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Fallout Review: Prime Video's Post-Apocalyptic Drama Lends Humor and Specificity to a Basic Story

The video game adaptation, starring Ella Purnell and Walton Goggins, gets its spark from its imaginative setting and well-cast leads

Ben Rosenstock
Ella Purnell, Fallout

Ella Purnell, Fallout

JoJo Whilden/Prime Video

To many longtime video game fans, the premiere of HBO's The Last of Us in early 2023 signaled the beginning of a new era for game-to-screen adaptations. Seeing Neil Druckmann's vivid world and affecting character stories play out in live action made you wonder if movies were ever really the right medium for the genre. It makes sense that the small screen would work best: Conveying the sprawling towns and landscapes of a game like The Last of Us is difficult to do in just a couple of hours, let alone a true open-world game like Fallout.

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Since Bethesda Softworks acquired the rights to the Fallout series and released its third major installment in 2008, every Fallout game has featured one of these rich, detailed worlds; the joy of spending time there comes as much from conversing with hilarious strangers and stumbling upon bizarre curiosities as it does from completing the main storylines. Amazon Prime Video's new adaptation, created by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Graham Wagner, and executive produced by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, aims to preserve that feeling. It's another smart pairing of material and medium, even if few of the actual narrative beats are mind-blowing on their own terms.

Admittedly, the series begins in much the same way that The Last of Us did: with a brief glimpse of the pre-apocalyptic world in the final moments before everything goes horribly, horribly wrong. Our anchor in the 2077 timeline is famous cowpoke-turned-actor Cooper Howard (Walton Goggins), whose wife Barb (Frances Turner) has a high-up position at Vault-Tec, the mysterious company responsible for the construction of over 100 self-sustaining underground Vaults. In these Vaults, the most privileged can shelter during imminent nuclear war — all while the sick and poor are left to roam the endless barren Wasteland on the surface, dying off or becoming mutated, slow-aging Ghouls.

219 years later, Cooper is one of those Ghouls, living as a bounty hunter and clearly dealing with some unresolved feelings about his long-lost wife and daughter. Walton Goggins is one of our best working actors today, and here he manages to locate a continuity between the charming cowboy of the 21st century and the wise-cracking, gunslinging murderer of the 23rd. But our most consistent point-of-view character is Lucy MacLean (Yellowjackets' Ella Purnell), a sunshiny go-getter who's lived her entire life in Vault 33 with her Overseer father, Hank (Kyle MacLachlan). A shocking, brutal incident in the first episode leads Lucy to break free, pursuing a high-value MacGuffin sought after by practically everyone in the Wasteland. In the process, she discovers new secrets about both the world aboveground and the one where she has spent her entire life.




  • Ella Purnell and Walton Goggins are perfectly cast
  • Refreshing comedic tone
  • Detailed and imaginative setting


  • Some character arcs and performances work better than others
  • Forced romantic subplot
  • Too much slo-mo

Unlike The Last of Us, or Joy and Nolan's last project, Westworld, Fallout has few prestige-drama aspirations; this is a far less serious and emotionally intense show than the former, and its heavy themes come out in more consistently thrilling fashion than the latter. The humor is sometimes a little broader and more self-conscious than the deadpan absurdity of the games, but that's mostly just an effect of the shift in medium. And there's some compelling (if obvious) sci-fi satire revolving around the commodification of the apocalypse, especially in the second half of the season. Those ideas may often be delivered through subtext-free dialogue and goofy riffing, but that style offers a nice change of pace. Fallout is more Snowpiercer than The Road, and the series is all the better for its willingness to have fun while exploring its atompunk setting.

Some of Fallout's storylines — and its characters — are more successful than others. Lucy's arc from sheltered Vault princess to battle-hardened badass may be predictable, but Purnell is perfectly cast, and it's rewarding to watch her bright persona slowly warp and break down the longer she spends on the surface. It took me longer to connect with Aaron Moten's Maximus, a squire of the Brotherhood of Steel, an organization of bulkily armored Knights tasked by clerics with securing the Wasteland. Maximus' journey to overcome fear and find a place where he truly belongs has its moments, especially when he forms an unlikely bromance with Thaddeus (Johnny Pemberton), a fellow trainee who used to pick on him. But Moten has neither the star quality of Goggins nor the forceful likability of Purnell. The connection Maximus eventually forms with Lucy makes more sense in theory than in practice, and a lack of romantic chemistry turns their flirtation into something half-baked and obligatory.

The Vault 33 storyline, led by Moisés Arias as Lucy's brother Norm, also offers mixed results: The suggestion of some conspiracy at play in the triennial trades with their two sister Vaults is intriguing, but Arias is oddly pinched and withdrawn, bringing little of the maniacal energy and offbeat charm he has shown off in his post-Hannah Montana career with roles in The Kings of Summer and Five Feet Apart. It's a shame the character is so miscast, because his search for the truth makes for an effective story otherwise. The polite smiles and coded threats of this story's antagonists are more successfully unnerving than many of the supposedly terrifying threats (human and otherwise) out in the Wasteland — especially with the inherently claustrophobic Vault backdrop.

It's the specificity of the setting, more than the strength of the character drama, that gives Fallout its spark. The sets and locations aren't lush and gorgeous in the same way as the lonely world of The Last of Us, but the world still feels real — except when it's intentionally artificial, as in the projected Nebraska countryside that Vault 33 uses to simulate peaceful summer evenings. And an overreliance on slo-mo montages isn't enough to take away from the gleefully bloody action scenes, full of creative gore and visual jokes that rarely undercut the high stakes.

Another key to the show's style is its soundtrack (as opposed to Ramin Djawadi's by-the-numbers original music, which hardly feels different from his recent score for 3 Body Problem). Most (but not all) of these '50s hits and deep cuts are pulled from the games, and the Easter eggs hardly end there: Superfans will have a field day picking out all the references, from Nuka-Cola vending machines to a canine companion named Dogmeat to the Pip-Boy computers worn by all Vault dwellers.

Compared to The Last of Us' self-contained first season, Fallout doesn't even make an attempt to wrap everything up in a nice bow. Its final episodes feature several exciting twists and reveals that reshape our understanding of the story we've been watching for eight episodes — but there's little real resolution to any of the ongoing character arcs, and in some ways this all feels like lead-up to a more thorough and philosophically complex Season 2. But hey, I'll take any excuse to spend more time in this world. Until then, I'll be playing New Vegas.

Premieres: Wednesday, Apr. 10 at 9/8c on Amazon Prime Video
Who's in it: Ella Purnell, Aaron Moten, Walton Goggins, Moisés Arias
Who's behind it: Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Graham Wagner, creators; Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, executive producers
For fans of: Silo, The Last of Us, Snowpiercer, Mad Max
How many episodes we watched: 8 of 8