Long Reads

The Handmaid's Tale: Is [spoiler] really dead? The truth has been revealed...

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Kayleigh Dray
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Aunt Lydia and Emily in The Handmaid's Tale (season 2, episode 13: The Word)

Bruce Miller has a message for Handmaid’s Tale fans following that jaw-dropping finale…

We noted, way back in episode seven of The Handmaid’s Tale, that Alexis Bledel’s Emily posed a threat to those around her. However, we assumed that she would lash out at her fellow Handmaids (whom she describes as “cattle”) in order to strike a blow against Gilead: she is, after all, a dab hand with a bottle of poison – and she has nothing left to lose.

Instead, she decided to turn her rage against Aunt Lydia.

As Bledel previously warned us, Emily is a “victim of so many traumatic injustices. She’s been harmed, attacked and abused. She knows it’s wrong. She has a strong sense of justice.

“She knows what’s right – and so she doles out justice herself.”

It makes sense, then, that Emily decided to punish Lydia. Cast your minds back to the show’s first season: it was Ann Dowd’s character who, after Emily was branded a “gender traitor”, arranged for the Handmaid’s genitals to be mutilated in government-ordered surgery.

“You can still have children, of course, but things will be so much easier for you now,” Lydia told her, smiling smugly at Emily’s bandages. “You won’t want what you cannot have.”

Since then, this horrifying incident has gone largely unmentioned. However, in The Word, Aunt Lydia – furious over Emily giving her the silent treatment – reaches for the cruellest remark she can muster.

Referring to the surgery to remove Emily’s clitoris, she snaps: “It’s like I cut out your tongue.”

Her words trigger Emily into action: without giving it a second thought, the Handmaid grabs a knife and plunges it deep into Lydia’s back. The brown-uniformed, taser-toting Aunt is caught off guard, and tumbles down a staircase, hitting the bottom with a crack. And, as she lays there – moaning in pain and fear – Emily continues her frenzied attack, violently kicking Lydia as many times as she can before she’s carted off to her room.

But is Aunt Lydia really dead? Don’t count on it. Indeed, showrunner Bruce Miller has said that it will take a lot more than Emily to kill off the greatest female villain of all time.

“Aunt Lydia doesn’t die,” he tells The Wrap. “I don’t think Aunt Lydia can die. I don’t think there are forces in the world strong enough to kill Aunt Lydia. And by extension, the incredibly strong, fabulous Ann Dowd I think is with us for a long, long time, as well.”

“But Aunt Lydia doesn’t die,” he continued. “She’s transformed by this event, one of her girls – she has you know has twisted herself into thinking there is a love between her and her girls – has literally stabbed her in the back. And that kind of, you know, alters your workplace feelings on a day-to-day basis. You don’t want to turn your back on them. So I think in some ways, there’s a lot of possible effects, but in her case it makes her double down on that she feels she just wasn’t strong enough in her discipline. So she’s decided it’s time to get tough.”

Tougher than genital mutilation, psychological torture and enforced particicutions? Oh my.

When you consider that June (Elisabeth Moss) has decided to stay in Gilead, this does not bode well for our titular Handmaid: she has broken the rules several times before – and, just as soon as Lydia learns that she helped smuggle her baby across the border, we have a feeling she will be gunning for the woman she knows as Offred.

And what of Emily? She may have fled to Canada, but Miller has already warned us that nobody really escapes Gilead. Even if she isn’t deported back to Gilead for attempted murder, the emotional and physical trauma which Emily has endured will stay with her for a very, very long time. It may make it impossible for her to reconnect with those loved ones she has lost. However, it may also drive her to lead the charge from across the border. Could it be that Aunt Lydia’s attacker is the very same person who will achieve freedom for Handmaids everywhere?

Hmm. Too bad we have to wait another year to find out how things play out.

Image: Hulu/Channel 4