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What Is Gilead On 'The Handmaid's Tale'? The Story Is Set In A Familiar Place

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The Handmaid's Tale is one of the new shows I'm most interested in this year. Based on the novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood, the cast is filled with some of my favorite actresses — Mad Men alum Elisabeth Moss, Orange is the New Black fave Samira Wiley, and Rory Gilmore herself, Alexis Bledel, to name just a few. Especially given the current political climate and uncertainties regarding women's rights issues, the story, set in Gilead, is more relevant and important than ever. But exactly what is Gilead on The Handmaid's Tale?

Atwood is a pro when it comes to dystopian fiction, depicting a number of very different hellish futuristic landscapes throughout her body of work. Gilead is one such dystopian setting. It is the place where our protagonist Offred, a Handmaid who serves as a child-bearing property of her Commander and his wife, lives. As depicted in the trailer, Offred once had another name (her true name) and lived a normal life in a society that appears to be pretty similar to the one we live in now, based on how she's dressed and behaves in the flashbacks.

According to Business Insider's refresher on The Handmaid's Tale, at some point in time, a far right-wing group of religious fanatics took over, assassinated Congress, blamed terrorists, and suspended the constitution, imposing martial law on that basis. All of that allowed the group to assume control and replace the formerly standard U.S. government with the so-named Republic of Gilead. Flashbacks show Offred being fired from her job, along with a slew of other women, as bank account access is also cut off so that they can't escape.

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Gilead is a society where men are in control, and women, who have no rights, are classed as either Wives (barren women married to the elite class of Commanders), Daughters (of Commanders and their Wives), Marthas (working women), Aunts (who are responsible for the Handmaids), Econowives (those who marry non-Commander men), or Handmaids (women, like Offred, who were chosen for their fertility).

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It's clear, though not explicitly stated in the promos, that Gilead is a futuristic America, after the dystopian revolution at the hands of the women-hating extremist group. The accents are all American, and the references to the Constitution and to Congress suggest the United States government that exists currently, in the real world. The Republic of Gilead is both the setting and the name of the authoritarian, theocratic regime who rules it and who set up a distinctly Old Testament-based society to their liking.

This vision of the future is so intriguing, mainly because it feels more frighteningly plausible than ever. Though it's unclear whether the show will follow the original novel precisely, there is one upside — the book's "optimistic" epilogue finds both Offred and Gilead a distinct memory, receded into the history books, suggesting the sexist regime is at some point defeated.