Homeland took the TV industry by storm when it debuted in 2011. The Showtime drama won six Emmys in its first season (including for outstanding drama series and for series leads Claire Danes, as bipolar CIA officer Carrie Mathison, and Damian Lewis, as POW-turned-in-captivity Nicholas Brody), and enthralling audiences, including President Obama.
But the show had lost its critical luster by Season 3, as Lewis’ storyline wrapped up. Still, audiences stuck around, keeping it as one of Showtime’s top series for the past decade. When Showtime quietly gave the show a three-season renewal following 2015’s Season 5, producers knew that would take the show to its conclusion, although the network didn’t announce Homeland’s eighth season would be its last until last summer.
Ahead of Sunday’s Season 8 premiere, executive producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, who developed the show based on the Israeli series Prisoners of War for U.S. television, talk about Homeland’s highs and lows, and how they brought the story full circle for its conclusion.
The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Adweek: When Homeland took off in that first season, how long were you thinking it might go for?
Alex Gansa: Honestly, I don’t think that was even in our heads at that point. We were so taken aback with how the show blew up. It was just a complete and utter surprise. And then we were so heady with it all—President Obama asking for episodes and Steven Spielberg calling and saying, “I’m leaving for vacation. Could you get me the next three episodes?” Our heads got pretty big there for a little while. I don’t think we even were thinking about how long we would go. I think the question on the table was, how long can we keep the Brody story going for? That was the question that we were thinking.
When that Brody story finally did end in Season 3, the whole show could have easily derailed at that point. How were you able to navigate that huge sea change?
Gansa: The sea change was the Brody story continuing. We expected the Brody story to end after the first season and then evolve into a much more traditional show about an intelligence officer. Obviously, Damien [Lewis] proved to be such a compelling character, and the network really wanted that to continue. And we had more story to tell on that front, so …
Howard Gordon: … It really encouraged us to take our time with it, in a way.
Gansa: So, Season 4 was a watershed year because we knew a lot of people were going to be very upset about Brody’s death, and would they come back to see a different show? A lot of thought went into how to build that season. The obvious choice was to take an intelligence officer whose mandate is not really to operate on American soil, but to operate overseas, and to take her to a place where she does what she was actually trained to do and just be a case officer. So that was the choice to take us to Pakistan and Afghanistan. I personally found, just as a writer, we were very energized at the beginning of Season 4. This is exciting: a whole new set of characters, a whole new set of problems for Carrie to face with her own particular skill set and her own particular drawbacks as a character. So that was a really fun season.
When Showtime gave you that three-season renewal after Season 5, did you think that would take you to the end of the show?
Gansa: Yeah, for sure. There were many conversations about that, not only between Howard and me, but also with Claire and Mandy [Patinkin, who plays Saul Berenson], because we knew that they were all tired from being in South Africa for Season 4 and then in Berlin in Season 5. So the part of the compromise was, OK, we’ll do three more seasons, but we’ve got to come back to the United States for a couple of years. That was the reason why Seasons 6 and 7 were told in Washington, D.C. and in New York City.
In the new season, you’re coming full circle with this idea that Carrie herself might have been turned in captivity, much like Brody had been in Season 1. When did that idea come up?
Gansa: It came up immediately after we shot the scenes on the bridge at the end of Season 7—Oh, my God, she’s been in captivity. Brody was in captivity. What if people started questioning her? What if she had been turned herself? And what makes it even more interesting than Brody is that Carrie herself begins to question it. Because she has no purchase on her own memory of what happened. So she also is in a process of discovering what happened and what she did, and is she beholden to somebody else?