‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: How Did Chicago Become a War Zone?

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 shows June Osborne attempting to lead the handmaids to safety as they escape the Republic of Gilead’s clutches. But it hasn’t been easy. So far, it’s just June and Janine who’ve been able to make their way past New England and down to Chicago, but their arrival in Chicago proved chaotic. So, what happened to the city in the show, and why has it become the epicenter of war?

[Spoiler alert: Spoilers ahead for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 5.]

June and Janine traveled to Chicago in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4

June and Janine running along train tracks in 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 4
June and Janine running in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4 | Sophiie Giraud/Hulu

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Escaping Gilead certainly isn’t easy — particularly because the totalitarian state took over much of the U.S. At the beginning of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4, the handmaids, led by June, made their way across the northeast in search of “Mayday,” the resistance designed to help them. They found a farm with the resistance in the first episode of the new season. But after June’s capture, the illusion of safety was smashed.

Now, in episode 5, it’s just June and Janine running from the Gilead Eyes in hopes of making it to safer haven. They boarded a train carrying milk to Chicago, and June mentions that’s where the center of the war is. While both women are nervous to head so close to the chaos, they don’t have much choice.

The trip to Chicago proves to be as frightening as they feared. As June and Janine are walking through the city, bombs drop, landing June in rubble. Janine goes missing in the episode as well, though June does see one familiar face — and that’s Moira.

What happened to Chicago in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’?

Elisabeth Moss as June Osborne in 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 4 standing in rubble after a bombing
June Osborne in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4 | Sophie Giraud/Hulu

So, how did Chicago become the center trouble in The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4? For context, the answers lie much earlier in the series. The Handmaid’s Tale Fandom page reminds us the Sons of Jacob were the first to abolish the U.S. and start the creation of the Republic of Gilead. But certain parts of the U.S. refused Gilead at first — and Chicago was one of them. Because of this, it seems Chicago and northern Illinois in general have become particularly volatile parts of the country, as resistance fighting continues.

Throughout the series, the state of Chicago is mentioned a few times. In season 1, episode 2, June notes guards from Gilead still fight with U.S. soldiers “in the remains of Chicago.” Then, in season 3, Gilead sends a surge of troops to the city. Mass executions of prisoners and bombings are also discussed as possibilities for the area.

How large is Gilead?

Elisabeth Moss as June Osborne in 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 4
Elisabeth Moss as June Osborne in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4 | Jasper Savage/Hulu

So, how large is the Republic of Gilead? Showrunner Bruce Miller notes the totalitarian nation has taken over most of the U.S., with only Hawaii and Alaska remaining free.

“I think it was in Episode 11, where we saw the map,” Miller told The Wrap. “Yes, Gilead has taken over the continental U.S., so all 48 states of the continental U.S. … So, Alaska and Hawaii are the United States, the two states that are united still. And the rest of it has turned into Gilead with lots of pockets of resistance and unease and the places where the grip of Gilead is not nearly as firm.”

We’re not sure what else will happen in Chicago just yet, but we’re hoping June and Janine can get themselves safely to Canada and away from the bombings.

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