The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Ending Explained: That Brutal Sequence And What It Means For Next Season

June in The Handmaid's Tale Season 4

Major spoilers ahead for the Season 4 finale of The Handmaid's Tale. Look no further if you haven't watched it!

Hulu's mega hit series The Handmaid's Tale finally returned for Season 4 after an extended wait. Fans were eager to return to the horrors of Gilead, and this season certainly pulled no punches. A number of major characters were killed off throughout the course of this year, and the season finale "The Wilderness" followed suit with a series regular that's been there from the very beginning. That's right, after all this time the villainous Fred Waterford played by Joseph Fiennes has gotten his just desserts. And it seems like it's a plot twist that's going to send shockwaves through The Handmaid's Tale universe. Let's break it all down.

Emily in the finale with June

What Happened In The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Finale?

Season 4 of The Handmaid's Tale shocked us all when Elisabeth Moss' June finally made it to safety in Canada-- largely thanks to Moira. But that hasn't stopped the series from being emotionally grueling, and putting June and the other women through all sorts of emotional hardships. While the protagonist of The Handmaid's Tale is no longer in physical danger in Gilead, she's been recounting the pain and attempting to deal with her immense trauma. And after going through the legal way of advocating for herself and other women, June quickly started turning to more extreme measures. After all, she's not the same woman she was ahead of her capture.

Upon learning that Fred Waterford was going to be set free in Genova as a result of complying with the Canadian government, June takes matters into her own hands with the help of Nick (Max Minghella) and Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford). A deal is struck to free a number of women from Gilead in exchange for Waterford, since the Commander was spilling all the beans in his new plea deal. But rather than going through the horrifying courts of the totalitarian society, instead Nick and The Eyes transport Waterford to no-mans land for a terrifying final sequence.

As Emily and June discussed, they wanted Fred to be scared to death. That's exactly what they got, as a mass of women emerged from the darkness to chase down Waterford. Elisabeth Moss' character got the first punch (and bite), but the mob of women all joined in on beating him to death and presumably ripping him apart. They send Serena Joy his ring finger, while June returns home and picks up baby Nicole while covered in Fred's blood. At that moment Luke walks in, and is horrified to see the murderer in front of him, especially while holding their baby. And just like that Season 4 of The Handmaid's Tale came to a chilling end.

Fred Waterford in prison in Handmaid's Tale Season 4

How Does Joseph Fiennes Feel About Fred's Fate In The Handmaid's Tale?

Fred's death in The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 marks the end of what has been the main antagonist of the acclaimed Hulu series. Joseph Fiennes played Commander Waterford to pitch perfection, pivoting between slimy and cruel throughout the course of the show. But after 36 episodes, his story has seemingly come to an end-- excluding any possible flashbacks.

The final scene in the woods is gripping, as Fred Waterford truly looks scared for his life before eventually being killed via the no man's land Salvaging. But how was filming this final scene for Joseph Fiennes, and how does he feel about ending his series regular run on The Handmaid's Tale? Showrunner Bruce Miller recently revealed this in an interview with EW, saying:

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.

Well, that you have it. Despite playing one of the worst characters in The Handmaid's Tale, Joseph Fiennes seems like a class act in real life. And while some of the fear in his performance came from worries about falling when running full speed in the woods at night, he seems to have handled his onscreen death well. And while Fred might be nothing but pieces at this point, his influence will no doubt be felt moving forward. Let's just hope that Fiennes gets to return in a guest appearance; The Handmaid's Tale is known for using flashbacks to flesh out its characters.

June in a flashback before the ceremony

How Will The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Finale Affect Characters Next Season?

Fred Waterford's death in The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 finale is sure to effect pretty much the entire cast when it returns to Hulu next season. June seems to think that she might have to leave or get on the run for her part in murdering The Commander. That remains to be seen, but it certainly seems like her relationship with Luke is going to be forever changed. His look of horror said it all, and I have to wonder if their marriage is finally over at this point.

Alexis Bledel's Emily participated in Fred Waterford's death in The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 finale as well, further proving that the character's lust for violence and revenge hasn't been quenched since spending time in safety in Canada. I'm eager to see how this character continues to change, and how this latest violent act possibly affects her relationship to her wife Sylvia. Syl wasn't physically seen on screen this season (probably because Clea Duvall couldn't travel to film during the pandemic), but Emily revealed that she's still not having an easy time connecting with her partner after all this time.

Of course, the character who is going to likely be the most affected by Fred's death is Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). The father of her baby is now dead, possibly along with their deal for safety and freedom in Genova. Knowing how much Serena hates losing, smart money says that she'll be out for blood when The Handmaid's Tale returns for Season 5. In the same interview Bruce Miller spoke about this upcoming dynamic of the series, saying:

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.

Clearly there are plenty more narrative threads to pull from for The Handmaid's Tale Season 5, which is likely going to be majorly affected by the events of the Season 4 finale. While fans were delighted to see justice finally served when it comes to Jose Fiennes' Fred Waterford, his death has the potential to open new narrative doors. Hopefully next season won't be delayed, and we'll get our answers sooner rather than later.

The Handmaid's Tale is currently available in its entirety on Hulu. Be sure to check out the summer premiere list to plan your next binge watch.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Double majored in theater and literature during undergrad. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.