This article contains spoilers for the "Succession" series finale, as well as discussions of sensitive, potentially triggering content.

There were a few different moments in the "Succession" season 4 finale where it seemed like someone might be about to die. When Kendall drank a "meal fit for a king" concocted from a stomach-churning mix of ingredients (some well past their use-by date), for example. Or when Kendall, in a rage, grabbed hold of Roman's head like he was trying to crush his skull. Ultimately, though, the corporate battlefield dealt out its losses in a different way.

For Kendall, that meant Shiv turning on him at the last moment and tipping the board vote in favor of selling Waystar Royco to Swedish tech billionaire Lukas Matsson. To add insult to injury, Roman casually told Kendall that their father never considered Kendall's children to be "real" heirs, since neither of them are his biological children.

Kendall ends the series once again staring across a body of water, bereft and devastated. Though he'll get a 10-figure payout from the sale of the company, he's lost his family, his siblings, his father, and his dream of becoming Waystar's CEO. Without that, as he told Shiv in his desperate plea to change her mind, he fears that he'll simply die, since he has no other reason to exist.

If you expected that final scene to end with Kendall jumping into the water to drown himself (as he seemingly tried to do at the end of season 2), then you're not alone. Breaking down the finale in an official HBO podcast, journalist Kara Swisher commented that that's what she was anticipating — and actor Jeremy Strong revealed, "In one of the takes I climbed over the barrier."

'There's No Coming Back From This'

Jeremy Strong's approach to acting was put under the microscope in a 2021 profile for The New Yorker, in which he said, of playing Kendall Roy: "I take him as seriously as I take my own life." Strong doesn't consider himself to be a method actor, but he does connect with his characters very intensely, treating their experiences and emotions as his own through a kind of "identity diffusion" — turning himself into an empty vessel, to be filled by the character he's playing.

Though the seriousness with which Strong takes his craft has attracted some mockery, there's no doubt that it gets results. His approach is particularly well suited to the way "Succession" is shot, often filming very long, uninterrupted takes in order to, as director Mark Mylod explained, "give the cast as much emotional flow as possible." While creator Jesse Armstrong deliberately left the Roy kids' endings somewhat open, Strong felt compelled in one take of the final scene to stray from what was written on the page. He explains:

"I sat on the bench, and it always to me felt like there was nowhere … there's no coming back from this. And I looked at these waves and it was so windy that day and so cold and there was some piece of metal clanging and it was this terrible sound, and I sort of couldn't bear it. And I stood up and walked slowly to the barrier that was set up there and climbed over it and I didn't really know what I planned to do, and the actor playing Colin [Scott Nicholson] saw me and ran and stopped me from doing it."

Whether Nicholson was sincerely worried about Strong or simply improvising with the change in the scene is unclear. But given how the lines between actor and character can blur, perhaps it was a bit of both.

Entering The Whirlpool

Asked whether he believes "Succession" should have ended with Kendall climbing over the barrier and jumping into the water, Strong replied, "I mean, I'm sure Jesse's choice is better," adding that the possibility is very clearly implied even if it isn't explicitly shown: "I think you see the intentionality in the character."

Strong took a particular interest in the poem "Dream Song 29" by John Berryman, a fragment of which has been used for every finale episode title in "Succession" (season 1's "Nobody Is Ever Missing," season 2's "This Is Not for Tears," season 3's "All the Bells Say," and the series finale: "With Open Eyes"). After filming the scene by the water, Strong sent Jesse Armstrong and Mark Mylod the first verse of the poem:

There sat down, once, a thing on Henry's heart

so heavy, if he had a hundred years

& more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time

Henry could not make good.

Starts again always in Henry's ears

the little cough somewhere, an odour, a chime.

Strong felt that the metal clanging noise that had driven him to climb over the barrier was as if the "chime" had come out of the poem. Armstrong responded ("and this is Jesse's mind") with an excerpt from T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land Part IV: Death by Water," which describes the drowning of a Phoenician sailor and his body "entering the whirlpool."

Strong, who elsewhere in the podcast described the ending of the series for Kendall as a "doom loop," says that, to him, the final scene is his character "entering the whirlpool." He might still be alive, but a downward spiral seems inevitable.

"Succession" seasons 1 to 4 are now streaming on Max.

Read this next: 10 Worst Things The Roys Have Done In Succession

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