Over the course of eight seasons of award-winning, high-stakes drama, the political action thriller series "Homeland" follows the twists and turns of the life and work of CIA officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), aided by her mentor and frequent rescuer, Saul Berenson (Mandy Pantinkin). Whether the series was going small scale — focusing on Carrie’s disastrous personal life, made difficult by her work and her bipolar disorder — or telling big stories that could impact the entire world — like a radicalized POW planning to kill the vice president of the United States or a Russian operation to interfere in American democracy — "Homeland" kept viewers gripping their arm rests and hungry for more.
The show’s timeline plays out roughly in real time; that is to say, its first season — premiering October 2011 — tells of events taking place in the same year, and its April 2020 finale is set roughly nine to ten years later. Over the course of this time, viewers are given an intimate look at Carrie’s fractured psyche, as she continues to push herself beyond her limits in order to serve her country, as do her various allies, enemies, and frenemies. When the show takes its final bow, we see Carrie in her best, most stable circumstances ever, though perhaps light years away from where we’d expect her to end up.
This is the entire "Homeland" timeline explained.
Homeland starts with the rescue of Nicholas Brody
"Homeland" Season 1 focuses on Carrie Mathison’s suspicion of a recently rescued prisoner-of-war, Gunnery Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) of the United States Marine Corps, based on intel she received that al-Qaida commander Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban) had managed to turn a United States POW and was planing a terrorist attack. Her surveillance of Brody and interactions with him soon become a personal entanglement and eventually a sexual relationship. Viewers learn that Brody is now a practicing Muslim and was, indeed, compromised by and working under Nazir. But things get murky when Brody’s fellow POW Thomas Walker (Chris Chalk) is revealed to be alive and is now suspected of the impending attack. Carrie’s relationship with Brody gets complicated when he figures out that she’s spying on him.
Walker detonates an explosive during a meeting Carrie has arranged, killing a Saudi diplomat, which leads Carrie’s mental state to deteriorate and the head of counterterrorism to scapegoat her, ultimately kicking her out of the CIA. She is able to figure out that Vice President William Walden (Jamey Sheridan) is the intended target of the upcoming attack and that Brody — who records a video explaining his actions, to be released upon his death — is armed with a suicide vest rigged with explosives. Carrie implores Brody’s daughter to reach out to him, causing him to reconsider his actions, though he later kills Walker to demonstrate his loyalty to Nazir. Her life in ruins, Carrie is voluntarily hospitalized and submits herself to electroconvulsive therapy.
Homeland’s second season sees Brody on the rise
Brody’s star is on the rise in Season 2. Elected to the United States House of Representatives, he’s being eyed as a potential running mate by Walden, the vice president he planned to kill over the death of Nazir’s son, Issa. Carrie is still on the outs with the CIA, working as an English teacher and living with her sister, Maggie (Amy Hargreaves). She’s drawn back in after an old asset in Lebanon requests a meeting, resulting in a mission to capture Nazir, which Brody foils by tipping off his former captor. Carrie has another breakdown, but Saul comes into possession of Brody’s confession and shows it to her, legitimizing all the work Carrie had done thus far.
Carrie is reinstated and tasked with monitoring Brody, working under analyst Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend). When Brody is arrested, Carrie breaks down his defenses and convinces him to work as a triple agent for the CIA, sleeping with him to coerce him into staying plugged into Nazir’s network. But after Brody helps forestall Nazir’s planned attack, Nazir takes Carrie hostage and demands Brody help him kill Walden to secure her release. Brody’s helps Nazir sabotage the vice president’s pacemaker and Carrie is set free, at which point she orders an assault and Nazir is killed.
Brody leaves his family to be with Carrie, and everything is looking up, until a bomb planted in Brody’s car detonates and kills hundreds at Walden’s memorial service. Nazir had planned the attack prior to his own death and things only get worse from there; Brody’s suicide video is leaked and he’s subsequently blamed for the attack at the memorial.
Season 3 highlight’s Brody’s shot at redemption
Season 3 starts with Brody still on the lam, now in Venezuela, recovering from being shot, and hooked on drugs in the custody of a man who claims to know Carrie. Carrie and Saul testify before Congress about the memorial attack; she contends Brody is innocent and admits their sexual relationship, while Saul discusses Carrie’s bipolar disorder. Carrie leaks classified intel in retaliation and Saul has her committed, but it’s all part of a facade to infiltrate the group responsible for the bombing. Iranian intel chief and suspected bombing mastermind Majid Javadi (Shaun Toub) has Carrie kidnapped, but she actually turns him, threatening to reveal his embezzlement from the Iranian government. Javadi tells Carrie that the man who built the Langley bomb is still in the U.S.
Carrie can do nothing as the bomb maker is killed; she can’t clear Brody’s name if the bomber is dead, but Saul wants Brody to seek asylum in Iran to kill a military leader so Javadi can ascend to his position. Meanwhile, Quinn grows frustrated by the CIA’s games and is ready to quit over his disillusionment. Initially unable to kill his target, Brody denounces the U.S. on Iranian television and eventually succeeds in his mission. Carrie reveals to Brody that she’s pregnant at a safe house, but CIA Director Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts) sells them out. Brody is hanged in public for treason as Carrie watches. In the coming months, Lockhart fires Saul and promotes Carrie to station chief in Istanbul.
Saul goes missing in Homeland Season 4
At the onset of Season 4, Carrie is serving as station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan. Based on intel from Pakistan station chief Sandy Bachman (Corey Stoll), she orders a drone strike to eliminate Taliban leader Haissam Haqqani (Numan Acar); dozens of civilians are killed, footage of the event goes viral and Carrie is recalled from her post. Carrie struggles with motherhood, failing to become attached to her daughter, Frannie, whom she briefly contemplates drowning. Quinn continues to struggle and resorts to drinking and reckless behavior. Carrie blackmails Lockhart into making her station chief in Islamabad and tries to recruit medical student Aayan Ibrahim (Suraj Sharma) as an asset, not realizing he’s Haqqani’s nephew and is helping him. Quinn realizes Bachman’s death was planned and Carrie convinces him to stay with the agency because she needs someone she can trust in Pakistan.
It turns out Bachman’s intel came from Dennis Boyd (Mark Moses), who’d been stealing info from his wife, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, and is now being blackmailed into further leaks by a member of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. Aayan tells Carrie that Haqqani is still alive and runs away from the safe house following a staged attack, after which Carries monitors him by drone, not realizing Boyd has passed info about Aayan through his ISI contact to Haqqani — who has Saul kidnapped. Blaming Aayan for the drone surveilling them, Haqqani kills his nephew, prompting Carrie to call for a decisive strike that would also kill Saul, which Quinn is able to prevent. Shady senior intelligence official Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) makes a deal with Haqqani and takes him off the CIA’s kill list.
Homeland Season 5 sees Carrie make sacrifices
Two years later, at the onset of "Homeland" Season 5, Saul is in charge of CIA operations in Europe and sleeping with Berlin station chief Allison Carr (Miranda Otto), Quinn is returning from a lengthy mission in Syria, and Carrie is in the private sector, having quit in her disgust over the deal with Haqqani. Carrie works in Berlin as head of security for German billionaire Otto Düring (Sebastian Koch) and is raising Frannie with her lawyer boyfriend Jonas (Alexander Fehling), who works for Düring’s foundation. Leaked classified documents — passed to a journalist — bring Saul to Berlin with Quinn in tow. After a seeming attempt on Düring’s life, Carrie learns she was the real target and fakes her own death with Quinn’s help.
After another attempt on Carrie’s life, we learn Allison is a mole working for Russian spy Ivan Krupin (Mark Ivanir) and she’s setting Saul up for a fall via Dar Adal; Carrie eventually uncovers her treachery and tells Saul. Quinn falls in with a group of jihadists who seek passage to the Middle East to meet with a CIA target but ends up being used as a test subject to demonstrate the effectiveness of the chemical weapons they plan to use in an attack. Carrie convinces doctors to wake Quinn from his coma but he’s unable to relay the location of the attack, which Carrie figures out and prevents anyway. Saul learns of Allison’s extraction plan and his team prevents her escape, killing everyone in the vehicle. Quinn is not improving and may have suffered a debilitating cerebral hemorrhage.
Season 6 of Homeland follows the election of the first female president
Months later, Carrie is working at a non-profit that defends Muslims against discrimination and takes the case of young Sekou Bah (J. Mallory McCree). Quinn, suffering brain damage from the exposure to sarin gas and being woken from his coma, comes to live with her after fleeing the veterans hospital to smoke crack and sleep with prostitutes. Saul and Dar meet with President-elect Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) to bring her up to speed ahead of her inauguration and Carrie is secretly advising Keane as well.
Per usual, Dar has something up his sleeve. Sekou is framed for an explosive attack, a plot involving Carrie’s neighbor that Quinn is close to unraveling. Naturally, Dar is running the mysterious neighbor and reports Carrie to child services, costing her custody of Frannie. Carrie’s longtime asset Max (Maury Sterling) gets a job at a shadowy company that’s running a massive network of fake social media accounts — called sock puppets — for right-wing provocateur Brett O’Keefe (Jake Weber), who, of course, is also working for Dar.
Quinn has tracked down a black ops prep station after his friend and former lover Astrid (Nina Hoss) is killed, where they realize there’s a special ops team planning to kill Keane. The bomb threat on her headquarters is a ruse to lure her out for the special ops team, Dar reveals, and Quinn’s being set up to take the fall for her death. Quinn manages to get Carrie and Keane through the attack but is killed while doing so. Dar is imprisoned for his shenanigans and Keane executes a massive roundup of intelligence officials after the assassination attempt.
Carrie encounters a formidable Russian agent in Homeland Season 7
Carrie works with FBI agent Dante Allen (Morgan Spector) to get the intelligence officials Keane imprisoned released while living with her sister, Maggie. Saul rejects an offer to be Keane’s National Security Advisor until everyone is freed. Brett O’Keefe is on the run and General Jamie McClendon (Robert Knepper) is identified as the assassination mastermind, dying in custody. Keane’s chief of staff David Wellington (Linus Roache) convinces her to release everyone and Saul takes the job, which includes finding O’Keefe, who just accused Keane of arranging McClendon’s death — in fact, it was Simone Martin (Sandrine Holt), Wellington’s lover and a covert Russian agent.
The O’Keefe situation boils over when Saul tracks him to an Ohio family farm owned by the right wing Elkins family and shows up with the FBI; naturally the Elkins clan called some friends with guns and a standoff ensues, ultimately ending in a fake news-inspired firefight and O’Keefe’s arrest. Saul suspects Russian agent Yevgeny Gromov (Costa Ronin) of being responsible for the hoax story and a viral video showing a confrontation between Simone and David. After Yevgeny extracts Simone, Dante admits he worked with her to kill McClendon while facing imminent death. Carrie rushes to Dante’s hospital room when Yevgeny shows up but she’s too late. Keane’s vice president, Ralph Warner (Beau Bridges) declares her unfit for office.
Carrie has a psychotic break, having nearly killed Frannie with her car, and agrees to give Maggie custody before leading a team to extract Simone from Russia. The mission is successful, but Carrie is captured. Simone testifies that Russia worked to sabotage Keane’s administration and she’s reinstated but ultimately resigns. Carrie goes without her medication for months until Saul secures her release in a prisoner exchange.
There’s a lot to unpack in Homeland Season 8
As Carrie recovers in a German hospital at the beginning of "Homeland" Season 8, Saul recruits her to help him negotiate a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan, despite other officials’ concerns about her hazy memory and the results of a polygraph. En route to meeting with Afghani Vice President Abdul Qadir G’ulom (Mohammad Bakri), she’s surprised to cross paths with Yevgeny, who later claims to have sent her an anonymous tip she used to negotiate with G’ulom. Saul reaches out to Taliban leader Hassam Haqqani after an intercept from Max suggests he’s interested in a ceasefire, but their meeting is ambushed by Pakistan’s ISI, who got intel from Haqqani’s son Jalal (Elham Ehsas).
Carrie meets with Yevgeny, who reveals he knows about the time she almost drowned her daughter, which means she’s definitely overshared during her time in Russian captivity. She tells Kabul station chief Mike Dunne (Cliff Chamberlain) she thinks Yevgeny can be used as an asset. Carrie also convinces President Warner to travel to Afghanistan to announce the end of the war alongside President Daoud, but his helicopter disappears from radar and its escort chopper is shot down, with Warner and Daoud both dead. Carrie comes to believe Warner’s chopper going down may have been an accident and has Max retrieve the flight recorder, after which he’s captured. Warner’s vice president, Benjamin Hayes (Sam Trammell), now acting as president, has the crash site bombed so the foreign troops cannot desecrate Warner’s body. Newly ascended Afghan President G’ulom takes a hardline stance and threatens to execute 300 members of the Taliban his government has imprisoned if Haqqani doesn’t surrender.
Homeland Season 8 concludes Carrie’s journey
Carrie convinces Yevgeny to help her locate Max, in the hopes of rescuing him and tracking down the flight recorder in order to determine whether or not the helicopter was actually shot down. Saul has her sent back to Germany after learning more of her relationship with Yevgeny, but she escapes and leaves the airport with him. They track down the flight recorder and try to rescue Max. Haqqani is tried and sentenced to death, later killed by firing squad and Jalal executes Max as revenge before assuming command of the now resurgent Taliban and falsely taking credit for shooting down the helicopters. Carrie tells Saul she knows where the flight recorder is but she’s placed under arrest, only to escape with Yevgeny once more. They listen to the flight recorder, at which point Yevgeny drugs Carrie and takes the black box.
As tensions tighten with Pakistan, Carrie tells Saul that Warner’s chopper went down accidentally and he tries to secure the flight recorder from his Russian contacts, to no avail. Yevgeny agrees to release it in exchange for either the identity of Saul’s mole in the Kremlin or Saul’s death. Saul refuses to identify his contact, so Carrie plays dirty, eventually identifying Russian interpreter Anna Pomerantseva as the mole, betraying Saul in the process. Anna kills herself rather than face capture and Russia releases the flight recorder data themselves, averting war between the U.S. and Pakistan.
Two years later, Carrie lives in Russia with Yevgeny, having denounced the U.S. in a tell-all book. She sends Saul an advanced copy with a note hidden in the binding, the same way Anna communicated with him, meaning Carrie has replaced Anna as Saul’s asset within the Kremlin.
Analyzing Carrie Mathison’s overall arc across the entire Homeland timeline
Over the eight seasons of "Homeland," viewers see the depth of Carrie Mathison’s determination and the lengths to which she’s willing to go, despite the risks to her friends, her family, and her own wellbeing. The tragedy of Season 1 is that she was right all along, but the answer is only in focus for an instant before her shock therapy blinks it out of existence. Season 2 culminates in a way that appears Carrie will get what she wants, only to have her hopes dashed. Her experiences throughout multiple seasons mimic her bipolar disorder, in that she reaches an all-time high before circumstances precipitate her life to crashing into a new low.
As more time passes, events drive wedges between the show’s central characters, though they remain loyal to each other as best as circumstances allow, provided their interest in national security remains the ultimate objective. Carrie’s motivation remains pure throughout, with self-preservation rarely being her top priority. Her service to her country costs her everything: Brody is used as a chess piece, sacrificed for the greater good; she sacrifices Quinn’s health for the sake of preventing a terror attack; she relinquishes custody of Frannie in order to continue her work in intelligence; and she betrays the one constant loving, relationship she’s maintained with her mentor, Saul, to prevent the U.S. from entering a nuclear war. At the end of "Homeland," Carrie is able to mend that relationship and serve her country at the same time by embedding herself within Russian intelligence and passing secrets to the U.S., essentially devoting the rest of her natural life to service.