We left off last time with our motley crew of Sedrans and ONI operatives (sorry for the proper nouns, Randall!) making ready to deploy to the fragment of Installation 04, known as Alpha Shard. Quite simply, the plan was to nab the smugglers responsible for mining the element used in an attack on Sedra City, then detonate a HAVOK nuke to destroy this shard of the Halo ring while they escape live happily ever after (or, as ‘happily’ as one can in the Halo setting)…
As William Butler Yeats once wrote in The Second Coming, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” – a line echoed by Randall as we come to the point where the nature of this narrative takes an unexpected turn through the use of a bit of narrative substitution.
This is also about the point where people definitively decide whether they love or hate Nightfall.
The way this storytelling trick works is by creating the illusion that it is telling a certain kind of story, one which tends to feed into and build up the audience’s expectations. And then it comes to a point where it rejects that story, revealing that we’ve been strung along to look at it from a certain angle – opening up a completely different angle through which the rest of the story is told.
A good and very recent example of this is Blade Runner 2049, and I’m sure you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to if you’ve seen it…
Done well, this is one of my favourite literary stunts that a writer can pull off. Nightfall gets ‘brownie points’ from me for indulging in this – it’s not the best example of the technique, but it does elevate the film for me.
How is this done in the film, you ask?
Well, it takes a grand total of five minutes for the smugglers to be found and captured.
What starts to occur at this point is a shift in the order of things, as Nightfall has been quite plot-driven up to this point. Once the smugglers – Arris Le and Haisal Wari – are captured, the plot remains the same but circumstances that occur with the characters and the setting put those two aspects at the centre of the action.
The plot is ‘repurposed’, as it no longer drives the story forward. It becomes, in essence, an almost tangible thing in the story itself, as the fulfilment of the plot becomes the goal for our heroes – elongated over the next hour or so.
Your mileage may vary on how much you like that narrative decision, but it’s a very unique way of articulating what is essentially a ‘standard’, familiar Halo plot.To take a step back for a moment and catch up on the specific point we’re at in the film, ONI and the Sedrans (doesn’t that sound like a name for a band?) suit up and prepare to deploy to the surface of Alpha Shard from the Condor.
Randall states that they’ll deploy two kilometres away from the target site and proceed on-foot in order to preserve the element of surprise, and that they’ll keep the HAVOK nuke on the Condor until they have captured the smugglers – which he prefaces by asking Locke whether he disagrees. This, of course, is Randall establishing the tone for the mission and setting an example for the cooperation between ONI and the Sedrans, by treating Locke as an equal – as a fellow officer – and giving him the opportunity to have a say in how they carry out this mission.
Horrigan off-handedly notes that he hopes they’ll be close enough, when they leave, to see the HAVOK go off, stating that there’s nothing like seeing one go off in real-time. It’s an appropriate sentiment for his character; doing the job simply isn’t enough for Horrigan, he wants some kind of twisted pleasure from it as well.
He then steps up to the edge of the Condor’s deployment bay, eager to be the first one to jump into the action, and tells Randall that it’s his last chance to let ONI do this by themselves. Randall says that this is something they will do as a team, to which Horrigan tells him to “Try to keep up” and jumps down to the surface of Alpha Shard, followed by the rest of the ONI characters.
The contrast in deployment method here is a good way of illustrating the difference between ONI and the Sedrans. The ONI suits appear to be semi-powered, as they are able to negate the impact of quite a substantial drop; the Sedrans do it the old fashioned way, using ropes.
No attention is called to it. Nobody boasts about their tech being better to really hammer in the point. It’s simply shown and left for us to notice.The team sets off and we get a little bit of visual foreshadowing for the arrival of the ‘Thanolekgolo’ while they chat about what Installation 04 must once have been, as bits of the ground begin to crumble away.
This is where they discover the tug used by the smugglers – empty, but with its engine still warm. Again, ONI’s superior technology comes into play here as Horrigan’s VISR picks up the smugglers’ footprints, leading to… a cargo unit.
I love this. There’s something strangely evocative about this utterly absurd image of technological dissonance, seeing these humans from the future bickering about their differences, engaging you in their politics, and then going to a fragment of an alien superweapon where they go into a cave and find smugglers using horses.
You could say that there wasn’t really much that they could really do with making the setting convey the majesty and awe that we felt when Installation 04 was whole and in its prime (with the exception of one moment, which we’ll get to later), so they went the other way and put a rather unique stamp on it with something that, on paper, sounds like a something you’d read in a Douglas Adams book. It’s another little thing that I think gives Nightfall its own unique stamp in the series in terms of how it articulates its story.
What I suspect this comes from is the mixture of talent involved in Nightfall’s production, as Paul Scheuring (the writer) was apparently “not that acclimated” to Halo when the project started, according to Scott Free Productions’ David Zucker during the Halo: Nightfall panel for SDCC. Conversely, Sergio Mimica-Gezzan (the director) was a lot more versed in the series, and Frank O’Connor, Kiki Wolfkill, and Kevin Grace were present during the production running a sort of Halo ‘lore bootcamp’, consulting on the script and the things that went into the story.
It’s a mixture of perspectives like these that is absolutely necessary to keep Halo as something that maybe doesn’t necessarily reinvent itself, but articulates its stories in a different way and experiments a little more. Nightfall absolutely did that. The Halo Channel app that 343 wanted to posit as something which offered a more interactive experience watching these episodes – having the Second Stories, the Encyclopaedia tab, and so on – was an interesting idea on those same lines, but was definitely an .
Many of these things didn’t work out and are absolutely deserving of criticism, but I think it’d be remiss of us not to make an effort to understand the effort that went into trying to do something different. I can see what they were going for with the idea of having a more interactive story, but it came off as a lot of superfluous busywork to get the most out of the experience when most people just want to sit down and watch it from start-to-finish.
Failing is a natural part of experimentation. One would certainly hope that important lessons were learned from that, but we have to learn from the good as well – and bringing people aboard who aren’t as well-versed in the series offers the opportunity to lend a fresh perspective on a series oft criticised for being quite insular.The team follows the smugglers’ trail into a nearby underground cave. The influence of the likes of Alien and Prometheus is wholly evident from the framing, composition, and just… well, everything about this part of the scene – the classic ‘descent into unknown depths’ applied with a Halo lens.
A light ahead from a small fire reveals the location of the smugglers, Randall ordering them to be incapacitated by non-lethal rounds and not killed. However, the horses give away the team’s location.
What follows further builds on the comical absurdity of the situation I brought up before, as one of the smugglers demands that Randall and the others put down their weapons.
In the ensuing confusion, the smugglers make a run for it – only to be spotted by Macer, flying overhead in the Condor, and incapacitated by Horrigan. Again, we see a hint of the ONI characters’ technological superiority here as the use of sound accompanying the suit’s movement as Horrigan slams Arris Le to the ground further demonstrates that it’s semi-powered.
As I said earlier, there’s a point to the smugglers being found within five minutes of being on Alpha Shard. This is where Nightfall officially stops being a story about the ‘bioweapon’ (which isn’t a bioweapon) conundrum and becomes something else entirely.
The Condor descends to receive the smugglers and begin the next phase of the mission, deploying the HAVOK… and then the Thanolekgolo show up.The ‘Thanolekgolo’ were part of one of the Forerunners’ many plans to combat the Flood that were tried and failed over 100,000 years ago – colonies of Lekgolo worms that have been altered to detect things like magnetic fields, radio waves and electromagnetic pulses.
The theory is sound enough. While individual Lekgolo do possess a central nervous system, the colonies that they form together do not. They are useful only as biomass, so their nature presented a significant advantage against the alien parasite. Likewise, their ability to ‘home in’ on technology (presumably being directed against Flood-infected vessels and constructs) offered something that could potentially disable or destroy their targets, or, at the very least, provide something of a distraction for the Flood.
When the Thanolekgolo were abandoned and why this happened is not clear, we get precious few answers in the film – indeed, the name ‘Thanolekgolo’ and the (brief) details of their backstory were not given to us until a Q&A in Canon Fodder #12, Have S’moa, about three months after Nightfall’s release.
It’s an understandably divisive thing. On the one hand, this is information we should probably have to some extent in the film; on the other, there’s nobody in Nightfall who could realistically offer any exposition on these creatures because the emphasis is on the ‘little people’ of the Halo universe who have a very limited understanding of what’s been set against them.
The Thanolekgolo provide a threat from the setting itself, intended to accentuate the character drama which is where we find the more personal threat – the conflicting politics, allegiances, and basic will to survive wearing down the team’s ability to work together.
Many were disappointed that the Flood weren’t the enemy here – Ridley Scott’s name being attached to this certainly didn’t help when it came to the establishment of peoples’ expectations. Perhaps this story could have been told with the Flood in the Thanolekgolo’s place, but then you’d lose the point of the ONI and Sedran soldiers having to remove their armour and technology – bringing them all down to the same level.
My concern is that the Flood would require a lot more action that would detract from the point of the film, as Nightfall quite pointedly doesn’t have a lot of that. The threat would then shift to the Flood trying to get off Alpha Shard to spread into the galaxy, which means we’d effectively be recycling the plots of Halo 1 and The Mona Lisa from Halo: Evolutions.
I totally understand the desire to see the Flood in a format like this, I myself was fully aboard that hype train when Nightfall was announced, but I think they’d actually detract from the story that this film is actually trying to tell.With the Condor compromised, the Thanolekgolo doing a number on its engines and sending it lurching out of control across Alpha Shard, the Thanolekgolo mount their attack on the team – sensing their technology.
Interestingly, they mimic the shape and sound of a horse as well (behold a Lekgolo horse!), which one comes with a wealth of potential allusions to mythology.
For example, horses have been known to symbolise mankind taming nature – being an animal that we domesticated, their use enabling a swift expansion of civilisation. There’s a certain irony in that considering that the Thanolekgolo assuming that shape are anything but tamed and domesticated by humans and their abilities to seek out technology is anathema to the development of civilisation.
Mars, the god of war, is known to have been depicted by the Celts as ‘Mars Corotiacus’, a warrior-horseman, supposedly used as a symbol of the ruling elite. This, within the context of Halo, naturally references the Forerunners.
Horses likewise appear in images depicting the sun god Helios, pulling his chariot, which also finds relevance in its application here given the significance of the sun in Nightfall.
It’s an image that you can sort of draw out whatever relevance you want, so I’m not going to say “it definitively means this“, but I thought it interesting to mention.
Back to the film, the team falls back into a narrow passage where Locke deploys a cloaking device that makes it appear as if the passage ends with a rock wall. It seems likely that this is based on some reverse-engineered baffler or dazzler technology that the Forerunners possessed (supported by it being deployed from a device that looks like the Forerunner Armour Abilities in Halo 4). We know from the first season of Hunt the Truth that ONI has this technology:
“The campus was integrated right into the city – a courtyard of dark buildings, mature oak trees, grass, walkways… It just looked like a campus. The only thing different about it was the sidewalk, twice as wide as it was across the street. In the inner-half of the pavement was black stone, a thick dark border, several feet wide that surrounded the whole complex.
I walked right up to the obsidian half of the sidewalk and stopped. Something was off about the courtyard in front of me, like something was missing.
I looked both directions, down the sidewalk… there were no fences, or guards. Plenty of pedestrians, seemingly, none of them paying any attention to the complex as they passed – except for one tiny thing. None of them, not a single one of the dozens of white-collar workers and shoppers and parents and kids, walking up and down that sidewalk laid a foot anywhere near the black half of the pavement. On a twenty foot wide walkway, they were all moving single-file right up against the kerb.
I turned and looked back at the campus, listening… No birds. That’s what was missing. There were no birds in the trees.
In fact, there was no sound in the air at all. Nothing moved.” [Hunt the Truth, Season 1 Episode 4: Crossing The Black]
And this was later confirmed in a Waypoint Universe article on the ONI Prowler, which has “limited integration of Forerunner ‘baffler’ sensor distortion technology”.
It’s gratifying to see how things like this have been lifted from the Forerunner Saga (in this case, bafflers and dazzlers were established in Cryptum) and serve to illustrate how advanced this ONI tech is that we’re seeing… only for it to be useless, as it doesn’t work.
The Thanolekgolo sniff it out and begin to press towards them. Arris Le manages to remove the restraint around his mouth and informs the group that their technology is what attracts the Thanolekgolo, that it’s like a magnet to them and they can sense your movements once they’ve ‘locked on’ to you – so to speak.Locke orders everyone to power down their equipment and stand absolutely still, which prompts the Thanolekgolo to lose track of them – eventually departing. I find it quite refreshing to see a threat in Halo that can only be ‘outsmarted’ like this, it’s not a problem that can be solved with bullets – indeed, the very act of switching a gun on becomes a significant danger in Nightfall.
It is here that we get something of a visual callback to Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, as Locke takes one of the Lekgolo worms in his hand and kills it – just as the Master Chief did after he kills the Mgalekgolo at the end of the final episode, stamping on one that survived the grenade explosion.
Speaking of Spartans and Mgalekgolo, in the very next scene it is Randall who identifies the Thanolekgolo as “Hunter worms, something like them anyhow”, noting that their sensory abilities are unusual.
Haisal Wari then speaks up, mocking ONI and the Sedrans for their reliance on technology – stating that they wouldn’t know what to do without it. This links back to what Macer said earlier, which I quoted in the previous article, where she tells Locke that the difference between ONI and the Sedrans is the training. So there’s some different perspectives here that build on Nightfall’s central question of what a soldier is. Are they defined by technology? By training?
The camera pointedly cuts to Locke here, which is significant because he is the one who later orders everyone to remove their armour.
“As of this moment, we are one hundred percent analog. Show our friend here that there’s more to a soldier than just his armour.”
This further builds on some of Locke’s established characterisation from earlier in the film, where he speaks to Axl in the Yonhet’s language and gets the information that Randall couldn’t obtain through force to illustrate that he’s an exception to Randall’s notion of the UNSC’s aggressive and ambivalent cultural appropriation. Here, Locke doesn’t just order everyone to remove their armour out of necessity, but he’s also intent on making a point. He makes it about proving the grit and competence of himself and his team to two smugglers.
It’s an interesting quality that demonstrates the pride he takes in himself and the people he works with, which makes their betrayal hurt him all the more.This is also where we get the big turn-of-the-screw moment I alluded to earlier…
Horrigan approaches Locke and informs him that none of their suits have an ex-orbital communicator, meaning that they can’t call for help – the only one they had was on the Condor, and even if they got to the bottom of the canyon to find and use it it’d take too long for a rescue to arrive. They’d have been cooked by the sunrise by then.
As of this moment, Horrigan says, none of them are making it off Alpha Shard.
Macer then points out that what Horrigan’s said isn’t entirely true, as the cargo tug is still a viable option… for two of them, with Wisner quickly pointing out that there are nine people present.
Locke then says:
“This is it, then. This rock, us, and what we can do about it. Some of us aren’t going to survive the night. That’s a given. Doesn’t mean we can’t get the mission done beforehand though.”
Again, I am only further being endeared to Locke.
Even staring death in the face – a horrific, cosmically ambivalent death in the middle of nowhere – he maintains his composure and declares that they will see this mission through to the end. They don’t have to die pointlessly, they can still make a difference by finishing what they came to Alpha Shard to do.
And he doesn’t just offer words to state their purpose, he follows that up by forming an actual plan. He notes that the HAVOK will have survived the Condor’s fall, as they’re built to withstand far worse than just a crashing ship, so they will go down to the Condor’s wreckage and retrieve it to (and he turns to Randall here) “make sure what happened back there on Sedra never happens again”.
This is further building on Locke’s intelligence when it comes to dealing with people (we’ve been getting so much of this in the forty five minutes that have passed, it’s glorious!)
To Locke’s mind, he already has the loyalty of his team – he doesn’t need to appeal to them in this situation. Indeed, Estrin says at the end of this scene that “If anyone could pull a rabbit out of his hat, it’s Locke”. So he turns to Randall and the Sedrans, making this act of sacrifice about them. He makes it about their people and their pain, to keep the team united.
After that, Locke says they’ll spend their remaining two hours making their way to the tug so at least two people can escape. Wisner asks how they’ll decide who takes it – how do they decide who gets to live? – to which Randall responds:
Randall: “I remember my childhood on the north coast of England, people used to tell stories of the Royal Navy. Second millennium, shipwrecked sailors stuck out at sea in lifeboats – the rule was you stick together. No fighting over food, water…
It was only at the end, when there’s no other choice, they had to make the hard decisions about who’d live and who’d die. Doing so beforehand would undermine the very collaboration that was required to keep them alive long enough to be rescued in the first place.”
Macer: “How’d they make the hard decisions?”
Randall: “They drew straws.”
This is followed by a long pan across each member of the group, the framing being wonderfully consistent with what I spent so much time gushing about in Part 1 of this rumination. Randall is on the left, Locke in the middle, and Horrigan on the right. This has come up so many times now that I simply cannot accept the notion that it wasn’t a conscious decision.
There’s such a tangible sense of tension in this scene as well, it genuinely feels like the penny is in the air and we don’t know how things are going to go… There may be nine companions with a singular mission to fulfil, but this is no Fellowship of the Ring.
The team ditch their armour (taking only their oxygen packs), as it’s nothing but dead weight at this point, and prepare to descend down the canyon.
I’m tempted to draw a parallel here to the beginning of Halo: Cryptum, the first book in the Forerunner Saga. In this, Bornstellar is made to remove his armour by Chakas when they’re sailing on the water to Djamonkin Crater, where Bornstellar believes he will find Precursor treasure. He does this because electrical and magnetic fields, other than those generated by Earth’s natural dynamics, drive a carnivorous water-dwelling species called ‘merse’ to attack.
The Didact notes that the Librarian kept merse in their garden on Far Nomdagro, their nuptial home, as she was fond of them. It’d be quite interesting if the Thanolekgolo were, in fact, something the Lifeworkers reflecting this.We’ve crossed the Rubicon now, the point of no return…
As they descend, Horrigan holds Locke towards the back of the group and tells him that Randall is out of his mind, thinking that ‘pulling straws’ is going to decide who lives and who dies. Locke asks Horrigan if he has a better way, to which he suggests getting the information they need out of Haisal and Arris, then dumping them in order to cut down the numbers and speed them up – as Haisal has broken his ankle and is being dragged along by Ramos and Estrin.
Locke points out why ditching them is a terrible idea, since the two smugglers are familiar with Alpha Shard and would undoubtedly get to the tug before them. At this point, Randall overhears their conversation, as Horrigan suggests killing them.
Once again, look at the framing.I’m going to insist on pointing it out every time it happens because the writers, directors, and actors consistently made the effort to ensure that the composition of these scenes went this way – with Randall on the left, Locke in the middle, and Horrigan on the right.
The angel and devil on his shoulder. Horrigan tempting Locke with the easy way out, turning to violence; Randall representing the harder, yet more virtuous path.
Randall isn’t like Locke. He’s not as good with people the way we’ve consistently seen that Locke is, so he can’t manoeuvre a conversation to satisfy a middle ground. He attempts to strong-arm Horrigan by asserting his rank and position as “the one making the decisions around here”, which doesn’t work. Horrigan bites back, saying that Randall’s team is dead and they’ve got no ship, so, as far as he’s concerned, Randall is just “one of the rest of us” now.
Locke steps in, causing Horrigan to say “Yes, sir”, which is notable because what he’s just said to Randall puts everyone on equal footing in his eyes… except Locke. This ties back to the scene aboard the Condor where Horrigan says to him that, when the chips are down, Locke is the only person he’ll listen to.
Bowing his head and saying he “spoke out of turn”, Randall isn’t convinced and pushes him further to say what he has to say – prompting all the venom to return at once.
Horrigan insists that the best course of action to complete the mission is to kill the smugglers, as they’re slowing them down. Arris savours this as the chance to assert his and Haisal’s value in this situation, as he asks them who will fly the ship if he and Haisal are killed. The tug has a biometric ignition, requiring a scan from one of their hands in order to start.
Locke, however, shuts the conversation down.
“Nobody’s putting anybody down. We don’t panic like that. It’s not an option.”
While saying this, the camera cuts to a shot of Randall and Horrigan – the former dominating the left of the screen while the latter occupies less space and is out of focus on the right – visually indicating Randall’s ‘side’ has won out. I feel the need to keep heaping praise on the directing in this film because of the level of thought that’s gone into it.Following this, we get Randall’s next soliloquy.
“Silence. They say it’s a soldier’s greatest ally. Grants him the element of surprise, lays bare all of his enemy’s movement. But I learned long ago that was a lie. Because silence allows a soldier to think… gives him time to be scared. And a scared soldier starts making choices. Choices to make the fear go away.”
It’s undoubtedly the best soliloquy so far, one that does genuinely lend a lot to the tension of the situation and comes off as a genuinely chilling and ominous prelude to what is yet to come.
Saying that, its effect is somewhat lessened because I didn’t quote the full dialogue there – Randall has one more line at the end that is completely unnecessary…
“Choices that ruin everything.”
Yes, thank you… I think we all got that! There was no need to make the subtext text there, the soliloquy was doing just fine up to that point.
It’s a nitpick, but I bring it up because it stands out in such stark contrast, as Nightfall has hitherto hit us with some genuinely subtle moments in its storytelling, and then decides to momentarily renege on that a bit in this particular dialogue.
Thankfully, the scene that follows brings us back to more solid character writing.Stopping to take a breather, Locke asks Arris how much further they have to go. Arris asks why he should help them, to which Locke says “Because we’re the ones with the guns”.
It’s a brazen response, but it’s indicative of Locke giving people a verbal shove to get them to reveal something. Locke has already declared that they will not be putting anybody down, so it comes as something of an empty threat – but Arris doesn’t necessarily know that because he doesn’t know Locke.
The gambit works because Arris then starts talking about himself, giving Locke an opening to negotiate with him and find the middle ground (hey look, it’s that motif with his characterisation again!)
Arris: “You’ve never heard of my planet, have you? Aleria. A one hundred year drought has killed half the population, made us desperate for food – so desperate they send their sons and fathers to a hellhole like this to make money. You destroy those deposits, you destroy one of the only sources of income my people have.”
In the previous article, I mentioned that an important part of Nightfall is how the story (particularly regarding the ‘bioweapon’) is how it zeroes in on the ‘little people’ who are desperate and have been left behind by the system.
It doesn’t justify their actions, but does a good job of painting the Halo universe in shades of grey because these are nobodies in the setting who are being exploited to do these awful things just to survive.
The promise is a payoff that would vastly outweigh the risks involved.
There’s actually a fair bit of backstory on Aleria. Nightfall gives us the general outline of the awful circumstances that Arris and Haisal face, but the Second Story titled ‘Indebted Travelers’ expands on more of their backstory and there’s a Waypoint Universe article on Aleria itself.
In Indebted Travelers, we learn that Arris and Haisal are in debt (y’know, in case you didn’t get that from the title!) and are working this smuggling operation for their families – reflective of one of 343’s main themes throughout their fiction. Arris also tells Haisal that he will add his biometric print to the tug’s system, so that Haisal can escape if ever something happens. It’s a touching moment of vulnerability between them, as Arris asks Haisal to ensure that his family don’t pay the price for the debt he owes after he’s gone.In response to Arris Le’s comment about destroying the deposits meaning the end of one of his peoples’ only sources of income, we get the following dialogue between them.
Locke: “You’ve got no problem trafficking the blood of others, I take it?”
Arris: “Funny, coming from ONI!”
How does Locke respond?
He bows his head, knowing that Arris has got him on that one, and does quite an honourable thing in this situation. He sets aside the politics between them and lays the situation out as it is – they are going to set the nuke and destroy the deposits, and Arris is powerless to stop that. But he can help speed the process up, and as a result of that cooperation he will have an equal draw of the straws when it comes down to deciding who will escape.
Locke motivates Arris and Haisal by giving them the chance to live, further intuiting that the two of them are gambling men – the very fact that they come to Alpha Shard at all proving that much. Arris accepts the offer and guides the group forward – giving us another instance where Locke successfully plays the middleground.
Horrigan is dismayed at this. He tells Locke that he is himself playing a dangerous game, having just statistically decreased their chances of survival – that Locke is effectively gambling with everyone else’s lives too.
As they proceed, they come across something impossible.
A river, surrounded by plants.
There is a ‘sciency’ explanation for this, as the Halos have terraforming and artificial weather systems that we’ve seen throughout the series, but the presentation of it in this scene once again lends to that fantastical, almost fairy tale-like feeling that comes with the Forerunner aspect of the universe.
Randall notes that they’re losing momentum, due to the harsh climate of Alpha Shard, and they need to power up the oxygen packs. Arris and Haisal are better-acclimated to the air (which is important later) due to the fact that they’ve lived and grown up on Aleria during its century-long drought, and they warn the others that activating the oxygen packs will alert the Thanolekgolo to their location.
As I was rewatching this scene, I really felt how it effectively conveys the tension of the situation. There’s no dialogue, just the hissing sound of air leaving the oxygen packs as everyone looks around the area (the camera quickly moving around, cutting between close-ups of the characters and the environment) to see if this gambit has backfired.
They have to use the oxygen packs to keep going, but doing so invites the Thanolekgolo to potentially kill them anyway. It’s a genuinely frightening situation to be in, and we see that visual motif for the Thanolekgolo approaching as rocks start breaking apart…
It’s a rare moment where the tension isn’t driven by these characters who all dislike one-another, but the fragility of their lives is imperiled by the setting itself.The group powers down the oxygen packs and proceeds, but Samantha Wisner (one of the Sedrans) stumbles and drops her oxygen pack while climbing up a rocky incline out of a cave. As the pack falls out of her reach, it activates…
Ramos is with her, asking if she’s found it – only for her to jump at him while the Thanolekgolo consume her. Thus, we get Nightfall‘s one and only ‘jumpscare’.
Losing his grip on Wisner’s arm, this is the moment where Ramos starts to break. Earlier, in Randall’s previous soliloquy, he mentioned soldiers making choices “to make the fear go away”. That’s exactly what Ramos does, as he backs up and tosses away his own oxygen pack – fearing, in the moment, that it might well bring the Thanolekgolo upon him too.
Fortunately, Locke notices that two of their number are missing and he goes back to get them – hurrying Ramos onward and retrieving the oxygen pack. However, the Thanolekgolo are onto them now and start swarming to their location.
Randall orders everyone to find cover, Locke running to the side of a small cliff where he loses his footing and falls off the top – trapping his ankle.
I like this moment because it gives us an interesting inversion of a heavily gendered trope.
There’s been no end of fiction where a female character trips over some minor obstacle and hurts her ankle or breaks her heel, damselling her for the moment where she screams at the camera as the one pursuing her catches up. Halo has been guilty of this too. For example, in Hunters in the Dark, Captain Annabelle Richards (who was one of the more interesting human characters in that book) is written out of more than a third of the story because she’s off-handedly mentioned to have tripped and hurt her ankle while on the Ark, so she had to be taken back to the ship and do nothing…
In Nightfall, this is reversed. Locke is damselled and this is used to give Macer a significant character moment, as she is the only one who goes to rescue him. Even his own team – who still, at this point, believe in him – don’t make any effort to save him.
Locke draws his pistol and prepares to make his final stand, giving Macer the two oxygen packs he’s carrying and telling her to go.
Macer, however, proves the strength of her moral character by sacrificing one of the oxygen packs in order to distract the Thanolekgolo, saving Locke. Statistically speaking, in terms of survival, it’s in everyone’s interest to let Locke die and retrieve the oxygen packs, narrowing down the numbers for who will be around to draw straws at the end. But Macer isn’t thinking that way, she sees somebody in danger and selflessly does what she can to help.
You might argue that there are some more utilitarian reasons for keeping Locke around, as he’s hitherto been the only person capable of holding the team together by finding the middle ground between them all… but I’d wager that this is more to do with Macer simply being a decent and compassionate person than anything else.
Also, remember that Macer is nineteen at the time in which this takes place. She’s terrified, as anyone in her position would be, but she thinks fast on her feet when the Thanolekgolo are mere metres away and chooses to save the life of somebody she barely knows.
I hope we see Macer again. That girl is Spartan material!Upon escaping, they take a moment to catch their breath and register that they’re still alive. Ramos, meanwhile, is further starting to lose his grip as he mutters to himself:
“I’m gonna kill them. I’m gonna kill them all with the Halo ring.”
Time passes and the group hasn’t moved an inch. Ramos is struggling to fix a bandage to his hand, with Locke gently helping him and thanking Macer for saving his life. Horrigan speculates that they’ve got just over two and a half hours until sunrise, Estrin wagering that they’re as clear as they’re going to be.
At that moment, a shadowy humanoid figure approaches over the horizon – which the group quickly notice is the Thanolekgolo imitating the form of Wisner.
Here, Horrigan makes a choice.
He commits the first murder of the group, providing the next turn-of-the-screw moment in Nightfall’s story as the lines are drawn and sides get chosen. According to Horrigan, Haisal has hitherto been ‘baggage’ for the group; a burden on them who has been slowing them down, due to his broken leg. After a moment with Macer where she saves somebody’s life, we now see Horrigan murder Haisal in cold blood – enabling the team to escape.
Locke, understandably, is furious.
Locke: “You don’t choose. You don’t do that. You don’t play God, that’s not your right!”
Horrigan: “Look around. You see God anywhere? Tonight, we are God.”
It’s an unsettling declaration, the impact of which being somewhat negated by the fact that it’s accompanied by another extraneous soliloquy from Randall.
“He was right, though we didn’t know it. In that moment, on that rock, with the devil on our heels, we were gods… Gods of the damned.”
The point has just been made by Horrigan and the important thing in this scene is how everyone reacts to it, as the camera first shows Locke and then pans around to Randall. It didn’t require this voiceover dialogue to hammer the point in three more times in the space of about ten seconds.Thankfully, Nightfall has a habit of following up disappointing dialogue choices like this with substantial character scenes – and this instance is no different. Note, as well, the fact that Randall is framed on the left again.
Locke and Randall keep to the back of the group, Locke promising that he’ll keep Horrigan in-line – and he means it, but it’s an empty promise as Horrigan has already crossed the line.
Randall: “Well I’m sure that’s your plan. Not sure it’s possible now that the centre is falling apart.”
Locke: “We work together, it won’t.”
Randall: “ONI looks out for ONI. You know it and I know it.”
Locke: “I thought you said ‘no proper nouns tonight’.”
Randall: “People get scared, they get tribal. Trust their own before the other. We’re the ‘other’ tonight, don’t pretend we’re not.”
Locke: “Sounds like a man drawing lines. Justifying a reason to turn on us…”
Randall: “Shouldn’t fear me. I’m just one man, with a ‘glorified bus driver’ as back-up.”
Locke: “One man that was a Spartan…”
Randall: “You’re playing scared, Commander. See, I already died. That’s the difference between you and me. Gave my life away when I was signed up to be a soldier. It’s a matter of what we give it away for now.”
This is a gloriously loaded discussion between these two characters because it’s not entirely clear whether Randall is saying this because he believes it, or because he’s picked up on how Locke verbally pushes at people to gauge their motivations.
Personally, I think it’s the latter – a test of Locke’s convictions. To do that, he plays the part of ‘the other’ in order to see how Locke responds.
There’s a hint of tragedy in Randall’s dialogue too, where he mentions that he was signed up to be a soldier: a term he draws as being synonymous with ‘Spartan’. He built a new life away from all of that with a family, but, once again, just as he did when he was six, he’s had it all taken away from him again. He has made peace with the fact that he’s going to die, what he cares about is what he dies for.
Locke, however, is having none of this.
Locke: “The noble soldier. I forgot. We die here, we go to Valhalla, right?”
Randall: “They don’t let ONI into Valhalla.”
Locke: “I’ll tell you what. You got a death wish with what happened to you, that’s fine. But I still got some fight, not going gently into this night. Not yet. Not to the Hunter worms. Not to you. And not to the sun.”
It’s a brilliant moment of ‘aggressive vulnerability’, as Locke lays bare his own fears here by telling Randall that he has every wish to survive this experience. We haven’t seen that in him because he’s been so focused on the mission and keeping everybody together, though the fear in his eyes when he faces the Thanolekgolo in what he thinks is his final stand earlier (when Macer saves him) certainly provided some illustrative set-up.
Locke is able to compartmentalise his desire to survive in order to see the mission through, prompting Randall to then ask if Locke would have it that his own team would die first – which Locke vehemently denies, saying in no uncertain terms:
Locke: “I love them.”
It’s rare that we get the L-bomb dropped in Halo, which makes it stand out all the more when it is. In this instance, Locke is faced with the dilemma of wanting to survive, but knowing that it will potentially mean the death of his team – whether that means it’d be all of them, or two of them (as one still has a chance of escaping in the tug). Randall tells Locke that that’s what it’s going to take if Locke wants to survive.
Randall: “You love them? You love them at all? It’s not even a choice.”
Locke was critical of Randall’s “deathwish”, but the end-point of this conversation illustrates that Randall has already chosen Macer over himself and that if Locke truly loves his team then he should have reached the same conclusion with no room for doubt.The scene that immediately follows this has Horrigan catch up to Locke to assert his own perspective. Once again, Horrigan is on Locke’s right and the camera is tilted from a low angle to visually convey how off-balance the situation is. It’s brilliant cinematography!
Horrigan opens the conversation saying “I hate that had to happen to him”, referring to what he did to Haisal earlier. I don’t, of course, buy into any hint of remorse – he doesn’t use Haisal’s name, for one, and he very quickly turns the conversation on Locke to say that he’s ‘chosen’ him to be the one he escapes Alpha Shard with in the tug.
You can read Locke and Horrigan’s relationship in a number of ways, but the ardent loyalty and sinister sense of ownership that Horrigan feels towards Locke suggests something of an unrequited romance to me. I wrote about this in my analysis of Osiris, the first part of my Halo 5 level-by-level analysis.
Where Locke is told by Randall to demonstrate selfless love towards his team if he means what he says, Horrigan is there to tempt Locke with selfish love.
To make a brief detour, the Second Story titled Seed of Honour expands on this idea. Set a year before the events of Nightfall, we see Locke’s team (Horrigan, Estrin, and Ramos) on Mars at a shooting range. Estrin and Ramos are bantering, their discussion moving to how unreliable the ONI Eyes files have been recently and how many wild goose chases they’ve been on (which is why they don’t think the situation at the start of Nightfall where they’re observing Axl is going to amount to anything), and then Horrigan interjects.
Horrigan: “He treats every mission the same. No questions asked.”
Ramos: “And other than that, we’re sixteen missions in and the man is still a mystery to me. Why are you guys so tight?”
Estrin: “Yeah, it’s not like you’re related.”
Horrigan: “Well, how do you know?”
Estrin: “Come on, man. We’ve all heard the stories.”
Horrigan: “Whatever experiences he had, it’s given him an ability to do his job.”
Ramos: “Look, man, we get it. You’re loyal. But we’ve put our lives in that man’s hands, too. So give us something.”
Horrigan: “What I will tell you, he’s not the man he was before ONI. He doesn’t panic. And he’s always got your back.”
Horrigan savours possessing information about Locke that the rest of the team are practically begging him to share. He sees it as something that gives him power and status as a member of the team beyond his abilities and combat record, it gives him control. The dialogue quite overtly informs us that Horrigan and Locke have some kind of past together, the nature of which is hinted to have potentially been romantic but nothing is explicitly stated.
It’s rather meta in that just as Horrigan asserts power over his team through his connection with Locke, giving them a meagre glimpse at the bigger picture, the narrative does exactly the same thing to us.
Ultimately, though, what one is to take away from this is that Horrigan is a toxic and manipulative individual who doesn’t actually respect the relationships he has. He uses them as leverage. He does it here, and he does it in the film proper as he tries to convince Locke to have his back when it comes to escaping in the tug.
Horrigan: “You do know, they’ve been looking around this whole time. Choosing. We all have.”
Locke: “Choosing what?”
Horrigan: “The other one that will live. Besides themselves, because you know everyone’s got themselves penciled in for one of those seats. I looked around. And I chose you.”
Locke: “Don’t do this.”
Horrigan: “We don’t have time. It’s time to choose. Part of soldiering, part of being ONI, is living to fight another day. We don’t make a dent in the Covenant if we’re dead.”
Locke: “And them?”
Horrigan: “We’ve lost soldiers before.”
Locke: “But we didn’t abandon them.”
Horrigan: “Just tell me, when we draw those straws, you’ll have my back. That you’ll get me off this rock.”
Perhaps the worst thing about Horrigan is that he plays at being the hero. That’s how he wants to be seen by everyone. He effectively says it to Wisner in a Second Story earlier in the film (Soldier Within), where Wisner sees through Horrigan instantly – saying he joined the UNSC to “play the hero”. Horrigan says they came to Sedra to “do the right thing”, with no conviction that he actually means what he says.
He takes this exact line with Locke, portraying the situation as one where they’re the two heroes who are needed most in the fight against the Covenant. He’s able to look at the other people (two of whom have been part of his team for over a year) and he’s completely fine with leaving them to die. As long as he and Locke make it out together.
This veneer falls away as soon as he sees Locke isn’t buying the way he’s presenting it, so he makes it personal by demanding Locke tell him that he’ll have his back when it comes down to the straws being drawn.
Locke: “The straws will decide. For everyone. Even me.”
Horrigan: “That’s not good enough! I need to know where you stand.”
Locke: “I save you, I kill them. That’s not a choice I want to make.”
Horrigan: “Then people are going to start to make choices…”
Credit to Luke Neal, who portrayed Horrigan, because the look of fury (as what he regards as a betrayal of his twisted trust sinks in) plays out so well on his face after Locke rejects him.This is followed up by a scene between Ramos and Estrin. Ramos is mentally falling apart, turning on his TACPAD to watch the video of his children we saw earlier on the Condor, which Estrin tosses away because it’s going to get them killed – tossing the TACPAD down to the bottom of the canyon.
As they descend further towards their objective, Ramos begins mumbling to himself that nobody else present has children and that if they die it’s just them – but if he dies, his children are left without a father. I spoke at length in the previous article that it would have been much better if Natalie (Randall’s daughter) had not been killed off, which I maintain because this is a scene where a contrast between Randall and Ramos – being foils for one-another as parents – could really have come into play.
Estrin: “Shut up! Stay on-mission.”
Ramos: “It’s always the mission, isn’t it? Draw straws like a good soldier. You can bet straws isn’t going to decide anything. A gun will. If you and I decide it’ll be about guns, it’ll be about guns.”
Estrin has been the least developed of Locke’s team thus far, but he gets a good showing here because he consistently rejects Ramos tempting him with survival. Earlier, he showed that he has faith in Locke – that he’ll “pull a rabbit out of his hat” for them. That faith carries through to this moment, and he is focused on fulfilling the mission instead of picking and choosing the other one who will live.
His naivety is understandable because Estrin also happens to be one of the youngest of the team – he’s only two years older than Macer, at twenty one years old.
One could argue that there’s a point to Nightfall not going to any great lengths to focus on him because of his youth.
He’s not somebody who’s had an identity forged through fire quite the way some of the other character have, and the Human-Covenant war ended just as he came of-age to enlist for military service.
Ramos (the medic) is fine with the others dying because he wants to get back to his children, only we have to question exactly what kind of father it is those children would grow up having in the event his gambit succeeds. Estrin dying is a waste. The potential of this young man going unfulfilled. And there is potential there, which has been shown to us through his faith in Locke; his rejection of Ramos’ offer to escape in the tug together, which would mean having to kill some of the others; and the fact that there’s been no indication that he’s thinking about his own survival.
It’s funny because his Waypoint Universe biography states that he “felt enamored with the idea of becoming a ‘secret agent'”, tying into what I mentioned earlier about some of the ONI characters wanting to play the hero… but, when the chips are down, Estrin rejects that and stays focused on the mission.
It comes as a considerable shame, then, that he loses his footing as they climb across a narrow rock wall and Ramos effectively kills him – refusing to help him up as his grip slackens.
And when Ramos says to the others that “He fell”, the look on everyone’s faces tells us that they know the truth of what has happened.
Horrigan takes the time to ‘comfort’ Ramos, telling him that this whole charade is over and the important thing is that he still has his gun…Taking a break to top up on oxygen, Randall sets his assault rifle down. Seeing his chance, Horrigan snatches it and makes his final play.
Still sure that he can calm Horrigan, Locke tells him that they don’t have time for this, but Horrigan has passed the point of no return now and reminds Locke that he said choices were going to be made as a consequence of Locke not choosing him. Randall insists that at least Macer gets oxygen, which Horrigan refuses.
Locke then draws his own gun on Horrigan, and it is here that we see Locke at his weakest.
As we have constantly seen throughout Nightfall, Locke thrives when there’s a middle ground to be had. When there’s a way to satisfy two or more people who are politically and ideologically opposed, he’s able to appeal to them on some level – often to their humanity.
But humanity is something that Horrigan lacks, which Locke has been too tolerant of, or, perhaps, he simply hasn’t wanted to see in this man.
When Locke draws his gun, when there are no words left, he is defeated.
Locke attempts to threaten Horrigan into dropping his gun, but it’s a threat he never gets to finish because Ramos draws his own gun on Locke and threatens to shoot him in the back. When Locke asks if he’d take that risk, powering up so the Thanolekgolo could find and kill them, Ramos describes how they could all power up and shoot it out, and he’d power down before the Thanolekgolo would find them. It could be over in a second.
The way in which Christian Contreras delivers his lines is genuinely unsettling, he’s done a really good job of portraying Ramos as this inwardly tortured, almost Gollum-like character ever since he saw Wisner die in front of him.
Likewise, the anguished look on Locke’s face as he has to accept the situation – accept his defeat and the fact that his own team have betrayed him – is played perfectly by Mike Colter.
As Horrigan and Ramos leave, Horrigan still pointing the assault rifle at Locke’s heart, he says:
“I tried to save you.”
Again, Horrigan is trying to play ‘the hero’ here, yet his actions are driven by purely by survival as he chooses to abandon the mission. He’s responsible for his own actions, but he shifts the blame onto Locke – who looks at him with something that looks almost like pity.
Locke: “I’m not the one who needs saving.”
Horrigan: “Said the dead man…”
Horrigan and Ramos leave, dragging Arris Le with them. Randall, Macer, and Locke are left alone without oxygen packs, without any means of escape, without any means to fulfil the mission… but not without hope.
Just as things look most dire, Randall spots the Condor just a couple of hundred feet away – down one last hill. They’ve been kicked down, but they’re not out of the fight just yet.
Investigating the state of the Condor, Randall and Locke find the HAVOK is still intact and Macer discovers that the vessel’s propulsion is still functional – it won’t get them off the ring, but it might just be enough to get them to the tug.
The stakes here are really well set. Horrigan, Ramos, and Arris are moving on-foot and getting closer to the tug; Randall, Locke, and Macer are stuck in the Condor, but if they can get it working then they can catch up to the others almost instantly. As such, it really gets you (or, at least, it does for me) rooting for Randall, Locke, and Macer to succeed. It is a situation that relies on the three of them working together and pooling their strengths to pull that rabbit out of their hat.
Meanwhile, we cut to Horrigan, Ramos, and Arris on several occasions. Arris sows a seed of paranoid doubt into Ramos’ already fragile mind, as Arris has value due to the need for him to activate the tug in the first place. He says that Horrigan will betray him, and that he trusts Ramos more. Ramos is acting purely out of fear, whereas the events that have transpired on Alpha Shard have revealed Horrigan as just an ugly, evil person. Additionally, the way Horrigan holds Ramos’ head, holding their faces close together, is demonstrative of his sinister ‘affection’ that he’s shown throughout the film.
Back on the Condor, Locke says that they’ve only got about half an hour left and all they have to do is set the nuke and get clear in the tug. Macer steps in and says that they have problems – the Condor’s propulsion is still functional, but the fuel cells are toast and they don’t have any replacements. There’s no way they can take off.
This is just something that I like, but I’m a sucker for those moments in stories where characters who are ‘thinkers’ are stuck in a situation, confronted with failure, but they puzzle it out. They say “There might still be a way”.
In this scene, this comes from Randall. He states that the HAVOK has a back-up power cell which Macer can use to power the Condor, while Locke notes that can’t leave the deposits intact.
One of them has to stay behind to detonate the nuke, while the other two escape in the tug.Back with Horrigan, Ramos, and Arris, they’re running out of energy and stop to use the last remaining oxygen pack – only to find it empty. While they’re distracted, Arris uses a small laser to free himself of his wrist restraints and sprints towards the tug; Horrigan and Ramos struggling to follow suit.
Macer gets the Condor working with the back-up fuel cell, Randall telling Locke to go with her. Naturally, of course, Randall takes it upon himself to be the one who stays behind while Locke and Macer have their chance to escape. Locke denies Randall being the one who gets to make that decision for all of them, that he gets to play God, as Locke feels an equal share of responsibility for being the one who called the mission in the first place – further showing us that Locke is an honourable man, willing to forfeit his own life to chance.
Randall: “Go with her, you don’t have much time.”
Locke: “Like hell you get to make that decision.”
Randall: “Three of us aren’t making it out of here, we already know that. Let’s make the choice now. Walk, God damn it!”
Locke: “I called this mission. It’s on me.”
There’s such a great mix of emotions going on in this scene. Randall is perplexed and annoyed that Locke is so ardently insistent on suffering the consequences when Randall offers to suffer them freely, but he’s also taken aback and impressed by Locke’s humble nobility. This plays on Steve Waddington’s face so clearly, as his expression completely softens when he looks at Locke.
So they decide to finally draw straws, to see who will live and who will die. Randall breaks Natalie’s necklace and lets the red and white beads scatter across the floor.
At this point, Macer steps in and says that she wants in on the draw too. Randall denies her, saying she’s too young (there’s the overly protective parent thing I mentioned in the previous article again), but Macer asserts that this is her duty as a soldier. She is as much a part of this as the rest of them.
Randall: “I’ll draw two. One red, one white.”
Randall: “You’re too young.”
Macer: “A soldier’s a soldier. Three.”
Randall: “Just so you know, private, no do overs. You wanna be a soldier and pick red, I will walk on you.”
Macer: “Let the beads decide.”
Macer isn’t intimidated by Randall’s posturing here. We, the audience, know (from the fact that he rigs the draw) that he was never going to walk on her, which adds to the complexity of the scene because they respect Macer asserting her agency here but, at the same time, Randall doesn’t respect the random chance of the lifeboat rules. The rules that he asserted in the first place.
I don’t think anyone would argue that Randall did the wrong this here, indeed it’s clear from the look on Locke’s face that he knows Randall has rigged the outcome and he chooses not to press the matter, but it’s still a moment that doesn’t entirely sit well with me.
The reason why Randall does this ties all the way back to the prologue. He’s already said to Locke (in their conversation after Horrigan kills Haisal) that he’s a dead man, so all that’s left is what he has to die for. Remember, the central question of Nightfall, put about by Randall’s soliloquy in the prologue, is whether you will die giving or taking life.
Randall, having lost everything, desperately, to the point of violating his own rules, wants to give life.Another thing I love about this scene is that Locke very pointedly looks Randall in the eye when he draws his bead, knowing that he could be condemning Randall to death (this being before he’s sussed that Randall rigged the outcome).
With Macer and Locke holding white beads, Randall neglects to reveal the other one in his hand. He simply says that it is “as it should be”, which tips Locke off to what he’s done.
There’s a feeling of things left unsaid between them, an awkward uncertainty as to what there is to say to one-another, but we see on Locke’s face that he’s searching for something to say to him that might mean something. He respects Randall, but he’s also come to like him, and Randall has, against all his own expectations, come to feel the same about Locke.
Locke settles on “See you in Valhalla”.
Randall replies with the same line he said to Locke the last time he brought up the Sedran belief in Valhalla: “They don’t let ONI into Valhalla.”
For a moment, Locke genuinely looks crushed, before Randall adds “You, they might”, prompting the slightest twinge of a smile at the corner of Locke’s mouth.
Honestly, I won’t hear a word against the acting from Colter in this film because what this man can do with his microexpressions is incredible. Locke only realises now just how much he sought Randall’s approval, a desire which is resolved nicely for him as they go off to face their respective fates.
Randall walks off, carrying the HAVOK over his shoulder, and places a white bead on a nearby rock. There were no red beads in his hand when they did the draw. People have criticised this for being ‘predictable’, but that’s… entirely the point. That’s not a fault of the writing, that’s just what Randall’s arc has led to. What’s important in this scene isn’t the outcome, it’s not a question of who is going to live, it’s about what this means for the characters as they have to part ways.
In just about every Halo origin story, the mentor figure or close friend to the protagonist (sometimes they are both) dies.
Samuel-034, Kurt-051, Zhar, Cadmon Lasky and Chyler Silva, the Didact (who was eventually brought back, but his supposed death was an important vehicle for Bornstellar’s character arc as he became the new Didact) – the pattern holds.
Randall’s death was a given. There was never a question of who would die, the right question to ask is… literally every other question? Why is Randall doing this? What does this mean for Locke and Macer? How does this help illustrate the themes and tie back to what was established back in the prologue? And so on…
It’s about three people who just want each other to live.We cut back to Horrigan and Ramos as they attempt to catch up to Arris. Ramos ends up cursing Horrigan’s sudden but inevitable betrayal, as the Thanolekgolo catch up to them and Horrigan buys himself time by activating Ramos’ backpack and breaking his leg with the butt of his gun.
Ramos prepares to make his final stand, but recognises the futility of his situation – lowering his gun and resigning himself to his fate.
Locke and Macer catch up in the Condor, but have to make an emergency landing, the crash injuring Macer. Locke gets the chance to repay her for saving his life earlier, helping her get to the tug.
Arris, meanwhile, activates the tug with his fingerprint and prepares to leave alone – only to be confronted by Horrigan, who powers up his assault rifle and kills him. In this moment, the Thanolekgolo catch up to him and he gets the awful, horrific, painful death that he so rightly deserves. Honestly, the catharsis of this scene is grand!
There is a slight complication for Locke and Macer, as the Thanolekgolo have covered the tug – meaning they can’t escape. This is resolved by Randall activating the countdown timer in the HAVOK nuke, which sends them shooting off towards him and enabling Locke and Macer to leave.
It all ends for Randall as it began, with him staring out at the sunrise… only he’s holding a nuke, rather than his daughter… Regardless, he dies a Spartan’s death and finds the peace he’s been seeking, smiling as he observes the tug flying away in the distance because he knows that he has now died giving life.This is pretty much where Nightfall draws to a close. The final two shots are of Locke and Macer flying away in the tug, followed by Locke walking through a crowd of people back on Sedra while Randall’s final soliloquy plays over the scene.
“Death will come to all of us. Especially soldiers. It will come, inevitable as the sun. It is only to be feared if you fear what is on the other side of it, if you see darkness in your soul rather than light. In a way, I suppose soldiers are gods. You give your life away so others will live in peace, even if it’s only fleeting. The ones who live carry parts of you with them, your deeds become seeds for theirs. The sacrifice carries forward.
And in their final moments as a soldier, you know they will have to answer the same question you did in yours: with your life, would you only create death, or with your death would you create life?
That is my question to you, Commander Locke, how will you die? And for what?”
People have quite rightly criticised this ending for being so abrupt, and I argued in my previous article that this would have been a much stronger ending if Randall’s daughter hadn’t been killed off and the story ended with Locke going back to her. Locke himself is an orphan and Natalie would be now too, so going back for her would do something a bit more meaningful for Locke with the notion of giving life.
That said, the final soliloquy is really good, and I do like the image of Locke talking among the ‘little people’ he strives to protect. This is something we will undoubtedly be looking back on years from now, wherever Locke’s arc goes, because it sets up a big question.
What will Locke die for?
In Halo 5, at the very end, Locke is willing to die to save the Master Chief and Blue Team, as he staggers towards the final relay linking the Cryptum to Cortana’s Guardian and uses the last of his strength to destroy it.
Locke, of course, does not die here, but it is a reflection of how he, in the moment, chose to die to rescue Blue Team – to give them life, where they were in considerable danger (Fred, Kelly, and Linda can’t mentally access the Domain, they would be driven mad over the course of the ten thousand years Cortana planned to keep them in stasis).The question of what a soldier is was asked at the start of the film, and here we find the answer that Nightfall gives us: a soldier is somebody who sacrifices selflessly, so others can sleep safe and live in peace. Even if that peace is fragile.
Peace’s fragility is not futile, the pursuit of peace is not rendered worthless because it can (and inevitably will) be broken. Conflict is a universal constant, but the most important war is the one that’s waged within the heart and mind of every soldier – the war to find that middle ground between foes, as Locke strives to find.
What Randall seeks to tell Locke is that he cannot hold the middle ground forever, which is what the entire second and third act of Nightfall was about.
When the centre does fall apart, Locke will have to choose a side.
I’d like to turn to my favourite writer of all time to explain what exactly it is that makes a character like Locke an aspirational hero.
“It’s hard to talk about the importance of an imaginary hero. But heroes are important. Heroes tell us something about ourselves. History tells us who we used to be, documentaries tell us who we are now; but heroes tell us who we want to be.” [Steven Moffat, The Doctor – the Ultimate Hero]
“A hero isn’t somebody who is built by nature to be a hero. A hero is somebody who, when it really matters, can be better than they normally are and better than the other people around them. It’s someone who conquers their own weaknesses when they need to.” [Steven Moffat, The Doctor: A Different Kind of Hero]
Locke isn’t somebody who has been built by nature to be a hero. He grew up a jaded and cynical orphan, having lost his family when the Covenant glassed his homeworld; he became a freelance assassin, who eventually caught the eye of the Office of Naval Intelligence.
It sounds more like the backstory of a villain than a hero.
But Locke is somebody who does consistently show that he is able to conquer his weaknesses and be better than he normally would be and the others around him. He’s not perfect, as we’ve covered over the last two articles, he demonstrates arrogance and has that trademark ONI smugness about him; he can be manipulative, a tactic he employs to get to know what makes people tick; he can be hypocritical, which Arris Le calls him out on; even the goodness of his morality (trying to reason with the Sangheili Zealot) could be argued to have caused the ‘bioweapon’ going off, which would’ve been otherwise preventable if he’d just killed the Zealot there and then.
Every character in Nightfall has their own political conflicts, personal vendettas, and other types of emotional baggage (which serves to differentiate each character well) that Locke has to navigate in order to deal with the various conflicts that arise, threatening to get in the way of the mission.
And we see him deal with these situations and people with kindness, respect, and a drive to make things better.
Locke is a rare exception in the Halo universe, one who has gone woefully misunderstood and underappreciated over the last three years.
He’s representative of the triumph of kindness and intellect over brute force and cynicism.
It’s been an absolute joy to revisit Nightfall, every rewatch has rewarded me with more and more pages of notes that have become two articles totalling over 22,000 words. I’d very much like to believe that I’ve given this film all I can give, but I haven’t even covered everything – there are numerous Second Stories that I didn’t talk about, but they tend to be appreciated a lot more than the film itself.
Nightfall is far from perfect, I’ve gone on-record here with my own criticisms with its writing (and those are hardly all there is), but it’s a big net-positive for me. It’s a different kind of Halo story to what we’re used to and what we were expecting, which is off-putting for many, but this is one of the few occasions where I would urge you to give it another chance with a fresh perspective.
As a piece of interactive entertainment, Nightfall stumbles with its superfluous busywork to get the most out of the story and fundamentally doesn’t work in the format of an episodic series. The experimentation was a good idea, but there are valuable lessons to be learned for future live action Halo projects.
As a film, it’s brilliantly directed with a lot of thought going into subtle aspects of visual storytelling that rewards rewatching.
As an introduction to Locke, as I’ve said, it gives us complex and layered characterisation that has endeared me to him tremendously and sets up a series of long-term questions for his arc.
And that is why I love Halo: Nightfall…
Good news, everyone! Before you go, I have another Halo Wars 2: Complete Edition code for a reader who has made it this far (or skipped straight to the end to nab it).
Halo Wars 2: Complete Edition contains:
- Halo Wars 2
- The Season Pass (8 additional leaders and Operation: SPEARBREAKER campaign)
- Awakening the Nightmare expansion