‘Fallout’ Nails Video Game Adaptations by Making the Apocalypse Fun

Nolan tasked Fallout showrunners Graham Wagner and Geneva Robertson-Dworet with threading that particular needle. The pair chose to center the series around three protagonists, played by Walton Goggins, Ella Purnell, and Aaron Clifton Moten, all of whom enter the story at a turning point in their lives. As a cowboy movie star turned ghoul, Goggins’ character is cold and lawless, a set of emotions you have to imagine stems from the loss he’s felt in the 219 years since the first bombs fell. Moten is Maximus, a former orphan who joins up with the paramilitary tech protectors in the Brotherhood of Steel and stumbles his way into a chance at greatness. Purnell is Lucy MacLean, a naive Vault Dweller who sets off into the Wasteland in pursuit of her kidnapped father (Kyle MacLachlan).

“All of the dilemmas the Brotherhood of Steel has faced over the years, the sort of quagmire of it all and the different angles they’ve taken, that’s all interesting,” Wagner says. “In most of the Fallout games, you start as a Vault Dweller, so that made total sense since, with the series, you start in a very small space and get to explore a crazy new world just like they are.”

The showrunners also made sure to include The Ghoul, an unplayable character in the games. “That just felt like something we all wanted to see, because they’re sort of the untouchables of the Fallout world,” Wagner says.

As a property, Fallout has always played with a sort of gallows humor, a satirical take on how awful and complicated life could be after total nuclear annihilation. That’s certainly true with the series, which balances heart-wrenching kid-delivered dialog about encroaching mushroom clouds with “aw, shucks” sex jokes and an almost comical amount of carnage. Wagner says setting the series’ tone was a bit of a tightrope act, since they knew it had to be a little bonkers sometimes and, at other times, deadly serious.

“We did edits of episodes where there were long stretches without comedy because that was what we felt like the story needed, and it was just like, ‘Gosh, that’s a lot of apocalypse,’” he jokes. “We wanted to make the apocalypse a place we all wanted to go to.”

For some viewers, though, it might feel like 2024 is already apocalypse-adjacent, making some of the show’s references and scenarios seem all too prescient. That’s all coincidental, Nolan says, since the show entered development in 2019, pre-Covid, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and prior to renewed hostilities in the Middle East. Still, he adds, making the series “always felt like an opportunity to poke a finger into a bit of an open wound for humanity, which is the fact that we still haven’t figured out if we’re going to make it or if we’re going to blow ourselves to smithereens.”

Humanity, Wagner says, is almost always in its “end is nigh” era. The apocalypse is a relative concept. For some people, the apocalypse happened when women got jobs or started wearing pants. “The world is constantly in a state of ending, and we’re constantly talking about it,” he says. “We’re all just narcissists who think we’re going to be there when the final curtain goes down.”

Presuming the world doesn’t end any time soon, though, Nolan says that the Fallout team does have a plan in place for where they want the show to go, if they’re lucky enough to get a second season.

“In television, though,” Nolan says, “you have to be careful not to leave too much down the road,” something he knows all too well as the creator of HBO’s beloved-then-canceled Westworld. “We just want to concentrate on making one great season of television. If it works well and there’s an opportunity to go again, I very much hope we get that chance.”

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