Spoiler warning: This article contains spoilers for how The Handmaid's Tale book ends.
Over the course of TV's long history, plenty of shows have been based on books only to go their own way once they ran out of source material. That's definitely the case for The Handmaid's Tale, which spent much of its first season mirroring events from the book only to largely abandon it in subsequent seasons.
Now that the show is in its fifth season, many people are curious about how the original Margaret Atwood novel ends. Keep reading for all the details.
How does 'The Handmaid's Tale' book end?
Like the show's first season, The Handmaid's Tale novel follows Offred as she navigates her role as a handmaid to one of the powerful Commanders in charge of Gilead. As the novel progresses, she faces abuse from the Commander's wife and forms a more intimate bond with the Commander. By the end of the novel, Offred has learned of a secret resistance movement called Mayday, and has also begun a sexual relationship with Nick, the Commander's driver.
Offred begins to suspect that she's pregnant with Nick's child, and after discovering that, the Commander's wife learns about her relationship with the Commander. In the end, a group known as the Eyes, who watch over everything in Gilead, come to take Offred away. Nick tells her to trust him, but Offred is confused about whether Nick is a member of Mayday or is secretly working with the powers in Gilead. She gets in the van and it drives away.
'The Handmaid's Tale' ends on an epilogue.
Although that's the end of Offred's story, it isn't the end of the novel. Instead, the novel jumps way forward in time to explain that what we have just read is a transcript of recordings that Offred made about her experience. This epilogue also informs us that Nick and the Eyes were indeed part of Mayday, although Offred's ultimate fate isn't clarified completely.
This epilogue takes place in 2195, and describes finding Offred's tape as one of the artifacts of what's known in retrospect as the "Gilead Period." This ending is both slightly abrupt and moderately hopeful, as it seems to suggest that Gilead didn't rule indefinitely, and it came to be seen at least partially as a curious period of transition in a broader history.
'The Handmaid's Tale' show has wildly diverged from the book.
Although the first season of The Handmaid's Tale mirrors the events of the book pretty closely, since then, the two have diverged a great deal. As the show continues, it has allowed Offred, now June, to become a much more central figure in the resistance against Gilead and offered her more agency than the novel ever cared to.
The Offred of the novel was something of a cipher. She never took any action on her own accord and was instead just a way for us to understand Atwood's world. In contrast, the version of the character that Elisabeth Moss has created in collaboration with the show's writers is much more active and explicitly badass.