The flag of Gilead is all over Washington, D.C.. It tumbles down the side of stately buildings in long, vertical crimson swaths. It hangs in train stations and houses. Each flag is a reminder that Gilead is watching and enforcing its extremist principles. Gilead has never looked so openly and honestly sinister.
Until the episode “Household,” Gilead’s flag had only made fleeting appearances in Cambridge’s government buildings, but was far from ubiquitous. The old version of Gilead's flag also looked slightly different. While the flag had the same symbols of a sun burst and eagle carrying an olive branch, it was rendered in white, gold, and black – no red at all.
“The original flag of Gilead has more of a religious look to it,” Sean Schoffield, a member of The Handmaid’s Tale’s graphic design, team told Refinery29. The sunburst connected to religious salvation; the olive branch symbolized peace. The eagle was meant to be a nod to the bald eagle, the United States’ national bird.
Essentially, the original flag’s intent was to portray Gilead as a “good Christian nation,” Schoffield explained. “The flag wasn’t fascist or evil outright.”
When The Handmaid’s Tale relocated to Washingon, D.C., where the rules of Gilead are much more severe, the flag needed a design overhaul. The old flag’s benevolence stance wouldn’t do in to the stifling heart of the regime, where Gilead is positioning itself as a world power.
“We decided to leave all the elements that were original there, including the olive branch. But we changed the color and added the circle [behind the sunburst], which changed the entire mood. It showed how little needed to be done to make the flag look so much more sinister,” Schoffield said.
The most significant change was the flag’s color, which went from white to a deep crimson. “As you change the colors, the flag goes from being totally benevolent to looking more sinister. The red implies violence,” Schoffield said. Now, among the cool blue tones The Handmaid's Tale, there are only significant sources of bright color: Handmaids' uniforms and Gilead's flags. Red is the color of oppressed women and the society that made them so.
If this revamped flag looks familiar to you, your instincts are right — and you’re right to be afraid. Let’s state the obvious: With these inescapable red flags, Gilead has never visually resembled Nazi Germany so significantly. According to Schoffield, the resemblance was completely deliberate.
“We were definitely doing it on purpose. When you think of authoritarian regimes, that’s what you think of — everyone understands that,” Schoffield said. “We used a bit of it in our flag.”
Specifically, the designers echoed the Nazi flag by adding red and by placing a circle behind the sunburst, which mimics the white circle behind the swastika.
Seen through this lens, the eagle takes on a new significance, too. Originally a symbol used in the Roman Empire, the Imperial Eagle has appeared on German flags for 800 years. However, the black eagle symbol is most commonly associated with the Third Reich. The Nazi emblem was a black eagle positioned above an oak wreath, and a swastika at the center. Gilead's flag positions the eagle below, not above, a circular object, but the resemblance is undeniable.
Pretend that the flag was really created by Gilead's leaders, not by Hulu's graphic design team. By placing this flag all over Washington, D.C., the architects of Gilead are deliberately connecting their regime with Nazi Germany's. And how will the world respond to a powerful regime inspired by the Nazis?
This episode gave us a clue. The Swiss act as a neutral third party in negotiating between Gilead and Canada on the subject of returning baby Nichole to her Gileadean "parents," the Waterfords. While the Swiss officials exhibit tight-lipped disapproval of Gilead's treatment of women, their priority is cooperation. The international landscape is still in appeasement mode, clearly. If the revolution comes, it'll have to come from within.