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The Handmaid's Tale season 4 release date, cast and story

Based on Margaret Atwood's bestselling novelThe Handmaid's Tale has become a cultural force since it first premiered in 2017 on Hulu. Taking place in what was once the United States, The Handmaid's Tale follows June, a handmaid in the new nation of Gilead. In the face of a worldwide fertility crisis, Gilead's approach is to force fertile women, known as handmaids, to conceive children for the country's elite class. 

The show's strong aesthetics, sharp social commentary, and diverse cast of characters have all been praised ad nauseam, earning it a slew of Emmys and other prestigious awards. Not only has The Handmaid's Tale received rave reviews, but the Hulu exclusive has also inspired political activists across the world. The parallels between Gilead and real-world political issues has resulted in several displays of red-robed handmaids appearing at protests and other political demonstrations. 

The show concluded its third season in August of 2019, leaving audiences waiting with bated breath for the fallout from the finale's life-or-death cliffhanger. Here is everything we know about The Handmaid's Tale season 4 so far. 

What's the premiere date for The Handmaid's Tale season 4?

Initially, many Handmaid's Tale fans had hoped that the fourth season would follow a similar pattern of past seasons and release sometime in summer 2020, but unfortunately, season four is looking to be on indefinite hold due to precautions taken because of the coronavirus. On Sunday March 15th, Hulu shut down production of The Handmaid's Tale until further notice, following the trend of many Hollywood productions.

The following day, Elisabeth Moss posted to her Instagram to confirm the news. "We shut down production of season four to preserve the health and safety of our cast and crew and join the world in an attempt to flatten the curve..." Moss said in her post. As of right now, there is no indication when production will resume, but Moss assures fans, "We hope to be back in production as soon as it's safe to do so."

This isn't the first roadblock season 4 has faced. Executive producer Warren Littlefield had previously announced that production would begin on March 2nd, 2020. The late start date was complicated by production delays, pushing the expected summer release to the fall. Now with the complete halt in production, it's very likely the release of season four will be delayed even further.

How many episodes will be in The Handmaid's Tale season 4?

In an exclusive interview with IndieWire, The Handmaid's Tale showrunner Bruce Miller confirmed that, while the second and third seasons ran 13 episodes each, season 4 will have a total of ten episodes — the same number as the show's inaugural season. According to Miller, the decision is "100% creative" and further explains that "some storylines just seem to shake out as a ten-episode story." 

In fact, the decision for fewer episodes may be in response to a common refrain seen among reviews of the show's third season: that the show felt too slow and plodding. With an episode count that has been culled down to a more workable number, hopefully the upcoming season will trim some of the fat that made the show drag a bit more than necessary.

One way this may be accomplished is by cutting down on time spent dealing with different characters' subplots. In the same interview, Miller said of the truncated run, "I feel like it gives us a little more freedom because you can rely more on one propulsive element," indicating that the main plot won't get as sidetracked in the next season. 

What will season 4 hold for June?

In the third season finale, June successfully traffics more than 50 children out of Gilead and safely into Canada. However, while protecting the children from a Gilead guard, June is shot in the shoulder. In the episode's concluding moments, June is carried away by the other handmaids, with imagery uncomfortably mimicking that of a funeral procession. The final shots of June have left many fans speculating as to whether the Handmaid has succumbed to her wounds. Is Operation Mayday June's last act of rebellion? If June is dead, will season 4 feature a new protagonist? 

In response to questions about June's fate, showrunner Bruce Miller told Harper's Bazaar, "It'll always stay June's story... The show is all from June's point of view... My intention is that the show will always be in June's point of view." Miller elaborated further on this point in an interview with Vanity Fair, stating that "When June dies, our guide dies, and our show dies." 

When discussing the possible repercussions for June next season, lead actress Elisabeth Moss told E!, "Even winning means you lose something." Moss' statement hints that June will face some punishment or loss as a result of her actions at the end of the previous season. June isn't taking a bow anytime soon, and the showrunners clearly have some ideas about her future. 

Nick will probably have a bigger role in season 4 of The Handmaid's Tale

In a show as dark and often unforgiving as The Handmaid's Tale, the romantic relationship between June and Max Minghella's Nick is one of the lighter, more hopeful aspects. Because of this, many fans found themselves disappointed with the lack of focus on Nick in season 3. 

Regarding the shortage of Nick appearances in season three, Bruce Miller admits that he wanted to feature Minghella more prominently. According to what Miller told Harper's Bazaar, "Max is a wonderful actor. He has scenes that we filmed that we weren't able to use, and it's heartbreaking."

While it's unfortunate that Nick didn't have a more significant role in the previous season, season 4 is looking hopeful for the fan-favorite character. When asked about what the future holds for Nick, Max Minghella said in an interview with Harper's Bazaar, "I don't [know]. I'm really excited to go back, and I know that the direction of the show is going to shift."

With Minghella eager to return to the part, we will likely see much more from Nick, especially since more scenes with the character were meant to be included in season 3. However, with the show shifting in direction, only time will tell how Nick's character will continue to develop. 

Will Serena be held accountable in season 4?

After two long seasons of Serena Waterford inflicting terrible abuse onto June and consistently failing to redeem herself, season 3 finally gives viewers a small dose of justice. 

In the 11th episode, titled "Liars," Serena tricks her husband Fred into a road trip with the intent of returning baby Nicole to Gilead. Unfortunately for Fred, Serena hasn't exactly forgiven him for allowing the other commanders to cut off her finger. She willingly hands Fred over to the Canadian government in exchange for a plea deal. 

Serena's decision isn't due to a change of heart or longing for redemption, but rather her usual selfish desires. Serena selfishly wants to live freely in Canada as Nicole's mother, despite abusing the child's real mother and having no familial relationship with Nicole. To her chagrin, Serena isn't exactly off the hook, and she too is charged for her crimes in Gilead during the season finale.

While Serena may have been charged at the end of season 3, she has yet to stand trial and truly answer for her crimes. "She has so much to answer for," Bruce Miller said in an interview with TV Guide, "and now she's in a position to answer for the horrible things." With Miller's statement in mind, it seems like a safe bet that season 4 will allow fans to revel in the consequences facing both Fred and Serena in Canada.

Will Bradley Whitford return to The Handmaid's Tale for season 4?

Commander Lawrence, portrayed by Bradley Whitford, saw his role increase in the show's third season. The mysterious and morally gray commander works as both a passive ally and a dangerous threat to June, making his motives and desires incredibly hard to decipher. By the end of season 3, Lawrence is forced to grapple with the consequences of his role in creating Gilead. After losing his credibility, his power, and even his wife, Lawrence begins to fall victim to the dystopian society he helped to create. In the end, Lawrence isn't exactly in full collaboration with the resistance, but he doesn't hinder June's operation, either.

Commander Lawrence's cryptic nature makes him an incredibly interesting and engaging character. It also means there really isn't any indication as to where his story is going. Will he be caught for helping June? Is he finally willing to join in the resistance? The third season finale doesn't give us any real answers to these questions, but season 4 just might.

Bruce Miller told TV Guide that the arcs of season 4 aren't wholly planned out, "...but we love Bradley and we want him to be part of the future of the show." With this praise in mind, season four is likely to showcase more of Lawrence and give viewers more answers regarding his role in the growing resistance. 

We will see more of the refugees in season 4

Season 3 may not have focused much on Canada, but according to showrunner Bruce Miller, season 4 will give Gilead's survivors some much-awaited screen time. "The people in Toronto are as much a part of the story as the people in Gilead," Miller told TV Guide. He went on to explain, "All the people in Toronto are showing us what June has waiting for her if she does ever get out... but it's not all going to be sunshine and lollipops." 

Based on what we've seen, escaping Gilead doesn't mean everything is smooth sailing. Emily, in particular, is shown to have trouble adapting to life outside of Gilead. The ex-handmaid struggles to communicate with her own family, showcasing just how difficult readjusting to normalcy can be after years of abuse. Additionally, Luke is forced to confront the truth about Nicole's birth and the complicated emotions associated with raising the child his wife was forced to conceive inside Gilead. 

A new development promised by the end of season 3 is the child refugees that will be acclimating to life away from Gilead. Miller told E!, "You can imagine, I mean, if one child getting out and going to Canada [became] an international incident... For Gilead, these kids were kidnapped from their homes." Just as the show gives focus to the adult refugees, hopefully, season 4 will similarly highlight the struggles and trauma children rescued from Gilead will undoubtedly face. 

More political shifts and intrigue

More than ever, season 3 of The Handmaid's Tale showcased the shifting power dynamics within Gilead. By the end of the season, viewers had seen Lawrence demoted, the Waterfords both arrested in Canada, Commander Winslow dead, and the bittersweet success of Operation Mayday. Additionally, the resistance is visibly becoming more organized and aggressive, posing a significant threat to Gilead. Power structures are seemingly beginning to shift in favor of June and the larger resistance movement. 

When asked if season 4 would feature a power vacuum in Gilead, Bruce Miller said, "Absolutely, the same that we've seen this year... in the book they talk quite a bit about the purges and that leadership was constantly changing and they were always trying to figure out what they were doing. So, I think that consistent sense of people being uncomfortable in their seats of power is going to continue."

With all of this in mind, season 4 will presumably show Gilead officials grappling with the resistance's rising power and adjusting to counteract the opposition. Whether this will result in more severe consequences for the resistance, more militant action, or stricter regulations for Gilead residents  remains to be seen. 

How will The Testaments affect season 4?

On September 10, 2019, Margaret Atwood released her latest novel, The Testaments. Set 15 years after Atwood's original The Handmaid's Tale (which made up the events of the television series' first season), The Testaments offers more insight into both Gilead and life in Canada. Unlike The Handmaid's Tale, which focuses on Offred as the story's sole narrator, The Testaments follows three women: Aunt Lydia and Offred's two daughters: Agnes, who lives in Gilead; and Daisy, who is a refugee living in Canada.

According to The Guardian, The Testaments is not connected to the show and does not pick up where season three ends. Instead, Hulu and MGM have made plans for a television adaptation separate from The Handmaid's Tale. Nevertheless, Ann Dowd, who plays Aunt Lydia, intends to incorporate elements of Lydia's character from The Testaments into her performance on The Handmaid's Tale. The actress told Time she made this decision "because it gives a clear indication from the creator of this story of where she will end up and what will happen... And that affects the approach in terms of where her mind is going."

It's possible that more details from The Testaments will make their way into the show, be it in plot points or characterization. But ultimately, The Testaments is a separate entity from The Handmaid's Tale series.

Elisabeth Moss will direct an episode of The Handmaid's Tale season 4

Elisabeth Moss will be making her directorial debut with the third episode of The Handmaid's Tale's new season. Moss told The Hollywood Reporter, "It means so much to me and I do not take the responsibility lightly. Leading and executive producing this show the past three years has been such a joy and I've had the incredible gift of learning so much from the directors we've had on this show... My only hurdle may be working with the lead actress who I hear can be incredibly demanding. Wish me luck." According to IMDb, Moss has had a producer credit on every episode of The Handmaid's Tale, having taken on the role of executive producer once the show started its second season. 

Following the announcement, showrunner Bruce Miller gave Moss high praise, stating, "I feel lucky that we are in a position, as a series, to give Elisabeth Moss this opportunity to direct... As an executive producer on the show, she has fostered a supportive environment that allows artists to do their best work... She is an extraordinary talent, a badass, a tireless worker — I'm certain she will slay her directing debut."

The Resistance may grow beyond the Marthas in The Handmaid's Tale season 4

The Resistance is full of brave women from all walks of life, but the core of the movement seems to be reliant on the Marthas and the network they've built within the confines of Gilead. While June's bravery is to be commended, without the Marthas' resources, connections, and vast knowledge of Gilead and its inner workings, it's highly unlikely the third season would have ended with the safe departure of Gilead's children into Canada.

We had seen examples of handmaids and other women acting against the authoritarian government in small doses, such as when the handmaids bombed the new Rachel and Leah facility in season 2. Despite the glimpses shown of handmaids acting with the Resistance, the Marthas seem to be the largest and most organized group working to overthrow Gilead from the inside. However, while the Marthas had direct involvement in underground networking in season 3, June inspired a reasonably large amount of handmaids to join in on the Resistance as well, risking their lives in the process. With this in mind, it's likely going forward that we will see more handmaids take an active stance against Gilead, working against the government to either sneak children out or work to take down the government from within.

Season 4 will likely not be the final season of The Handmaid's Tale

Hulu has yet to confirm just how many seasons The Handmaid's Tale will have, but as of right now, it's highly unlikely that season 4 will mark the end of June's story. According to Warren Littlefield, "We don't see ending it in [season 4], and I can honestly say to you, we don't have a definitive out."

To supplement this, Hulu CEO Randy Freer commented on the open-ended nature of streaming, noting that the show could have a reasonably long run depending on the circumstances. He told Variety, "I think that's one of the benefits for creators in the streaming world — shows can take a natural progression, they can live for as long as they should live or they can end... Look, I hope, as success goes, there's 10 seasons of 'The Handmaid's Tale.'" With Freer's statements in mind, The Handmaid's Tale could seemingly continue for quite a few seasons, assuming viewership remains strong and the creative juices continue flowing.

Even if The Handmaid's Tale did wrap up in the next few seasons, Bruce Miller has a compelling pitch for a world following the fall of Gilead. He told The Hollywood Reporter, "I see a world beyond [the current one]. I would watch an episode about the Nuremberg trials after Gilead falls. There are lots of worlds you think of... where everything has changed so much."