendall and Josh Aaronson back in episode four). They think it’s more likely that no one dies (3:1) than Kendall does (4:1), but note that death has been hanging over the show’s characters this season more than ever.
On the other hand, the trailer for the third season appears to show Kendall’s mother, Caroline Collingwood, going ahead with her wedding, which seems like something that wouldn’t happen if her child had just died. They don’t show Kendall in the brief trailer for the finale, but there is a shot of Logan sitting with Kendall’s son Iverson at what appears to be the pool. It’s a clear play to heighten the suspense until Sunday, and it’s hard to read into it one way or the other.
Kendall seems very drunk in the final scene, and given his battles with addiction throughout the show, some have speculated that there might be other substances involved here. But, as Vox’s Emily VanDerWerff wrote, the show has not explicitly shown us that, and it would not feel very tonally consistent to do a surprise reveal in the season finale that Kendall had been using drugs without previously depicting it along the way.
The timing of a widely-circulated New Yorker profile of Strong, which was published the day the episode aired, has many thinking the actor is bidding farewell to the defining role of his career thus far.
“To me, the stakes are life and death,” Strong said. “I take [Kendall] as seriously as I take my own life.” Slate television critic Willa Paskin made a savvy point related to The New Yorker’s recent profile of Strong. “Textually: I don’t think Succession works [without] Kendall,” Paskin wrote. “But extra textually, I find it hard to imagine the New Yorker ran a whole profile that omits what would be The Big Story, a week before they could tell that whole story.”
There’s a major plot point left unresolved, too, one that The Ringer’s Charles Holmes called “the Chekhov’s gun of Succession S3”: Kendall’s role in the death of a caterer at Shiv’s wedding. The pair left the event looking for drugs and crashed a car into the water, which Kendall was able to escape from, but the other man did not.
Logan references this during his private dinner with Kendall towards the end of the last episode. “How long was that kid alive before he started sucking in water? Couple of minutes?” Logan asks. Kendall is clearly shaken, and the next time we see him, he’s splayed out on a pool float, beer bottle in hand, face in the water, which some people are pointing out, may have been the point.
The New Yorker story also includes an anecdote that seems potentially connected to the episode’s cliffhanger. Apparently, during his break before the third season, Strong was on vacation and rode a “motorized surfboard,” which he said made him feel like he was flying, but the sensation was perilous. It’s a clear metaphor for Kendall’s arc this year, where he starts off on a righteous high as a symbol of the woke crusade against the indiscretions of Waystar Royco. But by episode eight, he’s been brought low, and wants out entirely.
“He thinks he’s flying, but he’s about to fall any second,” Strong said.
There’s one more big hint that Kendall has unfinished business–the mention of a podcast about the Roy family that wants to interview him. His publicist, Comfrey, tells him about it and the fact that they’re sniffing around the caterer’s death, wondering whether it may have been caused by Logan’s intimidation. Kendall seems intrigued, and going on the podcast to tell the full truth–both about his father’s misdeeds and his own role in the young man’s tragic passing–would be the ultimate self-sacrifice, since he’d likely lose his freedom in the process. Despite Kendall’s desire to leave this whole dynamic behind–he says if he’s allowed out of Waystar he’ll be “a ghost” who won’t even give a speech at his father’s memorial–Logan is hellbent on keeping his son under his thumb. Increasingly, it seems like the only true choices for Kendall are either taking them both down or dying.
But Succession has been renewed for a fourth season, and it’s hard to picture the series going on that long without Kendall, since so much of its white-knuckle tension comes from the battle between the Roy family’s lone crusader and his siblings and father.