‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: How Aunt Lydia Really Became an Aunt

Aunt Lydia is known to viewers of The Handmaid’s Tale as a villain with a soft spot. Ann Dowd plays the character magnificently. Margaret Atwood recently released The Testaments, which is a follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale. You won’t believe Aunt Lydia’s serious impact on the story as a whole. There are spoilers ahead. Read on to learn more.

Aunt Lydia has a new role in ‘The Testaments’

Ann Dowd
Ann Dowd | Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

The Testaments will find its place on television soon enough. In the meantime, the new novel gives readers a better look at Aunt Lydia. She’s part of a trio of women who are telling a story that picks up 15 years after the ending of The Handmaid’s Tale. Aunt Lydia tells part of the story along with Daisy (Offred’s daughter Nicole) and Agnes (Offred’s daughter Hannah).

How did Aunt Lydia become an Aunt?

Aunt Lydia is going to surprise readers in more ways than one. She is going to be the key strategist in trying to orchestrate the downfall of Gilead. Readers will learn that when Gilead first takes power, she was part of a group that is taken to a stadium along with some of her colleagues. She is subsequently detained and watches people die around her. After enduring several days of this, she meets a Commander and it doesn’t go well. She ends up being attacked, beaten, and imprisoned.

Then, somehow Aunt Lydia is given a remarkable choice. She is suddenly in a hotel room and she has to make a decision. She can fully cooperate and embrace the new ways, or continue on with what she’s been enduring. Of course, she makes the smart choice to stay alive and join the ranks of Gilead.

Ann Dowd is ‘thrilled’

Dowd is also voicing Aunt Lydia for the audiobook for The Testaments. She spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about this new story that her character is a part of. “I was thrilled — let’s get real on that — by what Aunt Lydia does and how she does it, her understanding of Gilead to its core and what will bring it down,” Dowd said.

When playing a character, you have to find a level of sympathy for them and really understand them. Dowd clearly knows the lengths her character had to go and her grasp at “atonement” for everything she has done and took part in.

“I don’t know if Atwood would agree with me, but I think the decision to bring Gilead down and all the efforts she makes to do so, is, in a way, about atonement,” Dowd said. “Because somewhere in a human being, it mounts, the acts of cruelty, the acts of basic human rights being denied that you are fully in charge of.”

Aunt Lydia is a complicated character

It’s nice to see Aunt Lydia fighting against the regime and trying to undo everything for the better. Viewers of The Handmaid’s Tale know Aunt Lydia can be both cruel and caring, which is an interesting combination. Season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale finally started to show viewers Aunt Lydia’s origins. She makes the transition from a family court lawyer who becomes a school teacher to a major player in Gilead. The Handmaid’s Tale has only begun to dive into the whole story.