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The Entire Handmaid's Tale Timeline Explained

"The Handmaid's Tale" centers around June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss), an impassioned freedom fighter trapped within the theocratic dystopia of Gilead. As a Handmaid, she is forced to bear children for the nation's infertile elite. Her life is small, bleak, and miserable — until she discovers a way to fight back. So begins her groundbreaking story, which explores everything from bodily autonomy to the realities of revolution. 

"The Handmaid's Tale" isn't just one of the best shows on Hulu, or one of the best dystopian dramas — it's one of the best TV shows period. But there are so many twists and turns within it, the details of the story can be a little hard to remember. Moreover, "The Handmaid's Tale" can be downright hard to watch, to the point that smaller moments are sometimes lost behind potent depictions of trauma and misogyny. 

This narrative offers a difficult journey — but it's one that is immensely worth taking. Every brutal scene serves an important storytelling purpose, in addition to confronting viewers with echoes of our own world's all-too-real injustices. To help you appreciate this as fully as possible, we're here to break down the story's most major events, from the ones that change Gilead as a whole to the ones that transform June into a revolutionary force. This is the entire timeline of "The Handmaid's Tale," explained.

Before Gilead

A fertility crisis begins many years prior to the series' main events, massively lowering birthrates. Each nation responds in its own way, but most place some degree of focus on environmental issues and the role they might be playing. During this era, June Osborne and Luke Bankole (O.T. Fagbenle) meet while he's still married. They begin an affair.

Serena Joy Waterford's (Yvonne Strahovski) influential book, "A Woman's Place," is published during this period. She and her husband Fred (Joseph Fiennes) work directly with the Sons of Jacob, a group that seeks to overthrow the United States government. Serena is shot by a sniper during a public appearance, but survives.

Luke leaves his wife, and June becomes pregnant. Shortly after her birth, their daughter Hannah (Jordana Blake) is nearly kidnapped by a desperate woman. This prompts a full lockdown of the hospital, indicating how far things have already gone in the ongoing fertility crisis. Meanwhile, the Sons of Jacob create a plan to attack all three branches of the U.S. government at once. They begin their assault, and the President, most of the Cabinet, and many members of Congress are killed. The National Guard is called in, the U.S. Constitution is suspended, and martial law is declared.

The formation of Gilead

In the wake of the takeover, the new regime restricts and censors internet access according to state-sponsored "decency codes." Women are forbidden from owning property, and their bank accounts are transferred to male relatives. They are purged from their workplaces by soldiers, who ignore their confusion and anguish. Demonstrations are held, but soon turn violent as government forces quash all protest. Divorce and gay marriage are outlawed and stricken from the books, which means that June and Luke's marriage no longer exists.

Enormous masses of people attempt to flee this unfolding nightmare. Many families are brutally separated, including that of Dr. Emily Malek (Alexis Bledel), who is torn from her wife and son. June's best friend Moira (Samira Wiley) is separated from her fiancé Odette, who is either sent to die in the radioactive Colonies or executed for "gender treachery." American officials who survived the coup flee to Canada, Alaska, and Hawaii. A new American capitol is established in Anchorage, while the nation once known as the United States rechristens itself Gilead.

The Red Center

June and Luke attempt to flee Gilead with their daughter, but June and Hannah are captured and separated. Soon after, June and Moira reunite at the Red Center. Their connection is the only bright spot in their lives, which soon go from bad to worse. They are introduced to Aunt Lydia Clements (Ann Dowd), a cruel administrator who believes wholeheartedly in the regime. June, Moira, and a number of other women like Janine Lindo (Madeline Brewer) are held at the Red Center for many months, where they are manipulated, abused, and tortured into becoming Handmaids. Handmaids are fertile women forced to bear children for Gilead's elite. Other roles come into focus around this time as well: Rita Blue (Amanda Brugel), for example, begins working for the Waterfords as their "Martha," or housekeeper.

June is assigned to her first Commander. The details of this posting are fuzzy, but suffice it to say she does not become pregnant and is familiar with the horrors of the role by the time of her second posting. Meanwhile, Nick Blaine (Max Minghella) joins the Waterford household as a chauffeur. He is also a member of the secret police, otherwise known as an "Eye." He may, in fact, be a triple agent, as we later see him helping Handmaids and even connecting with the resistance organization known as Mayday. Eventually, the Waterfords' Handmaid kills herself. Serena Joy implies this suicide is Fred's fault for pursuing some kind of relationship with her.

Becoming Offred

June is reassigned to the Waterford home, where she becomes "Offred," according to Gilead's patriarchal naming conventions. She is pleasantly surprised by the subversive humor of her shopping partner, Emily, aka "Ofglen." Emily reveals Mayday's existence to June, but is brutally removed from her posting shortly afterwards.

A doctor offers to impregnate June, as both he and Serena Joy believe that Fred is infertile. Later, at Serena's behest, Nick and June begin a sexual relationship in his tiny garage apartment. One night, Nick brings June to Fred's office. Alone together behind his closed door — a clear violation of Gilead's morals — Fred and June play Scrabble. This is especially exciting for June, as women are no longer allowed to read or write.

Delegates arrive from Mexico, looking to strike a trade deal with Gilead. The head of the delegation is a woman who bluntly asks June about her experiences. June lies and says she's found happiness as a Handmaid, but later on, she reveals the truth in a desperate burst of words. This results in her making a contact high up in the Mexican government.

After more nights playing Scrabble, Fred takes June to Jezebel's, a brothel that serves Gilead's highest-ranking men. To her shock, June spots Moira, who has been forced into sex work. They tearfully reunite after Fred falls asleep, and June reveals Luke made it to Canada.


After she is sent to retrieve a mysterious package from Jezebel's, June officially becomes part of Mayday. She cons Fred into taking her back to the brothel and allowing her time with Moira, all while maintaining the illusion that he's in charge of everything. Moira is furious at June for becoming part of the rebellion, and refuses to get the package. She can't abide the amount of danger June has put herself in.

The next morning, June is called in to deal with Janine, known now as "Ofwarren." Janine successfully gave birth to a daughter, but is now standing on a bridge with the baby in her arms, threatening to jump. After June safely retrieves the infant, Janine jumps, and ends up in a coma.

At the supermarket, June is given the secret package she was supposed to get at Jezebel's, along with a note from Moira. Moira's fighting spirit has been reinvigorated after all, and sending this package isn't the only evidence — she also escapes Jezebel's, crosses the border, and reconnects with Luke. Meanwhile, Serena learns about Fred and June's trips to Jezebel's, and explodes in anger. But then, she discovers June is pregnant. Seething, Serena takes June to see Hannah, but traps her in the car — Hannah never realizes her mother is only a few yards away. If June doesn't do everything she can to make this pregnancy a success, Serena threatens, Hannah will no longer be safe.

Turmoil in the Waterford home

After the Handmaids refuse to stone Janine, who has emerged from her coma, they endure brutal punishment. June nearly manages to escape Gilead, but is recaptured and returned to the Waterfords. Outwardly, Serena is overjoyed, and treats the entire affair as a tragic kidnapping. Behind closed doors, however, she makes her fury clear. June, laid low by accumulated trauma and guilt, marches through her pregnancy, though she doesn't reveal signs that she might be experiencing a miscarriage.

Nick and other Guardians are "honored" with a "Prayvaganza," where they are married to teenage girls. Eden (Sydney Sweeney), his 15-year-old wife, eventually asks June if Nick might be gay, since he doesn't seem to be interested in her. June tells him about this, and urges him to do his marital duty. Elsewhere in the Waterford home, Fred shows June a fresh photo of Hannah and tries to sleep with her, even as she cries. 

Commanders from all districts pour into town to attend the opening of the new Rachel and Leah Center; Nick, seeing an opportunity, begs for reassignment from his superior, Commander Pryce, who promises to protect June if he can. As the festivities begin, Handmaids line the back wall. Fred steps up to address the men in the crowd with a long speech about the Center's place in Gilead's society. Little does he know, he won't get to finish it.

The Rachel and Leah Center bombing

As Fred begins his speech, Ofglen — the one who replaced Emily — shows the assembled Handmaids the suicide bomb she carries, sending them running. Most of them make it out alive, thanks to her warning, but the assembled Commanders and Guardians aren't so lucky. Fred is grievously injured, and Commander Pryce is killed. The injured Commander Cushing takes on his duties, and promises swift reprisal.

Inspired by Janine and Emily, June declares her own name to a trusted circle of Handmaids. Reclaiming one's pre-Gilead name becomes an act of poetic defiance. June also reclaims the mysterious Mayday package, which turns out to contain letters from women all over Gilead, revealing the truth of their circumstances and begging for aid.

Serena finds herself relying on June as they handle all of Fred's work while he's in the hospital. This reveals just how instrumental Serena has always been to her husband and the Sons of Jacob in the creation of Gilead. While he recuperates, Fred refuses to let a Martha who was once one of the world's foremost neonatologists examine June, saying they have to trust in God. But Serena is now quite used to forging Fred's signature, and does so to ensure the examination takes place. When Fred finds out, he whips Serena with a belt in front of June's horrified eyes.


Fred and Serena head to Canada, to showcase Gilead's "achievements." Moira recognizes Fred from Jezebel's, and goes to the U.S. embassy to demand he be arrested. This doesn't happen, but she's told about a protest planned for later. At the protest, Luke confronts Fred, and is taken away by the police — but not before Serena and Nick realize who he is. A discomfited Serena is soon approached by American agent Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger), who tries to get her to defect. She considers his offer, but ultimately refuses. Meanwhile, Moira and Luke publish the package of letters smuggled out of Gilead. Fred and Serena are sent directly to the airport the next day, amidst outraged crowds.

Back in Gilead, the Waterford household goes wild when June's labor seems near, but it turns out to be a false alarm. Embarrassed, Serena threatens June with transfer to another district. When June approaches Fred for help, he blows her off. June angrily retorts that he'll never have a child of his own. Enraged, the Waterfords sexually assault her. Soon after, under Fred's orders, Nick drives June to an empty mansion for a short reunion with Hannah.

After a mysterious scuffle with some Guardians results in Nick's capture, Serena and Fred track June to the mansion, but are unable to find her. After they leave, June gives birth entirely on her own. Though the Waterfords go on to name this baby Nichole, June calls her Holly, after her mother.

Escape, recapture, and resistance

After Nick's young wife is executed for infidelity, a perturbed Serena ponders what sort of future awaits Nichole as a daughter of Gilead. Before an assembly of Commanders, Serena argues that girls should be taught to read from the Bible. As Fred simply watches, she's dragged away by Guardians, who amputate her finger. Once again, June finds herself comforting Serena.

One evening, the house opposite the Waterfords' catches fire. Amid the commotion, Rita tells June that the Marthas can get her and Nichole out of Gilead if she leaves right now. June sets out, but is stopped by Serena. To their mutual surprise, Serena lets June leave with Nichole in her arms. June is able to get to a car bearing Emily and the rebellious Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), but doesn't get in. Instead, she gives Nichole to Emily, bids them farewell, and returns to Gilead, for Hannah's sake. Emily and Nichole eventually manage to make it into Canada.

June is returned to the Waterfords, where she refuses to address Fred and tells Serena that Nichole is safe. She is tortured at the Red Center, then reassigned to Commander Lawrence. Lawrence takes June to a warehouse where hundreds of women who will soon be sent to the Colonies are jailed. He tells June she can choose five to become Marthas. She picks the ones with the most useful skills, for the sake of the resistance.

Washington D.C.

June is surprised at the supermarket by Eyes, who take her to a sound stage made to look like the Waterfords' living room. Moira and Luke watch the ensuing TV broadcast, in which the Waterfords beg the Canadian government to return their "kidnapped" daughter. Soon after, June, Fred, and Serena journey to Washington D.C. as guests of High Commander George Winslow (Christopher Meloni). June notes that the Winslows have six children — unlikely in the extreme. Beside the former Lincoln Memorial, June and Serena have a massive fight about Nichole. Serena insists she wanted June to stay with the baby, not just hand her off to Canadians.

Back in Boston, June tries to get Hannah's Martha, Frances, to escape with her — as she notes, she's been to four hangings this week, and doesn't think circumstances are going to improve. June also bonds with Commander Lawrence's sympathetic wife, who helps her visit Hannah's school. But the next morning, June and the Handmaids are gathered for Frances' execution. She was betrayed by June's new walking partner, Natalie (Ashleigh LaThrop). After the other Handmaids shun her for this crime, Natalie abruptly snaps, bludgeons Janine with a can of tomatoes, snatches a Guardian's gun, and points it at Aunt Lydia. She hesitates and is shot by two other Guardians, leaving her brain dead.

Angels' Flight

Lydia and the Waterfords force June to go through the Ceremony with Commander Lawrence, an act they had previously avoided. June decides her next move will be freeing as many children as she can, and the clandestine Martha network agrees to help. While arranging transport at Jezebel's, she is attacked by High Commander Winslow, whom she kills. The facility's Marthas clean the room, cremate the body, and help June escape.

The Waterfords journey to Canada, to discuss Nichole's return. Little do they know, they're heading into a trap expertly laid by Mark Tuello, who arrests Fred once they cross the border. They're placed in custody and face trial as war criminals, prompting certain Commanders to push for a war with Canada. Back in Gilead, June's "Angel's Flight," which will take as many children as possible to Canada, is drawing near, but one nervous Martha's attempt to backtrack places it in jeopardy. At the airport, June and a number of other Handmaids and Marthas desperately pelt Guardians with rocks, in the hopes of distracting them. It works: Rita and the children are able to board the plane, which arrives safely in Canada. June is gravely wounded in the scuffle, but is rescued by six Handmaids who carry her through the woods to a remote farm.

Freedom and consequences in Canada

June recuperates at the farm, which is run by a teenage Wife and Mayday contact named Esther. They're eventually caught and brought to a maximum security facility, where June is viciously tortured. Eventually, Aunt Lydia explains that June and the other Handmaids will be sent to "Magdalene Colonies," where they will perform manual labor and bear children for elite families. Desperate, the Handmaids attempt an escape, but only June and Janine survive.

After reaching war-torn Chicago, June and Janine find an American rebel base. But Chicago is soon bombed into rubble, and Janine disappears in the confusion. Her ears still ringing, June finds Moira, who is participating in a humanitarian aid effort. Moira gets June onto a boat, which takes them to Canada. After so many years and so much hardship, June and Luke are finally reunited.

June arranges an in-person meeting with Mark Tuello and Commander Lawrence. Lawrence offers to trade 22 captured women of the resistance for Fred. Thinking he's heading to Geneva, Fred is delivered to Nick, who strands him in a forest with June, Emily, and several other Handmaids. Fred proceeds to suffer one of the most brutal deaths in "The Handmaid's Tale" when the women hunt him down and beat him mercilessly. Still bloody, June returns to Luke. She says goodbye to Nichole, and goes on the run once more.