The Handmaid's Tale showrunner breaks down that shockingly brutal death and what's next for the show
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Wednesday's season 4 finale of The Handmaid's Tale.
When EW spoke to the cast and crew of The Handmaid's Tale in recent weeks, one word kept coming up to describe the season 4 finale: satisfying.
And oh, how satisfying it was indeed, as June finally exacted her revenge on the Waterfords by brokering a deal with Commander Lawrence for the release of 22 women of the resistance in exchange for Fred Waterford's return to Gilead. Only, instead of getting Fred back to Gilead, Lawrence, with the help of Nick, let him slip through their fingers and right into the murderous clutches of June and her fellow handmaids, who took turns beating him to death. The last we see of Fred, his headless corpse is hanging from The Wall, where misbehaving handmaids were hung in previous seasons.
It was equal parts provocative, fitting, and brutal, and the implications for June and Serena, who has not learned of the news by episode's end, will be explored in season 5. EW caught up with showrunner Bruce Miller to get answers to our burning questions about the finale, the season as a whole, and where the show goes from here.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let's start with the scene between Mark Tuello and Serena Joy. Was there an implication there that Fred might not be the father of her baby, or is that reading too much into it?
BRUCE MILLER: I think it's reading too much into it; it's reading into the chemistry. His job is to make her very, very comfortable with him, and he does it very well. But I don't know how much is the job and how much is the way that he feels [about her], but I don't know that he even knows. This is his job, to make her comfortable and to trust him. So yes, they have a very interesting, complicated relationship. As an intelligence officer, his job was to kind of become obsessed with her, before he met her, and know everything about the way that her mind works. You can't help but be impressed by someone like Serena in that way. So is she impressive to him? Sure. But Fred is the father.
The other scene that really stood out to me early on was the first scene between June and Fred. Why do you think June went to see him? Was she looking for an apology?
No. First, we did a lot of research with our partners at the UN and UNHCR, and refugee workers and all that stuff, to kind of see what this scene would be like, and what would be the stuff that was affecting June. I think June went to see Fred to be able to let him go. That's why she went. "I'm gonna let him go. I'm going to be a good mother. I'm not going to let him control my life anymore." But when she got there, and especially when he apologized - we had a conversation with the refugees, and [they said] that the worst moment was when their abuser apologized. When they realized their abuser knew all along it was wrong from the very beginning. So that's the moment where June decides he should not be on the earth anymore.
When did you know Fred would die?
Actually, I was talking to Joe Fiennes [who plays Fred] the other day. And he was saying he remembered me bringing it up at the end of season 2. I don't remember being anywhere near that far ahead, but if he remembers it that way, great. The death of Fred was, as everything is, a natural continuation of June's story. So it's really a question of, what would June do if she got free? What are the things she would do if she had the opportunity and presented with this opportunity to make this happen? Does she take it or not? I think it's really interesting because for a long time, we were dealing so much with June's restrictions, and now we're dealing with June's freedom, and the choices are hers. They're not somebody else's, and she has to live with them.
At the end, when Luke walks in and sees June covered in blood and she says she's leaving, does she have to go? Do we know where she's going to go?
Well, I don't know if she's gonna leave. She feels like she has to. We are five minutes from her reckoning, but Luke has just walked in and seen his bloody wife holding a child. And he doesn't know what happened yet. So I think based on the episode before where her flashback with Luke says, "I'll love whatever you become. Don't worry, I love whatever you turn into." In this moment, she's saying, "Yeah, remember when he said that? This is obviously not true. So I'll go." But he may come back and say, "No, no, no, no." I think in the moment, it feels very final, but it's a very dramatic moment, a very dramatic episode. She's been up all night, and this horrible thing happened. He wakes up in the morning. I mean, it could not be a more fraught moment. So does she feel like she has irreparably broken her marriage and her role as a mother? Sure. Will she feel that way tomorrow? I don't know.
I'm dying to talk about Fred's final moments and that whole ending.
Like what's left of Fred? [Laughs]
Sure, let's start there. What is left of Fred?
There's parts of Fred that are left. I think they act upon him in the way in which he acted upon them.
I loved that scene with the finger, where you think it's just the wedding ring but then there's something else.
I like how the finger sticks in the envelope because it's sticky. That was just such a great detail, like, shake it out!
So how is Gilead going to react to this? Because on their end, they thought they were getting Fred in exchange for these women. Are Commander Lawrence and Nick in trouble?
My sense is that they wanted Fred gone. They don't care if Fred's back; they want him to stop talking. So as long as Fred is not talking and that he's been excised from the timeline, they're happy with that. I don't think Lawrence or Nick are ever working completely against Gilead; they're working within the area they can work in Gilead. So I think that before he went and met with June, Lawrence got this approved, that they'd be able to trade this for Fred, and there's a little bit of manipulation on his part that he has to kind of get some official reason why the Eyes took Fred at the border, but the Eyes could make anyone disappear. That's the whole idea behind Nick taking him into the woods and him not coming back - that's what happens in Gilead. And how they got rid of him is also what happens in Gilead; it's exactly what they probably would have done to him anyway. So I think if they find out, they'll be like, "Awesome, saved us a little money and time." I mean, it seems like they wanted him gone, and he's gone. If Lawrence gained a little goodwill with the Americans by doing it, awesome. That's an open line of communication that they can have.
So I think that Gilead doesn't give a crap, but I think that Serena is the one you really have to worry about, or the one I am worried about. Because Serena, although she has mixed feelings about Fred, and certainly the death of your abuser is a complicated emotional thing I imagine, she also does not like to lose. And I think she would definitely feel like this is June coming into her house and taking something from her specifically, and then gloating by sending her the finger and the ring. So I think that June has definitely poked Serena, and it's gonna be very interesting to see how she decides to come back because honestly, she's actually got an easier situation because now she can use Fred without having the bother of actually having Fred around.
I did think it was interesting that we got so much in this episode, but we did not get to see Serena's reaction to his death.
It felt like the beginning of another story. I wanted the end of the season to be the end of the story, not the beginning of the end of a story, right? But it needs to be the end of a story that introduces a new story. So here, Fred dying is the end of Fred, but it's just the beginning of June who killed Fred, who killed her abuser, and what does that mean? And not just killed him but tore him apart in the way that Gilead taught her to be vicious. I mean, it could not be any more of a nod to the change in June, the fact that she hunted this guy down and actively wanted to get her own hands on him to kill him. It wasn't enough that he would just die.
It was a nice touch having Nick there and spouting Bible verses at Fred. And I thought it was ironic that Fred kept calling him "son" over and over.
Yeah, I thought it was fascinating. I think Fred is a convincer as a person. He's kind of like an advertising guy or marketing guy in a way in that I think that he naturally chooses the words he thinks can get an emotional response. He does it a lot with Serena, certainly a lot with June. And I think here, it is an unconscious but very desperate attempt to make Nick see a kinship between them, which they have always had, [Nick] just has a stronger kinship with June and a stronger kinship with justice.
What was it like shooting Fred's last scene, or was it even Fred's last scene? Could we see him again in a flashback?
Well, let me answer the second part first, which is certainly I think we'll see Fred again. I mean, I would die if I didn't see Joe [Fiennes] again. He's the most lovely man, generous actor, such a professional. He is the nicest man stuck playing the most horrible person. I think at the end of every season, he shaves that beard off quite quickly. He's an absolutely lovely man whose two adorable little daughters both call me sir. So he's 100 percent in my book.
But in terms of shooting that last scene, I know he had a great time that day, mostly he was worried about tripping and falling in the woods like everybody was when you're in the woods at night, and you're running. I wasn't there for the shooting of that day, but knowing Joe and I did speak to him a couple of days afterward, the idea of walking around hugging everybody to say goodbye, he would do every day for the rest of his life. He just loves it so much. I mean, he has such affection for the group. So I think it's been bittersweet, but I do have to say, on a flashback show, it cushions that goodbye a lot.
What can we expect from next season?
Well, it's definitely Sophie's Choice: The Series, in that you're moving on with someone who's made these terrible choices. And unlike a movie version, we know what her choices were; we're in her pain and her trauma. So that's really interesting. I think moving forward, there's really a couple of things. It's the American story - can we snap back to normal, or do we have to move on into something new? And that's where June is right now. She's done this terrible thing, or what she feels like is irredeemable. Can she snap back? Or does she have to decide that sometimes you not only have to sacrifice part of your life, but you have to sacrifice your whole life to making the world better for the next generation? And I think it isn't just changing presidents, it isn't just passing one law, like what we're realizing now, but some fights are just a fight you continue to have, a struggle you'll continue to make. The story moving forward is about the long fight, and how do you keep up energy, enthusiasm, sanity, all of those things, while you're trying to fight for something that you may never see the end of, or you may never see the good from it? It may all be just for your children or your children's children. How do you keep those fights worthy? So I think that for June, it's the integration of June the warrior and Offred the warrior, into June the mother and Offred the mother.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.