'The Handmaid’s Tale': The Cast Breaks Down What's to Come on Season 3 (Exclusive)

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THT Season 3
Hulu

Blessed be the fight. An all-new season of Hulu’s Emmy-winning drama returned on June 5 with three episodes, kicking things back into action. 

Based on Margaret Atwood’s celebrated novel, The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story a handmaid named June, who was once an editor and married mother of a young daughter living in a free American society before she was forced into child-bearing servitude when the totalitarian society of Gilead took over. As a handmaid for Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), audiences watched as she lashed out against her household and handmaid den mother, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), and form a bond with a driver, Nick Blaine (Max Minghella), who ultimately fathered her second child that went to Serena after she gave birth. 

By the end of season two, June made plans to escape with her baby and fellow handmaid, Emily (Alexis Bledel), thanks to the help of the Marthas -- notably Rita, played by Amanda Brugel -- and Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), only to stay behind so she can rescue her eldest daughter, Hannah, who is living with another Commander. Across the border, June’s best friend, Moira, has adjusted to life as a refugee after escaping from Gilead and now lives with June’s husband, Luke (O. T. Fagbenle), who yearns to reunite with his wife and daughter, Hannah.     

Now that season three is in full swing, ET sat down with the cast, creator Bruce Miller and executive producer Warren Littlefield to find out where things are headed for June, the Waterfords, Lydia and others over the next 10 episodes debuting this summer. 

(Warning: Spoilers for episodes 1-3, which premiered on Wednesday, June 5.) 

June

THT June
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Episodes 1-3: Following her decision to stay in Gilead, June is picked up by Commander Lawrence, who takes her to the Mackenzies’ home, where Hannah now lives. After a confrontation with Mrs. Mackenzie (Amy Landecker), June is reunited with the Waterfords and is confronted by Serena and Nick. After Serena sets fire to their house, June is sent to a training facility until she is reassigned to the Lawrences. There, June is made aware of the Marthas’ underground resistance network and infiltrates the group in order to help move women across the border. One dies during a stop at the Lawrences. After pushing Commander Lawrence to his limits, he forces her to decide who to save among a group of women being sent to the colonies. Later, she is visited by Serena, whom she bonds with over Nichole’s escape. 

What’s Next: June’s main goal is to rescue Hannah, but it also seems that June is attracted by the resistance and wants to get more involved with the Marthas’ underground network to infiltrate Gilead from within. Now assigned to Commander Lawrence, June will have to continue to navigate their uneasy relationship and maintain a delicate balance of fulfilling duties and sparking a rebellion. While she no longer is assigned to the Waterfords, they’re still very much a part of her life -- and will be a constant detour to completing her mission -- especially after they make an unexpected move regarding Nichole’s escape. June will also have to navigate her newfound relationship with fellow handmaid Ofmatthew (Ashleigh LaThrop), someone she immediately spars with over their disparate beliefs in Gilead.

When it comes to June’s journey, Littlefield reminds us that there are “two steps forward, one step back.” But the decision to save five women, whom she now believes will be alliances as Marthas, was “a big step in her education,” he says. “I was very much on board with a lot of it,” Moss says of the overall journey for season three. “There’s a process of taking the character where they need to go.”

Serena Joy and Commander Waterford

THT Serena Fred
Hulu

Episodes 1-3: Distraught over giving her child away, Serena has fallen into a deep depression. After June returns, Serena sets fire to the Waterford house and goes to stay with her mother, a cold woman who berates her for her decisions. The Waterfords’ marriage has since frayed dramatically over her decision to give Nichole away. Later, it appears that Serena is going to kill herself by drowning, but retreats to the shore before it’s too late. Meanwhile, the Commander’s position is unstable after June’s escape, which he claims was a kidnapping to save face. During a meeting at Lawrence’s house, Fred spies a look between June and Nick and starts to sense there’s something more going on between them.  

What’s Next: As Serena begins to pull herself out of depression over giving away Nichole, her feelings start to change on the matter, leading her and Fred to make an unexpected move that’ll lead to some unexpected consequences and encounters. Serena and June will continue to be in each other’s lives despite June’s reassignment to Commander Lawrence. Expect the Waterfords’ marriage to heal as they come together over the loss of Nichole and begin to rebuild their place in society. Affecting both of them will be a newfound relationship and alliance with Commander Winslow (Christopher Meloni) and his wife, Olivia (Elizabeth Reaser). Speaking about Winslow, Littlefield says he opens the Waterfords up to a whole new world in Washington, D.C. “There’s a great trajectory for that character,” he teases.   

Commander Lawrence

THT Lawrence
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Episodes 1-3: An architect of the Gilead society, Lawrence is a high-ranking commander who seems to exert power any time he gets, especially in front of fellow commanders. After June is assigned to his household, she and Lawrence develop a push-and-pull relationship. He knowingly allows her to work with the Marthas, who are running a resistance network out of his house. But then he later punishes June for letting an escapee die in his basement by forcing her to choose five women to save from going to the colonies. While revered by the other men, Aunt Lydia questions his tactics and household, which is filled with art and books.    

What’s Next: At this point, Commander Lawrence’s journey is still unclear. “We have a new dimension of the power of Gilead in the form of Commander Lawrence,” Littlefield says. “He ushers [Emily and Nichole] into freedom. He’s not a commander who believes in the ceremony. He’s an architect of this world. Good guy? Bad guy? Both? Maybe.” Ultimately, his presence will continue to be an opportunity and enigma for June, who must navigate their growing relationship. “When June goes into her bag of tricks to manipulate Commander Lawrence, he calls her on it immediately,” Littlefield adds.

Aunt Lydia 

THT Lydia
Hulu

Episodes 1-3: After surviving a brutal stabbing by Emily, Lydia returns to check in on how June is settling in at Commander Lawrence’s home. Lydia is unsure what to make of Lawrence, his wife and how they conduct their home. While her injuries may suggest she’s been weakened by her attack, she can still expertly whip out her cattle prod, which she puts to use on June.  

What’s Next: While not seen much in the first three episodes, audiences can expect a lot more of Lydia, who didn’t see Emily’s attack coming. Ultimately, she was betrayed and embarrassed by the matter. And now that she’s back in her position, she has to re-establish her authority among the handmaids and the commanders. “She’s very concerned by the way the commanders view her,” Dowd says.

Episode eight, Littlefield reveals, will be a big one for Lydia, who finally gets a flashback this season. “It’s pretty substantial,” he says. “It’s the beginning of an understanding of who she was before Gilead.” Audiences will see her life as a teacher and single mom and the conflict that comes out of her bond with her son. “It begins to open a door into this complex character and where she began to adopt some of the principles of Gilead," he adds.” 

Nick 

THT Nick
Hulu

Episodes 1-3: During the chaos of June’s attempted escape, Nick keeps Commander Waterford at the house until she is returned. While escorting her to her room, Nick berates June for not following through with the escape plan. Later, Nick is promoted to commander and reveals he’s being deployed to Chicago, where Gilead is attempting to take over. 

What’s Next: “The family is no more,” Minghella says, describing the main theme of Nick’s journey this season as “war” and revealing he gets to shoot a machine gun this season. 

While Nick may be out of June’s life to go lead the charge in Chicago, he’ll still have an effect on her and Nichole’s livelihoods. “There is a past and they haven’t explored that together,” Littlefield says of what’s to come. Nick’s evolution, particularly what is learned about his past this season, was hotly debated among the writers and something that Littlefield says wasn’t handled lightly. “I like to think one of the hallmarks of the show is to surprise audiences with revelations about our characters,” Littlefield says. 

Emily

THT emily
Hulu

Episodes 1-3: After a daring journey across the border, Emily and Nichole are greeted by a border patrol agent and are granted asylum in Canada. Now a refugee, Emily is taken to the hospital for a physical examination before being released into the care of Moira and Luke, to whom she hands over Nichole. She then reaches out to her wife, Sylvia, whom she last saw when they were separated at the airport and Emily was forced to stay in Gilead.  

What’s Next: Learning to navigate life as a refugee, Emily will eventually have to atone for her past life in Gilead. “What we quickly see is just because you’re free doesn’t mean you carry the scars of Gilead with you,” Littlefield says. “Physically, [she’s good]. Emotionally, that’s a journey.” But more immediately for Emily is her reunion with Sylvia and their child.

Luke and Moira

THT Moira Luke
Hulu

Episodes 1-3: Still living together in Canada, Luke and Moira temporarily take in Emily after her release from the hospital. They also are given Nichole to take care of. While Moira bonds with Nichole, Luke has a much harder time, even though she’s the offspring of his wife.  

What’s Next: Forced into an expected family as adoptive parents to Nichole, Moira and Luke try to find a new balance in their lives outside of Gilead. Luke will ultimately have to face the consequences of an unexpected move by the Waterfords, who are still reeling from Nichole’s escape. “It’s a very interesting dynamic -- a woman talking to a man about another person -- and you get a sense of perspective and how June has influenced their lives,” Miller says, adding it was fun to put two actors -- Strahovski and Fagbenle --who have never worked together on the show in the same room. 

New episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale debut Wednesdays on Hulu.

--Additional reporting by Rande Iaboni

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