Fallout: New Vegas Is Still Canon After the Prime Video Show, But Who Cares?

This won’t be on the test.

key art from Fallout New Vegas
Bethesda Game Studios

Amazon’s Fallout TV show has been a huge hit with viewers, but some key moments in the series have fans of the games scratching their heads. The fate of the Brotherhood of Steel airship and the city of Shady Sands in the show are raising so many questions about the canon of Fallout as a whole that Bethesda Game Studios director Todd Howard has stepped in to clarify the show’s place in series lore. And while his statement might lay to rest fears of one of the most beloved Fallout games being erased from the timeline, the conversation raises a much bigger question — why do we care so much about canon anyway?

This story contains spoilers for the Fallout show and game series.

The Fallout canon kerfuffle revolves around two moments in the new show. At one point, viewers see a massive airship belonging to the Brotherhood of Steel, which internet sleuths have discovered is called the Prydwen. That’s led some to believe that one of Fallout 4’s possible four endings has been declared the true ending, since several of them involve destroying the Prydwen.

Prime Video

A more impactful moment comes from the destruction of Shady Sands, a settlement dating back to the original Fallout game, which once served as the capital of the New California Republic. A chalkboard in the show depicts a mushroom cloud next to the words “the fall of Shady Sands” and “2277,” suggesting that that was the date of its destruction. Some fans say this represents the show erasing Fallout: New Vegas from canon, since the game takes place in 2281, and Shady Sands is mentioned in the game as a thriving town rather than a smoking crater.

Todd Howard recently addressed the Shady Sands controversy while speaking to IGN, saying, “Everything that happened in the previous games, including New Vegas, happened. We’re very careful about that.”

“The bombs fall just after the events of New Vegas,” Howard added.

Prime Video

So that’s that. Everyone pack up your fan theories and go home. Howard doesn’t explicitly address why there’s an incorrect date of Shady Sands’ destruction in the show, but there are plenty of reasons why it could be there. Whoever wrote it could just be wrong, or “the fall of Shady Sands” could refer to something else, or, like the infamous Game of Thrones Starbucks coffee cup, it could just be an overlooked error on set. Whatever the reason is, Todd Howard says it’s true, so it must be.

But why do we need the word of an executive producer to make it so? If that’s all it takes to put the “controversy” to rest, why can’t fans decide that for themselves? The idea of canon can be useful in a purely functional way, just so the stories of successive games make sense in context.

But beyond the broad strokes, sticking to a strictly defined canon and taking everything that doesn’t fit into it as a sign that one story or another has been negated doesn’t make for better stories or a more enjoyable experience. Obsessing over dates and names and trying to pin down unimpeachable truths about the world is often just an exercise in gatekeeping, as fans use their knowledge of canon as a way to declare that others just don’t get a story in the same way, or that some projects aren’t as “real” as others.

Prime Video isn’t erasing your experience with Fallout 4.

Bethesda Game Studios

Look no further than another Bethesda series, The Elder Scrolls, for a different approach to canon. Among Elder Scrolls players, fan fiction is sometimes considered as canonical as anything in the games themselves, and even details created by the game’s details can be debated and contradicted. The result is a series with a story that’s every bit as compelling as Fallout, but one where being a fan sometimes means being a co-creator rather than a consumer.

Or consider the Mad Max films. Like Fallout, they take place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of irradiated weirdos and warring factions. But creating a timeline of the movies is impossible, because they’re internally inconsistent, rendering the hero Max more of a legend than a flesh-and-blood man. It makes sense that history would be hard to keep track of in a barely habitable wasteland, and applying that idea to Fallout makes room for more interesting stories than a firm reliance on concrete dates does.

Prime Video

In the same interview with IGN, Howard explains that there was some debate over whether Shady Sands should be destroyed, before the show’s creators decided, “This would be a pretty impactful story moment that a lot of things anchor on.”

And in the end, that’s far more important than canon. The goal of fiction isn’t just to be consistent or accurate to some internal logic. Those things are fine, and often helpful, but not if they get in the way of an impactful story. Especially with a series like Fallout, which has been around for decades with an ever-shifting team of writers, an insistence that it never contradict its past iterations is more likely to stifle good stories than to propel them. Even if New Vegas or your Fallout 4 ending were deemed non-canon, it wouldn’t change the experience you had playing them. And if it takes a few confusing dates on chalkboards to get a show as good as Fallout, that’s a trade I’m more than happy to make.

Related Tags