The granuloma, which is a compact aggregate of immune cells, is the hallmark structure of tuberculosis. It is historically regarded as a host-protective structure that 'walls off' the infecting mycobacteria. This Review discusses surprising new discoveries--from imaging studies coupled with genetic manipulations--that implicate the innate immune mechanisms of the tuberculous granuloma in the expansion and dissemination of infection. It also covers why the granuloma can fail to eradicate infection even after adaptive immunity develops. An understanding of the mechanisms and impact of tuberculous granuloma formation can guide the development of therapies to modulate granuloma formation. Such therapies might be effective for tuberculosis as well as for other granulomatous diseases.