How Fred Waterford’s funeral was inspired by JFK’s

  • Gilead said goodbye to Fred Waterford in a season five episode of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
  • Showrunner Bruce Miller told Insider that Fred’s funeral was inspired by John F. Kennedy’s in 1963.
  • Images such as a riderless horse and a veiled widow walking alone were nods to that.

Fred Waterford was laid to rest in Gilead on “The Handmaid’s Tale” season five episode two, “Ballet”. In a joint interview with executive producer Warren Littlefield ahead of the premiere, showrunner Bruce Miller told Insider that he and his team were inspired by John F. Kennedy’s 1963 funeral for the elaborate scene.

Miller said they borrowed the idea of ​​a public parade from Kennedy’s funeral procession. Kennedy’s widow Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis and Fred Waterford’s (Joseph Fiennes) widow Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) also wore similar black outfits and veils. But the similarities go beyond the basics.

Miller confirmed that the riderless horse featured in the funeral scenes was a nod to the riderless horse that became an iconic part of Kennedy’s funeral procession. The horse in the former president’s funeral, named Black Jack, carried a saber and reversed boots in the stirrups of his empty saddle — symbols of a “fallen warrior,” according to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

riderless horse at John F. Kennedy's funeral.

At JFK’s funeral procession, a riderless horse named Black Jack symbolized a fallen warrior.

Jim McNamara / The Washington Post via Getty Images


“I also loved the fact that for the most part the first lady went alone. Not with anyone,” Miller said, referring to Onassis. “No one is escorting her. And it made it feel so bare and raw that she was just this sad woman out there on her own, not being comforted by anyone.”

In footage from Kennedy’s funeral arrangements, Onassis actually often walked alone or held her children’s hands. Similarly, on “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Serena Joy walked alone with her child, even though she was pregnant, so she had no hands to hold.

Littlefield also pointed to similarities in the weather that November day in Washington DC and in Gilead when Serena Joy returned from Canada to lay her husband to rest.

The executive producer said that on the day of shooting, “the world was cold and gray.” They enhanced that effect and the snow showers in the scenes, but the mood is reminiscent of the rain on the day when the United States said goodbye to its president.

Max Minghella, Yvonne Strahovski and Bradley Whitford.

Max Minghella, Yvonne Strahovski and Bradley Whitford.

Sophie Giraud/Hulu


The episode’s title, “Ballet”, refers to the fact that June (Elisabeth Moss) was on a date with Luke (OT Fagbenle) at the ballet when Gilead honors Fred. Miller said that he and Moss, who directed the episode, didn’t necessarily purposefully plan to juxtapose the funeral with a ballet — they just thought about where June and Serena would naturally be on their travels.

June didn’t expect to come out of the ballet and see Serena mocking her on a national stage by accepting flowers from June’s daughter Hannah (Jordana Blake).

Miller told Insider that he doesn’t write the relationship between Serena and June “in stone” because in the Margaret Atwood book that inspired the series, their relationship is never what the reader might expect.

“Let the characters talk a little bit before you start telling them what to do,” he said, noting that he writes “backup” scripts and lets the actors guide his next move.

New episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale” are released on Wednesdays.

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