"What, you mean the tree guy from Fallout 3?"
Yeah. That's exactly who we mean. But what many of you trigger-happy newcomers don't know is that poor old Harold is one of the longest-running recurring characters in Fallout history. His tragic backstory underpins many of the major events in the postapocalyptic canon- and it's high time we gave him his dues. Many of you ripped out his heart beneath Oasis... but it turns out that Harold has the biggest damn heart in the entire Wasteland.
As a young child, Harold was raised by a goddess-like supercomputer deep within Vault 29. He survived the bombs and was eventually selected for a suicide run to the surface in order to terrify the other kids into servitude, but escaped to keep the nursery of uncontiminated children safe and secret. Harold thrived in the wasteland, becoming a successful trader and major player in The Hub; but frustrated by the constant mutant attacks on his caravans and friends, he opted to set out on a quest to make the world a safer place. This selfless act started him down the road to becoming one of the only true philanthropists that the Fallout universe ever had... and to his eventual martyrdom.
A Man, A Tree And A Heart Of Gold
Embarking on an adventure with the doctor Richard Grey (more on him later), Harold eventually discovered the source of the dangerous mutations: vats of Forced Evolutionary Virus hidden within the abandoned Mariposa military base. During the inevitable mutant attack, Grey was knocked into the sludge and eventually mutated into the despicable Master, but Harold was rendered unconscious and later awoke to discover that he'd changed into something never before seen in the wastes.
Not quite mutant, not quite ghoul and nowhere near human, Fallout's creators simply describe him as being "very unique and special." A small tree, which Harold named Bob, started to sprout from the side of his head, starting a symbiotic partnership that would help to shape the wasteland and help those in desperate need. He had every right to be bitter and resentful of his treatment at the hands of the bigoted surface world... but his compassionate nature allowed him to repay suspicion and anger with unconditional kindness. The same accident that created one of Fallout' most monstrous villains also spawned one of its greatest unsung heroes.
Harold's wanderings are the stuff of legend, aiding the destitute and the downtrodden wherever he found them. He was instrumental in founding the Ghoul haven of Gecko where the scattered survivors and outcasts could start new lives away from human bigotry. His tree's DNA provided the cure to the New Plague virus that ravaged the wasteland. He even revisited the nursery where he was born, were he was welcomed back with open arms. Bob kept him company throughout his travels- and though we'll never know if it was truly sentient (as Harold claims), its seeds continued to take root and bring new life to the otherwise sterile surface.
Oasis: A Martyr's End
Eventually Bob grew too large for Harold to travel and rooted him to the ground, where he was discovered by a group of outcasts who revered the flourishing forest that sprang up around him. Harold was happy to provide the growing Treeminder community with shelter and succour, he was dismayed that they were creating a fake religion rather than sharing his gift and yearned for death after hundreds of years of prologued agonising existence. Calling in the Lone Wanderer for assistance, the ancient traveller begged to finally be put to rest. What happened next, of course, was entirely up to you.
So, will we ever see Harold and Bob again? Probably not... but much like war never changes, true heroes never die. It's unlikely that the wasteland will ever see someone as "unique and special" ever again.
How did you treat Harold in Fallout 3? Want to give a shout out to one of the series' most overlooked yet pivotal characters? Have your say in the comments!