What's Really Going On With Handmaid's Tale's High Commander Winslow?

Photo: Mike Coppola/NBCUniversal/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images.
Gilead just doesn’t seem to have enough cryptic, morally-ambiguous characters (ha). Enter Christopher Meloni’s High Commander George Winslow. He, his wife Olivia (Elizabeth Reaser), and their family were introduced to the Handmaid’s Tale in season 3’s sixth episode titled “Household” and now ol' George is getting some more screen time, which means we have to wrestle with his character a bit.
At first glance, Winslow's family and home are perfect (by Gilead’s twisted standards, anyway). But like most things in Gilead, there is so much more complexity here below the surface. Though we’ve gotten just a peek so far, audiences undoubtedly already have a feeling that Commander Winslow is a force and he’s about to seriously stir things up.
Advertisement
We meet the Winslows when Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) visit D.C. in their efforts to get Nichole back to Gilead from Canada. While Serena insists they stay at a hotel, Fred assures her that they’re welcome at the Winslows and that George is “down to Earth.” Although it isn’t entirely clear what exactly George does, we know he’s a high-ranking commander who lives in a mansion with his wife and six, yes six, kids. George and Olivia welcome the Waterfords while their children, of various races and ages (including an infant), happily play — and they clearly adore their parents. After watching Serena’s journey and desperation to have just one child up until this point, already, there are red flags.
How did Winslow get so much power? What are his intentions? Why is he hoarding so many kids? As viewers, there are many unanswered questions which Meloni attempted to explain in a recent interview with Vanity Fair. “He wears his power effortlessly. I don’t think you get in his position without being a master of manipulation and subterfuge,” the actor said. “He can’t have enough works of art. Whatever the power and monetary things are, whatever gives someone status and power, he can’t have enough.”
George’s untouchable power already comes into play in his fascinating dynamic with Fred. George commends Fred’s efforts to get the Swiss involved with Nichole’s return to Canada and proceeds to dangle the bait of more power in front of him, even suggesting he could have a future alongside him in D.C. “The presentation of that power, it was a stroke of genius,” he says to Fred, further stating his “talents could be an asset.”
Advertisement
Further, there are theories that suggest George is gay due to his physicality with Fred in an intimate, carefully-constructed scene. While the two are playing a game of snooker, they remain close to one another while George rubs his hand against Fred’s shoulder for an extended amount of time. While the brief moment is up to interpretation, Fred’s ambiguous yet completely intrigued reaction suggests he’s thirsty for more power — regardless of what getting that power entails.
Executive producer Warren Littlefield addressed the scene head-on in an interview with TV Line, saying George “might be” gay. “There’s this fraternity and connection that he has with Fred... It’s absolutely within him, which is also the fascination of what’s going on. This is a choice he made, but what’s still inside him, what are those urges, and what comes out?” The choices George, and Fred, will make based on said urges have yet to be seen.
Fans can assume, though, that the outcome won’t be good and George and Fred may have a rocky future ahead. “I think he’s very much hands off — knowing that you know that if you eff it up, there will probably be severe consequences,” Meloni told Vanity Fair. “Everything is great, everything’s fantastic, until it’s not.”
Meanwhile, George’s wife Olivia is another enigma. She seems blissfully happy drinking the Gilead Kool-Aid yet openly discusses her past life in America with Serena, which is totally taboo. Becoming an instant ally with Serena (or so it seems), Olivia tells her how she and George were corporate lawyers who didn’t have time for a family. While she reaps the benefits this totalitarian nation has to offer powerful people like herself, she assures Serena she will also have a family. Cut to June (Elisabeth Moss) meeting the Winslow’s handmaid, who has three rings in her mouth to keep her silent — a gutting view for both June and viewers. Why or how she has the rings hasn’t been explained, but it’s obvious George is the culprit. “If you were here to hate the Waterfords, then just wait," Littlefield told ET. "He’s a man of voracious appetites."
Advertisement

More from TV