Alexis Bledel Was Written Off "The Handmaid's Tale" in Episode 1 of Season 5 — Here's What Happened

Season five of "The Handmaid's Tale" has premiered, officially marking the departure of Alexis Bledel. The actor, who portrayed the character Emily in the first four seasons, announced at the end of May that she would not be returning to the show for this latest installment — its penultimate.

"After much thought, I felt I had to step away from 'The Handmaid's Tale' at this time," Bledel said in a statement provided to USA Today at the time. "I am forever grateful to (show creator) Bruce Miller for writing such truthful and resonant scenes for Emily, and to Hulu, MGM, the cast and crew for their support."

Bledel has not shared her reasons for stepping away from the Hulu show, leaving fans wondering why she didn't want to return to her story. Emily played a pivotal role through the first four installments, initially stepping in as June's (Elisabeth Moss) shopping partner and eventually proving herself to be willing to go against the grain and help women and children escape to Canada. Every season garnered her an Emmy nomination, and she took home the prize after season one.

In the first episode of season five, which began streaming on Hulu on Sept. 14, Bledel's character's absence is explained as viewers watch the fall-out from June's murder of Fred in a no man's land with the help of other handmaids. After killing Fred, June goes to Emily's Canadian home with her wife Sylvia (Clea DuVall) and son Oliver, inquiring about her friend. Sylvia tells a shocked June, "She's not here. She went back to Gilead. She went back to fight, I think. To find Aunt Lydia if she can. It's what she needed to do."

"What did you say, did you talk to her?" June asks. Explains Sylvia, "She called. She said goodbye. I wanted to wake Oliver up, but she said no. ... I don't know why she'd say no." June tells Sylvia she can track down Emily and "fix this," which the latter refutes, silencing her with a, "Shut the f*ck up." Says Sylvia, "She's gone. I'm never gonna see her again. Oliver is never gonna see her again."

June asserts that Emily's decision is her "fault," which Sylvia also rebuffs. "I don't care, I don't care. She's gone. I don't need it to be someone's fault," says Sylvia. "Why does it matter whose fault it is? So I can hate the right person, so I can hate you? ... She was gone and then she was here, it's more time than I ever thought I'd get. We're lucky in a lot of ways."

The show, based on Margaret Atwood's written work of the same name, is heavy and feels especially poignant with the current state of the United States. In the series, handmaids have no bodily autonomy and are instead used as breeders and mistreated. The show can be difficult to watch at times and quite possibly difficult to take part in.

"Television and drama are safe places to see your worst fears acted out and kind of experience them at a remove," Miller told a Television Critics Association panel in February, per USA Today. "When you come up with something horrible in your head and put it on television, and then hear something like it happening in the real world, it's just sickening."