How the Succession writers set the stage for Waystar Royco's CEO years ago (spoilers)

Jeremy Strong, Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Braun, Brian Cox, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin and Alan Ruck in Succession (Sky/HBO)
Jeremy Strong, Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Braun, Brian Cox, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin and Alan Ruck in Succession (Sky/HBO)

All good things must come to an end, and Succession did so on Monday, 29 May with viewers finally learning who succeeded Logan Roy (Brian Cox) as the head of Waystar Royco. But, for the writers, the answer is one they have long been preparing for.

For four seasons fans have speculated who could be Logan’s heir, but in the end it wasn’t any of his children to make it to the top, it was the show’s dark horse: Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen).

Read more: Why Succession was just The Godfather in disguise (The Telegraph, 8-min read)

After years of humiliation and heartbreak at the hands of wife Shiv (Sarah Snook) and her siblings Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin), Tom had the last laugh after managing to ingratiate himself with Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård). It may have come as a surprise to some viewers, but it’s one the show has worked towards for some time.

In a featurette about the episode, creator Jesse Armstrong said: “​​The idea of Tom being the eventual successor, that had been something that I thought was the right ending for quite a while now.”

The writers set the stage well for the ultimate ending. Tom, like Logan, had humble beginnings and had to build something for himself, unlike the Roy siblings who had it handed to them.

He was determined to get power where he was able, and viewers watched as he did so but never really paid much attention to it. This was clearly by design, because few people in the show took Tom seriously. He was just the husband of the boss’s daughter, so why would viewers see him as anything else?

Tom was routinely shamed by the Roys, from the Boar on the Floor game to Shiv’s request for an open marriage. Even so, he held on until he was the only one left by the media mogul’s side, even during his death in the first half of season 4.

Matthew Macfadyen and Nicholas Braun in Succession S4. (HBO/Sky)
Matthew Macfadyen and Nicholas Braun in Succession S4. (HBO/Sky)

Back in October 2021, show writer Jon Brown shared his desire to see Macfadyen’s character reach the top in an interview with Newsweek. Explaining that he was more interested in the Roy family dynamic than the ultimate succession storyline, he told the publication: “If I was to answer it I'd say probably I would like to see Tom [take over] because I love him.

"And, in a way, you feel like the kids are all f**ked and they can all sort of be fine [as CEO] but it's a hard one, and at some point we're going to have to figure it out.”

Brown’s answer came just before season 3 was set to premiere, suggesting Tom was a serious contender long before the ending was written.

Read more: Jeremy Strong says method acting made him drink smoothie in Succession finale (The Independent, 2-min read)

Season 3 also ended with Tom betraying Shiv and the siblings to their father, paving the way for his success at the end of the show. The finale also featured a moment between Logan and Tom where the media mogul has his hand on his son-in-law’s shoulder and gives him a look, one that suggests Tom has finally earned his approval.

Logan may have promised the company to Kendall, Roman and Shiv at one point or another in the course of their lives, but they never got the same reaction from their father.

Matthew Macfadyen and Sarah Snook's Tom and Shiv have taken centre stage in Succession S4. (HBO/Sky)
Matthew Macfadyen and Sarah Snook's Tom and Shiv have taken centre stage in Succession S4. (HBO/Sky)

The writers also seemed to use other subtle clues throughout the show. One viewer recently linked Tom’s surname to that of baseball player Bill Wambsganss who was the only person to successfully complete an unassisted triple play in World Series history.

Read more: ‘Succession’ Creator and Stars Unpack Series Finale’s CEO Choice (The Hollywood Reporter, 8-min read)

Like his supposed namesake Tom took out three people to win, and although it is only a theory it does seem like a smart way for the writers to point to the character becoming CEO.

Had the Roy siblings been able to support one another then perhaps they could have kept the company, but they couldn’t stomach each other, they never could. Like Logan said in his last conversation with his children, they’re “not serious people” and that is what led to their failure.

Succession is available to watch in full on Sky and NOW in the UK, and on HBO Max in the US.