Long Reads

Handmaid’s Tale recap: viewers in tears over shock death of major character

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites
June (Elisabeth Moss) reacts to execution in Postpartum, The Handmaid's Tale

There’s no doubt in our minds that [spoiler]’s death will have huge repercussions for Gilead…

Fair warning: This article contains spoilers for episode 12 of the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale (and drops some heavy-handed hints about what’s to come later, too).

June (Elisabeth Moss) finally delivered her baby, Holly, in Episode 11 of The Handmaid’s Tale. However, it seems as if – once again – all of her hopes of freedom have been dashed: at the beginning of Postpartum, we learned that our titular Handmaid has been forced back into her own personal form of hell at the Waterford house.

It is a development which spelled nothing but bad news for both mother and father of the blessed child: Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) quickly banned June from touching her own baby, and Fred (Joseph Fiennes) dropped some seriously loaded hints at Nick (Max Minghella). The sort of hints which suggested that it was he who arranged Nick’s arrest in Holly – and that this was just a precursor for something worse to come. That he had, to put it bluntly, yet another ace up his sleeve. 

And, for a while, it seemed as if that ace might be Eden (Sydney Sweeney). 

As the episode progressed, it quickly became apparent that Nick’s Gilead-approved child bride had disappeared – along with plenty of information about her husband’s illicit relationship with June, too.

“Seen Eden around?” Nick asked June, fighting hard to keep the nonchalance in his voice. “She was gone when I woke up this morning.”

June simply shook her head — she had far more important things (e.g. the fact that her baby had been snatched and absorbed into the Waterford household) on her mind. However, the expression in her eyes told us that she knew Eden’s departure would come with its own unique brand of awful, awful consequences.

And we, the viewers watching at home, shared June’s concerns. Why? Well, because we knew that, just as the Hitler Youth did, Eden and her contemporaries came to Gilead as something of a clean slate – making them much more vulnerable to ideological manipulation. That, from a very young age (think of June’s daughter, Hannah, in her tiny pink Handmaid’s uniform), they had been taught to believe in Gilead, to understand their proper role in society, and to inform on all those who break the rules.

That Eden spelled trouble, with a capital T.

“She’s still a teenager, so I wanted to keep that sense of curiosity, but she’s been raised to dream and aspire to be a good wife or a mother and doesn’t really know anything else,” Sweeney told Stylist previously, in a frank discussion about her character.

“She works on blind faith alone: others may judge the regime, but she doesn’t know any different – and I wanted the audience to be able to see that.”

Eden (Sydney Sweeney), Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) in The Handmaid's Tale

Eden (Sydney Sweeney), Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) in The Handmaid’s Tale.

With all of this in mind, we suspected that Eden’s disappearance – and her romance with Guardian Isaac (Rohan Mead), a staunch supporter of Gileadean regime – would wind up getting someone killed.

We just never imagined that that ‘someone’ would be her.

As Postpartum continued, the surprising cause of Eden’s disappearance was made clear: she had tried to escape across the Canadian border with her lover. However, the idealistic youth failed to predict that Fred would take her rebellion incredibly personally. 

The Commander soon had Eden, along with Isaac, apprehended and arrested for infidelity – a serious crime under Gilead’s theocratic regime. Nick, though, was determined to save his young wife and, in a moving scene, begged her to lie and say that Isaac had abducted her.

Alas, though, it was not to be. Just as Sweeney had previously warned us, Eden was raised to follow certain rules: her faith, and her conflicting love for Isaac, meant she had to tell the truth. No matter how dire the consequences.

“All I ever wanted was to make a real family,” she explained. “I love Isaac and we want to be together.”

The teenager then asked a distraught Nick for forgiveness, and he replied: “I’m the one that should be asking you to forgive me for all the times I should have been kinder.”

We hoped against hope that the Commander would show pity to Eden: that her age would be a factor in determining her punishment, that her unwavering innocence would result in a more lenient sentence.

However, when asked to repent, Eden instead recited 1 Corinthians 13:4 – “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast…”

It was a decision that resulted in her death. A horrified June and Nick, along with a small handful of other Gileadean citizens (Fred, tellingly, preferred to keep this execution as private as possible), were forced to watch as Eden and Isaac were thrown into a swimming pool with heavy kettle bells attached to their ankles.

And the “messed up” execution scene triggered a wave of outrage and grief on social media.

However, Eden’s death may not have been in vain.

Serena, just like Nick and June, was shown during the execution scene, and the expression on her face was one of shock, horror and overwhelming heartbreak. Indeed, she was forced to cover her mouth in a bid to keep her shocked sobs from disturbing her husband, who sat grimly beside her.

It was a pivotal moment: while Serena has admitted that she does not love Fred anymore, we know that she loved the girl being drowned before her eyes. We know she did. After all, she had become something like a mother to Eden during the teenager’s time in her household: she comforted her, advised her, did her best to provide her with a suitable role model. Indeed, she even broke Gileadean law when she sat Eden down and informed her that sex should be pleasurable for both men and women: no small thing, when you consider that this is Serena Joy we are dealing with.

So what does this mean for future episodes? 

Well, Serena is now a ‘mother’ to another little girl, in a world that values women and girls solely for their reproductive organs. And, to her, Eden and Isaac’s love story is far more than just another tragic tale: it is a staunch reminder of how Gilead hurts everyone, even those who believe in the country’s message and their supposed faith.

We suspect that Eden’s death could be the trigger to Serena reconsidering her stance on Gilead – and possibly even the offer that was made to her during her recent visit to Canada. After all, this season has already shown us that Serena is more than willing to break the rules when it suits her purpose: what better purpose than securing the safe and happy future of the newborn daughter she has always longed for? 

Next episode: The Word

Previous episode: Holly

Image: Hulu / Channel 4