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Guns, ghouls, and good looks: Why the Fallout series challenges expectations with its (relatively) unscarred gunslinger

Not all ghouls are created equal.

Fallout TV Series
Image credit: Amazon Prime Video

In the Fallout universe, ghouls are a tragic byproduct of radiation exposure. While some retain their humanity, many succumb to a feral state, driven mad by the same radiation that grants them extended lifespans and a horrifying, ravaged appearance.

However, not all is lost. Certain ghouls possess a unique resilience to radiation, even finding it mildly restorative.

Based on one of the greatest video game series of all time, Fallout is available through Prime Video.Watch on YouTube

In Prime’s Fallout series, the enigmatic ghoul, played by Walton Goggins (Justified), was once a handsome pre-war actor named Cooper Howard. Known for his starring role in Western films, he retains his gunslinger style even in the wasteland. A trademark cowboy hat and a preference for canine companions hint at his past life, shown in flashbacks throughout season one. Howard comes off as a good guy who loves his family and his Australian Shepherd, and has a strong sense of right and wrong - something that seems to have been lost upon him in the Wasteland… or has it?

While being a ghoul is nothing you would wish upon yourself, and there are many ways someone can become a ghoul, Howard isn’t as bad off as others of his kind, who seem to have drawn the short straw. Sure he’s missing his nose, but when you look at other ghouls in the series, they are rather grotesque compared to the former Hollywood star, and there’s a reason for that, according to the show’s associate costume designer.

“I think the only reason that he was downplayed in terms of being more grotesque was because he still had his wits about him,” said Amy Westcott in an interview with Polygon. “When you get to those ghouls that are really, really gross, they were really losing their minds. So I think to keep Walton as a central character - in terms of him being still with us, so to speak - it was imperative to see him at a stage of ghoulness, not all the way gone. You know, he couldn’t be feral.”

Westcott said Groggins’ character also looks different due to time, as it’s been 270 years since the bomb dropped, and feral ghouls are “on their way out.”

“They don’t make any sense anymore,” said Westcott. “We had to just get them to a deeper level. And so I worked with my textile department getting not just the ghouls right, but the feral ghouls, which are so far, far beyond the regular ghoul aging.

“That’s an optimistic time. So really, I think that’s what [sets] us apart a little bit. You’re seeing this person with their skin falling off, but they have a bow tie on, or they have a saddle shoe or a poodle skirt. But they’re a wreck. So, there was a bit of optimism that we were trying to show in that too.”

It’s also about showing ghouls as what they are: people affected by radiation trying to hold on to the last remnants of humanity they have left. In Howard’s case, he may come off as the biggest badass roaming the Wasteland, but shreds of his former self surface on occasion.

“I think that keeping the ghouls human was really super important to us, because they were people once and that was important to remember,” said Westcott.

Now that season one of Fallout has concluded, what’s next for our favorite ghoul and the rest of the main characters is anyone’s guess, but personally, we’d like to see a bit more of Howard’s soft side (like for dogs) - but not at the cost of his badassery.

You can watch the entire first season of Fallout through Prime Video.

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