Skip to main content

The entire Handmaid's Tale timeline explained

Here’s the explanation behind The Handmaid’s Tale timeline.

June and Emily
Image credit: Hulu.

Popverse's top stories of the day

Since April 2017, we have been captivated by The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. The dystopian drama story follows June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) as comes into conflict with the oppressive theocratic regime of Gilead. Based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood, the series has enjoyed positive critical and audience acclaim. In particular, the show has recieved attention for its mature storytelling and thematic exploration of complex and contraversial topics. Unsurprisingly, many parallels to the current political climate in the United States have been made by a veritable plethora of commenters.

But with a backstory that extends before the events depicted as the show’s main events, keeping track of The Handmaid’s Tale can be a daunting proposition. But never fear! Popverse is here to help you get the events and chronology straight. Here’s your guide to The Handmaid’s Tale timeline.

The Handmaid’s Tale backstory

The Handmaid's Tale logo with June in red robe
The Handmaid's Tale. | Image credit: Hulu

In the backstory to The Handmaid’s Tale, fertility issues have caused birth rates to plummet worldwide. Concurrently, Osborne meets Luke Bankole (O.T. Fagbenle) while he is married to another woman. Together, the two enter into an affair. “A Woman’s Place” by Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) is published. Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), her husband, joins her in working with the Sons of Jacob. This organization hopes to succeed in overthrowing the contemporary United States government. At a public appearance, Serena Joy survives a sniper attack.

Bankole leaves his wife. Osborne becomes pregnant by him. However, their child is nearly kidnapped by Hannah (Jordana Blake), a consequence of the ongoing fertitlity crisis. Elsewhere, the Sons of Jacob engage in insurrection, killing the President and many associated political representatives. Thus they seize control of the country.

The newly installed regime imposes regressive laws that are violently enforced. This includes widespread censorship based on conservative deceny codes. Women are no longer permitted to own property or have jobs. Protests are met with military brutality. Gay marriage and divorce are both abolished, obviating the marriage of June and Luke.

Many Americans attempt to flee from the chaos. Families are separated against their will. This includes Emily Malek (Alexis Bledel), separated from both her wife and son. Meanwhile, Moira (Samira Wiley), June’s closest friend, is separated from Odette, her fiancé, who may have sentenced to death for “gender trechery.” Meanwhile, surviving officials relocate and establish a new U.S. capitol in Anchorage, Alaska. The continental U.S. is renamed “Gilead.”

The Rise of Gilead

During an attempt to flee from Gilead, June and Hannah are captured. June is sent to the Red Center, a reeducation center. The silver lining: there she reunites with Moira. But under the cruel tutelage of Lydia Clements (Ann Dowd) there is little room for joy. The women at the Red Center are subjected to extended psychological abuse in as they are compelled to become Handmaids. Given their fertility, Handmaids are forced to carry children for the elite. Meanwhile, other oppresive roles take form. Rita Blue (Amanda Brugel) becomes a “Martha” for the Waterfords, or house maid.

While June is assigned to a “Commander,” the position doesn’t hold and she does not become pregnant. Meanwhile the Waterfords get a new chauffeur, Nick Blaine (Max Minghella), who is an “Eye,” a member of the secret police. Later the Waterford household’s Handmaid commits suicide. Fred’s behavior is hinted as motivation.

June divided in two
Divided June. | Image credit: Hulu

Next June is reassigned as Handmaid to the Waterford home. She is given the name “Offred.” June soon meets Emily (“Ofglen”). Emily introduces June to “Mayday,” a resistance organization. But soon Emily is removed.

Both Serena Joy and Fred’s doctor believe Fred is sterile. The doctor offers to artificially ensemnate June. At Serena’s request, June enters into a sexual relationship with Nick. June is eventually summoned to Fred’s office at night. He plays Scrabble with her. This violates Gilead law, which forbids women from gaining or maintaining literacy. Eventually Fred brings June to Jezebel’s, a Gilead brothel. There June reunites with Moira. It is revealed Luke survived and reached Canada.

Joining Mayday

June is sent to Jezebel’s to retrieve a package, and she subsequently joins Mayday. Manipulating Fred, she spends more time with Moira at Jezebel’s. Moira disagrees with June’s decision to join Mayday. Soon June must assist when Janine (“Ofwarren”) threatens to kill herself and her baby by jumping off a bridge. June save the baby but Janine jumps, the fall leaves her comatose.

June recieves the aforementioned package. An accompanying notes reveals Moira has come around. She escapes Jezebel’s and reunites with Luke in Canada. Serena discovers Fred and June’s trips to Jezebel’s. Next is the revelation that June is pregnant. Serena brings June to observe Hannah, but the child remains ignorant of her mother’s presence throughout. Serena threatens Hannah if June’s pregnancy isn’t successful.

Janine wakes up and the Handmaids refuse to stone her, earning punishment all around. June attempts to escape but is recaptured. June carries the child but there are hints the pregnancy may miscarry. At “Prayvaganza,” Nick and other Guardians are married to teenagers. Nick’s wife Eden (Sydney Sweeney) wonders if Nick’s lack of interest in her indicates homosexuality. June compells him to address this. After showing her photo proof of Hannah, Fred tries to sleep with a traumatized June.

Many Commanders travel to the area for the ceremonial opening of the Rachel and Leah Center. Nick requests reassignment but is denied by Commander Pryce. Fred addresses the crowd. However, his speech is interrupted by the Handmaid who replaced Emily, “Ofglen,” who possesses a suicide bomb. Fred is injured; Pryce killed. Commander Cushing takes up the cause.

Serena and Holly

June shares her name with a trusted circle of Handmaids, an act of defiance. She also retrieves the Mayday package. This is revealed to contain letters written by women throughout Gilead sharing their experiences. Serena must rely on June while Fred is hospitalized. June realizes how instrumental Serena was to the rise of Gilead. A former neonatologist offers to examine June. Fred denies her. Serena forges his signature. Fred beats Serena in front of June.

Serena and Fred travel to Canada on a diplomatic mission. Moira recognizes Fred and informs the U.S. embassy. Fred isn’t arrested but Moira is informed of a planned protest. Fred is confronted by Luke at the protest. Luke is apprehended. Serena and Nick recognize him. U.S. agent Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger) approaches Serena and proposees she defect. While she considers the possibility, she declines. Moira and Luke are able to publish the smuggled Gilead letters. Serena and Fred return to Gilead.

At the Waterford household, June’s false alarm birth enrages Serena. June also evokes Fred wrath by suggesting he’s sterile. The Waterfords subsequently sexually assualt June. By Fred’s command, Nick drives June to a brief reunion with Hannah. However Nick is captured by Guardians. Serena and Fred find the mansion but can’t find June. They leave and June gives birth to Holly, who will be called “Nichole” by the Waterfords.

Eden is put to death for infidelity. Serena wonders what future awaits Nichole and argues that women should be taught and permitted to read from the Bible. In retaliation, Serena’s finger is amputated.

Across the Continent

June looking intense
June in The Handmaid's Tale. | Image credit: Hulu

The Waterfords’ neighbors’ house burns. Rita offers June the opportunity for her and Holly to escape Gilead if they go immediately. June accepts but is stopped by Serena. However, Serena allows the mother and daughter to escape. June reaches a vehicle containing Emily and Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whiford). However, she surrenders Holly and returns to Gilead, unable to abandon Hannah. Emily and Holly reach Canada.

June returns to the Waterfords. She is subsequently returned to the Red Center, where she is tortured. Next she is reassigned to Lawrence. He takes her to a warehouse and allows her to select five of the women detained there to become Marthas. June selects based on usefulness to the resistance.

Jane is surprised by Eyes, who bring her to a sound stage of the Waterfords’ living room. The broadcast sees the Waterfords begging Canada’s governemnt to return their daughter, who claiming kidnapping. Serena, Fred and June become guests of High Commander George Winslow (Christopher Meloni). Suspiciously, the Winslows have six children. Serena reveals she blames June for not remaining beside Holly.

In Boston, June attempt to convinces Frances, Hannah’s Martha, to join her in escaping. Meanwhile Lawrence’s wife helps June visit Hannah’s school. But Frances is betrayed by Natalie (Ashleigh LaThrop). Natalie is shunned, and this causes her to snap. She bludgeons Janine but is shot after taking a Guardian’s weapon.

Magdalene Colonies

June is compelled to go through the Ceremony with Lawrence by Lydia and the Waterfords. The secret Martha network agrees to help June free as many children as possible: “Angel’s Flight.” June is attacked by Winslow at Jezebel’s. She kills him. The Marthas help cremate his body and facilitate June’s escape.

In Canada, the Waterfords discuss Holly’s return. However, they are trapped by Tuello and put on trial for war crimes. This motivates some Gilead Commanders to support war with Canada. Angel’s Flight is threatened by an anxious Martha. A distraction allows Rita and the children to escape to Canada. June is injured by rescued by a half dozen Handmaids who bring her to a rural hideaway.

The farm is run by Esther, a Mayday contact. Eventually they’re captured. June is incarcerated and tortured. The Handmaids will be sent to “Magdalene Colonies.” While they attempt to escape, the only survivors are Janine and June. In Chicago, they find an American base. An attack separates June from Janine but she reunites with Moira. She gets June on a boat and June finally reaches Canada, where she reunites with Luke.

At a meeting with Tuello and Lawrence arranged by June, Lawrence will exchange 22 captured resistence fighters for Fred. Fred is delivered to Nick under false pretenses. Instead of going to Geneva, Fred is beaten to death in the woods by June, Emily and other Handmaids. Serena recieves an envelope with Fred’s finger and wedding ring.

Life and Death in Canada

June rebirth
June reborn. | Image credit: Hulu

June experiences PTSD in the wake of Fred’s death. The associated inability to commit more violence causes the other Handmaids to accuse her of being selfish. June learns Emily has returned to Gilead to fight. Over Luke’s protests, June turns herself in for Fred’s murder. But because the death took place in no man’s land, June is not charged.

Back in Gilead, Serena buries Fred. The funeral is widely broadcast, and incorporates Hannah: a threat against June. Janine emerges from her coma. Serena is assigned as a diplomat in Toronto. June is invited to attend the opening of the Gilead Cultural Center. Building ordinance violations stymie the opening of the center and lead to protests. At one of these, June hesitates rather than shoots Serena, who she learns is pregnant.

Tensions rise with Serena’s hosts, the Wheelers, who have a particular interest in her pregnancy and marital status. June and Fred travel to no man’s land for information on Hannah. However, they are captured by Wheeler’s men. Luke is beaten and dumped while June is Brough to Ezra Shaw (Rossif Sutherland) and Serena. Serena asks for Ezra’s gun under pretense of shooting June, but shoots Shaw instead. June must drive as Serena gives birth.

Anti-refugee sentiments rise in Canada. Lawrence establishes a “New Bethlehem” settlement, where he claims refugees can resettle. A video of Hannah’s school arrives. Tuello uses this to track her location. Serena is detained and the Wheelers become her child’s foster family. Serena is released into the Wheelers custody under condition of feeding the baby. The military raid on the school fails. Serena convinces Wheeler to allow her appear at the reopening of the center in Toronto to convince Canadians they should join Gilead. Serena escapes from the Wheelers.

June is attacked by extremeists. Luke takes a job as a mole to ensure her safety. But fearing consequences when June’s attacker dies from injuries dealty by Luke, June and Luke plan to feel. Tuello provides them with fake documents and passage out of Canada. But Luke allows himself to be arrested so June and Holly can escape aboard the train.

The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu

The first five seasons of The Handmaiden’s Tale are available for streaming on Hulu and through home video release, including the fifth and most-recent season. The sixth and final season of The Handmaid’s Tale is scheduled to arrive for streaming on Hulu in 2025. In the meantime, you can learn more about the upcoming spin-off, The Testaments. And be sure and keep up with Popverse for updates on all of your favorite shows in the weeks, months and years to come.

Popverse's top stories of the day

Featured events