Prime’s ‘Fallout’ Series Explores the Satirical Side of the End of the World

Matt Fowler
TV Games
TV Games Fallout Streaming Fantasy

Amazon no doubt hopes to replicate the success of HBO’s The Last of Us with their own new big video game adaptation, bringing in Westworlds Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy to executive produce the new Fallout series. As in The Last of Us, the world is over and civilization has crumbled, but in Fallout, it’s all due to a nuclear war that forced many survivors underground, into “Vaults,” where they blindly preserve, and hold up the ideals of, their once great society.

Co-created by Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Captain Marvel, Tomb Raider), who is also the showrunner, and Graham Wagner (The Office, Portlandia), Fallout looks to bring the open world RPG of the game franchise, where each game tells a different story within the same shared universe, to a streaming series format. It’s a daunting task, but Nolan, Robertson-Dworet, and Bethesda Game Studios producer Todd Howard are up to the task by creating an ensemble tale that follows three very different characters across the dangerously quirky mutated wasteland.

Nolan and Wagner, along with cast members Ella Purnell (Yellowjackets), Walton Goggins (Justified), and Aaron Moten (Father Stu), spoke about the series last month at CCXP 23 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where they debuted footage from the upcoming series, which will premiere April 12 on Prime Video. Where do you even start when it comes to creating a Fallout series, given it’s such a huge saga to play with and there’s no automatic “in” as a storyteller? Nolan had answers.

Adapting an Open (Broken) World

The main idea here, given that each of the Fallout games are their own somewhat separate thing, was to create a TV series that could live alongside them, not represent them. Said Nolan, “We’ve talked with Graham and Geneva a lot about the good, the bad, the ugly, and all sorts of delicious, morally ambiguous films we’ve loved over the years, but there’s also a very specific experience you have playing a game that’s different. From an adaptation standpoint. “And in my career I’ve adapted comic books, novels, and other other films, but adapting something interactive is very complicated.”

Nolan, who worked with his brother Christopher on the Dark Knight trilogy, added, “The experience I had in the Batman world, where you’re adapting a universe where there’s been so many different versions of it, you’re kind of weirdly coming around, all the way around, and arriving at a place where you’re free within a universe to tell your own story. One of the challenges here was that the experience as a player in a game, especially in a role playing game like Fallout, an open world role playing game, is that your choices – whether you want to go bad or good, whether you want to join this faction or that faction – is so open ended and so ambiguous that to try to capture that in a linear narrative is very challenging.”

Nolan decided he’d have to take over the role of the player making the choices, for this project to ultimately work as an adaptation. “We got very lucky working with an incredibly talented cast. I think of a couple of moments with Ella’s character, with Aaron’s character, where you have that moment where it’s almost like you can feel the control of my hand selecting which way to go.”

Three Stories, One Apocalypse

The best way to get different perspectives and experiences in this Fallout story was to branch out and track different characters on disparate paths. As Nolan explained, “We’re going to have three points of view into this world, which gets at the feeling of the game from a different way. You have one character whose decisions have largely been, at least for some time, negative ones, and a character who comes from this sort of missionary perspective of ‘we’re gonna save the world.’ And then you have Aaron’s character, who is caught somewhere in the middle.”

“Each game has a different set of characters,” Nolan said. “Each game is a different adventure. But each of the games find ways to echo each other. So one of the things I’m proud of with the series is that I think it exists in relation to the canon in exactly the same way that all games do.”

Graham Wagner was determined to not copy story beats from the games. “My experience playing Fallout is probably very different from your experience of Fallout,” he said. “Playing Fallout 4, way back when, I shot my own son in the face. By which, I have to explain what that means to you. It’s because I didn’t like to go on the roads. I liked to go into the woods so I could get my experience points up, and then I find myself landing in story points way out of order. That’s how I play all those open-world games. So we’re not adapting a narrative. We’re just creating a new narrative in the same setting, which I think every gamer does when they play it.

The Before Times 

Fallout’s America is set in an alternate reality. No, not just the destruction part but also in the pre-nuclear armageddon part. The world that now lies in ruin was retrofuturistic, with advancements in tech but the aesthetics, and ideals, of the 1940s and 50s. In the games, this is all clear from the wastlane wreckage and salvage and the environment those living in Vaults try to emulate, but the new show will actually explore this “before” world more. And it’s one of the things Nolan was most excited to tackle.

Said Nolan, “It was fun for me, as a filmmaker, just building two worlds. The world after, sure, but also the world before. And that before-world gives us a chance to kind of play with the conversation America’s having about itself right now. What is it supposed to be? The world of America in the games is that ‘exceptional’ America. The kind of Eisenhower-era of America that never had a Watergate, never had a Vietnam, never had a Woodstock. It never had a conversation with itself about its own sins and transgressions and just kind of blustered forward through another American century. Another 100 years of this swagger that then comes to a grisly end. But it gives us a chance to play with some of those ideas and in terms of building. It gives a chance to play with all the beautiful pre-Wall of Sound music that’s featured in the games.”

The Fallout series spends a fair amount of time in the before world, primarily through Walton Goggins’ character (known as “The Ghoul” in the after-times). “It’s a chance to see what that world was like, what consumed it, and why it ended. It’s a different world and a different America but a lot of questions relate to a lot of the things that we’re struggling with right now.”

The Ghoul, the Vault Dweller,
and the Squire

Speaking of The Ghoul, Goggins’ Skeletor-like “boogeyman” bounty hunter is one of the three main characters the TV series tracks. The only one of the trio who was alive before the bombs fell, Goggins’ Ghoul once had a human name: Cooper Howard. And the before and after for this guy is like day and night. And, well, also a difference in prosthetics.

“I think the biggest difference was that as Cooper Howard, I was only in the makeup chair for 15 minutes,” Goggins joked. “What can I tell you? Not much other than his name was Cooper Howard. There’s so much we want you to wait to find out, but I can say that he is vastly different from the Ghoul. But there’s still, you know, hopefully, some ‘Cooper Howard’ left in The Ghoul.”

“And I think that’s true for all of us in life,” Goggins continued. “I think about who I was at 19-years-old, when I moved to Los Angeles. I’m 52 now and while they’re the same people, they are very, very different. Very different people after the things that one sees over the course of one’s life. But in this case it’s just predicated on a nuclear f***ing war and a retro-futuristic, post-apocalyptic existence.”

Wagner added, “We’re really interested in trying to create a character that was two characters essentially, and so… how do you do that? And at the time, giving someone 200 years of experience in post-apocalyptic America, they’re gonna be a little different. And that journey, what this guy’s seen, and how he earned how he went from one guy to another guy is important.”

Ella Purnell’s Lucy, in contrast, is a Vault Dweller, confident that she can change things for the better, fueled by the optimism of the retro-America she was raised to admire. “Lucy is a perfect reflection of the vault ideal,” Purnell remarked. “She’s got this all-American can-do spirit and she’s very optimistic. She works very hard. And she has this really inherent belief that people are good, that there is goodness in the world and she reflects that. I think Lucy’s journey is about ‘Can she keep the idealism intact when she leaves the vault?’

For Maximus, Aaron Moten’s character, it’s all about finding something to believe in. For him, it’s The Brotherhood of Steel – a militant quasi-religious clan that collects and preserves technology. A group that’s been a part of every Fallout game.”I think he really is a character that needs to cling on to something that makes him feel more powerful than he does when he is on his own,” Moten said. “And I think we could all relate to that. We feel stronger in a group than we would as an individual. Even though the Brotherhood is violent. Power is a big desire for the Brotherhood. Constant growth and power. I think it’s where he feels his ideals are met.”

Fallout’s Got Jokes

Obviously, despite being different stories, there will be some comparisons to The Last of Us when Fallout launches on April 12. Just because they’re both based on video games. But Fallout comes with a unique blend of bleakness, weirdness, and goofiness that other end times games don’t have.

“I watched all The Last of Us and Pedro [Pascal] is a very good friend of mine,” Goggins noted, adding, “I was blown away by what they did. We were in the middle of filming this when he was filming his and it was done. As with anything, there’s enough room for all of these stories and you stay in your own lane and you’re not creating something better than or less than, there really is no comparison. The [Fallout] games are quite funny in and of themselves. The tone that Graham and Geneva and Jonah and Lisa achieved in the show is just right.”

For Nolan, the satirical elements of Fallout were some of his favorite things to explore. “We’ve always tried to put a little bit of sugar in the medicine. This is the closest we’ve come to really synthesizing those things and we had to because that’s the way the games are. The games are both incredibly dark but they’re also deeply, radically weird and funny. I think that’s one of the things that works so well about this. It’s a unique flavor.”

“There were lots of conversations with Todd Howard over the years, talking about exactly how they got there, this sort of balance of tone. And when you’re in the thick of the end of the world, something weird and dark and funny happens. You find an artifact or sort of the evidence of our culture sort of strewn around the wasteland. And one of the things that I think is underneath that, that I found so exciting about it, is that there’s a note of optimism in that.”

Fallout premieres April 12 on Prime Video.

Additional reporting by Chris Hayner. 

Matt Fowler