Like Master Chief himself, Paramount+’s Halo series comes out guns a-blazing — though to a degree that may leave non-gamers confused about who to root for.
Are the military-like Spartan soldiers not the “good guys”? And who/what are the rebels rebelling against?
TVLine invited series lead Pablo Schreiber — who plays Master Chief aka John-117 — to offer a quick overview of the Spartans, the alien Covenant, and the rebels who all exchange fire early in the first episode (premiering Thursday, March 24).
“In the context of the Covenant invasion, [Spartans] are the good guys,” Schreiber explains. A team of humans that were emotionally muted and otherwise upgraded to serve as supersoldiers, “the Spartan-IIs were created by Catherine Halsey, early on for the UNSC (United Nations Space Command),” as a means to “quelch uprisings in the Outer Colonies,” the actor adds.
In Halo mythology, the planets that comprise the Outer Colonies are used(/exploited?) by the Inner Colonies for their natural resources. For example, the brutal melee in the series premiere takes place in the year 2552 on Madrigal, which is a heavy hydrogen extraction planet. As such, the people who live there work as hydrogen miners, sending their “crop” to the Inner Colonies to power ships and such.
That enforced servitude has made the Outer Colonies “very mistrustful of the Spartan-IIs,” Schreiber says, “because the Spartan-IIs have been used against them over the course of their history.” As such, when the Spartans show up on Madrigal to protect the locals for a change — from members of the vicious, encroaching Covenant — the rebels are “quite surprised.”
Just how successful Master Chief and his fellow soldiers Kai (Kate Kennedy), Vannak (Bentley Kalu) and Riz (Natasha Culzac) prove to be, remains to be seen when that first episode plays out.
As noted above, the Spartan-II program is the brainchild of the brilliant Dr. Catherine Halsey (played by Natascha McElhone). As such, she has a certain connection to her premiere product, John-117.
“He relates to her in a different way than he relates to anyone else. You get this sort of maternal vibe, at least in his feelings towards her,” notes Schreiber. “She is responsible for creating the whole program but also him, and he is kind of her ‘pride and joy’ in terms of being the leader of the other Spartans.”
John’s blind faith in Halsey, though, is about to be tested. During his deployment to Madrigal, he comes in contact with a mysterious artifact. And how he reacts to both that object and one young Madrigal survivor leads to the UNSC’s issuing of an order that forces John to question his mission and himself.
Speaking of questions, perhaps the most burning one is: What will the gamers who have mashed many a button playing Halo make of the TV series? What sort of an experience will this be for them, not having any control over Master Chief and his journey?
“Hopefully, fans of the game will come to this and instantly find a universe that they find incredibly familiar,” says Schreiber. “There are sights and sounds and details that should be instantly recognizable to every Halo fan.
“That being said, it’s a new experience and a different experience, and all the differences are tailored because of the difference of the medium” of streaming TV, he adds. “It’s not a first-person shooter. It’s a long-form television series, and in order to have the best experience in long-form television, you have to create story in different ways.”
And one of those key differences will be that John-117 eventually and occasionally removes his helmet, starting with at one key juncture.
Making that change from the video games “just feels like a richer world to tell the story in,” says Schreiber. “In this TV landscape you really want to have a strong relationship with your protagonist and your character, and to follow him on a long-form story you really need to have access to the face. You need to know how the character is feeling about things over the course of time. That really goes a long way to establishing a bond with your protagonist. So, it felt pretty important.”