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GHOUL POWER: Fall in Love with FALLOUT’s The Ghoul

By Larissa Zageris May 15, 2024 

He’s the noseless undead cowboy who launched a thousand thirst tweets — but why do we really go gaga for FALLOUT’s The Ghoul?

The Ghoul cuts a fine figure out in the wasteland.

And I do mean FINE.

This mostly-undead, mostly-loner type has survived FALLOUT’s namesake nuclear fallout for hundreds of years, on naught but his wits, his wiles, and his bottles of RadAway. His skin may be peeled away from centuries of radiation exposure, his teeth
yellowed with time, his cowboy-hat covered in grime, his worse angels longing to go feral and consume the flesh of man with reckless abandon….But I said what I said.

What many others join me in saying: The Ghoul can get it.

Clad in gunslinger gladrags that flutter around his fetching fighting form, The Ghoul doesn’t just walk a lonely road through a post-apocalyptic hellscape wrought from corporate greed and craven survival instincts — he does it in style. He’s a survivor. He’s funny. He’s got a sharp-shootin’ sass mouth and a six-gun to match. The Ghoul serves good humor, The Ghoul serves country, and The Ghoul serves face — even if he’s missing parts of it.

In fact, The Ghoul is the zombie cowboy heartthrob we deserve — and the one we need— for reasons as plain as the nose not on The Ghoul’s face.

Whether you’ve seen the show, or simply the glut of social media posts and memes (not to mention fan fic) about
FALLOUT’s mostly undead, antihero-shaped costar, one thing’s for true: people love The Ghoul. People want The Ghoul. And people are right to. Maybe you’re already nodding along sagely, fully aware of why this half-man, half-
creature feature is the pin-up boy for these unprecedented times.

Or maybe you just will be by the end of this article.

The Ghoul has all of the movie-star swagger of a cowboy that swung right off his noble steed, off of the silver screen, and into a vat of acid. In a good way. And of course he does:


The Ghoul is played by TV’s hottest purveyor of fine morally complex goods, Walton Goggins. From Boyd Crowder on JUSTIFIED to Lee Russell on VICE PRINCIPALS and every other villain, varmint, and rare not-so-baddie in between, this is

a man who knows how to fill out a black hat and walk a mile in some supposed-bad-boy cowboy boots — and look damn good doing it.


But Goggins’ inherent hotness isn’t the exclusive reason The Ghoul is hot. Nor is The Ghoul so desirable solely because of Goggins’ uncanny ability to breathe grounded, true life into the most complex and ridiculous of characters. If that were all it
took, people would be posting “the way I need him” and “I could fix him” about Baby Billy from THE RIGHTEOUS GEMSTONES.

The greater TV/streaming-watching world might have all just collectively noticed Goggins is fine as hell, in form and acting deed, but The Ghoul is an object of love and thirst only in part for those reasons already enumerated. But there’s even more to it than that. For all the swagger and spring in his step while out walking the wasteland alone, there’s a real hitch in The Ghoul’s giddy-up. He’s got a broken heart tucked behind his bandolier. That broken heart is the beating heart of FALLOUT, and so is how it learns to go on: as a guardian, a teammate, and maybe again one day — a father, and a friend.
The Ghoul’s heart finds new rhythm when he joins up with recently de-vaulted Vaultie Lucy MacLean (Ella Purnell), and acts as an unlikely, only semi-antagonistic, guardian of hers on her journey through the wasteland. While there are PLENTY of fanfics that argue otherwise, this relationship isn’t romantic in nature. But the genuine, if reluctant, sad-dad-figure and powerful-child dynamic between The Ghoul and Lucy is a wonderful, life-affirming thing. It’s also really funny and heartbreaking.

The Ghoul is searching for his own family, all alone, for hundreds of years — and the closest he ever gets to them is when he finally decides to team up with someone looking for the same thing.


The Ghoul, we know, is really two men: Cooper Howard, and whatever he has become. When we first meet The Ghoul, it’s in his fully-human iteration: the handsome and fully- nosed Cooper Howard, a former movie-star cowboy who’s turned to working rich kids’ birthday parties, with his own daughter in tow. Cooper has fallen on some sort of hard times, or chosen to live a harder life, than one we’ll see him enjoy earlier in this pre- fallout timeline. Further back, he and his wife and child lived together, in a beautiful home probably more provided by his brilliant wife’s work at the corporate (and
subsequently evil) Vault-Tec, even more than his own stardom.

In the very first moments of FALLOUT, we watch Cooper watch the world get blown up – and the last moments of Cooper’s life before he becomes The Ghoul. As FALLOUT’s timeline skips around, we see so much of what Cooper lost since the world burned, and even before it. We also see what being The Ghoul has gained him. Early in his timeline, Cooper the actor struggles to accept that his cowboy hero character would shoot a man, point-blank, in the head — bad guy or not. Cooper suggests to his director that they change the scene, clearly uncomfortable with dispatching a villain so dishonorably instead of just rounding him up for the law. His director’s brush-off of Cooper’s principals also agitate him, but we don’t see if Cooper stands his ground or not. Literally hundreds of years later, The Ghoul watches this exact scene on TV, and what remains of his stomach churns. Cooper the actor went along with the director’s weak argument after all, and the scene shows his hero character shooting the bad guy smack between the eyes.

You get the sense that The Ghoul has had a really long time to wonder why he didn’t put his foot down on that small score, so long ago. If Cooper the man had principals he sometimes struggled to act on because of family ties, financial agreements, or even personal vanities, The Ghoul seems to act on principle alone. Which isn’t as hard when you’re living to survive, and have to fight for your life day in and day out. But The Ghoul’s adherence to his own moral code is attractive. And surprising. And rare.


The Ghoul is never in danger of being pressured, however implicitly, into doing anything he doesn’t want to do. Part of that comes from The Ghoul’s own desire to survive. Yes, that manifests in almost cartoonish cowboy cleverness at times (there’s more than one Hollywood Western shootout in Fallout). It also manifests in violence, but not always brutality. He’s put plenty of bullets through heads in the wasteland, but there’s a sense that none were undeserved — and that some were a mercy.

Like when The Ghoul gives his zombie friend on the cusp of “turning” the memory of his mom and apple pie, right before shooting him, point-blank, in the head — it’s a mercy.

And one not lost on Lucy in the long run.

The Ghoul wanting to impart anything valuable about survival to Lucy is what brings him out of sheer survival mode. We’ve seen him as the handsome Cooper Howard, the loving husband and father, the movie star, and one fallen from grace, on the run from disaster. We’ve seen him as the caricature of his movie roles, a stranger in a strange land. But through joining up with Lucy, and his own strange tenderness and tough love for her as a kid, much like he might consider ol’ Cooper to be, much like he might think back on how his daughter was — this relationship changes everything for him, after not
having to change for hundreds of years.

Yes, The Ghoul is physically and charismatically a hot piece of ass-jerky-eating ass. But it’s his journey that makes him truly hot. It’s his openness at the end of the world that keeps these home fires lit. Genuine growth, and connection through not just surviving, but thriving, in a world of ceaseless trauma, in a body just barely clinging to functionality, with a heart that dares to keep itself open rather than hollow – that is hot stuff! And that is The Ghoul.


Larissa Zageris (she/her) is the author of My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel, For Your Consideration: Keanu Reeves, Taylor Swift: Girl Detective, and many comics, games, and scripts. She lives in Chicago and is working on her great American ghost novel.

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