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One of the most popular video games of all time comes to TV, as super-soldier Master Chief defends humanity against an alien horde
To call Halo‘s road to TV a journey is like referring to man’s voyage to the moon as a jaunt. Nine years after the bestselling video game went into development at Steven Spielberg’s production company Amblin Television, the 26th-century war between our species and an alien threat known as the Covenant is finally set to premiere. But ask producers how they feel about this long slog to the small screen, and they’ll tell you that doing this kind of cultural legacy justice simply takes time. To do something of this scale, and this level of creative challenge, was really about getting the right people together, says exec producer Kiki Wolfkill, who’s been with the project since its beginnings. That meant trying some things and failing reasonably fast and improving from there.
Finally getting to show off their hard work is gratifying. Now, all that’s left is to hope they hit the bullseye. We really looked at this as, ‘How do we take the essence of the game experience and really express it in our own voice?’ With that, we set out to build an epic 26th-century world, with brutal aliens, Spartan super-soldiers, artificial intelligence, military politics and ancient mystery, but at the same time, against that backdrop, really try and tell some very personal stories and explore the humanity, or lack thereof, of our characters, Wolfkill explains of their ambitious agenda.
At the heart of the series is Master Chief, a genetically enhanced soldier encased in advanced armour, who is facing off against the Covenant for control of the Halo, a ring-shaped super-weapon created by an ancient, now-extinct race that the Covenant worships. It’s a show for people who love the Halo universe, and it’s a show for people who are just discovering the Halo universe, says Orange Is the New Black and American Gods actor Pablo Schreiber, who is tasked with embodying the face of the brand. Master Chief is obviously one of the most iconic and most heroic characters of all time, so the opportunity to get to explore those themes and ideas, the relationship between the warrior and the hero, is what’s really interesting for me.
Also familiar to diehard fans will be Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey (Natascha McElhone), who invented both the Spartan super-soldiers and Cortana, an A.I. who could prove key to our species’ survival. I’m hoping that I’m building on that legacy. Where we were coming in, we were trying to deepen some of the other elements of the characters and to try and build a few more branches on the tree, says McElhone, whose character seems to be up for sacrificing humanity’s well-being for the benefit of the greater good. I’m definitely seeing her as someone who is misunderstood.
The two are joined by Fargo‘s Bokeem Woodbine as Soren, a Spartan soldier who has a long history with Master Chief, and Yerin Ha as Kwan Ha, conflicted daughter of a rebel leader. We follow her on this journey of filling her father’s shoes and stepping into the leader role and protecting her people and her planet, says Ha.
Peaky Blinders alum Charlie Murphy, meanwhile, plays Makee. I’m similar to the Spartans, in a sense that my time has been taken away from me, and for me personally, I feel like humans have betrayed her, she explains. That’s a great kind of jumping-off point for any actor.
Bringing it all full-circle is Jen Taylor, who voices Cortana in both the series and the video games. Jen Taylor is a magical being, so being able to get her for the show was incredible, says Wolfkill. When we started the show, she was knee-deep in [recording] Halo Infinite, the game, so getting her was something we weren’t sure about. Then everything just fell into place.
At the end of the day, the creative team hopes they’ve made a show that appeals to every viewer, not just fans of the games looking for another medium in which to enjoy the exploits of their beloved Master Chief. You get rewarded at any level, says showrunner Steven Kane. If you’re a Halo deep-lore fan, there are going to be Easter eggs. There will be characters you may have only heard about in one of the books [the novels that have been spun off from the games]… And if you’re absolutely new to the game, it’s still a great story of intrigue and characters who are all yearning for something that’s just beyond their grasp. The heroism comes in the trying, not so much succeeding. We feel like it’s a reward for people who could play every game a million times, and people like some of us who couldn’t figure out their way through the first level.
Halo airs Thursdays on Paramount+ (Stream)