The first season of Paramount+’s Halo took big swings – even if they didn’t always connect. The show created the epic look and feel of the video games, and nailed the Master Chief’s iconic Mjolnir armor. But it made some head-turning decisions, from unlikable characters that seemed detached from the main story to revealing not only John-117’s face but his, well, posterior too.
The new season of Halo, which premieres on Thursday on the streaming service, promises to be more focused, with new showrunner David Wiener teasing a “darker, grittier” show that will spend more time on the Master Chief and his Silver Team.
“Tonally, it’s different,” Wiener said in an interview with Cord Cutters News. “It’s much more relentless in season two. There’s a build, there’s tension, and the season revolves around a real collision between humanity and the Covenant.”
There’s a lot more at stake than the fate of humanity in the Halo universe. It’s one of the marquee shows for Paramount+, which is chopping at the bit to find new hits outside of Star Trek and Yellowstone spinoffs. Halo is one of the most revered video game franchises and a cornerstone of Microsoft’s Xbox strategy, and it’s clear a lot of money was lavished upon making the show work.
Whether it has, however, is still a question. The first season saw mixed critical reaction. And while some of the fanboy hate was unjustified (sorry, anti-helmet off camp), there were plenty of legitimate criticisms, from an out-of-left field romance for the Master Chief to a season finale that mixed in a first-person battle that was supposed to look like the video game, but did not work.
There’s hope that Halo’s sophomore season will correct some of those issues. Kiki Wolfkill, executive producer and head of intellectual property expansion at Microsoft, said that a lot of season one was figuring out how to create the world of Master Chief and Halo, allowing them to focus on the story and characters in season two.
“We’re telling a very personal and intense story and feeling that story against that Halo backdrop,” Wolfkill said in an interview with Cord Cutters News.
Wolfkill said they took the fan feedback into consideration, and a lot of what they heard was already being incorporated into the second season, which she noted had a different direction.
One element that took her by surprise was the reaction to seeing Master Chief’s exposed bottom when he had sex with Makee, the human emissary of the Covenant’s leaders, the prophets. For fans used to John 117’s stoic and business-like demeanor, it was one leap too far and reignited the “Master Cheeks” meme.
“I didn’t think it was going to be as big a deal – this was my own personal blindspot,” Wolfkill said.
For the record, she said that the show wouldn’t revisit that angle in the second season.
While fans should still expect a show that isn’t afraid to mess with the lore of the video games, they will be excited by the prospect teased by the early episodes, the fall of the UNSC stronghold planet Reach. It’s a pivotal moment in the video game series, with the incident essentially kicking off the original Halo, and was explored more in-depth in Halo: Reach.
Whether or how we’ll actually see Reach, a heavily populated human colony that’s the last defense before the Covenant reach Earth, fall remains to be seen. But Wolfkill said it would serve as a “central pivot” for the season.
A More Personal Story
While the first season took audiences across the Halo universe, giving us the perspective of not only the Master Chief, but also Dr. Catherine Halsey, the creator of the Spartan program, as well as the prophets, the second season will be more focused on John-117 and his Silver Team.
Expect more time with not only Kai-125, who played a big role in the first season when she, like John, regained her emotions, but also Riz-028 and Vannak-134, who were largely short-changed.
“It was really important from a writing perspective to make sure that everybody mattered,” Wiener said.
That includes returning characters Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha) and Soren-066 (Bokeem Woodbine), who felt stranded in their own storyline that had little impact on Master Chief or the larger conflict.
Wiener said the stories would be more integrated, and even if the characters don’t meet, there will be more parallel storylines, or incidents in one story that resonate with another.
So what are Wolfkill and Wiener excited for us to see?
“One of the things we’ve been able to deliver is the darkness of the story that is part of the Halo universe, but also that sense of hope,” Wolfkill said. With that visceral action, you get that scale and action of Halo.
“What I hope people get from the experience is that they’ll be able to go for a ride,” Wiener said. “I hope it hits them in the heart, because that’s where we came from in making it.”
Image credit: Paramount+