'The Handmaid's Tale' Ending: How the Show Is Different From the Book

This is a whole new territory.

by Catie Keck

Hulu’s brilliant (albeit ruthless) second season of The Handmaid’s Tale has brought with it new story arcs by building out the characters from Margaret Atwood’s novel and creating new dimensions within Gilead and beyond. But with Season 2’s third and fourth episodes, we see one of the most significant changes to Offred’s original storyline yet: the book’s ending.

Spoilers for Episode 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale follow below.

Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale kicked off with Offred’s escape from the clutches of the Republic through the Mayday resistance. As far as the original storyline goes, this seems perfectly plausible within the scope of the book’s conclusion. Fans of the novel know Atwood’s pointedly ambiguous ending leaves the Handmaid’s fate to the reader’s interpretation. Perhaps she escaped Gilead through an underground network, or maybe she was disappeared. “June,” the titular first episode named for the show’s protagonist June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss), seemed to explore the former while also contextualizing her life before the Republic.

However, with Episodes 3, “Baggage,” and 4, “Other Women,” Offred’s recapture hits reset on this narrative. Opting to rejoin the Waterfords and atone rather than face certain death after giving birth, Offred finds herself yet again fully immersed in the punishing and dystopian world of Gilead. Could such an outcome result from a pregnant Handmaid’s daring escape in Atwood’s telling? It’s certainly possible.

Given Offred’s mental break at end of “Other Women,” the series appears committed to veering significantly from the book’s implied narrative. And with Hulu seemingly expanding The Handmaid’s Tale universe even further with each episode, the ambiguity of Offred’s fate feels further rewritten. In addition, characters like June’s husband Luke Bankole (O. T. Fagbenle) and close friend Moira (Samira Wiley) are given entire story arcs — specifically the events that led to their reunion in Canada — that were not present in the book. The same can be said for Emily (Alexis Bledel), who allowed viewers a closer look at life at the Colonies in Season 2’s “Unwomen.”

While fans of the novel had somewhat of a guide rail for what to expect from the series (despite the show’s at times jarring and brutal twists), the series has now fully entered new terrain. Offred’s fate in Gilead remains unknown for the time being, but given that The Handmaid’s Tale has been renewed for a third season, we’re in for a surprise either way.