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Succession Characters Ranked By Ruthlessness

HBO's "Succession" is set in the cutthroat worlds of business, politics, and dysfunctional family. The one-percenter Roy family is at the heart of the drama as they all plot and scheme for power with and against each other. This is a family and a setting where it pays to be ruthless. If there's any warmth, love, or affection shown, it's usually only because there's something to be gained by it. 

When Logan Roy, founder and CEO of media conglomerate Waystar Royco, begins having health issues, a dangerous power vacuum forms. Kendall Roy wants that position of power for himself, but he faces plenty of opposition, including from his father, who isn't ready to give up without a fight. 

"Succession" is packed with some of the cruelest and most self-serving characters in television history, all vying for control. Every major player involved in the series is ruthless to one degree or another, but the hierarchy makes itself clear over time as the show progresses. Taking the first three seasons of the series into account, these are the characters of "Succession" ranked by ruthlessness.

10. Ewan

Since he lives in Canada and has nothing to do with Waystar Royco or ATN as a matter of principle, Ewan Roy (James Cromwell) exists outside most of the family drama. He is opposed to his brother Logan in nearly every way, and his relationship with the Roys in general is fraught with animosity. The only family member he shows a sense of caring for is Greg Hirsch, his grandson, but even that dynamic is far from warm.

Given how abrasive and cold his personality is, Ewan might seem like a prime candidate for ruthlessness, but his actions suggest otherwise. Ewan has a strict ethical code that he refuses to break or even bend. One could argue that this rigidity is its own form of mercilessness, but at least he seems to hold values beyond the almighty dollar. 

Despite hating his brother and everything he represents, and believing him to be extremely harmful to the world at large, Ewan doesn't take him down with the no-confidence vote when he has the chance. Whether he does this out of a sense of fraternal loyalty, strategic hypocrisy, or sheer disappointment with those in line to replace Logan is up for debate. Still, it's a less obviously malicious deed than the rest of Roys might manage. 

Arguably Ewan's cruelest act is against Greg. He gives Greg an ultimatum that he either quit working for Waystar Royco or have his massive $250 million inheritance taken away. When Greg doesn't quit, Ewan follows through on his threat. The money instead goes to the Greenpeace charity, supporting Ewan's environmentalist priorities. This too seems grounded in principle more than ruthlessness.

9. Frank

Frank Vernon (Peter Friedman) is one of the most important people at Waystar Royco, serving at different times as the COO and Vice-Chairman. You would be forgiven for forgetting his authority, however, based on how Logan and others in the Roy family constantly treat him like worthless trash. Frank is repeatedly fired and rehired throughout the course of the show, with one of his defining attributes being the word disposable.

This lack of real power is compounded by the fact that Frank is one of the only major characters on the show who doesn't seem to actively seek control and influence for himself. He declined the CEO position that was offered to him by Kendall and never attempts a personal power grab. This is almost certainly out of a sense of self-preservation and not an absence of ego, but abdicating power at least allows him some remove from the emotional bloodbaths that are Roy family gatherings. 

That doesn't mean he is entirely toothless. He might not initiate his own maneuvers, but he supports the plays of others, switches allegiances at will, and has a strong capacity for conniving behind the scenes. He frequently assists either Kendall or Logan in their ruthless acts and is also frequently used as a scapegoat when somebody needs to take the fall. Any ruthlessness exhibited by Frank is merely an extension of the more powerful players above him.

8. Greg

Greg Hirsch (Nicholas Braun) is the innocent outsider at the start of the series. He is an extended relative who hadn't interacted much with the Roys prior to the pilot episode. His naïveté and inexperience in high-pressure business situations allow him to serve as a point-of-view character for the audience to take in new information at the same rate as him. Goofy, clumsy, and odd, Greg also provides ample comic relief, and the worldlier Roy children basically all torment him for sport. 

At first, he seems out of his element and his depth with all the cruelty on display, but he begins to be corrupted by his environment as he spends more and more time in its midst. Greg starts to experiment with being a bit more ruthless in the third season, particularly when it comes to the women he attempts to court. It's clear that unscrupulous behavior doesn't come naturally to Greg, but he's been surrounded by bad influences for long enough that their meanness is clearly starting to rub off on him.

Greg's most ruthless moment as far as the Roy family is concerned is when he leaks sensitive information to a reporter. Even this moment has an asterisk beside it, as he's in over his head and doesn't know what he's doing until it's too late. He misunderstands the notion of speaking "off the record" and accidentally causes major problems, but he's in a position to do so because he was pursuing personal enrichment.

7. Connor

One could argue that the Roy children are all but black sheep to Logan, but Connor Roy (Alan Ruck) is arguably the blackest of them all. He's nowhere near squeaky clean, but he is the farthest removed immediate family member from all the drama surrounding Waystar Royco. Connor is typically kept out of the loop and rarely allowed to weigh in on the plots and schemes of the rest of the Roy family. When push comes to shove, he tends to default to siding with his father whether or not he even knows the details.

Connor displays a degree of ruthlessness and naked ambition in his political career. At the end of Season 1, he decides to run for President of the United States, which comes completely out of the blue after having never expressed any genuine interest or acumen in politics—or really any expertise in anything at all. A Presidential run requires Connor to make some tough decisions, but his campaign is defined by incompetence more than anything else with doomed decisions arriving right out of the gate, such as running on an abolish-taxes platform. If his ridiculous vanity project gains any traction at all, it is largely thanks to his father's public profile and deep pockets. 

6. Tom

From Greg's perspective, Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) is probably the most ruthless character of them all, given how relentlessly Tom bullies and harasses Greg. Greg is the one person lower than him on the totem pole, so Tom uses that slim authority to act out the power fantasy that the others get to live out daily. 

Other than with Greg, Tom is powerless in almost every situation. Tom has shown time and again that he desires more sway and control within Waystar Royco, and that this desire sometimes conflicts with that of his wife, Shiv. Tom's most ruthless moment by far arrives in the very closing moments of Season 3, when he appears to go behind Shiv's back and take Logan's side, serving as the lynchpin that allows Logan to turn the tables at the last second. 

Shiv seems to notice this bit of backstabbing in a simple gesture from Logan to Tom that implicated him as the traitor. However, the truth is left ambiguous at the close of the season. It's possible that Tom is innocent and the gesture was a calculated move by Logan to manipulate his daughter into thinking Tom can't be trusted. 

On the other end of the spectrum, Tom's willingness to throw himself under the bus for Logan and take the fall by going to prison is antithetical to the basic idea of ruthlessness. Earlier in the show, he seems to have genuine feelings for Shiv—feelings that she may or may not be capable of reciprocating. He also seems to want to have children for the sake of having children, not so he can use them as pawns in his power plays. 

5. Gerri

Gerri Kellman (J. Smith-Cameron) is in a similar position to Frank Vernon as one of the top advisors to the Roy family. Her perspective as an outsider is to her benefit and allows her to gain a more thorough, unbiased understanding of the interpersonal drama at play between the Roys. Gerri is considerably more involved with the Roys than Frank, and consequently has more opportunities to be cold-blooded and calculating. 

She didn't start that way. At the beginning of the series, she seemed like a competent but comparatively meek figure among the brasher Roys. She declined the position of CEO when Kendall offered it to her, instead operating as a secondary player who simply followed orders. Sometimes, this meant doing pretty unscrupulous things, like helping to cover up the cruise line sex scandal and running damage control for allegations of misconduct at Waystar Royco, but these were arguably in her job description and not duties she personally relished. 

As the show progressed, Gerri began taking a bit more prominence and began making her own plays for personal gain, not just for the good of the company. There is a capacity for pitilessness inside of Gerri, but it needs to be drawn out of her by the others for it to rise to the surface. Unlike those with genetic ties to the Roy family, Gerri doesn't seem to salivate at the thought of power, though once she gets a taste of it, she develops a liking for it. 

4. Shiv

Siobhan Roy AKA Shiv (Sarah Snook) has grown progressively more ruthless with each season of the "Succession." At the beginning of the series, she is largely detached from the business side of the family. At some time prior to the starting point of the series, Shiv made the decision to leave the family business to work as a political consultant. She was opposed to the politics of her father's ATN news network, and the politicians she worked for were against all that Logan Roy and his companies stood for.

As she is drawn back into working for the family business, Shiv is forced to reckon with her conflicting values. She attempts to have it both ways and take more control without turning her back on what she believes, but it becomes clear that this is a goal that is unattainable early on. She can also be heartless in her personal life, cheating on Tom before their wedding. 

Her morals become more and more compromised as she becomes more entangled with Waystar Royco. By the third season, Shiv has mostly set her moral compass aside and embraced the scumminess of her new environment, but some semblance of her former values still exists inside of her and manages to shine through on occasion.  

3. Roman

Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) is the third Roy sibling and arguably the biggest degenerate. Fully irony-pilled, he has no qualms with any of the unsavory and immoral aspects of his family's line of work and seems to embrace his dirtbag persona. 

When it comes to the personal interactions between the siblings, Roman is by far the most outwardly cruel, flinging vicious barbs and hammering on their weak spots until they crack. He uses his foul-mouthed humor and witty insults as defense mechanisms against the sort of earnest emotional exchange that might expose his vulnerabilities. 

In conversation, Roman is the most ruthless character on the entire show aside from his father. However, his interpersonal cruelty only partially translates to the business side of things. Though his allegiances occasionally shift, Roman typically falls in line with his father, desperately seeking his approval and never quite getting it. In all of the show's underhanded dealings, Roman is a follower rather than a leader. He also occasionally shows a more human side, as when he comforts Kendall in Italy in Season 3 in his own awkward way. Still, all in all, he's pretty enthusiastically sadistic and willing to turn traitor if he thinks it will advance his interests.

2. Kendall

While his siblings are all cutthroat in their own ways, Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) is the only one willing to go toe-to-toe with their father, which he does frequently throughout "Succession." Kendall is the one who sets much of the show's overarching plot in motion when he initially tries and fails to wrest control of Waystar Royco from his father. He sees power as his unfairly deferred birthright and will stoop to whatever lows are necessary to get what he wants.

At the end of the first season, after falling off the wagon, Kendall's actions accidentally lead to the death of a young waiter. Logan, the only one who knows the truth, helps him cover up the crime and stay out of trouble, likely more to keep Kendall in line and to minimize public embarrassment to the Roys and their company than out of a genuine desire to protect his son. This tragic incident leads to a major change in Kendall's character, and he subsequently spends the vast majority of Season 2 under his father's thumb as a spineless pawn driven to do nothing other than his bidding. 

However, this change of heart doesn't last forever. In the closing moments of the second season, Kendall's ruthless streak makes a return, and he spends Season 3 back on the path to power by any means necessary. His desperate attempts to look cool (remember the cringe-inducing "L to the OG"?) and constant self-sabotaging may seem like clear weaknesses, but he's got ample drive to get his own back. 

1. Logan

Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is the domineering patriarch of the Roy family and is the most vicious character on "Succession" by far. Both brutal and effective, he sets the gold standard that his children and the others in his orbit can only hope to attain. Without this remorseless, uncompromising nature, he could never have amassed his fortune and built the companies that serve as the center for all of the show's drama.

His mean streak extends beyond business dealings and into his own family. Though he cares for his kids in his own transactional sort of way, he has deprived them of warmth and attention for their entire lives. Logan is an all-around terrible person, as further demonstrated by the numerous allegations made against him that Gerri and others work to field and his manipulative dealings in American and global politics. He will stop at nothing to ensure he comes out on top. 

Any time it seems as though Kendall or his other adversaries have gotten a leg up, Logan manages to pull the rug out from underneath them. From the no-confidence vote against him that backfired in Season 1 to the closing moments of Season 3 where he shuts down the united front of Kendall, Roman, and Shiv in one fell swoop, Logan always seems to win in the end.