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Halo TV Series Shows a Deep Understanding of What Makes Halo Great

After years of development, The Halo TV series from Paramount+ is here!



The Halo TV Series starts on the right foot…

Even at 12 years old in middle school, I would argue with my friends that Halo would not adapt well to live-action and I held that opinion from the first moment I played the game all the way up until about ten minutes into the first episode of the show. Halo is chock-full of aliens, equipment, and effects that are immediately obviously going to be extremely difficult to bring into the real world in a convincing way. After nearly two decades in development hell, the Halo live-action adaptation is finally here and a combination of tactful deviation from the source material, excellent production design, and a surprising level of characterization the show has exceeded my admittedly low expectations and delivered a promising start to a Halo TV series that will appeal to both general audiences and the most dedicated fans.

At the outset of the first episode, the audience is introduced to what will undoubtedly be one of the main characters of the show, Quan Ha, and her group of friends that might as well all be wearing red shirts. Upon her seeing a Covenant cruiser for the first time, it becomes clear that Quan is the lens through which the story will be told, a vessel for the audience. And that choice in perspective is a stroke of genius for the show, it allows the filmmakers to bring the audience into an existing world with fresh eyes. In a sense, the use of Quan as a storytelling device allows the show to have its cake and eat it too. Quan’s status at the start of the show as an outsider gives the audience the opportunity to experience the thrill and fear of first contact while also being able to avoid the chore of building the story and universe from scratch in an origins-type storyline. So just moments after both Quan and the audience are able to experience that fear and shock of first contact, Spartans arrive on the scene having very obviously encountered the Covenant before. This choice to provide Quan as a vehicle for the audience makes possible a best of both worlds scenario while also justifying exposition dialogue that is no doubt coming in future episodes.

Image: Paramount

While the perspective is a stroke of genius it is used to tell a story that, at least in the first two episodes, is no slouch. The portion of the story told in the first episode is made up of a fairly simple and straightforward sequence of events that kicks off with both the human faction known as the UNSC and the alien group known as the Covenant in pursuit of an ancient artifact that any longtime Halo fan will immediately recognize as being Forerunner in design. After a short skirmish on Madrigal, a planet amongst the outer colonies, Master Chief picks up the Forerunner artifact and experiences an unrecognizable vision. Chief reports back to Dr. Halsey and describes the vision. Halsey recognizes Chief’s vision as memories and orders Chief to return to the human homeworld of Reach. While en route to Reach, Chief and the lone surviving colonist are sabotaged by the UNSC at which point Chief realizes that both himself and Quan have become targets. The two work together to escape the UNSC’s grasp and credits roll. The second episode sees Chief seeking refuge with an old friend named Soren who also happens to be a failure of the Spartan program. Soren grants John and Quan shelter and after being shown the artifact takes the two to meet a man named Reth who had once been held captive by the Covenant and lived to tell the tale. After Reth provides some exposition about the weight and impact of the artifact Chief leaves Quan with Soren and returns to the UNSC but more importantly, Dr. Halsey.

So it’s surprising how a relatively by the numbers plot from the first episode is elevated by both its characters and mystery. As the plot of the show has shown little resemblance to that of any of the games thus far, the mystery is intriguing. The first episode effectively does what any first episode should in that it raises questions that will keep viewers engaged and interested enough to come back in one week’s time. And the second episode offers a bit of an answer but raises even more questions like whether or not the Covenant are also already familiar with the fact that the Halo’s are indeed weapons. In the context of the Halo TV series, the main question driving the plot at this point revolves less around what the Forerunner artifact is and more around why it’s affecting Chief in the way it is. 

Halo TV Series
Image: Paramount

But regardless of how intriguing a mystery is there is a limit to how invested the audience can become in the span of just two episodes and that ceiling is raised significantly by meaningful and flawed characters. Quan is one that at first I was sure would be an annoyingly over-capable, focus-tested character covered head to toe in plot armor designed specifically to appeal to the Gen Z demographic, but that wasn’t the case. Quan comes off that way at first but later in the first episode, we realize that is simply a result of overconfidence that is common amongst people her age. And this sentiment is reinforced during an interaction with Soren’s wife in the second episode. As the show progressed I realized that my own preconceived notions of the character couldn’t have been more wrong and what I thought would be annoying perfection was actually an interesting flaw. Master Chief has always been a character that has been intentionally void of both emotion and face, well not anymore. Chief’s vision not only gives him answers to pursue but also the freedom to do so and with that freedom comes the complexity and depth that we have never seen in the character prior. Chief’s removal of his helmet is something that I was not looking forward to as I have been firmly in the camp of not ever wanting to see Chief’s face for two decades now, but the moment at which Pablo Schreiber removes his mask is one that cements the show as being an entirely different product from the games and humanizes Chief in a way I never thought possible. His removing his helmet and his answering Quan’s questioning why he is disobeying orders given to him by the UNSC with a simple “I don’t know” make John both physically and emotionally vulnerable.

As mentioned previously, one of the biggest challenges in adapting Halo to live-action is in the production design. Fortunately, the production designers involved with the project are clearly extremely talented and dedicated but more importantly they’re obviously huge Halo fans. The physicality of the props, sets, and atmosphere of the show does an excellent job of capturing the aesthetic of the games leaving very little room for improvement. Halo is a series that when adapted to live-action could very easily veer into the most extreme of extremely corny territory. Had it not been handled correctly the show would have come out looking more like Starship Troopers than Bladerunner, and while Starship Troopers is undoubtedly a great movie its greatness is derived from a place that Halo fans (myself included) would probably rather the series not go. Armor, weapons, and architecture all look properly fitting for the series but unfortunately, the weathering on some props like Chief’s armor is inconsistent making it noticeably artificial. And while the weapons look nearly identical to their in-game counterparts they are all just a bit too large which prevents the spartan actors from being able to hold the butt of the guns properly in their shoulders making them look awkward while holding rifles at the ready. Overall the show looks great and picks and chooses different elements from different games in just the right amount to make everything look better than I would have ever expected a live-action Halo could. 

Casting a show that is poised to become a long-running action-heavy drama can be one of the most challenging aspects of the production, and it is in that challenge that the show experiences both some of its biggest hits and misses. Standouts in the cast like Danny Sapani, Natascha McElhone, Yerin Ha, and Pablo Schreiber play their roles well, and even though they all feature significant departures from the source material, the actors felt as though they had fully inhabited the characters in a very convincing way. Sapani makes Captain Jacob Keyes his own with a younger interpretation of the character that still manages the proper weight and presence while being slightly less hardened than his in-game counterpart. McElhone obviously researched the part properly and brings a deep understanding of Halsey’s natural charisma and cunning and how she uses it to push her morally questionable agenda. And in the biggest surprise of the bunch, Schreiber’s take on Chief is consistent enough to normalize a voice that isn’t Steve Downes in the span of one episode while also totally endearing me to him in the final scene then reinforcing that endearment throughout the second. 

As well as some of the roles were cast, others were cast equally terribly. While some roles were middling at best, two stood out as failing to command the presence and authority that is required of their characters in any interpretation resulting in roles that feel wildly miscast. Olive Gray’s performance as Miranda Keyes is timid almost to the point of coming off as whiny when she is supposed to be a force to be reckoned with and not only is Gray far too young to play Miranda but she looks even younger than she is making for a Miranda Keyes that fails to fill the shoes we are all aware will eventually be left by her father. And Shaban Azmi falls short in bringing a faithful interpretation of Admiral Parangosky to the screen. The canonical version of Parangosky is cold, calculating, and ruthless while Azmi’s Parangosky feels more like a pencil-pushing bureaucrat whose main concern is in making the trains run on time. To deviate from the source material is a good thing when reinterpreting an established story with existing characters, but when that deviation results in a character that is wholly unrecognizable from the original you’ve gone too far. Azmi’s performance is well-acted and executed but as an interpretation of Parangosky, it feels way off the mark.

At the core of these first two episodes of the Halo TV series is a strong foundation built on what is clearly a deep understanding of and love for what makes Halo great. From the writer’s room to the props department and into the director’s chair there doesn’t appear to be a single person involved with the production that is looking to transform Halo into something it’s not and for that I am thankful. An intriguing mystery, a unique take on a character I’ve known for most of my life, and just the right amount of differentiation from the source material all combine to make these first two episodes a promising start to a series that could potentially stand as a new gold standard in video game adaptations. 

  • Patrick Morris
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News writer and Xbox reviewer. Patrick lives in Minneapolis Minnesota with his wife and their dog Ghost. Patrick studied economics at the University of Northern Colorado and is particularly interested in the market dynamics of the video game industry. When he's not working Patrick can be found walking Ghost through downtown MPLS, binging The West Wing on repeat, or playing hockey. You see everything Patrick does right here on