‘Homeland’ Creator: Why Brody Had to Die for the Show to Live, and What’s Next in Season 4

Homeland creator Alex Gansa dissects the shocking season finale and explains why Sgt. Nicholas Brody’s ‘shelf life had expired.’

Didier Baverel/Showtime

The Season 3 finale of Homeland was perhaps this year’s most polarizing episode of television. From the beginning, the series has revolved around Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis): his emotional scars, his inscrutable motives, his rise and fall and fall and rise. But by the end of “The Star,” which aired Sunday night on Showtime, Brody was hanging lifelessly from a crane in the middle of a square in Tehran.

We’ve written about why killing Brody was the right decision for Homeland. But we wanted to hear what the creative minds behind the show were thinking. So on Monday afternoon, as the Internet was still debating Brody’s stunning demise, we got on the line with showrunner Alex Gansa, who co-created the series and co-wrote Sunday’s finale. Gansa was a surprisingly frank interviewee. He revealed why Brody’s “shelf life had expired.” He elaborated on of the alternative plotlines that he and his team considered—and explained why they would never have worked. He confessed to crying on set when Brody was hanged. He revealed a lot about Season 4. (Expect Carrie to keep Brody’s baby, for one thing.) And he even discussed the show’s biggest mistake. (Hint: it has to do with Dana.)

“It’s going to be a different series,” Gansa admitted. “We are going to reinvent.”

Excerpts of our conversation:

Why did Brody have to die?

His shelf life had expired. It was time. We spent a lot of hours in the story room figuring out what we could do with his character, and a lot of the emotional landscape had been crossed. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves.

Then we thought of this cool thing Saul could do with him to find political asylum in Iran and use that operationally. So it just felt like once he was in Iran, he wasn’t getting out of Iran—and his time was up.

Did you ever consider ending this season without killing him? Or did you know from the beginning that he wouldn’t survive until Season 4?

It was one of the very first decisions we made in the story room this season—that he wasn’t going to make it out of Season 3 alive. Obviously we thought about the alternatives, but they just felt less compelling to us.

What were the alternatives?

One alternative would be that he didn’t go through the assassination of Akbari and took political asylum in the country. Or another obviously solution would be that he killed Akbari and then ended up rotting away in a jail there. Being somebody who Carrie could have conceivably reached or gotten out in some sort of prison escape in Season 4.

But again, it felt like either of those alternatives would have just been retreading story. And there was something thematic about Brody understanding that the idea of redemption for him was bankrupt, and that he was all those things that Dr. Graham told him back in Caracas. That he was a cockroach. That he did bring misery wherever he went. And that the only part of it that wasn’t true was that he was unkillable—that he was indeed mortal after all.

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Looking back—and critics have been saying this for awhile—do you think you kept Brody alive too long?

I have gone cold turkey on the critics, I must admit.

Fair enough.

But I do not think we kept him alive too long. If we had killed him in Season 1, we wouldn’t have had some of the great episodes of Season 2. We wouldn’t have had “Q & A.” We wouldn’t have done that finale last year where he and Carrie there looking down on the bomb going off. We wouldn’t have been able to play Season 3 at all. We wouldn’t have played that stuff in Caracas. We wouldn’t have as richly portrayed this man, and where he was emotionally.

It may have been more satisfying in the moment—that is, in Season 1 or Season 2 sometime. But I’m grateful to Showtime for making us do our due diligence and keeping him alive until this very moment.

Setting aside the critics: a lot of viewers are very upset by Brody’s death. Some are saying that they are never going to watch again—that the show is over for them now. What do you have to say to them?

That’s an individual decision for everybody to make about whether the series for them is over. And I would be the first to admit that that image of that star on the wall feels like a bit of a series finale, not a season finale. The question is how invested are you in the characters who are left standing? Do you want to see what happens to Carrie as a mother and as an intelligence officer? One of the great joys of Season 4 is going to be seeing Carrie actually do something she was trained to do, and that is be a case officer in a foreign capital somewhere.

Don’t you want to see what happens to her relationship with Saul and how frayed that has become? Or what happens with Peter Quinn? If that’s not enough for people to tune into, then so be it, ultimately, is my feeling.

But I will say that we are also very sad and grieving for Brody-slash-Damian-[Lewis]’s loss, too. We’re going to miss him. And it’s going to be our challenge to keep this show as vital and compelling as it’s been for the last three seasons.

It sounds like you have a pretty good idea of where you want to go in Season 4.

This idea of seeing Carrie overseas somewhere feels great to us. But we haven’t convened a story room and I don’t know whether that idea will get any purchase. But look: she’s on her way to Istanbul and she’s eight-and-a-half months pregnant, so we have some big things to resolve.

I will say that when I did follow all the critics and I was compulsively reading all the blogs in Season 1 and part of Season 2, after almost every episode, people would say, “Well, they’re never going to get themselves out of this. How could they possibly resolve this?” [Laughs] I think that’s the challenge and also the beauty of being lucky enough to do something creative with your time. We get to figure this stuff out. And I think it’s going to be fantastic—and I think Carrie Mathison is a strong enough character to be more of a single lead in a show.

It’s going to be a different series. We are going to reinvent. We’re going to reboot. And hopefully we can tell a compelling enough story to draw some of those people back.

But god: my heart goes out to all the people who fell in love with Nicholas Brody as a character. We shot that hanging sequence the very last day of episode 12. It was the very last thing we did in Morocco. We shot all night, and I must say, at 7:00 in the morning, when it was over and I gave Damian a big hug and thanked him for all his amazing work, I slunk off to a little courtyard and I cried.

I was tired, I know, but I was really emotional about saying goodbye to him, too. So my heart goes out to all those people who were moved by his death.

I think a lot of viewers were assuming the same pose on Sunday night. Is there something scary about coming back to the writers’ room after pushing such a big reset button?

Yes, but the nice thing about it is that it gives all the writers who’ve been with the show since Season 1 a chance to put their own imprimatur on the show now. Howard [Gordon] and I wrote the pilot together, and we set a course. And now I think it’s time for these amazing writers, who have serviced this idea about Brody and Carrie together, to have the opportunity to spread their wings and soar, as Dar Adal said in the finale. It’s a chance for these incredibly talented people to kind of come up with a new show. It’s terrifying but it’s exciting.

What’s the worst mistake that Homeland has made? And conversely, what decision or moment are you most proud of?

I’m going to let the mistake one just go by. It’s sort hard not to feel defensive about criticism, and for me to wade into that… Look, the Brody family has been a bit of a third rail. I guess I would say the biggest mistake we made, possibly, was giving Dana another love interest in this season. But that said, I think without it, that scene in episode 9 when she and her father were reunited in that motel doorway may not have had as much power as it did.

But who knows? We’re all making a television show at such high velocity that you can fall off the high-wire at any time. So I guess maybe that.

What I’m most proud of… As a writer—and I’m going to take off my executive producer hat for a second—there is nothing more fulfilling or fantastic than turning over something you’ve written to extraordinary people and watching them turn it into something better than you could have ever dreamed. That is the thing I’m most proud of by far.One last question: Saul says he’s out for good. But we should be prepared for a Godfather moment, right? “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

It’s not just that. The Central Intelligence Agency outsources so much work to private contractors now that Saul could very easily be back in the fold, just that way. Whether he has a desk at Langley anymore, I’m not sure. But his value and relationship to the CIA is very much alive.