Fallout TV series first look: it's 'dramatic and dark' but with 'a little bit of a wink,' says Todd Howard

A jumpsuit-clad Lucy, played by Ella Purnell, emerges from a vault in the Fallout TV series.
(Image credit: Amazon Prime Video)

The upcoming Fallout TV series will launch on April 12, 2024, and backer Amazon Prime has now shared a first look behind-the-scenes with Vanity Fair. The game's retro-futuristic post-apocalyptic aesthetic does seem like a natural fit for a TV show and the choice of creative leads couldn't be better: the husband and wife team Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, best-known for the Westworld series (which I thought was excellent, albeit I didn't watch beyond the first season).

The show's main characters include Lucy (played by Yellowjackets star Ella Purnell), who much like the player characters has spent her entire life in a vault, and her father Hank (Kyle MacLachlan) who's the vault overseer. Some sort of crisis sees Lucy leave the vault and enter the wasteland we know and love. "The games are about the culture of division and haves and have-nots that, unfortunately, have only gotten more and more acute in this country and around the world over the last decades," says Nolan, who directed the show's opening three episodes. "We get to talk about that in a wonderful, speculative-fiction way."

The basic setup seems to be that Lucy is a nice but naive person whose vault-coddled existence has ill-prepared her for what lies above. Nolan points out the nature of virtue in such a setting as "circumstantial ... it's a luxury virtue. You have your point of view because you never ran out of food, right?"

Todd Howard also chimes in on the show, on which he serves as executive producer. "We had a lot of conversations over the style of humor, the level of violence, the style of violence," says Howard, which is quite amusing coming from a guy who directed the Fallouts that gave us the VATs targeting system and its beautifully glitchy slow-mo gibfests. "Look, Fallout can be very dramatic, and dark, and postapocalyptic, but you need to weave in a little bit of a wink…. I think they threaded that needle really well on the TV show."

Howard discusses various previous approaches to such a project, and why they were turned down, saying that when people wanted to make a movie of Fallout 3 his thoughts were basically, "Yeah, we told that story." The Fallout TV show is set within the games' universe with its own tale, and one that Howard says is canon: which is an interesting detail, and an approach I wouldn't be too surprised to see other shows based on games take.

Walton Goggins as a ghoul bounty hunter in Amazon's Fallout TV series.

(Image credit: Amazon Prime Video)

Most intriguing is another lead character, a bounty hunter called the Ghoul played by Walton Goggins, who has a gift for mesmerically loathsome characters. The Ghoul is hundreds of years old and the show explores his human past as well as the present. Nolan rather grandly compares the character to the Divine Comedy's Virgil, a character based on the Italian poet who leads Dante through the afterlife.

"He becomes our guide and our protagonist in that [older] world, even as we understand him to be the antagonist at the end of the world," says Nolan. "He’s got a lot of mileage on him, but he’s still got a swagger and kind of a charm.

"One of the things we're trying to gently sidestep here is that kind of binary thinking, like, 'They're the good guys, or the bad guys,'" says Nolan. “Whoever the good guys and the bad guys were, they destroyed the whole world. So now we're in a much more gray area."

Americana, man's inhumanity to man, and Walton Goggins without a nose: sounds like good clean fun to me. We'll all find out soon enough anyway: Fallout launches on April 12, 2024, on Amazon Prime video. 

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."