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It’s been a while since we set foot in the chilling world of Gilead, but now we’re only months away from the second season debut of The Handmaid’s Tale (April 29 at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo). So naturally there has been plenty of news surfacing about what to expect during the brand new season, with lots of speculation and fan theories filling in the gaps in between.

Following a show panel at the recent Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif., and after a few interviews with some of the returning cast members and producers on set, we now have a pretty good idea of what to expect when the show returns. And trust us when we say that this Emmy and Golden Globe winning series plans on topping itself in its second season — if that’s even possible.

So what should we except with the big return? Here’s the lowdown on what we know so far.

The source material has not run out

Contrary to what book readers may assume, the second season of Handmaid’s is still heavily influenced by Margaret Atwood‘s original novel. Sure, the first season ended with Offred/June (Elisabeth Moss) being dragged away by assumed Eyes in much the same way the character was at the end of the book. But thanks to the final chapter in Atwood’s novel — which takes place years later — there are plenty of gaps to fill in between.

It’s also comforting to know that Atwood is still a producer on the series, and has had plenty of conversations with the producers about where the story could go next. Besides, there were tons of things from the original novel that the writers weren’t able to fit into the first season that can now be addressed in season two, things like the Econowives and the introduction of June’s famous mother (played by 24 alum and Emmy and Tony winner Cherry Jones).

“I wouldn’t predict too much about season two from season one,” showrunner Bruce Miller said during the TCA panel. “And I don’t think anything we do is post-Atwood. I think we’re living in an Atwood world. We saved a lot of things from season one that we weren’t able to cover. It’s just an expansion of the world. We’re certainly not beyond the story that she was telling. She’s still the mother of this series.”

There is a baby in the mix

At the end of season one we learned that Offred/June is pregnant, and probably carrying Nick’s (not The Commander’s) child. As such, this season will become much more about themes of motherhood and what it means to be a mother in a world like Gilead. That also means the stakes for the characters will be higher too.

“So much of the season is about motherhood,” Moss, said during the TCA panel. “It’s a bit of a ticking time bomb. And the complications of that are really wonderful to explore… It’s a dark season. I would say, arguably, it’s darker than season one — if that’s possible.”

The Waterfords are back

Just because June has “escaped” for now doesn’t mean that Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) Waterford are out of the picture. If anything The Commander and his blue-clad wife are just as important as ever as they attempt to find their child and the woman who is carrying him or her.

Plus, it seems as though this is the season we’ll finally get some more back-story on Fred and what his rise to his current Gilead-approved rank was like. Here’s hoping it’s just as captivating as Serena’s turn in the sixth episode last year, “A Woman’s Place.”

The colonies are coming to life

Speaking of storylines that didn’t come up in the first season, this year we’ll get an in-depth introduction to The Colonies, the radioactive wasteland that Gilead officials send “unwomen” and enemies off to under this new regime. According to Miller, production waited for the middle of winter before heading out to a top-secret Ontario location to shoot, aiming for that perfect nuclear wasteland feel.

Judging by the promos we’ve seen so far, we’d say they totally nailed it.

There’s fresh blood

Other than Cherry Jones, there are a few other notable guest stars who factor into the second season. Clea DuVall (Veep) has been cast as the wife of Emily (Alexis Bledel), whom we heard about escaping to Canada with their son following Gilead’s takeover. Meanwhile Sydney Sweeney (Pretty Little Liars) has also been cast in a top-secret role that sounds ominous (she’ll portray a young “true believer” with ambitions of becoming a commander’s wife), and Marisa Tomei has been cast in a colonies-inspired storyline. We should meet her by episode two.

Expect lots more Emily

In the first season Alexis Bledel was only able to appear as a guest star on the show, but the time she had on screen was definitely memorable; she did secure an Emmy for the role, after all. So it seemed like a no-brainer for Miller and co. to promote her to series regular this year and expand on her story. While we don’t know just how much screen time Emily (who was named after Emily Bronte, by the way) will actually get, we do know that we’ll see her in the Colonies when she does reappear. Fingers crossed we’ll also get a good flashback story or two.

There will be more overall flashbacks and character reveals

When Miller first wrote the flashback scenes he was nervous they wouldn’t play. But after seeing how well audiences responded to them, he and his writing staff decided to embrace them in season two. That means we’ll dig even deeper into June’s past, of course, but it also means we now have the opportunity to learn more about other auxiliary characters like The Commander and Aunt Lydia (emmy winner Ann Dowd). Speaking of the scary Aunt, word has it she was a teacher in her pre-Gilead days. Sounds about right, doesn’t it?

The return of Little America

Little America, or Toronto as we know it, is back this season now that Luke (O.T. Fagbenle) and Moira (Samira Wiley) have found each other. But while the duo will create a makeshift family of sorts they’ll definitely be on their own paths. For Luke that means continuing his quest to track down his daughter and wife, and for Moira that means recovering from the trauma she experienced at Jezebel’s.

Resistance has many faces

One of the major themes from the first season was resistance and how far people will go to gain back their freedom. That theme continues to be explored as we learn more about the channel of marthas in season two (appropriately Amanda Brugel has been upped to full-time status as the Waterford’s martha Rita), and Mayday begins to factor more into the story. Just don’t expect the resistance network to help Offred any time soon.

“Mayday is not the Handmaid rescue organization — it’s the anti-Gilead organization,” Miller told the New York Times. “And the anti-Gilead organization is not necessarily a friend to June or a friend to handmaids. If I was going to try to hurt Gilead, the first thing I might do is kill all the handmaids. You’re trying to weaken the state.”

Someone is going six feet under

There were lots of dark and disturbing things that went down during the first season of Handmaid’s, but that’s nothing compared to what’s to come. Not only has Moss herself confirmed this season is darker and maybe even crazier than the first, but thanks to some first-look promo photos we also know that the show will explore what a handmaid’s funeral looks like.

So who will kick the bucket? Will it be someone we know? Could Janine’s (Madeline Brewer) days be numbered following the botched stoning at the end of season one? We’re almost too afraid to find out.

A bigger season and a bigger budget

The producers wouldn’t put a number to it, but executive producer Warren Littlefield did confirm during TCA that the second-season budget is heftier than the first. Considering they had to create the colonies and delve deeper into some of the characters they’ve written, that increase makes total sense. Oh and did we mention the first season was so successful that season two will have 13 total episodes, as opposed to the first season’s 10-episode order? That’s right, three whole extra hours of Gilead are coming our way.

The airdate

Here in Canada the show airs April 29 at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo before heading to streaming site CraveTV.

Blessed be. We can hardly wait.