The Handmaid's Tale season 5: everything we know

Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaids Tale, which is returning for season 5.
(Image credit: Hulu/MGM)
The Handmaid's Tale: Key info

- Officially renewed for season 5 in December 2020
- Not necessarily the final season
- Hulu has the rights to make The Testaments, so we know where the story is headed in some ways
- Joseph Fiennes unlikely to be part of the main cast after the season 4 finale

The Handmaid's Tale is returning for season 5. After the shocking events of the season 4 finale, the story is clearly not over for June (Elisabeth Moss). While she might've made it to Canada, the fallout from her choices in Gilead will no doubt continue to play out in this next set of episodes – and while one key character's journey in the show is over now, many are still left at a loose end as of the end of season 4.

So, what do we know about The Handmaid's Tale season 5? Will it be the last season? Will the story begin adapting Margaret Atwood's follow-up book, The Testaments, just yet? Let's run through everything the cast and creators have said so far about what's to come, and where we left the show's ensemble of characters as of the end of season 4.

Spoilers follow for seasons 1-4.

Release date: The Handmaid's Tale season 5 doesn't have a release window yet – in fact, it doesn't sound like they're close to filming right now. In June 2021, creator Bruce Miller said, "We’re just starting to kind of gather our wool and gather our writers and gather up people to pull them back together". That would suggest filming is some way away, though the show's renewal was announced back in December. 

Cast: Pretty much every member of the main cast is expected to return – except Joseph Fiennes...

Story: While June has escaped to Canada, what price will she pay for the actions that got her there? That's what we're expecting to see her arc focus on next season.

The Handmaid's Tale season 5 is confirmed

The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 has been confirmed

Hulu announced that The Handmaid's Tale was returning for season 5 before season 4 even released. In December 2020 in an Instagram video, the cast announced that the show was going to air its fourth season in 2021 (following almost a two-year wait from its previous outing), and that there would be a fifth instalment, too. 

Four years after its debut, The Handmaid’s Tale remains one of Hulu’s biggest original shows, so it isn’t surprising that the streaming service wants to keep it going for as long as people will watch it.

"We're very grateful to Hulu and MGM that the show will be returning for a fifth season, and especially to our loyal fans for their support,” said showrunner Bruce Miller. “We are thrilled to be able to continue to tell these stories, with our incredible cast and crew."

But: when will we get to see it?

The Handmaid's Tale season 5 release date

The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 release date: what we know

With season 4 just recently completing its run, it’s still too early for a confirmed release date for the next season. 

Season 4 moved away from the show’s annual release pattern as a result of major delays brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing restrictions on film production. With things slowly returning to normal, we can hopefully expect the wait to be shorter than the two-year hiatus of the previous season. 

We're hopeful we'll see The Handmaid's Tale at some point in 2022, but it sounds like they have some way to go, as of June 2021. Executive producer Bruce Miller has expressed optimism that the next season can be shot more normally than season 4 was, which resulted in scenes involving fewer characters than usual.

"It's going beautifully," Miller told Deadline when asked about how season 5 is progressing. "We’re just starting to kind of gather our wool and gather our writers and gather up people to pull them back together."

The Handmaid's Tale season 5 cast

The Handmaid's Tale season 5 cast: who we expect to return

The Handmaids Tale season 5

(Image credit: Hulu/MGM)

Most of the show’s major players are expected to return for The Handmaid's Tale season 5 – here's who we predict we'll see in the next season:

  • Elisabeth Moss as June Osborne
  • Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia
  • Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy 
  • O.T Fagbenle as Luke Bankole
  • Samira Wiley as Moira Strand
  • Madeline Brewer as Janine Lindo
  • Max Minghella as Nick Blaine
  • Alexis Bledel as Emily Malek
  • Amanda Brugel as Rita Blue
  • Sam Jaeger as Mark Tuello
  • Bradley Whitford as Commander Joseph Lawrence

One character that we won’t see return is Fred Waterford, played by Joseph Fiennes, since at the end of season 4 he got particicuted by June and many of her fellow fugitive handmaids in punishment for his crimes. 

In season 4, McKenna Grace’s character Esther Keyes was a significant addition to the cast, which had mostly remained the same since the start of the show. Similarly, this season saw a new regular face appear in the ranks of the Aunts: Jeananne Goossen as Aunt Ruth. Whether these new characters will make a return in the next season is still to be seen. 

In terms of new characters we could see in the future, the original novel doesn’t hold many clues, since the show has set out on its own path since season 2. Nevertheless, since the series is setting up the events of the sequel novel, The Testaments, we might see some more Mayday faces crop up. And, of course, Serena’s still unnamed baby is due any day now, and we’re intrigued to find out who Nick’s wife is going to be in the show. 

The Handmaid's Tale season 5 story

The Handmaid's Tale season 5 story: what happens next?

The Handmaids Tale season 5

(Image credit: Hulu/MGM)

In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Miller described the upcoming season as “Sophie's Choice: The Series, in that you're moving on with someone who's made these terrible choices.”

"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," Miller continues. "It isn't just passing one law, like what we're realizing now; some fights you continue to have, a struggle you'll continue to make."

Miller says the future of the story is about the "long fight", and what it takes to endure in order to defeat something you may never see the end of, which will be key to June's development as a character. 

Littlefield also added that the show is currently “laying groundwork for The Testaments” – the 2019 sequel to the original novel on which the show is based, for which MGM Television and Hulu have already acquired the rights to for a TV adaptation. 

As was the case with the adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, how faithful they remain to the novel and how much the plot of the current show will influence the spin-off remains unclear. The producer admitted that: “honestly, we don't yet know what those exact signposts are. We look forward to discovering them, but it's not pre-ordained.”

Miller, too, seemed to confirm a move towards this new direction when he said that: “I do feel like we’re kind of reaching a kind of pivot point,” with season 4 (especially the finale) already pointing in the direction of The Testaments. 

In the final moments of the season 4 finale, June is holding baby Nicole while still covered in blood after leading the particicution of Commander Waterford. When Luke walks in, she requests a few moments with her daughter before having to leave. After this terrible act of vengeance, June might have to go into hiding underground, which is how we find her more than a decade later in The Testaments. 

The sequel novel mostly focuses on her two daughters: Hannah, now a young woman, is still in Gilead and joins the Aunts to avoid getting married to a commander, while a teenage Nicole has been raised in Canada by two Mayday operators who have hidden her true identity from her. 

Throughout season 4 we saw June coming to the realization that Moira and Luke have been far more Nicole’s parents than she has been, so it might make sense for them to appear as her parents in the spin-off show as well. 

The other major player of The Testaments is Aunt Lydia, who is revealed to have been a covert double agent since Gilead’s beginnings – and, in her old age, she manages to reunite the two sisters in a mission that will bring Gilead to its ultimate downfall. For Hulu to feature the Lydia we have come to know playing the same role in the spin-off, she will have to become a focus of the series in the future, turning her into the cunning orchestrator that she needs to become. In season 4 of the show, though, her authority already seemed to be dwindling. 

One character for whom we don’t have an endpoint for in The Testaments is Serena Joy. She now finds herself alone in confinement in Canada, pregnant and with her husband dead. Since the ICC didn’t exonerate Fred for his crimes, it’s unlikely she’ll be released anytime soon, either. We have previously seen protestors in her favor and calling for her freedom, but since she is starting to write again, she could rally the media to call for her liberation. And could there be a romance with Tuello on the cards as well?

Ultimately, though, we’ll have to wait until the new season starts filming to find out more about the details on The Handmaid’s Tale season 5's story. 

How many seasons of The Handmaid's Tale will they make?

How many seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale will there be?

Miller previously admitted ahead of season 4 that he “didn’t know” whether season 5 would mark the end of the show. "I mean, [Elisabeth Moss] and I have talked about it, and the writing staff and I have talked extensively about where we're going precisely – but I do feel like after this year, it's a good time to reassess," he explained.

Series producer Warren Littlefield also confirmed to Bustle that Miller isn’t being a tease when he says he doesn’t know: “I can tell you, if you had Bruce Miller under Sodium Pentothal, you’d get ‘I don't know,’ because we don't.” Although he confirmed that: “We're getting closer to the end, but we don't know yet.”

However, Miller also added that he would continue the series running for as long as Moss would be on board with him. "As long as Lizzie will do this with me, I'll keep going," Miller told Deadline. "There's a lot of life in this story. I'm certainly fascinated by what happens in The Testaments and if that's going to be part of our future – that's a bigger question."

This story, then, sounds like it's got a long way to go.