Shiv Roy is Not Your Devil, Nor Your Martyr

“I really love you, but I can’t fucking stomach you!” is one of Siobhan Roy’s (Sarah Snook) most sincere moments on Succession. With venomous rage, she spits the words out to her eldest brother Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) after deciding to vote in favor of the Gojo deal. To think this would turn out any other way would be naive both as a writer and a viewer of this series. The Roy children didn’t magically alter their worldview after their father’s death. No, Logan Roy’s (Brian Cox) sudden departure didn’t reframe the sibling’s worldviews so much as accentuate what he’d already cultivated within them since childhood. Anger and resentment are crucial parts of the Roy children’s emotional inheritance. The same one that drove Shiv to favor power over her brother. 

Immediately after the series finale of Succession, online chatter quickly revolved around Siobhan Roy, undoubtedly one of the show’s most dynamic and polarizing figures. Yet, the discourse dishonored the hard work behind her character. We should be past the binary assignment of female characters as anything but morally gray when we’re usually comfortable seeing it in male characters. Many people found themselves on two sides of Shiv’s decision to back out of Kendall’s plan to take on the company and nix the Gojo deal. Either she’s this idealized warrior woman, breaking the vicious cycle between Kendall and Logan, or she’s a vindictive pariah rightfully chained to the domestic pitfalls of being a mother and wife to Tom. To quote Shiv during Logan’s funeral, some viewers can’t “fit an entire woman” in their heads.

Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy in Succession (COURTESY: HBO Max)

Siobhan Roy has consistently demonstrated who she is. The Shiv who backstabs her brother at the last possible moment in that boardroom is not an expression of character assassination; it’s character affirmation. Her disdain for her brother’s sense of entitlement has been made clear since the pilot. After Logan suffers from a heart attack, Shiv’s initial instinct on Ken taking over as CEO is that he lacks the killer instinct and grit to run the company. Not much has changed until she leaves that boardroom and votes “yes” on the deal. It makes that final stab in the back that much more brutal. In relishing her hatred for her brother Kendall, she ultimately lets her father win—one final laugh and “fuck off!” from the grave. 

This doesn’t diminish the more complicated parts of Shiv’s character. She does love her brothers. However, it’s the kind of love most of us don’t understand unless that’s the world we’ve been raised in. Everything is within context. Does Shiv love Ken? Yes. Does she also resent him? Yes. It’s all part of the nauseating carnival ride their father has long left them in, and they can’t get down from. Shiv’s proximity to power comes at the cost of her entire identity. Her identity is not her own but the one Logan forged for her. It’s also cost her her siblings, marriage, and ultimately herself. Worse, having everyone in the room know you’re just another dispensable part of the machine that’s Waystar Royco and not the unique “Pinky” Logan made her believe she was. 

But what’s Shiv to do? Dealing with a narcissistic absent mother and emotionally abusive father builds thick, calloused wounds that never fade. Some choose to move past them, and others relish in them. Pick and scab them over and over again. 

Shiv falls right in the middle and ultimately lands in the latter. She chooses a broken marriage adjacent to power in what she feels is the ultimate affirmation of everything her father taught her. Choosing Ken meant establishing the belief that she was never enough. Everything the Roy children ever did defied logic. As bystanders in their toxic relationship with Logan, we could see clearly what they consistently failed to do. Because when you’re in the trenches of such emotional turmoil, it’s hard to see what’s in front of you. Your sense of “self” is colored by the person now controlling you. Their strength lay in their unity, and Logan knew that. That’s the thing about abuse. It takes logic away because emotions chart the course set by the abuser. By the time you crash and burn, it’s too late. It was too late for all of the Roy children, especially Shiv. The poison had seeped too deep, and no matter what logical argument Kendall could throw at her, she wouldn’t listen. It’s why he, too, resorted to his illogical emotions of being the “eldest boy” as if that factors into the cold hard facts of this being an awful deal for the company. 

Brian Cox as Logan Roy and Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy in Succession (COURTESY: HBO Max)

“With Open Eyes” plays out like we all knew it would but didn’t want to accept. Most truthful endings of a well-told tragedy turn out that way. Shiv would always end up where she did. Resolute in her decision to follow her father into that gaudy mausoleum, what follows is the most tragic handhold in recent TV history with her husband, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), as she looked out into the city her father once reigned over. Therein lies the conflicting tragedy of a character like Siohban Roy. We could fool ourselves into buying the entire “girlboss” moniker Shiv thought she cultivated for herself. However, in the end, she’s still the same person who pressures victims of sexual assault into remaining quiet during the cruises situation. She’s also the same Shiv who mourned her father’s death and clutched her brothers in whatever comfort she could find. But she’s the Shiv, who, down to the last minute, would sacrifice her brother for whatever fraction of power she could gain by staying with Tom –  even if it felt like a last-ditch effort to feel once again as important as she did underneath the approving gaze of her father. 

The problem doesn’t lie with Shiv, the character, but with the reaction, her character provokes. Regarding Kendall and Roman (Kieran Culkin), they’re given the emotional and intellectual berth to remain as ethically and morally ambiguous as they’ve been written to be. Shiv is no different, yet there’s the impulse to slot her in these rigid binaries that have long dictated how female characters can exist. Shiv is just as morally bankrupt as her brothers but also as textually rich as them. Our diminished intellectual understanding regarding the media we consume shouldn’t bog down her multitudes. Shiv’s characterization is etched in the writing through which she was conceived and Sarah Snook’s layered performance. Whatever impulse there is to oversimplify Shiv, what’s on-screen will always tell the real story. Shiv was a product of her world but not a victim of it. She also craved to bask under the warmth of her father’s attention whenever possible and lived chasing that high. Meanwhile, she is trying to navigate a relationship with a husband equally emotionally stunted as herself. Shiv is not a feminist icon. She’s not the devil incarnate. She’s not a martyr. She’s far more complex than labels. 

Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Wambsgans and Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy in Succession (COURTESY: HBO Max)

She’s not choosing “motherhood” or the chains of marriage when she chooses Tom. She’s choosing power. She’s choosing to be right over Kendall losing. This is not about the fall of a giant feminist icon but about a little girl playing a woman with her father’s toys. This is about unresolved trauma where there’ll never be any resolution. Tom isn’t the alpha, dominant CEO any more than Shiv is the winning hero of this tale. Both are bound to one common foe: the shadow of Logan Roy cast far and wide. 

Watching Shiv stumble through her grief and anger was a revelation that wrestled with my moral convictions. I knew that blind anger. I’ve lived that brand of vindictiveness, provoked by older brothers and my conflicted relationship with them. I, too, felt that flash of anger on Shiv’s behalf when Kendall once and for all revealed the childish impulses of being “the eldest boy” waiting around for Daddy’s approval. Is that all? Is that all you must be to be considered for the number one spot? At that moment, Shiv realized that it was never about how smart, competent, and killer she was – or could be. It didn’t matter. It never mattered because her fate was determined when her father decided that she, as a woman, would never be taken seriously as his successor. That emotional response drove a dagger to my heart as I witnessed Shiv shed her humanity for the cold comfort of power. That’s where Shiv and I depart. 

Shiv doesn’t always need to fit some recognizable mold. She doesn’t need to be relatable. Snook’s portrayal shows flashes of humanity in a morally abhorrent character, making Shiv seem more than a caricature. That uncomfortable feeling of “I know exactly how she’s feeling” strengthens the emotional beats. We don’t need to love Shiv. We don’t even need to like or enjoy her existence on the show. Still, we can acknowledge the many character traits that make her just as intriguing and worthy of intellectual dissection as her male counterparts. 

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