Did the poster give it away? The 12 clues that foreshadowed Succession’s ultimate winner

From a specific catchphrase to some revealing marketing materials, maybe the victor of Jesse Armstrong’s drama was in plain sight all along. Here are the signs we should have spotted

Spoiler alert: this article is for people who have watched Succession season four. Don’t read on unless you’ve seen the finale, episode 10.

Tightrope Tom-Wam. Mr Normcore. The puffy-vested meat puppet. Disgusting Brother Senior. Tomlette the clumsy interloper. The man who dressed like a divorce attorney from the Twin Cities.

As anticipation built for Succession’s last ever episode and fan theories proliferated, few predicted that it would be son-in-law Tom Wambsgans who would ultimately ascend to the Waystar Royco throne. Yet maybe, just maybe, the seeds had been sown all along. Here are 12 hidden clues that foreshadowed Tom’s triumph …

1. His surname

Fans have long speculated about hidden meanings of Succession characters’ names – “Roy” meaning king, the mythical significance of “Romulus”, “Shiv” meaning a bladed weapon (she did indeed knife Kendall in the finale). Last week on TikTok, the baby-naming website Nameberry proposed a wild but compelling theory about Tom’s rare German surname (which, it says, translates literally as “fat-bellied goose”).

An extra “s” aside, he shares it with the Major League Baseball player Bill Wambsganss. As second baseman for the Cleveland Indians during the 1920s, Wambsganss is famed for completing the only unassisted triple play in World Series history, taking out three opponents at once. A century later, his namesake took out all three Roy siblings. Coincidence? Probably, yes. But a kinda cool one.

2. His outsider status

Tom Wambsgans with Greg in season two.
‘Destined to be Sporus the castrated slave boy to Tom’s Emperor Nero’ … With Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) in season two. Photograph: HBO/Kobal/Shutterstock

Frequently the butt of family jokes, Tom was never fully part of the Roy clan, but frankly, who would want to be? Cosseted childhoods and cruel parents meant the siblings were all deeply damaged, incapable of continuing their father’s legacy. Those with proximity to power but none of the baggage were a better bet.

Cousin Greg occupied a similar position, leading many fans to tip him to come out on top. However, Greg was too gauche, too clumsy in his scheming, not machiavellian enough (yet). He was always destined to be Sporus the castrated slave boy to Tom’s Emperor Nero.

3. The word “Succession”

The notion of inherited power is right there in the show’s title. Our last glimpse of Tom and Shiv, holding hands (sort of) in the back of that car, hinted that Shiv had already accepted her new role as queen consort. She also happens to be pregnant with a natural heir. Unlike Kendall’s children, their baby is pure Roy bloodline and Logan’s only biological grandchild. The cycle continues.

4. The hand on his shoulder

It was one of the most spine-tingling moments of the entire show. In the season three finale, the siblings’ attempted coup failed because turncoat Tom had tipped off Logan. This was confirmed by Logan fondly touching Tom’s shoulder, a gesture spotted from across the room by the incandescent Shiv.

It meant that Tom spent season four in the inner circle, with Shiv and her brothers stuck on the periphery. So it would remain. Logan didn’t want any of his feckless offspring to inherit the family firm. He wanted to sell it to Matsson, died doing so and ultimately got his wish, with trusted consigliere Tom at the new owner’s shoulder.

Wambsgans with Logan Roy (Brian Cox) in episode three of season four.
‘Trusted consigliere’ … With Logan Roy (Brian Cox) in episode three of season four. Photograph: David M Russell/David M. Russell

5. His ATN gig

As head of ATN, Tom had his well-manicured hands on the levers of power and the ability to anoint presidents. We often heard how the Fox-esque rolling news network was Logan’s crown jewel. His pride and joy. The one thing he wanted to keep after selling off the rest of his sprawling media conglomerate. The head of ATN was de facto the most important person in his empire. Who better to take the top job?

6. Stealing the chicken

One of Tom’s most memorable moments was aboard the superyacht in season two’s finale, when he walked over to Logan and helped himself to the food off his plate. He said brazenly, “Thank you for the chicken”, and walked away. “What next?” demanded Logan. “Stick his cock in my potato salad?” None of the Roy siblings would dare attempt such a poultry-based power move. He literally ate Logan’s lunch.

7. His role in Logan’s death

As Tom reminded Shiv (and us viewers) in the penultimate episode, he was right by Logan’s side during his final moments aboard that fateful private jet to Stockholm. Tom broke into the plane bathroom after Logan had collapsed. It was Tom who became the conduit between the family on the ground and Logan in the air, holding a phone by his ear, even though he was likely already dead. He was the only one who got a chance to say goodbye. Another sign that he would always be in the right place when it mattered.

8. Shiv’s motherly parallels

Tom and Shiv getting married in the season one finale.
‘Perhaps Shiv was destined to turn into her mother’ … Tom and Shiv getting married in the season one finale. Photograph: HBO

Toxic aristocrat Lady Caroline Collingwood often taunted her daughter Siobhan that she was a chip off the old block, especially when it came to motherhood. “We’re not cut out for it,” she brayed. “I should’ve had dogs.” Yet perhaps Shiv was destined to turn into her mother in another way – reduced to being the unhappy wife of a powerful Waystar CEO.

9. ‘I’m here to serve’

This became Tom’s catchphrase in the wake of Logan’s death. Without the patriarch’s protection – “The only guy pulling for you is dead”, as Karl put it gleefully – Tom was left casting around for new family allies. He pitched for their patronage by emphasising his servile nature and willingness to carry out orders. Kendall and Roman both brushed him away but GoJo mogul Lukas Matsson was smart enough to end up listening.

10. The poster teaser

Fans flipped after episode three, retrospectively spotting a portent of Logan’s death in the season four poster – a plane in the sky hinted at where he would perish. Was there another clue on the poster all along? Shiv stands with folded arms, her facial expression conveying that she is making a calculated decision. Yet the reflection shows Tom standing in front of her. A visual hint that she would end up behind her husband in the race for the family business?

11. Matthew Macfadyen being a Brit

A little flag-wavingly patriotic, this one, but think about it. Jesse Armstrong and many of his writing team are British. Actor Brian Cox – and indeed, Logan Roy himself – are proud Scots. Perhaps it was always likely to be a fellow Briton who would ascend to his throne.

Furthermore, Tom’s string-puller Lukas Matsson and actor Alexander Skarsgård are both Swedish. Those Americans simply weren’t up to the job. Sorry, Gerri, but we Europeans weren’t so soft (let alone hammocked in our social security safety nets, sick on vacation mania and free healthcare) after all.

12. The royal sceptre

Remember season two’s shareholder meeting, when Logan became “the piss-mad king of England” due to a urinary tract infection? Tom handled his ailing, incoherent father-in-law so well, it was really rather touching. “Do you want me to hold the sceptre?” he asked gently in the bathroom stall. “You’re a very good boy,” slurred Logan. Tom really is holding the sceptre now.


Michael Hogan

The GuardianTramp

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