When Game of Thrones ended in May 2019, HBO desperately needed a new epic saga to fill the Westeros-sized hole in its lineup. Little did we know, the story of a bunch of rich degenerates vying for power in an aging empire would be the solution.
In hindsight, Succession was always the most obvious Game of Thrones replacement. It might not have dragons or ice zombies, but after Westworld fizzled, His Dark Materials flopped, and production on any actual GoT spinoffs slowed to a crawl, the story of battling boardroom titans became the next best thing.
In Succession Season 3, the HBO series from showrunner Jesse Armstrong and executive producer Adam McKay, comes into its own as the most epic series of 2021 by ramping up all the backstabbing, conspiring, and palace intrigue that defines any great fantasy epic.
There’s no doubt that Succession is the best thing on HBO right now. What was once merely the most addicting show on TV has now become a certified epic.
An epic showdown
Like the Battle of the Bastards before it, Succession Season 3 brings a years’ long rivalry to blows as Kendall Roy goes on the offensive against his father Logan, the founder and CEO of Waystar Royco (a stand-in for FOX and Disney rolled into one, with more greedy policy preferences).
After Season 2’s surprise ending, Kendall is still fighting to dethrone his father for overseeing years of sexual harassment and coverups at the company’s cruises division, but any high he was riding after 2019’s season finale quickly comes crashing down under the weight of bureaucracy and betrayal.
Family rivalries are at the heart of Succession, and in Season 3, everyone picks sides. Kendall’s siblings quickly turn on him, delivering some of the most painful barbs. Watching Ken and Logan go at it is always fun, but watching Kendall lose the real relationships he thought he had with his brother Roman and sister Siobhan is brutal.
A fragile king
In a show where the only thing that matters is money (and dad’s attention), there’s no shortage of betrayal. Almost every episode offers its own Red Wedding-level event as one character or another pulls off a duplicitous move that upends the power dynamics moving forward, whether that’s Cousin Greg’s feeble-but-influential attempts to play by sides of the conflict or Logan’s fragile health.
As the king of Succession, Logan wears his crown with pride, but it’s no secret that his health isn’t what it used to be. He’s recovered from his stroke at the start of Season 1, but Season 3 introduces new ailments that strike at the worst possible time for Logan and the shaky empire he’s built from nothing.
A sprawling cast
Like any good epic, Succession features a massive cast that only continues to evolve. Season 3 introduces new characters played by Adrian Brody and Alexander Skarsgård, but the more interesting additions come from background characters. Succession is particularly adept at placing some random extra in the background of Episode 1, only to reveal that they’re secretly pulling all the strings.
The returning cast shines too, of course. Shiv’s husband Tom Wambsgans has always been a fan favorite, but his performance reaches new levels of dark comedy as he considers the increasing possibility that he’s going to wind up in prison, pouring over binders of different white-collar facilities and eating at Denny’s to get a taste for prison food.
Roman comes into his own as perhaps the least likable character on the show, crossing the line from love-to-hate-him to simply hate-him so subtly you won’t even realize it happened until he’s allied with fascists and attacking his own brother. Shiv loses a beat as she steps into a more involved role at the family firm, but it’s fun to watch her fail from the inside for once rather than judge everyone else from the outside. And Connor Roy... well, the less said about his political aspirations the better, but the paraphrase Greg the Egg, “please don’t let Connor become president.”
Like any large ensemble, the most fun comes from pairing off different characters and seeing how they spark. Are Shiv and Roman a good team? Can Greg actually do something useful after allying with Kendall? It almost doesn’t matter.
Like Game of Thrones before it, the best part of Succession is simply watching two complex characters trade barbs as they walk together, whether that’s through the hallways of Waystar Royco or the forests of Westeros.
I just hope series creator Jesse Armstrong has a better plan for where Succession is going, but three seasons in, I’d be just as happy if Succession never ended at all.
HBO provided the first seven episodes of Succession Season 3 for review. There are nine episodes total. The season premieres on Sunday, October 17.