How The Handmaid's Tale Showrunner Plans To Lead Into Spin-Off Series The Testaments

News that "The Handmaid's Tale" will end with its sixth season is, in some ways, a good thing. The series has expanded far beyond the confines of Margaret Atwood's 1985 dystopian novel over the past five years, taking June Osborne's (Elizabeth Moss) story of oppression to increasingly dark places. Even among the viewers who have kept consistent enthusiasm for the show this whole time, the consensus is pretty clear: it's a super upsetting, emotionally draining watch. The series is about to debut its fifth season, and has one more to go, but its sixth installment will close the book on the tale of Offred.

Except, that won't actually be the last we hear from Gilead. In 2019, Atwood wrote a sequel to her novel set 15 years after the original, featuring a mostly new cast of characters. That book, "The Testaments," is now set for its own Hulu adaptation, with The Hollywood Reporter confirming that "The Handmaid's Tale" creator and showrunner Bruce Miller is developing the project. Miller spoke with that outlet about the process of bringing "The Testaments" to life, and differentiating it from the work the series has already done.

Miller calls the sequel novel "an independent curveball" that Atwood had been planning for a while, and Atwood told Variety that she started writing it at the beginning of the Trump presidency. "I tried as much as possible, and I'm still trying, to not really make 'The Handmaid's Tale' about 'The Testaments,'" Miller told THR. He says he hopes that when it wraps up, "The Handmaids Tale" will be "a nice little TV set that you put on the shelf next to the novel, and hopefully it adds to your enjoyment of it, and then you can move on to 'The Testaments.'"

Gilead, revisited

The showrunner does note, though, that "The Testaments" will likely bring back some characters that viewers already recognize. He points out that "June's story is a part of but not central to [The Testaments]." The sequel book, which won the 2019 Booker Prize, follows three women: Aunt Lydia, the often-terrifying character played by Ann Dowd in the series, as well as a young woman named Agnes and an adopted teen named Daisy. While the novel continues the story that began with Offred in the 1985 book, it'll be interesting to see how a spin-off series will adapt the plot given how many non-textual details the TV show has already invented across its seasons. Atwood's first tale ended with the show's season 1 cliffhanger, as Nick (Max Minghella) takes Offred away in a black van.

Miller appears to be up to the challenge of connecting the pieces, though. "It's a perfect creative situation that we get to peel off but maintain our connection with all of our characters that we've built and loved, and all of the actors," he says. "The part that is heartbreaking and terrifying is to leave the actors behind." He explains that, to link the adaptations to one another while staying true to the text, he has to "lay the groundwork" for details related to timing, setting, and characters' knowledge at any given moment. 

First, though, the current show's fifth season will have some major cliffhangers to deal with: in the last finale, June and her fellow former handmaids finally got their brutal revenge on Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), beating him to death and publicly displaying his body in a reversal of the patriarchal cruelties that started the series.

"The Handmaid's Tale" returns for its fifth season on Hulu on September 14, 2022.