Is [SPOILER] Really Dead in 'The Handmaid's Tale'? The Shocking Ending Leaves No Room for Interpretation

Gina Vaynshteyn - Author

Jun. 17 2021, Published 1:10 a.m. ET

Handmaid's Tale Season 4 finale
Source: Hulu

Spoiler alert: Spoilers for the Season 4 finale of The Handmaid's Tale ahead!

The Season 4 finale of The Handmaid's Tale truly delivered, praise be. While the Hulu series has sometimes bent the rules of Gilead (and regular laws we assume still exist in Canada), we finally get the catharsis we've wanted, and the catharsis June has needed since escaping her prison. Season 4 ended with June getting her revenge, and it's very bloody.

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So, how exactly did June get her revenge? The episode starts with June knowingly recording her statement against Fred Waterford as one final attempt to send him to jail. Mark Tuello essentially tells her that Fred is as good as free, regardless of what June tells any government. Yes, she was a sex slave. Yes, she was raped. Yes, she was tortured. But it doesn't matter, because Fred is poised as a valuable asset for Canada, one that is unfortunately more valuable than June.

Source: Hulu
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June visits Fred one last time before he heads to Geneva for the trial. In his chic jail cell, she seemingly orchestrates the same cat-and-mouse game that we saw back in earlier seasons, and in the beginning of the episode where June is dancing with Fred at Jezebel's (it's a flashback). She's there to make him think she's no longer a threat, and that a part of her also misses Offred. "To our Offred," Fred says, and they clink glasses (he seriously gets booze in his cell?).

But June is out for blood, and she isn't letting Fred get away. She hatches a plan, and it involves Joseph Lawrence and her baby daddy, Nick. After a nice meal, June tells Emily that she wants Fred to be scared. She wants him to fear for his life — that would be the kind of revenge she'd be satisfied with. June, and the other former handmaids and Marthas get a lot more than that.

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june and emily
Source: Hulu

Is Fred Waterford dead?

There's nothing left for interpretation at the end of the Season 4 finale of The Handmaid's Tale: Fred Waterford is dead. After June has Mark trade Fred for the 22 enslaved women in Gilead, Fred believes he's getting sent back to Gilead (where he'd likely either be tortured or killed as a traitor). Instead, he's handed over to Nick, who hands him over to June in the middle of a forest. She tells him to run, and she and group of women chase him down like wolves and beat him to death.

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Not only do we see the group of formerly enslaved women pummel him, but we see June literally bite a chunk of his mouth off (remember when she narrates that she would never "bite" in resistance? Oh, foreshadowing!). Fred's decapitated body is shown to be hung on a wall with the Latin phrase we first read in the book and saw in the first season: "Don't let the bastards grind you down" spray-painted underneath him. Everything comes full circle.

fred waterford
Source: Hulu
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And as a final touch, June sends Serena her husband's finger and his wedding band.

Why did Joseph Fiennes leave 'Handmaid's Tale'?

Joseph Fiennes has actually known his character was getting axed since Season 3. The writers prolonged it a bit, and Fred made it physically unscathed until the final episode of Season 4. Joseph was satisfied with how Fred was getting killed off, considering the horrific and disgusting crimes he committed. However, Joseph has hinted that he may be coming back — not because Fred is alive, but because there may be flashbacks in the future.

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"He is dead, but there are flashbacks, so who knows?" Joseph told the New York Times. (And when Entertainment Weekly asked showrunner Bruce Miller about this, replied, "certainly I think we'll see Fred again. I mean, I would die if I didn't see Joe [Fiennes] again," which, interesting choice of words!)

When NYT broached Joseph about Fred's death, the actor replied, “I’m just thrilled it happened at the finale. I think it’s great for the audience to have that catharsis.”

Source: Hulu
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He further explained, "I love that when he arrives at the woods, he’s chained at the neck and shackled. I think if anything, Fred now has a taste of what fear feels like, and has felt like, for all the people that his regime has put through hell. In many ways it’s what the audience needs. But Fred also needs it. Part of his release and catharsis is that he needs to taste that to fully comprehend. You can’t explain that intellectually to those people."

Season 5 is supposedly the last for The Handmaid's Tale, and it's unclear when we'll be getting that. If you're bummed we only have one season left, don't be: Hulu bought the rights to Margaret Atwood's sequel novel, The Testaments. Blessed be the fruit.

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