Episode 601

Homeland ended its eighth and final season Sunday with a tense episode that forever changed the fate of Carrie Mathison.

Major spoilers for "Prisoners of War," the series finale of Showtime's Homeland, in the interview that follows.

In the last episode of the espionage drama, Carrie (Claire Danes) seemingly came very close to killing her mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) in an effort to compel him to divulge the name of his secret asset in order to convince the Russian intelligence agency to turn over the flight recorder evidence that was key to stopping a new war in the Middle East. Saul called Carrie's bluff and she found a way to burn the asset anyway. In the final scenes, a time jump reveals Carrie has fled to Russia where she's now living with Yevgeny Gromov (Costa Ronin) and penned a book slamming the CIA a la Edward Snowden. But in one last twist, we learn Carrie has begun sending intelligence to Saul, effectively replacing the asset she destroyed.

Below showrunner Alex Gansa talks to EW about the fitting end to the drama series and answers some of our lingering questions.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How long have you had this ending in mind?

ALEX GANSA: Not that long. We started talking about the finale as we got episodes nine and 10 as we were breaking the season. Like, "If we make this decision here, where is it going to lead? How are we going to get to an ending that we like?" We knew we wanted Carrie to wind up in Russia. We had that as a landmark ahead of us. But how she got there and what happened when got there was very much up for debate. One way to end would be to have Carrie exiled in Russia and living in some Soviet-like apartment block in an incredibly grim situation, isolated from the world like Ed Snowden. But we wanted more for her than that. So we gave her a companion and gave her a duplicitous relationship with him, yet a genuine one at the same time. And also a mission. She takes the asset's place. So I felt like it worked.

In some ways, you get to have your cake and eat it too. Does Carrie betray her country or continue as a CIA spy? Both.

Exactly. And she begins to repair the relationship with Saul, which was important to us.

George RR. Martin long promised a "bittersweet" ending for Game of Thrones and that's also the best word for yours. The ending is triumphant because Carrie seems like she's happier than we've ever seen her and is still doing what she loves and making a difference, but at the same time, her relationship is a lie—she's a prisoner of war, if you will.

And she was responsible for the death of a very important American asset in Moscow, and she betrayed her country. That's just undeniable. She did it for her own reasons, but she's got blood on her hands for sure.

Does Carrie love Gromov?

I think she does. She loves him in the way that Carrie can love somebody. But, of course, she's using him too.

The ending in Moscow reminded me a little of the final act of Thomas Harris' book Hannibal, which was very different than the movie, because Clarice Starling gets seduced by Hannibal Lecter and runs off with him—something fans were very upset about, but it was the most shocking and boldest possible story choice. Was there any debate about Carrie ending up with a man like him?

I never read that book. I don't think there was much debate because if you look at Carrie's history with men in the course of the eight seasons, all her relationships with guys have to be charged in a way for them to even appeal to her at any level. We tried to give her a normal life in season five and it was just untenable for her. She couldn't tolerate that. She has to exist in these heightened, exaggerated situations and clearly, this is one of them. And with Yevgeny, the trick was to create a scenario in which he wouldn't be overly suspicious of her. That was the real difficult part of constructing the coda of the episode. What had Carrie been up to for two years? How was she able to provide cover for herself to resume her espionage work? That was the difficult thing and we didn't realize that until 24 hours before we shot the finale.

If Gromov discovered her betrayal, would he protect her or turn her in?

I don't think there's any question that, that he would, he would be, he would feel betrayed too, is very cool. And then probably would just curse and beat himself up that he didn't realize that this was what she was up to all along.

How did Claire Danes react after she read the script?

Well, the finale script went through a number of drafts and there was a lot of discussion among all parties involved. Mandy, Carrie, [executive producers Lesli Glatter, Howard Gordon]. We were all wrestling with this and it went through many iterations. Ultimately, it kind of boiled down to me and Claire. This particular ending really appealed to both of us because the character can continue on in our fans' imaginations. The story progresses in everybody's mind, just not as a TV show.

What about Mandy Patinkin, what was his take?

Mandy was always advocating for some sort of hopeful ending. He felt the season up to that point had been very tragic and grim and hopeless. He was pushing for something that lifted people up rather than devastated and crushed them. That was a really important voice in the mix.

Could Carrie have killed Saul, or is that a hard line that she would not cross regardless of the stakes?

I leave that up to our fans. I think. I think that she felt very strongly about avoiding another mass casualty situation. If she could have done anything to stop that, I think she would go pretty far—that's my opinion as somebody who wrote those scenes. She knew that she wasn't going to kill Saul in the scene. She was hoping to scare him to death so that he would give her the asset's name. When he stuck to his guns, she had a fallback plan, but it was a Hail Mary—she had no idea that Dorit in Israel actually had the envelope. So she was taking a big chance.

What was the closest runner-up idea that you didn't go with?

There really wasn't a close second. One of the close seconds was that she actually killed him. But that was a distant second.

Well, once you ended the penultimate episode with Gromov telling her "kill Saul" —which was a terrific cliffhanger—then immediately that became the one thing the finale cannot do.

Right. You don't want to do what you've telegraphed.

Here's my read of the sequence watching Kamasi Washington and his band at the end, and please correct if this is wrong: The first part of that scene shows how the discordant jazz of the opening credits that represents Carrie's mental state has now smoothed into this melodic and enjoyable form that finally makes her happy. But after she comes back to her seat, in the last shot, the music takes on a harsher and more jagged quality now that we've realized Carrie is still in the game and will never be fully free of it.

That is completely accurate. That's exactly how we doled out the music. And wasn't Kamasi Washington so great? We definitely curated those songs, so that shot of Carrie was a cacophonous mix of sounds and you sense that it's in that chaos that she thrives.

Your ending rather firmly leaves open the possibility of revisiting these characters in the future. If Netflix backed up the money truck five years from now for a Homeland movie, are you down?

As Howard has said, "never say never." All of us are happy with where we ended the show and the series. Another chapter doesn't feel necessary at the moment. But who knows what's going to happen? Who knows what Claire and Mandy want to do? Who knows what Howard wants to do? We don't know what that looks like. For now, it feels like closure.

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