Jack Boughton returns to Gilead. His arrival brings old memories and new concerns to a dying John Ames, whose wife and son will soon be left alone. When Jack befriends the Ames family, apparently with the intention of replacing Ames, the old man thinks his fears are realized.
Through a series of conversations between the two men, Ames learns about Jack and his life since leaving Gilead. Ames continues to detect the old meanness Jack's always had, but he also begins to appreciate the trials that Jack has faced.
Ames is surprised to learn that Jack has a wife who is black, and he doesn't know how well Jack's father will take the news. Ames comes to see the beauty in Jack Boughton, and he wants his son to know of it as well in case he hears otherwise.