“The story is about [Spartans] reclaiming what makes them human…”
Halo: The Television Series is finally on the horizon.
A recent article from Deadline confirmed that the show (produced by Showtime) will premiere on Paramount+ in Q1 2022.
While details are scarce, there’s enough information for us to start forming a solid idea of what the story will actually be about – and I think it’ll be great. Let’s begin with what David Nevins, Chief Creative Officer and CEO of Showtime Networks, had to say:
“It delivers the visceral excitement of playing the game, along with a much deeper emotional experience around the Spartans, human beings who got their humanity chemically and genetically altered.
[…] The story is about reclaiming what makes them human, and therefore it’s a very powerful story.” [David Nevins, Deadline – ‘Halo TV Series Moves From Showtime To Paramount+’ (24/2/2021)]
To funnel this down to its core idea: This is going to be a show about Spartan-IIs.
For twenty years, Halo has been grappling with the lore that was established in Eric Nylund’s foundational The Fall of Reach novel.
The Master Chief? He’s a Spartan-II, one of many conscripted into Catherine Halsey’s program at the age of six.
In 2517, seventy-five children were kidnapped by the Office of Naval Intelligence. They were taken to the planet Reach to be trained and indoctrinated by the military, and then received a very special fourteenth birthday present: genetic augmentations, forging them into supersoldiers.
2517 was notably seven years before first contact with the Covenant, as the Spartan-IIs were originally created to combat the Insurrection – a civil war fought primarily in humanity’s Outer Colonies.
Naturally, this concept has been a bottomless wellspring for Halo to draw from. Every form of media in the franchise has dealt with it in some way – novels, comics, anime, the games themselves, and perhaps most notably the Hunt the Truth audio drama in 2015.
Neill Blomkamp made his name with 2007’s live action Halo: Landfall short made to advertise Halo 3, with a fully functional Warthog created by the renowned WETA Workshop.
All I have to say is the word ‘Believe’ and suddenly you’re stirred by unforgettable images of a diorama depicting a war-torn Earth put to Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude.
The gritty ‘boots in the dirt’ approach to Halo 3: ODST’s marketing with ‘We Are ODST’ remains a fan-favourite; 343’s Forward Unto Dawn live action series made the Covenant more terrifying than ever… it would take a whole other article to explore all of these.
Spartans bring a whole new dimension to this kind of action. They may be hyper-lethal masters of the battlefield, but there is always that underlying issue of their origin…
What does it mean to be one of them? From what we know, it sounds like Halo: The Television Series has some rather compelling answers.
We know of five Spartans who will appear in this show: John-117 (our beloved Master Chief), Soren-066, Vannak-124, Riz-028, and Kai-125.
The latter three are brand new characters, part of the Chief’s team. The Chief is going to be the show’s protagonist. And Soren… we’ll get to him in a bit. With the Chief as our protagonist, he is obviously going to be the focal point for interactions with the majority of the cast. The complete list is as follows:
- John-117 – the Master Chief
- Cortana – an illegally-created smart AI
- Catherine Halsey – creator of the Spartans, MJOLNIR armour, and Cortana
- Margaret Parangosky – head of ONI
- Soren-066 – Spartan-II, now a privateer
- Vannak-124 – Spartan-II, serving with the Chief
- Riz-028 – Spartan-II, serving with the Chief
- Kai-125 – Spartan-II, serving with the Chief
- Jacob Keyes – one of the UNSC Navy’s best tacticians
- Miranda Keyes – daughter of Jacob Keyes and Catherine Halsey
- Quan Ah – young Outer Colonies civilian
- Makee – orphan stolen and raised by a group within the Covenant
- David Agnoli – United Earth Government minister
One can already begin to see what sort of dynamic each character will bring to the show.
Cortana is, of course, the Chief’s AI – his primary companion in the games. Note that this show takes place in 2549, which is three years before they canonically meet for the first time, so it’s likely we won’t see them together here.
While Halsey is fiercely protective of ‘her’ Spartans, she has a particular proclivity for the Chief, thinking of him like a son. This contrasts with her actual biological daughter, Miranda Keyes, with whom she also has a complicated relationship. She also has a fierce rivalry with Margaret Parangosky, the head of ONI.
It’s safe to say that Halsey is going to be something of a lightning rod for personal conflict in this show.
Jacob and Miranda Keyes are officers and authority figures that the Chief greatly respects.
Vannak has been described as “the defacto deputy to the Master Chief.” Riz has hitherto been defined as “focused and professional,” while Kai is “courageous and curious.”
To my mind, these sound like ‘neutral’ characters who the Chief can more closely identify with. They are not where the focus of the drama lies, but serve to highlight the different virtues that define what it means to be a Spartan.
And that brings us to Soren-066…
This character was previously featured in the 2009 anthology novel Halo: Evolutions, specifically in the story ‘Pariah.’
Soren was somebody who experienced significant complications during the Spartan augmentation process. He was deemed unable to serve in active combat alongside the other Spartans and confined to a desk job, where he gradually became sympathetic to the Insurrection – the very thing the Spartan program was created to destroy.
At the end of ‘Pariah,’ Soren attempts to escape Reach but fails. Halsey determines that he is not a direct threat to them or a traitor, just a lost soul, and one that will not be found unless he wants to be.
In Halo: The Television Series, we know that Soren has since become a privateer and will come into conflict with the Master Chief. So we’re not just going to have Spartans as ‘neutral’ characters, but one will be an antagonist. The one that was failed.
This adds an interesting and unique dynamic to the show because we don’t often see Spartan-IIs come into (significant) conflict with their own kind, outside of their earliest years of training. That brings us to the two other major (and perhaps most interesting) characters: Quan Ah and Makee.
Quan Ah is described as being a shrewd, audacious sixteen-year-old girl from the Outer Colonies who will come into contact with the Master Chief.
For those who have seen Forward Unto Dawn, I imagine that the role she’ll serve in this story will be analogous to Thomas Lasky. The Chief needs a core character to be tied to, with whom there are proper stakes and a bit of a ‘wild card’ factor.
The Spartan-IIs were created to wipe out the Insurrection, which primarily took place in the Outer Colonies. True to that ‘wild card’ element, Quan Ah represents and humanises the people the Spartans were sent to kill. It will be an interesting reversal to see her be somebody that the Chief will instead be drawn to protect.
That reversal is also foundational to the character of Makee.
Makee is a young woman who was orphaned as a child and raised by members of the Covenant, which has made her share their hatred for humanity.
There’s been a fair bit of controversy around this, and to be honest I don’t know why. This is absolutely something that has precedence in the lore, which Frank O’Connor has further remarked upon:
“You’ll find out within minutes of being introduced to [Makee] and it’s a reason that already exists in canon that you almost certainly know a little about if you’ve played any games in the series.” [Frank O’Connor (‘Stinkles’), ResetEra (9/11/2019)]
The precedent is that humanity are Reclaimers, the chosen inheritors of the Forerunner legacy, and are able to interact with Forerunner technology. As we see in the games, human characters are often captured by the Covenant in order to activate Forerunner technology. To name just a few examples…
In Halo Wars, the Prophet of Regret ordered Ellen Anders to be captured so she could be used to activate the dormant Forerunner fleet within the Shield World.
In Halo 2, the Prophet of Truth ordered Miranda and Johnson to be captured. Tartarus later used Miranda to activate Installation 05.
In Halo 3, Johnson is captured (several times) and forced to activate the Ark, which would fire all the Halo rings.
In Halo 4, a trap is set by Jul ‘Mdama to teleport humans to his base on Requiem in order to use them to reactivate the Librarian’s chamber.
What’s different here is that we’re dealing with a television show. This changes the kind of stories you can tell.
A typical three-act structured video game requires a very different pace, as drama is generally much more of a series of short-term situations (which necessitates that characters hastily escape).
It absolutely makes sense that some group within the Covenant could (during the almost two-and-a-half decades of fighting them leading up to the events of this show) encounter a situation that revealed what a human can do with Forerunner technology, then be clever enough to exploit that for their own gain.
And beyond the lore justification, what Makee provides the story is a cracked mirror parallel of the Spartan-IIs. Like them, she was abducted and turned into a weapon to be used against her own kind.
Everything comes back to how this show is going to explore the humanity and identity of Spartans. Looking at all the pieces here, we can see a lot of familiar elements from the series that highlight the fractured nature of humanity across four layers.
The personal level is about the Spartans dealing with their sense of humanity – “reclaiming what makes them human,” as Nevins put it. There’s also Halsey’s relationship with her Spartans contrasted against her personal conflicts – with her family (Jacob and Miranda Keyes) and Margaret Parangosky.
The broader picture deals with how humanity is fractured with the Insurrection, represented by David Agnoli (on the political side of things), as well as Quan Ah and Soren. The latter two articulate different aspects of ‘humanity’ for the Master Chief, tying this back to the personal level.
And then there’s the Covenant, uniquely represented by Makee, who further highlights the Spartans’ origins by being a mirror for that aspect of the story.
What I see here is the potential for a very tightly written story across nine episodes that (re)introduces and interrogates the conventions of the Halo universe. This is something that has been a hallmark of 343’s storytelling since their inception.
I could absolutely be way off the mark here with all of this… but I don’t think I am. I feel I’ve studied the nuances of 343’s structures and themes long enough to have a decent idea of where they’re going with this and what they’re looking to achieve.
And I genuinely think this could be really good – I wrote as much in April last year. This outline excites me. I’ve no cynicism towards this project; after all these years, and the numerous times 343’s transmedia team has proven their quality, I genuinely think it’ll be great.
It’ll be an accessible jumping-on point for newcomers that provides a very different lens on exploring the Spartan-II project, much like Hunt the Truth, with a truly stunning cast!
As Pablo Schreiber, the Chief himself, has said: this will be an opportunity for all of us to connect with the characters in brand new ways.
For updates on Halo: The Television Series over the coming months, be sure to keep an eye on the official ‘Halo on Showtime‘ Twitter account.