How the Twisty Finale of 'Fallout' Alters Its World Forever—and Sets Up Season 2

Once more into the Wasteland.

ella purnell in fallout
(Image credit: JoJo Whilden/Prime Video)

Prime Video's new sci-fi series Fallout is a truly wild ride, with several storylines of brutal post-apocalyptic adventures and an entire video game franchise of lore behind it. Executive produced by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy of Westworld fame, the new series takes place over 200 years after a nuclear holocaust has destroyed the world, and follows a group of survivors from different factions as they try to navigate a chaotic, violent world.

The Fallout season 1 finale, which hit streaming when the show premiered on April 10, is filled with twists that turn the worlds of the characters and the franchise as a whole on their heads. Read on for our breakdown of the many questions that the Fallout ending answers, as well as where Lucy (Ella Purnell), Maximus (Aaron Moten), and The Ghoul (Walton Goggins) are headed in the already-confirmed Fallout season 2.

When does 'Fallout' take place?

Like any good series that's adapted from a source material with an extensive history, Fallout's timeline could use a brief explanation. In the world of the franchise, the nuclear bombs dropped and civilization as we know it ended on October 23, 2077. While the show's '50s-inspired style may lead you to think otherwise—Fallout's world diverges from our own and essentially never progressed beyond 1950s society, hence its retro-futuristic aesthetic. 

The present timeline of the Prime Video adaptation takes place in 2296, 219 years after the events in 2077—or the furthest out that the franchise has ever gone. If you're a fan of the video game, the show joins the events of all of the past games, making the Fallout series a part of the overall canon. 

Ella Purnell as Lucy MacLean in 'Fallout'

Ella Purnell as Lucy MacLean in 'Fallout.'

(Image credit: JoJo Whilden/Prime Video)

How did 'Fallout' set up the season 1 finale? 

When the eighth and final episode of Fallout season 1 begins, both Lucy and The Ghoul are headed to Lee Moldaver's (Sarita Choudhury) compound (the dilapidated Griffith Observatory). Lucy is determined to save her father, Hank (Kyle MacLachlan),  and has Siggi Wilzig's (Michael Emerson) head with her, while The Ghoul is keen to speak with Moldaver, following the reveal in episode 7 that she was also alive before the bombs dropped.

Maximus, meanwhile, is on his way to the Brotherhood with a decoy head, and a plan to lead the knights to Moldaver's compound so he can reunite with Lucy and go live with her in Vault 33. (After a season-long will-they-won't-they, he and Lucy also finally kissed.) 

At Vault 33, Lucy's brother Norm (Moisés Arias) is also close to uncovering whatever is behind the door to Vault 31. 

What is the secret of the Vaults and Hank McLean?

In the pre-war storyline, Cooper Howard (Walton Goggins) begins having suspicions about Vault-Tec when dropping his wife Barb (Frances Turner) off for work at the company, and eventually investigates by bugging her Pip-Boy. 

While "waiting for Barb" at her office, he listens in on a meeting with representatives from several corporations. Barb's colleague Bud (Michael Esper) pitches a collaboration with the Vault-Tec vaults, but another company quickly points out that if people survive a nuclear holocaust on the surface, they'd probably wipe out the Vault Dwellers the minute the Vaulties reveal themselves. Bud argues that the key to winning the "great game of capitalism" in Fallout world is out-living all of their enemies—or anyone who isn't them.

Barb jumps in after another exec brings up the obvious question: How will they ensure that the Vault Dwellers don't kill each other off in a few generations? She says that she and Bud already have an idea for three inter-connected vaults, but Vault-Tec also wants to gather any and all plans for how to cultivate a perfect society. As it turns out, those plans are instituted throughout a network of vaults, with each one serving as its own sick, twisted social experiment. (The Vaults in the video game are all the more disturbing.) 

walton goggins as cooper howard, standing in an underground vault in front of a circular elevator, in 'Fallout'

Cooper Howard (Walton Goggins) films a Vault-Tec commercial in Fallout.

(Image credit: JoJo Whilden/Prime Video)

In the show's modern day timeline, this wild reveal is intercut with Norm discovering the secret of Vault 31. Having been deserted, the first being who Norm runs into is a brain floating in a machine, credited as Brain-on-a-Roomba (perfect, no notes). The brain immediately tries to inject Norm with something, but it's laughably easy to outmaneuver a Roomba.

Norm eventually finds a terrifying sight behind Vault 31: dozens of bodies in cryogenic chambers. The brain calls them Bud's Buds, or "a well-trained staff of highly-supervised junior executives." There are empty chambers with screens categorizing both Betty (the legendary Leslie Uggams) and Hank as "reactivated," confirming that both of the eventual Vault 33 Overseers are actually revived employees of Vault-Tec who lived before the blasts. 

Given that Michael Esper, who plays Bud, is the voice of Brain-on-a-Roomba, it's confirmed that the brain is actually Bud, now over 200 years old. 

Another blink-and-you'll-miss-it reveal is that, in the early timeline, Coop's eavesdropping is interrupted by a fresh-eyed Vault-Tec junior executive named Henry, a.k.a. a young Hank MacLean. But before Henry arrives, Coop hears one more mind-melting revelation.

Who dropped the bombs in 'Fallout?'

As it turns out, Vault-Tec is a mega-evil corporation that planned to eventually take over the Wasteland via the Vault Dwellers. We hear as much when Roomba-Bud explains the purpose of Vaults 32 and 33 to Norm. 

Basically, the plan is to slowly release the Vault-Tec managers in Vault 31 to its two adjacent shelters, where they'll secretly steer each vault's citizens in the right direction. As Roomba-Bud says, the citizens of Vaults 32 and 33 are "genetically selected to breed" with the revived Vault-Tec execs to "create a class of super managers." He explains that they've selected "people with positivity" who "will inherit the Earth after we've wiped the surface clean." 

walton goggins as the ghoul in 'fallout'

The Ghoul (Walton Goggins), a.k.a. a post-radiation Cooper Howard, in Fallout.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Prime Video)

In the past, as Vault-Tec debates whether nuclear war will ever actually happen and what would be the most profitable investment, Barb offers a simple solution. She suggests Vault-Tec should drop the bombs themselves.

The stakes of this reveal go far beyond the contained world of the Fallout TV show. The ongoing video games have never given a definite answer as to who dropped the bombs, and fans have spent decades theorizing who threw the first punch in the fictional, apocalyptic war between the U.S. and China. The revelation that a corporation in a search for profit was the one to destroy the world is a shock (and ironic that that's the big twist in a show helmed by Amazon). It also alters the Fallout franchise forever, especially since Bethesda, the studio behind the games, has confirmed that the events of the show will be considered canon.

However, there is a chance that "Vault-Tec dropped the bombs" isn't the final answer. As you may recall in the excellent opening scene of the series, both Coop and his daughter were outside in the danger zone when the first bombs fell on L.A. If Barb was part of the team dropping the bombs, why would she let her family be caught in the crosshairs? 

Fans are already debating whether Vault-Tec's plan went awry and someone else dropped the bombs first, as IGN reports. Considering Fallout season 2 is already a go, it's likely that even more twists and turns are ahead in the show's pre-war storyline.

What happened to Shady Sands and Lucy's mom, Rose MacLean?

lucy (ella purnell) and hank maclean (kyle maclachlan) do a science experiment in a classroom, in 'fallout'

Lucy (Ella Purnell) and Hank MacLean (Kyle MacLachlan) in the Fallout premiere.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Prime Video)

The fate of Shady Sands is also uncovered in the finale when Lucy makes her way to Moldaver. She finds the scientist dining with a feral ghoul while Hank is caged up nearby. As she begins to spill the mystery of Hank's past, Moldaver mentions Lucy's mother Rose once again, and says that the elder and younger MacLean women share the same curiosity that made Lucy want to know what was out there beyond the vault doors. 

According to Moldaver, before she died, Rose discovered that something was siphoning Vault 33's water supply and questioned whether civilization had returned to the surface. Hank had shut down the idea, but she'd recognized he was hiding something. Rose ran, with Lucy and Norm in tow, and found "this wonderful city" known as Shady Sands. When Hank came after them and Rose refused to go back to Vault 33, he took the kids back and "burned that city to the ground."

kyle maclachlan, standing at a podium with a microphone, in front of a projection of trees and a grain sill, in 'fallout'

Vault 33 overseer Hank MacLean (Kyle MacLachlan) in the Fallout premiere.

(Image credit: JoJo Whilden/Prime Video)

It turns out that Vault-Tec's "wipe the surface clean" directive wasn't limited to the initial war. Apparently, any functioning civilization, needed to be eliminated, so when the Vault Dwellers eventually reclaimed the surface, they could easily take over.

This is another major reveal in terms of franchise-wide lore, as Shady Sands was the capital of the New California Republic, a Wasteland faction that appeared in previous games. Per Polygon, the NCR was "a centrist, pluralistic democracy" that became a "stabilizing force in the Wasteland" and "resurrected the best systems of the old world." While no government is perfect, game fans had seen Shady Sands expand from a small settlement to "a fortified city and, eventually, the capital of a great nation." With Hank's attack, it means that great city has been reduced to rubble.

If Shady Sands' destruction isn't enough to telegraph that Hank MacLean will be the big bad of Fallout going forward, Lucy begins to have memories of her time with her mother in Shady Sands, where the pair also knew Moldaver. She realizes what may be Hank's most wicked secret: He let Rose bear the brunt of the blast in Shady Sands. Moldaver's feral ghoul friend isn't so random after all—she's Lucy's mother.

What is the Relic?

The Relic proves to be the weakest element of the finale, as it becomes clear that the head everyone had been obsessed with was just a token to get all of the show's main characters in the same place at the same time. This season-long mystery is dropped in the middle of all the huge reveals: the bead Wilzig implanted in his head is the key to cold fusion, a limitless power source that Moldaver can use to essentially restart the NCR in her vision. 

In episode 7, pre-war Moldaver (who was then known as "Miss Williams") told Coop that she had solved cold fusion. Vault-Tec bought her research, though, and stashed it away, because such a net good for humanity didn't fit with their "wipe the surface clean" business model. (Although, it seems likely that they did use her technology to help power their vaults indefinitely.) 

Because of proprietary business, Moldaver needs a Vault-Tec employee to activate cold fusion. Hank refuses to tell her the code, and that's when Moldaver uses the bombshell regarding Lucy's mother to turn her against her father, resulting in one of the season's most heartbreaking, compelling moments from Ella Purnell's performance. Lucy then demands Hank put in the code, which he does. (As fans on Reddit have pointed out, the code, 10-10-97, is the date that the first-ever Fallout game was released.)

The cold fusion machine initiates, and there's a brief swell of glorious music when an array of computers warm up as the NCR flag blows behind them—but there's still 25 minutes left in the episode, and the Brotherhood has descended upon the Griffith Observatory.

three people (Ella Purnell as Lucy MacLean, Michael Emerson as Wilzig, and Dale Dickey as Ma June) stand in front of a dilapidated store, in 'Fallout'

From left: Lucy MacLean (Ella Purnell), Wilzig (Michael Emerson) and Ma June (Dale Dickey) in Fallout.

(Image credit: JoJo Whilden/Prime Video)

Where does Maximus stand with the Brotherhood?

The Maximus storyline may start out the episode, but it ends up fading to the background while Lucy and The Ghoul deal with the big reveals. After parting ways with Lucy, Maximus heads back to the Brotherhood outpost with the fake head, and they immediately clock him for wearing a squire get-up without a knight in tow. However, despite Maximus's many transgressions, Elder Cleric Quintus (Michael Cristofer) recognizes that Maximus has learned that "power is taken, not given." He plans for himself and Maximus to use the power of the Relic to revamp the Brotherhood and take over the Wasteland.

After some scenes of preparation (including a sweet one where Maximus reunites with his old friend Dane, who really did shred their own leg), the full strength of the Brotherhood attacks Moldaver's forces, narrated by Hank telling Lucy about how the people of the Wasteland are violent, desperate, and "forced to do horrible things to survive." Hank tries to validate his choice of Vault-Tec's peaceful world over the surface's violent one, but where does that leave the Surface Dwellers who have been thrust into that violence because of his actions?

a man (aaron moten as maximus) in a jumpsuit stands to the right of a large mechanical suit of armor as they both stand in a forest clearing, in 'fallout'

Knight Titus and Maximus (Aaron Moten) in Fallout.

(Image credit: JoJo Whilden/Prime Video)

Throughout the series, Maximus has been the stand-in for an essentially good Surface Dweller who is "forced to do horrible things to survive," like Hank says. The theme comes to the surface when he finally fights his way through to the main chamber, where he reunites with a still-devastated Lucy. She tells Maximus that Hank was the one who destroyed Shady Sands, his former home. In that moment, viewers are finally given the full story behind his flashback that's re-appeared throughout the series: Maximus survived Hank's blast and was rescued by a member of the Brotherhood. Meaning, it's because of Hank that he's connected to the organization in the first place. 

Maximus nearly bursts out in rage, but he had already thrown Hank the key to get out of his cage. By then, Hank has already suited up in some power armor, and once Maximus snaps out of a state of shock, it takes just one punch for him to be knocked out. 

When Maximus wakes up, Lucy and Hank are gone and a wounded Moldaver is limping back into the room to light up the remains of L.A. As they gaze out over the city, Moldaver asks Max what he thinks the Brotherhood would do with infinite power. Despite saying that he feels as though nothing positive could come from their reign, Moldaver tells him that all he can do is try to stop them, and with that, she dies. 

Dane and the surviving members of the Brotherhood immediately file into the room, assume Maximus killed Moldaver, and knight him before he can correct them. While he appears disillusioned, it could be possible that this will eventually inspire Max to take down the organization from within. 

maximus (aaron moten) stands among a field of soldiers on a military base, in 'fallout'

Maximus (Aaron Moten) stands among the Brotherhood of Steel, in Fallout.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Prime Video)

How does 'Fallout' set up season 2?

After Hank knocks out Max, Lucy threatens to shoot him out of a vengeful rage. Instead, The Ghoul shoots Hank in the face and emerges from the shadows to ask the Vault-Tec minion one question: "Where's my fucking family?" In that dramatic moment, Hank runs away.

Left with Lucy and an unconscious Max, The Ghoul offers the former Vault Dweller a lifeline. She can either stay there, where the Brotherhood would very likely kill her, or come with him to track down Hank, who's headed off to find whoever's "behind the wheel" of the current iteration of Vault-Tec. Lucy, ever curious and now full of rage, goes with him, after quickly mercy-killing the ghoul that was her mom. With a last, "Okey dokey," she walks into the future.

ella purnell as lucy maclean, sitting by a fire at dusk, in 'fallout'

Lucy MacLean (Ella Purnell) sits in the Wasteland at dusk in Fallout.

(Image credit: JoJo Whilden/Prime Video)

One of the last shots of the finale shows Lucy, The Ghoul, and his pup companion heading out into the night, with the now-lit Hollywood sign behind them. 

We also get a hint at what Hank's up to. As the sun rises, the new big bad stands on a hill and looks out onto the remains of the Las Vegas skyline. The end credits cements Vegas as the future setting of the series by leading fans through the Strip and past the Tops Casino, until it closes out to ominous gates behind a revamped sign that reads, "Welcome to Fabulous New Vegas."

New Vegas is another infamous setting from the Fallout franchise; there's even an entire game named after it. TV viewers can decide how deep they want to get into game spoilers ahead of the second season; although, the events of Fallout: New Vegas take place 15 years before Fallout season 1, and a lot can change in over a decade. 

What seems all but confirmed is that the setting of the forthcoming season 2 will be full of post-apocalyptic casinos, factions at war, and new, charismatic leaders to meet and  fear. 

Contributing Culture Editor

Quinci is a Contributing Culture Editor who writes pieces and helps to strategize editorial content across TV, movies, music, theater, and pop culture. She contributes interviews with talent, as well as SEO content, features, and trend stories. She fell in love with storytelling at a young age, and eventually discovered her love for cultural criticism and amplifying awareness for underrepresented storytellers across the arts. She previously served as a weekend editor for Harper’s Bazaar, where she covered breaking news and live events for the brand’s website, and helped run the brand’s social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Her freelance writing has also appeared in outlets including HuffPost, The A.V. Club, Elle, Vulture, Salon, Teen Vogue, and others. Quinci earned her degree in English and Psychology from The University of New Mexico. She was a 2021 Eugene O’Neill Critics Institute fellow, and she is a member of the Television Critics Association. She is currently based in her hometown of Los Angeles. When she isn't writing or checking Twitter way too often, you can find her studying Korean while watching the latest K-drama, recommending her favorite shows and films to family and friends, or giving a concert performance while sitting in L.A. traffic.