The long-awaited third season of The Handmaid's Tale is coming soon to Hulu, which recently dropped a chilling new teaser trailer that asks America to "wake up." Based on Margaret Atwood's best-selling novel, The Handmaid's Tale left fans dangling (and a little frustrated) at the close of season two. The series has already covered most of the book, and now fans (and readers) don't know what's coming next, except for the promise of a grim and vengeful third season — just when we thought it couldn't get any darker! With that finally on the way, we've prepared a list of which elements from the book were kept for the hit series, and what major changes were made. (Spoiler alerts ahead!)
In many ways, The Handmaid's Tale series honors Margaret Atwood's dystopia; the central themes of feminism versus patriarchy, loss of identity, freedom of choice, and religion are prominent in both the book and modern-day TV adaptation.
In a society where fertility is in a rapid decline, the Republic of Gilead is an awful place for a handmaid, or any woman really. The totalitarian regime is brutally patriarchal to the point where handmaids—fertile women who, in the eyes of Gilead, have violated a social law or committed a 'gender crime'—are forced to assist wealthy couples in procreation. A Handmaid's survival depends on her ability to conceive a child with her Commander and compliance under the Gilead regime.
Early on in the series, The Handmaid's Tale introduces us to Margaret Atwood's protagonist, Offred, whose real name is June Osborne (played by Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss). Atwood's readers would have recognized June's best friend Moira and the names of several other women who met June at the Red Center to be trained as a handmaid (Emily, Janine, Alma, and Dolores).
Like the novel, handmaids are stripped of their identities; their individual liberties, sexual orientations, and even their names. By Gilead Law, handmaids must adopt the names of their respective Commanders, each preceding with 'Of' to reflect ownership. June if Offred (Of-Frederick Waterford), Emily is Ofglen (Of-Glen Cooper), and so forth.
It's come as no surprise to Atwood's readers that June and the household Guardian, Nick, would begin a secret relationship in the show.
Serena Joy—a rather complex character, and wife of Commander Waterford—defies the Gilead system by requesting that June sleep with the Commander's chauffeur since she fears her husband is infertile. With their undeniable chemistry in the show, June and Nick (Max Minghella) gradually develop strong feelings for each other and continue their late-night trysts. Though the affair is ongoing in the novel, Nick's true feelings about June are vague and unclear.
As their relationship progresses, June eventually falls pregnant with Nick's presumed child. Like the book, June never knows for sure that the child belongs to Nick, but given Commander Waterford's supposed infertility and countless attempts at procreation with June before the affair, we assume Nick is the father. The Hulu series takes it a step further in season two, where June eventually gives birth to a baby girl in a remote estate by herself, whom she initially names after her feminist mother, Holly. Like the novel, June's mother exists through a series of flashbacks, though she's given a name only in the show.
Towards the end of the novel, Nick—who is also an 'Eye' secretly working for the Gilead police—organizes a supposed escape for June with Gilead's secret resistance group, Mayday. Despite June's reluctance, she's out of options and is escorted by two Eyes into a black van, ending the novel on a major cliffhanger.
We trust Nick a little more in the show since his feelings for June are clearer, and so when he tells her to trust him, she does. As June enters the van in the season one finale, she recites the narrator's final words in voiceover, "And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light."
The dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood—who recently confirmed she's preparing a literary sequel to The Handmaid's Tale—was published in 1985 and set in a near-future America, with an epilogue that takes place in 2195.
The Hulu series, however, is set in present-day (thanks to casual references to Uber and Tinder). In the days before Gilead, June and her best friend Moira are gradually stripped of their individual rights, making clear that Atwood's speculative fiction could be what's yet to come, or worse, what's unfolding in some countries right now.
Several aspects of the novel have also been updated to reflect current issues and themes. In the book, Gilead is a white supremacist nation, whereas the series frames Gilead as a 'post-racial' society that never considers race when dealing with Handmaids, or any man or woman of color. Similarly, characters in the series identify as LGBTQ — though are punished for this under Gilead Law.
In the novel, Offred's real name is never confirmed, though when she first arrives at the Red Center to be trained as a handmaid, she and several other women "exchanged names from bed to bed: Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June."
June is the only name within that list that is not attached to any other character in the book, nor brought up again, leading readers to believe this is Offred's real name. Though Atwood has stated this was not her intention, readers are "welcome to it." In the series, however, Offred is given a name, presumably for practical purposes, when she reveals at the close of the first episode: "My name is June Osborne."
In the novel, Ofglen is a handmaid and secretly part of Gilead's underground resistance, Mayday. Towards the end of the book, Ofglen blows her cover and commits suicide so as to not face torture or reveal the names of her fellow compatriots.
In the series, Ofglen is formerly known as Emily (Gilmore Girls star Alexis Bledel) and is assigned Offred/June as a shopping partner. Though June is initially wary of her, thanks to Emily's dutiful-handmaid performance, the two become friends and learn that neither are true believers in the Gilead regime.
Emily then reveals to June she is a member of the Mayday movement, but instead of blowing her cover, Emily is caught having an affair with her household Martha (a servant) and forced to watch her execution. Though Emily is punished, she is kept alive, presumably because of her fertility, but eventually escapes Gilead in the second season finale.
In the days before Gilead, Offred had an affair with a married man called Luke, who later became her husband (the couple had a daughter together). In an attempted flee across the border into Canada, the family were caught by Guardians and separated. Since the story is told from Offred's perspective, readers can only speculate what happened to Luke, who is presumed dead and exists only as a memory in the novel.
In the series, Luke (O. T. Fagbenle) shares a biracial daughter with Offred/June, called Hannah — described in the book as Caucasian and having blonde hair. Unlike the novel, Hulu's version shows us what happens to Luke after he is captured. As it turns out, Luke made it to Canada and is very much alive, protesting against the Gilead regime and keeping tabs on his wife.
In the book, Nick lives in the Waterford's household as a Guardian/Chauffeur. Offred suspects he is an Eye, which is confirmed towards the end of the novel. Not much is known about Nick's life prior to Gilead, or after.
In the series, Nick still remains a bit of a mystery at first, though is given a last name (Blaine) and backstory to add more depth to his character. We learn that Nick is from Michigan and, after being unable to find work, was quietly recruited into the Sons of Jacob—the Christian fundamentalist group that took over the country—and eventually got a job as an Eye to spy on Commander Waterford after their first handmaid committed suicide. Seemingly, Nick was living a pretty mundane life until he met June.