FALLOUT Series Confirms Who Dropped the First Nuclear Bombs of the Great War

One of the great mysteries of the Fallout world remains who exactly dropped the first nuclear bombs that started the Great War in 2077. In 2023, Tim Cain, the co-creator of the first Fallout game, noted in an interview that China dropped the first nuclear bombs and started the Great War as a retaliation for the United States’ experiments with bio-weapons. But, despite some veiled allusions in games like Fallout 4, this was never formally codified into canon by the games themselves. And now, Fallout appears to have retconned Cain’s answer via the new live-action Fallout series. The show, which is canon to the franchise, per Bethesda director and series executive producer Todd Howard, offers a different and much more poignant answer to the question of who dropped the first nuclear bombs and started Fallout‘s apocalypse. So, who initiated nuclear destruction in the Fallout universe? It was Vault-Tec.

the Fallout Series reveals Vault-Tec dropped the bombs in 2077
Prime Video

Yes, the blue and yellow vault-making corporation Vault-Tec dropped the first nuclear bombs and began the Great War, which would destroy the world. But, of course, there’s a lot to understand about that answer. Let’s unpack everything the Fallout series explains about this important piece of canon.

Jump to: Vault-Tec Dropped the First Nuclear Bombs of Fallout‘s Great War // Why Did Vault-Tec Drop the First Nuclear Bombs? // Could Someone Else Have Dropped Fallout‘s First Nukes? // Vault-Tec, Nuclear Bombs, and Fallout Season Two

Vault-Tec Dropped the First Nuclear Bombs of Fallout‘s Great War

Fallout Prime Video TV Series nuclear explosions
Prime Video

That’s right. In the end, it was neither the United States, China, nor any other country that began the nuclear apocalypse in Fallout. Nope. According to the Prime Video Fallout series, it was the Vault-Tec Corporation that dropped the first nuclear bombs in 2077 and thus began the Great War. And honestly, this explanation makes so much sense, both in the reality of Fallout‘s canon and against the backdrop of our own world.

Through the lens of Cooper Howard ( who we later come to know as the Ghoul), viewers are able to travel to a time never before explored in the universe of Fallout, the time before the bombs dropped and the Great War began. Tensions are running high during this period, and people are scared of nuclear war. Of course, it would make sense for security measures to come together. But unfortunately, the company responsible for securing the future of humanity is a private company. That means it looks out for itself and its profits first. Fallout’s Vault-Tec is willing to do anything to achieve supremacy, even drop nuclear bombs and start a nuclear apocalypse.

It All Comes Down to Fiduciary Responsibility

Cooper Howard as a spokesperson for the Vault-Tec vaults in Fallout series
Prime Video

At first, Cooper Howard believes that Vault-Tec is doing altruistic work to help save mankind. He even acts as the spokesperson and face of Vault-Tec’s products, becoming the original Vault Boy. But slowly, he begins to doubt the goodness behind the operation, helped by his friend from the Marines, Charlie Whiteknife, who lays it all out for him. Charlie asks, “Do you know what fiduciary responsibility means?” and then explains, “So the US government has outsourced the survival of the human race to Vault-Tec. Vault-Tec is a private corporation that has a fiduciary responsibility to make money for its investors. And how does it make money? By selling vaults. But they can’t sell vaults if these peace negotiations go through. So Vault-Tec has a fiduciary responsibility to make sure that it don’t work out.”

This explanation for why Vault-Tec dropped the first bombs in the war fits perfectly into Fallout‘s narrative. If no nuclear bombs drop, then no one needs Vault-Tec or fallout shelters anymore. And if no one needs vaults, then Vault-Tec won’t make any money. It’s not really a stretch to imagine that a company would be willing to go to any lengths, including nuclear war, to ensure that it retains its power.

Charlie then offers a cowboy analogy for Cooper Howard, asking, “What happens when the cattle ranchers have more power than the sheriff? The whole town burns down. Vault-Tec is a trillion-dollar company that owns half of everything, and after ten years of war, the US government is more than a joke. The cattle ranchers are in charge.”

Vault-Tec’s Evil Extends Beyond Capitalism

Cooper Howard with Vault-Tec executive wife Barb
Prime Video

While Charlie feels Vault-Tec’s prime drive is capitalism and profit, the Fallout series actually reveals a much more nefarious underbelly of the company. We learn that a scientist by the name of Lee Moldaver has unlocked the secret to cold fusion, which could create infinite energy in the world. But Vault-Tec used its immense money and resources to ensure that the technology would never see the light of day. Fans of Fallout will know that one of the main factors that fed into international tensions and the threat of nuclear bombs dropping was the scarcity of energy. Moldaver’s technology could have relieved the proximity to war, but Vault-Tech ensured that didn’t happen.

After speaking with Moldaver, Cooper Howard is moved to spy on his wife, Barb, an executive at Vault-Tec. What he hears is chilling.

Why Did Fallout‘s Vault-Tec Drop the First Bombs and Start the Great War? In Order to Dominate the World

Bud Askins of Vault-Tec
Prime Video

Using a listening device, Cooper Howard listens in on a meeting between Vault-Tec, Rob-Co, West-Tek, and Big MT. In it, Fallout‘s Vault-Tec quickly moves beyond nuclear bombs as a way to make money and goes right into nuclear war as a way to control the world. Time, Vault-Tec’s overseer of Southern California operations Bud Askins believes, is the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. And Vault-Tec will beat their enemies (all other humans in the world) in the great game of capitalism with the time they can buy in the vaults after a nuclear event. “The future of humanity comes down to one word, ‘Management.'”

Cooper Howard's wife Barb suggesting Vault-Tec drop the first nuclear bombs of the great war
Prime Video

Vault-Tec then invites the other big corporations to take control of different vaults to build their own versions of an ideal vault society and create “the perfect conditions for humanity.” Of course, this will be done in the spirit of competition with the best idea winning… domination over the earth. Since the rest of their “competitors” will be dead on the surface, whoever’s vaults survive gets the ultimate prize: control of the world.

This conversation paves the way for Fallout‘s different vault experiments. Right away, horrible ideas are thrown out, such as intentional overcrowding, human experimentation, pumping drugs into the air, separating parents and children, and more.

Cooper in his sheriff outfit with his child
Prime Video

But, the other companies want to know, how can Vault-Tec ensure they aren’t just investing in a hypothetical end-of-the-world? How can Vault-Tec guarantee results. Well, that’s an easy one, Cooper Howard’s wife thinks. Vault-Tec will simply drop the first nuclear bombs themselves.

Could Someone Other than Vault-Tec Have Dropped the First Nuclear Bombs of the Great War?

The narrative structure of Fallout season one leads to the conclusion that Vault-Tec dropped the first nukes of the Great War. The entire season builds to this finale realization. However, is it possible that a group other than Vault-Tec was responsible for dropping the initial nukes in Fallout‘s world? Well, technically, yes, but it feels unlikely.

Fallout‘s final episode clearly connects the first nuclear bombs dropped in the Great War and Vault-Tec. But the show’s first season also leaves room for things to change. Going from plan to execution is probably not the easiest of things when it comes to nuclear bombs. It’s possible that Vault-Tec’s explosive ambitions will become waylaid or that someone else, like the United States, another country, or another organization, will beat them to the punch.

Fallout‘s Showrunners Weigh in on Whether Vault-Tec Dropping the First Bombs Is Confirmed as Canon

Fallout series showrunners Graham Wagner and Geneva Robertson-Dworet recently teased there could be a more complex answer to the question of who launched the first nukes. They publication asked, “There’s also a lot of conversation around whether or not it’s now confirmed that Vault-Tec started the Great War. Is that your take, or is it deliberately more open-ended than that?”

To which the showrunners responded, “Well, we have more story to tell. I would just not treat anything as definitive because, again, everything that we see is very subjective. That scene occurred. But what occurs between then and the actual bombs falling… there’s more exciting stuff planned between that moment and the last moment, I guess I should say… It might be definitive, it might not be.”

Still, although the story may be complex, the likelihood of an organization other than Vault-Tec being responsible for dropping Fallout‘s first nukes feels very small. But it sure would make for an unexpected twist on a twist.

Vault-Tec’s Nuclear Bomb Agenda Will Likely Figure Into Fallout Season Two

A woman in blue and a man in red look out over a pit with a wasteland LA in front of them on Fallout
Prime Video

Although we don’t actually see Vault-Tec give the order to drop the first nuclear bombs of the Great War in season one of the Fallout series, the story is going in that direction. Chances are, if we get season two of Fallout, we’ll see more flashbacks that will fill in the time between Cooper Howard overhearing his wife declare Vault-Tec will drop nuclear bombs to ensure its global domination and the actual nuclear explosions we see rain down on Los Angeles in a different flashback.

The ending of Fallout also lets us know that the first bombs of the war weren’t the only ones that Vault-Tec dropped. Later in the Fallout timeline, Lucy Maclean’s father, Hank Maclean, a Vault-Tec executive, is revealed to have ordered a nuclear bomb to be dropped on the New California Republic’s Shady Sands. To further Vault-Tec’s agenda, Hank Maclean decimates the nascent civilization and state. This addition to the Fallout canon further establishes Vault-Tec’s tactics and its access to nuclear bombs. And surely, in a potential season two, the series will explore both these points in greater depth. Additionally, Cooper Howard, now the Ghoul, believes his family is still alive in the present-day wasteland, so we might get to see Barb Howard again. Perhaps she’ll have to contend with the consequences of Vault-Tec’s actions in the future.

Ultimately, making Vault-Tec responsible for the Great War and the first nuclear explosions in Fallout was a genius move on the part of the Prime Video series. It doesn’t make anyone feel very good, but it sure does feel like the correct answer.

Originally published on April 10, 2024.

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