Editor's Note: The following contains spoilers for The Handmaid's Tale through Season 4. At the 2021 Emmy Awards, Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale received 21 nominations. It was the first time the show's cast and crew went home empty handed, but the Bruce Miller-created series remains just as well-regarded by critics and fans as it was during its first season. Based on Margaret Atwood's classic novel of the same name, The Handmaid's Tale isn't always an easy watch, but it's definitely a necessary one, offering us a look at a society dominated by Christian fundamentalists that view women as second-class citizens. With an amazing cast, the show tells many diferent stories of people that had their lives destroyed by the government of Gilead, as well as of those that help maintain such a cruel regime. Whether you're a new viewer that's just caught up with the show or an old one that needs some help refreshing your memory, here's a guide on everything you need to know about The Handmaid's Tale's most important figures up to Season 4.
June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss)
After taking viewers by storm as Peggy Olson in AMC's Mad Men, Moss was cast as the lead in The Handmaid's Tale. Formerly an editor at a publishing company, June is separated from her husband and daughter trying to cross the border into Canada, and sent to the Red Center to be trained as a Handmaid. When we catch up with her, she's in her second posting at Commander Waterford's house, where she's referred to as “Offred”. Upon several unsuccessful sessions of the state sanctioned rape known as the “Ceremony” to conceive a child for the commander and his wife, Serena, Offred is convinced by Serena to try conceive with the household's guardian, Nick. The two end up falling in love in secret and have a daughter that June manages to get out of the country to be raised by her husband in Canada.
June leads her fellow Handmaids in a series of rebellious acts against Gilead, culminating in the rescue of 86 children flown to Canadian soil in what becomes known as the “Angel's Flight”. In Season 4, June manages to run to the resistance-controlled city of Chicago with Janine, and eventually gets to Canada herself. There, she is once again face to face with the now arrested Waterfords and has to find a way to cope with the fact that the Commander is being pardoned for his crimes in exchange for secret information. Her solution to this problem is simple, but will certainly have a cost: in a cathartic scene, June beats Commander Waterford to death with the help of other Handmaids.
Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski)
While in the book Serena was a former televangelist, in the show she is one of the main ideologues behind the movement that would give birth to Gilead. With such an important past, it's no wonder that Mrs. Waterford feels sometimes trapped in the country she helped build, subjected to laws that forbid her from having any political involvement or even reading from the Bible – a crime for which she is punished with the loss of a finger. In this scenario, Serena's only socially acceptable desire is having a child, a goal she's willing to commit several acts of violence, state-sanctioned or not, to achieve. Torn between her motherly wishes and her brief falling-out with Gilead, she allows June to send baby Nichole to Canada, but soon goes back on her decision. In Season 4, she and her husband, Fred, are locked up in Canada after a diplomatic trip they believed would end with them getting Nichole back. In prison, Serena discovers that she is pregnant, and schemes with her husband to get them safe passage into Canadian society.
Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes)
Previously known for his roles in Elizabethan period pieces like Shakespeare in Love and Elizabeth, Fiennes is responsible for bringing to life the most hateful of Handmaid's Tale's characters. A member of Gilead's high chain of command, Fred Waterford is the head of the household in which we first meet June. Apart from the ritual rape he subjects his Handmaid to with the help of his wife, Waterford also forces her to go with him to the state-run brothels called Jezebel's. He's also a kind of father figure to Nick who is his guardian and the real biological father of June's baby daughter. Cruel and manipulative, he does nothing to protect his wife from mutilation, and seems to believe all his actions are justified, even when confronted by his victims in court. In Season 4, he makes a deal with the American government in exile to offer information on Gilead in exchange for his freedom. But, when June hears about it, she makes a deal of her own, and Fred is extradited to Gilead and subsequently lynched in the woods.
Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd)
Responsible for training future Handmaids, the Aunts are the most feared women of Gilead. The most important one in the show is definitely Aunt Lydia. A former elementary school teacher, Lydia is a devout, strict, and easy to anger woman who believes in Gilead's mission with her whole heart. Though she can sometimes be kind, at least as far as Aunts go, and has a soft spot for Janine, Aunt Lydia doesn't hesitate to beat and humiliate her charges into submission. Following June's escape and the Angel's Flight, Lydia is taken and interrogated by the Eyes, Gilead's secret service. In Season 4, she plays a central role in torturing June to force to reveal the whereabouts of other fugitive Handmaids and manages to recover her previous status through a secret deal with Commander Lawrence.
Janine Lindo (Madeline Brewer)
Aunt Lydia's pet, Janine is regarded as frail by the other Handmaids. Though she is aware of the violence they are all being subjected to, repeated instances of torture made her lose some of her touch with reality. Initially rebellious, Janine is punished with having her right eye removed at the Red Center. Subsequently, she's shamed for having been raped at a young age, with the Aunts coaxing the other Handmaids into shouting that the assault was her fault. Janine had a son named Caleb, that, like June's eldest daughter, was taken from her and given to a Commander's family. June finds out Caleb died in a car accident, but chooses to hide the information from Janine, afraid of what it would do to her.
When we first meet Janine, she's posted at Commander Warren Putnam's (Stephen Kunken) house, where she's known as “Ofwarren”. After giving birth to baby Angela, Janine struggles with the separation and tries to throw herself off a bridge with the child in her arms. She's then declared an “Unwoman” and punished with forced labor in the Colonies. However, the death of many Handmaids in a bombing, in Season 2, forces Gilead to take her back. In Season 4, she's the only Handmaid besides June that survives the escape attempt and manages to reach Chicago. There, she is coerced into a relationship with a rebel leader and gets captured after the city is bombed. Back at the Red Center, under Aunt Lydia's care, she begs not to be reassigned and helps wife-turned-handmaid Esther (Mckenna Grace) come to terms with her fate.
Nick Blaine (Max Minghella)
The Waterfords' guardian is tasked by Serena with having sex with June. It was supposed to be a one-time thing, but the two fall in love and end up having a complicated relationship, since Nichole's biological father is secretly an Eye. Things only get more confusing after Nick is promoted to Commander. At first, Nick presents himself as a faithful servant of Gilead. However, his love for June makes him betray some of the country's principles. In Season 4, he brings her information on Hannah, and the two share a sweet moment alone. He's also the one responsible for turning Commander Waterford to the Handmaids.
Moira Strand (Samira Wiley)
Fresh off Orange is the New Black, Wiley landed the role of June's college friend who escapes from the Red Center and ends up being enslaved in a different manner at Jezebel's. In the brothel, she is reunited with June, and, after killing a Commander, she steals a car and escapes to Canada. Moira is found at a refugee camp by Luke, June's husband, and moves in with him, helping to raise baby Nichole. She works at the US Embassy, assisting newly-arrived Gilead refugees. In Season 4, she tags along with her girlfriend in a humanitarian mission to Chicago and finds June disoriented after the bombing. Without telling the rest of the crew, Moira gets June into her girlfriend's NGO's ship and takes her to Canada. Seemingly the most level-headed of her fellow escaped Handmaids, Moira runs a support group for the traumatized women of Gilead.
Luke Bankole (O-T Fagbenle)
June's husband is the only member of the family that manages to get out of Gilead on his first try, leaving behind his wife and daughter. Once in Canada, he strives to rescue them through legal means, or at least to get information on their whereabouts. Luke was married to another woman when he first started going out with June, and the affair and Luke's subsequent divorce is what granted the couple the status of deviants in the eyes of Gilead. In Season 4, Luke is raising Nichole alongside Moira and is thrilled when June arrives in Canada. However, he has trouble dealing with his wife's anger and emotional trauma, and is shocked to find her covered in blood after killing Waterford.
Rita Blue (Amanda Brugel)
When we first meet Rita, she's working as a Martha, Gilead's caste of housekeepers, in the Waterfords' home. Though her position isn't as degrading as that of a Handmaid, she is also regarded as property by Gilead's laws. Little is known about her previous life apart from the fact that she had a son that died during the civil war that lead to the rise to power of the Christian fundamentalist faction known as the Sons of Jacob. Though not a member of the underground network of Marthas working for the resistance, Rita isn't a supporter of Gilead's regime and plays a pivotal role in the Angel's Flight, accompanying the children to Canada. In Season 4, she's seen helping Luke and Moira, and has the chance to finally put the Waterfords behind her.
Commander Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitford)
Lawrence's first appearance is in Season 2, as Emily's new Commander. He's a strange man, who is difficult to understand and accumulates forbidden works of art in his household and seems to be less than pleased with the regime he helped create. His wife, Eleanor (Julie Dretzin), is a former art professor that suffers from untreated mental health issues. Due to this combination of factors, the Lawrence household is a sort of safe haven, where Marthas have liberty to speak their minds, and Handmaids aren't forced to perform the dreaded Ceremony. Commander Lawrence helps Emily escape to Canada with Nichole, and later aids June with the Angel's Flight, albeit somewhat unwillingly. In Season 4, he's imprisoned by the Eyes, but manages to regain his previous position in the Commander's Council with the help of Nick and Aunt Lydia. He is also responsible for arranging Fred's extradition.
Emily Malek (Alexis Bledel)
Before the Sons of Jacob took over, Emily was a happily married college professor that had a son named Oliver. After the coup d'etat, her wife and child are able to leave the country due to being Canadian citizens, but she's left behind since her marriage is no longer recognized. She's assigned as a Handmaid to a household near the Waterfords' and becomes June's shopping partner. After having an affair with a Martha, Emily is sent to be “Redeemed” and has her clitoris surgically removed. She eventually escapes Gilead with the help of Commander Lawrence and is reunited with her family. In Season 4, we see her dealing with her past in Moira's support group and confronting the Aunt that got her arrested, as well as lynching Commander Waterford.
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