The world of The Handmaid's Tale is so disturbing that sometimes, it's easy to forget that the show actually takes place inside the (former) United States. The show's main action takes place in and around Boston, but occasionally, fans get a glimpse at the larger world of Gilead. I appreciate these moments, but honestly, I'm still a little confused about the nation's geography. Luckily, this map of Gilead is helping me to make sense of it all, and after getting a few more clues from The Handmaid's Tale, I'm finally starting to understand just how vast — and sinister — the Republic of Gilead really is.
At the beginning of The Handmaid's Tale, fans learned that the Gileadean regime, led by Fred Waterford and a few other now-Commanders, toppled the American government with coordinated attacks against the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court. After a massive armed conflict, the bulk of the United States came under these Commanders' rule. While American forces didn't wholly surrender to Gilead, they were forced to cede the entire continental United States to the theocratic regime, leaving only Alaska and Hawaii under American control.
Despite losing major ground, the American forces in The Handmaid's Tale have not given up entirely. There are still pockets of American forces scattered throughout the United States: In Season 1, the handmaids talk about the "fighting in Florida" while shopping for produce, and June later says that American soldiers are still fighting for freedom in "the remains of Chicago." And of course, you can't forget about the resistance fighters, such as June and her Mayday operatives, scattered throughout the Gilead's ranks.
All this being said, the actual boundaries of Gilead are a little hazy. Obviously, Canada is a safe haven to the north, and Mexico seems to have stayed independent as well, but apart from its northern and southern border, the map of Gilead largely remains a mystery.
And that's where fans come in. In the years since Margaret Atwood's novel was released in 1985, dozens of fans have tried to create maps of Gilead, and now that the series is providing more clues about the republic's geography, these maps are looking pretty accurate.
The most detailed map can be found on Alternate History, a website that theorizes about the consequences of history happening differently, and comes from user Medibee. According to this map, Gilead's stronghold is in New England (which isn't surprising consider that The Handmaid's Tale takes place in Boston), and as you move west, the republic's control is much weaker. The United States is massive, and even though Gilead may control everything from the Atlantic to the Pacific, I bet that its oppressive laws are much harder to enforce from 3,000 miles away.
The map also lays out the various pockets of American forces that seem to be giving Gilead's leadership a serious run for their money. On this map, the guerrilla soldiers are stationed all across the United States, but they're primarily concentrated in the South and Midwest. Based on what we've heard throughout The Handmaid's Tale, this seems accurate, and from a logic standpoint, this seems even more accurate. If Gilead is concentrating its power on the East Coast, wouldn't rebel forces want to position themselves directly outside this area?
In Season 2, The Handmaid's Tale has also expanded outside of mainstream Gilead to showcase the Colonies, a radioactive wasteland where the regime's undesirables are sent to die. The show never mentions where exactly the Colonies are, but the map suggests that they are scattered around the South — primarily near the Appalachian Trail. Throughout the series, the Colonies are used as a threat ("If you don't behave, you'll be sent to the Colonies"), so it makes sense that they would be outside Gilead's locus of power but still close enough to get to easily. If you want the threat of the Colonies to be effective, you have to be able to send people there on a moment's notice, which you can't do if the Colonies are on the other side of the country.
Of course, there are parts of this map that aren't correct (including many of the comments on the side), but all in all, it provides a solid basis of understanding about Gilead. Hopefully, as The Handmaid's Tale moves into future seasons, the show will continue to drop clues about Gilead's geography, because this topic is just too interesting to ignore.