Credit: Didier Baverel/Showtime

Has a season finale ever felt so much like a series finale?

Sunday’s Homeland brought to a close the driving storyline of the Showtime hit’s first three seasons: Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) was publicly executed in Iran after his successful covert mission to assassinate a high-ranking government official. Carrie Mathison (Clare Danes) watched in helpless agony from the sidelines. The rest of the hour picked up several months later, with Saul working in the private sector and Carrie getting promoted to station chief in Istanbul and deciding to have Brody’s love child (but probably won’t raise it herself). Not since the ending of the fourth season finale of Breaking Bad have we seen an episode that could so easily function as the last hour ever of a show. And for a few viewers it might be their final Homeland — some outraged Brody fans on Twitter swear they’re quitting the show.

But as we’ve seen in recent years, killing off major characters doesn’t diminish a series’ overall audience. Look at HBO’s Game of Thrones and AMC’s The Walking Dead. Both shed major fan-favorite characters only to see their ratings climb the next season. And Homeland already tested these waters during the fall — Brody only appeared in one of the first seven episodes, yet ratings have gone up.

So Homeland has already proved, to some extent, that it can function without Brody. And the track record of other serialized shows have showed that killing off big names doesn’t necessarily hurt the ratings. So now what does this all mean for season four?

Check out our post-finale interview with Homeland showrunner Alex Gansa for more details. But here’s our first-blush take: This was a necessary move; Brody’s story had no where to realistically go. Homeland was starting to feel like it was ripping apart at the seams, pulling itself two directions — is this a show about CIA intrigue or not? Brody’s return in the back half of the season was refreshing, but part of that relief came from the narrative having a clear sense of purpose again, a mission to focus on, not just Brody and Carrie reuniting. Once that story-spine was locked in place, momentum began to pick up. Homeland can have that urgent mission-based focus and momentum without Brody (and how about some more of those rad special-ops guys?).

So tonight’s move marks a huge opportunity. Homeland can now do a major creative reset and stop looking in the rear view mirror. The series might get better, or worse, but at least it won’t be contorting itself to figure out how to keep an outsider character involved in the action just because he’s popular. Look at all these potential pieces to play with: Carrie has seemingly stabilized from her mental illness issues this season, and will now presumably be in charge of a station and have a child at home. Saul is now out of the game. Brody’s family — Morgan Saylor (Dana) and Morena Baccarin (Jessica) — won’t return as series regulars. Lockhart is running the CIA, but even he has learned a thing or two. It’s a fresh game board.

Coda: The finale’s title (“The Star”) was perfect and that last moment was very touching, aided by a strong theme by Sean Callery. Play it again below: