Whoever said the resistance is futile hadn’t met the handmaids of Gilead.
Season three of The Handmaid’s Tale, which is adapted from Margaret Atwood’s novel about women forced into child-bearing servitude after the totalitarian society of Gilead took over parts of the United States, kicked things off with a spirit of resistance after June (Elisabeth Moss) sent baby Nichole with Emily (Alexis Bledel) to cross the Canadian border while opting to stay behind to rescue her oldest daughter, Hannah.
Executive producer Warren Littlefield told ET at the beginning of this season that the core journey was about the radicalization of June, who was determined to see Hannah freed but also had a chance to fight back. “In this fascist world, how [does June] make a difference?” Littlefield pondered, while creator and fellow executive producer Bruce Miller said this year was all about figuring out what they “wanted June to be challenged with.”
Ultimately, June was met with many -- the distrust of handmaid Ofmatthew (Ashleigh LaThrop), the vengeful eye of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), and the Waterfords’ (Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski) manipulative efforts to regain power and status in Gilead -- that reinforced her commitment to infiltrate an underground network of Marthas and come up with the ambitious Mayday plan to sneak children across the Canadian border.
“When I heard about the ending, I thought it made a lot of sense,” Moss told ET’s Brice Sander. “I thought it was surprising [and] heartbreaking.”
In the final chapter of season three, audiences watched as June executed her plan. However, things quickly start to fall apart when a Martha and child arrive at the house too early, setting the plan in action sooner than expected while Winslow has second thoughts and even attempts to stop June. Once she regains control of the situation, the handmaids, Marthas and children make the harrowing journey from Commander Lawrence’s house -- an unexpected ally played by Bradley Whitford -- through the woods to a small airstrip.
“I just thought, ‘Oh, my god,’” Dowd says, recalling how her anxiety and adrenaline were pumping as she read the tension-filled script. “You're in the woods with them; it's dark! What's happening? It's so good!”
Just as they are about to reach the plane, a group of guardians arrives at the airstrip forcing June to make another choice -- to stay behind in Gilead and distract them from stopping the women and children escaping. She’s ultimately joined by other handmaids, including Janine (Madeline Brewer), Brianna (Bahia Watson) and Alma (Nina Kiri), and Marthas who fight off the guards. But in the process, June is shot while several other handmaids and Marthas are killed.
“I felt really great to be part of the resistance ‘cause I always knew Janine had it in her,” Brewer says of her character’s heroic turn after multiple seasons of onscreen abuse. “We finally have built up to this point where we’re actually resisting. It was very much something that I've been waiting for for three seasons.”
Kristen Gutoskie, who plays one of the Marthas named Beth, says “it’s a moment for women to come together and resist and be empowered. It was really exciting to read it and to be a part of it.”
In Canada, Rita (Amanda Brugel) and the remaining handmaids, Marthas and children are greeted by Emily, Moira (Samira Wiley) and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) after arriving safely. “Rita’s in Canada. I’m home,” Brugel says, revealing that she was sobbing after reading the script. “It’s such a beautiful testament to her.”
After three seasons spent in Gilead, wearing the Martha uniform, Brugel was anticipating what it would be like to say goodbye to that experience. “On our last day of filming, I actually posted a picture of me holding my costume on Instagram because for season four, I won't be in that costume. It's been my mainstay for three years, it's such a security blanket,” she explains. “I feel like not only Rita has Stockholm syndrome, but I did a bit too, where I hated Gilead. But it also was my normal. I'm excited and scared and happy and excited for fans to see it. People are gonna lose their minds.”
“It’s a great finale. What I love is June’s efforts to get all these important young people out,” Fiennes says, before commenting on Fred Waterford’s state. At the end of the season, he’s been taken prisoner by the Canadian government after he and Serena attempted to take Nichole’s return into their own hands and crossed the border to negotiate a deal.
Once a united front, the couple -- seemingly at the end of their frayed marriage -- turn on each other in order to get escape punishment for various war crimes. “There’s a real feeling for Fred that his wife is connected back with him, so to be deceived was a big smack in the face,” Fiennes adds. “But, you know, as it should happen to all war criminals. They should definitely get their comeuppance.”
Before the episode ends, audiences find out that June is still alive, collected by the surviving handmaids. Despite her injury, she appears as defiant as ever as she looks to the camera with a small smile on her face. “June never gives up and she never gives up on what she wants,” Moss says, asking the audience not to give up on her, knowing that the series has been renewed for another season.
In the end, “this year was about June becoming a fighter, going up against Gilead and actually accomplishing something,” Littlefield said, summing up season three.
All three seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale are now streaming on Hulu.