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Paramount Plus’captures the scope of a large-scale intergalactic war inspired by 2001’s Halo: Combat Evolved and its sequels. However, the TV series isn’t an adaptation as much as it is a reimagining of the main story from the gaming franchise, using established events and characters as building blocks for an original story that stands on its own.
From the first two episodes we’ve seen, there are some notable deviations from what many fans might expect from Halo. With this in mind, let’s lay out five of the biggest changes that the TV series makes from the source material.
Note: We’ll be discussing light spoilers in this post for episode 1, which is available to stream now on Paramount Plus.
1. Master Chief and Silver Team
In the original game series, Master Chief (otherwise known as John-117) is a modified and heavily armed Spartan-II soldier trained by the UNSC (United Nations Space Command) to fight against the alien armada known as the Covenant. While he was not the first UNSC Spartan to fight against the alien antagonists, the original trilogy saw Master Chief as largely the only super-soldier active within the plot. It took until 2010’s Halo Reach, a prequel to the original game, for fans to see other Spartan soldiers in the main story.
One big change the series makes: We see Master Chief (played by Pablo Schreiber) in command of Silver Team, an active squad of elite Spartan soldiers who have undergone similar training and engineering. Just like in the gaming series, the UNSC Spartan-II program was created by Catherine Halsey (played by Natascha McElhone in the TV show). She is a scientist who not only engineered Master Chief but also created the Mjolnir Power Armor that he and the other Spartans use in combat.
The TV show’s focus on Master Chief and the squad of Spartans adds greater emphasis on the UNSC program’s origins and the ethical ramifications of creating an army of super-soldiers to fight an intergalactic war. Judging from the first episode, there’s a more concerted effort to show how the UNSC uses the Spartans to not only fight the Covenant, but also advance the goals of humanity – no matter how grim or cruel the means are.
2. The UNSC and the cost of war
The Halo TV series spends a great deal of time building out the universe of the Halo series in ways that the video games could not. One of the biggest changes the show makes is examining the cost of the war between humanity and the Covenant. The series starts with a Covenant attack on a settlement made up of civilians seeking independence from the UNSC. They believe the UNSC is an encroaching presence in the galaxy that uses the Covenant and the Spartans as propaganda.
This aspect is a clever change because it widens the scope of the universe and develops a more human dimension to the conflict that the video games largely stay away from. For instance, during Halo 2’s story beats on the invasion of New Mombasa, civilians and the general population were notably absent. The show’s opening attack on the planet, which is also seeing internal strife with the growing power of religious extremists, shows that the universe of Halo is much larger than just the UNSC and the Covenant.
The TV series also makes the bold choice of not showing the UNSC in a particularly favorable light. The games largely depict them as a noble fighting force against hostile aliens. The TV series takes a more nuanced approach by showing them as morally gray, a superpower within the universe unafraid to eliminate their soldiers and civilians to maintain dominance. This makes the UNSC particularly untrustworthy, an interesting contrast from the games.
3. The connections between the Covenant and humanity
Throughout much of the Halo series, the main antagonists are the Covenant, a powerful alien race fighting a religious war against humanity. The original Halo game largely keeps the Covenant and their intentions a mystery. However, subsequent games in the series flesh them out further, even allowing you to play as a Covenant named The Arbiter – a direct parallel to Master Chief.
The TV series continues with this approach, giving time to the Covenant and showing their perspective on the conflict. One key difference: The Covenant now have a human character on their side. As an original character made for the show, Makee (played by Charlie Murphy) has fallen in with the Covenant and works with them to undermine humanity’s presence in the universe and seek out Forerunner relics.
It’s an interesting change, and it has the potential to increase the stakes in the war between the two factions. This character adds a new perspective to the Covenant, seen through the eyes of a human who has cast aside his heritage. I’m certainly interested in seeing how Makee will evolve throughout the series.
4. A new look at Planet Reach
Throughout many games in the Halo series, the invasion of the planet Reach is a notable moment in the history of the Human-Covenant War. The original Halo takes place shortly after the fall of Reach, which saw the remnants of the UNSC escape the planet with the sole-surviving Spartan-II soldier (Master Chief) following the Covenant’s takeover of the planet. This event in Halo is a turning point in the war.
The TV series, however, reorders events. Planet Reach becomes an active and bustling planet for humanity in the opening episodes, and it’s still well protected from the Covenant. Of course, this likely won’t last long knowing Halo history. It’s fair to say that Reach may have some dark days ahead of it, which could likely end up being a major event in the TV series.
5. Who is Master Chief, really?
One thing the Halo games and novels have kept a secret: what the Master Chief looks like without his helmet. While games like Halo 1 and 4 have made some teases, the identity of John-117 without the mask is still a mystery. Halo Infinite depicted Master Chief as something more than human, so it’s likely the games won’t be showing off what he looks like anytime soon.
However, the Halo TV series aims to take Master Chief and his history as the pride of the Spartan-II program in a different direction. Along with showing more of his history in the program and the challenges he had to face, we’ll also see what the Master Chief looks like under his helmet. This approach is a massive departure from how the games chose to depict one of gaming’s most iconic characters. But with that said, this does open the door for portraying the core protagonist of the Halo series in a more relatable way. The Master Chief will grapple with his loyalty to the UNSC and his need to do what is right in an entirely different way. And that’s got us interested.