Halo TV series: Everything you need to know about season 1

Halo TV Series - Master Chief in helmet and armor
(Image credit: Paramount)

Though Halo The Series started development all the way back in 2015, Master Chief's journey to television has not been easy. The sci-fi series has gone through a few creative leads, and it was originally slated to be on Showtime, but is now a Paramount+ streaming show.

And now it's almost here. Early looks at the show have featured iconic elements such as a slightly weird looking Thunderhawk, High Charity, and of course Master Chief himself. But we haven't learned too much about the plot of the series, though it seems likely it will delve into Master Chief's backstory and lead up to the discovery of the first Halo ring.

Now TV critics have seen the first two episodes of the show, and reactions have not exactly been glowing. Here's when and where you can catch the show yourself, and what you should know going into season one.

When is the Halo TV series release date?

The Halo TV series is set for a March 24th debut on Paramount+.

Showtime had originally said that the show was expected in the first quarter of 2021. Like many things in 2020, production on Showtime's Halo TV series was set back by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Episodes will be released weekly, not all at once.

Here's what critics are saying about the Halo TV series

Paramount made the first two episodes (out of a nine episode season) of Halo available to critics, and reactions have been lukewarm.

"I don't know what I expected from Halo, but this drama comes on strong with ambient techno-babble and bureaucratic realism. It's as thrilling as a meeting," wrote EW's Darren Franich. "The plot shines a light on the Chief's background, and here I worry the makers of Halo are just arriving late to the party. Here's the story of a famous helmeted space warrior assaulted by sad-youth flashbacks who pairs up with a young accomplice who melts his cold killer's heart. It's like Mandalorian without the pucks. What is Mandalorian without the pucks?"

"It’s quite hard to take in these first two episodes of Halo and find a reason to keep going," wrote Polygon's Joshua Rivera. "Even for those who, like myself, are more than willing to sign up for 40 minutes to an hour of anything as long as there’s some cool-looking space shit involved. Unfortunately, the space shit in Halo? Sub-par. Not very Legendary. A real overheated plasma pistol, if you catch my drift."

Collider's Chase Hutchinson was a bit more positive, saying Halo "attempts to strike a balance between the new and the old, ending up finding a pulpy science fiction core that is a solid adaptation even as it is frequently scattered."

Will the Halo TV series get a season 2?

Yes. Unless there's a surprise, drastic reversal, we'll be seeing a second season of Master Chief in the next year or two. Paramount announced it was renewing Halo for a second season back in February.

Watch the Halo series launch trailer

Where can you watch the Hallo series outside the US?

Paramount+ unfortunately isn't available everywhere yet, and is still in the process of expanding to more countries.

In the UK, Paramount+ will launch sometime this year.

In other parts of Europe, the Halo series will be available on Sky (and Canal+ in France).

Is Master Chief in the Halo TV series?

Yes. Yes he is. He's been confirmed at every opportunity, and we know who's playing him. Actor Pablo Schreiber has been cast as Master Chief. You may remember a younger Schreiber from his role as dockworker Nick Sobotka in season 2 of The Wire, or from some more recent shows and movies: American Gods, Skyscraper, Orange Is the New Black. According to IMDB, he's nearly 6'5" tall.

Who's in the Halo TV series cast?

After Covid-19 delays and the resulting schedule changes, the Halo TV series has recast Cortana, its blue-hued AI. Natascha McElhone, originally cast as both Cortana and Dr. Catherine Halsey "the brilliant, conflicted and inscrutable creator of the Spartan supersoldiers". Now, McElhone will still play Dr. Halsey but the role of Cortana is being picked up by Jen Taylor who has often played the same role in Halo games. It's not known at this point whether Taylor will appear in the show as Cortana, or simply provide the voice for a CGI character.

Additionally, Bokeem Woodbine will portray Soren-006, "a morally complex privateer at the fringes of human civilization whose fate will bring him into conflict with his former military masters and his old friend, the Master Chief." Admiral Margaret Parangosky, the head of the Office of Naval Intelligence, is played by Shabana Azmi.

We have the names of three Spartans, new to Halo with this series: "British actor Kalu will play Spartan Vannak-134, a cybernetically augmented supersoldier conscripted at childhood who serves as the defacto deputy to the Master Chief. British actress Culzac will star in the role of Spartan Riz-028 – a focused, professional and deadly, cybernetically enhanced killing machine. Kennedy stars as Spartan Kai-125, an all-new courageous, curious and deadly Spartan supersoldier. Yerin Ha was previously announced playing the new character Kwan Ha, a shrewd, audacious 16-year-old from the Outer Colonies who meets Master Chief at a fateful time for them both."

What kind of story will the Halo TV series tell?

Story details are locked down, but Levine affirmed it as a new story “incredibly respectful of the canon” utilizing the franchise’s framework of the war with the Covenant and the eponymous Halo space stations. That’s further reinforced by this official post by 343 head of transmedia Kiki Wolfkill, who explained that the series will try to strike a balance between fan expectations and presenting something new.

“As we think about what it means to bring videogame franchises to movie or TV—the biggest challenge can often be finding the right balance between moments fans have already experienced and moments that have yet to be experienced through a different medium, perspective, or creative lens,” Wolfkill wrote. “We are excited to navigate these creative waters to bring you something that is both respectful of what you already know and love, but also new and surprising and enthralling.”

When in the Halo timeline might it take place? The war with the Covenant boasts several points of interest for a TV series. A possible strong angle could cover Chief’s origins, his conscription into the Spartan program (which would include an appearance of the titular planet from 2010’s Halo: Reach), and his eventual first contact with the Covenant, all of which would comprise a useful backdrop for plenty on-camera opportunities to show off John-117’s face in various stages of grizzled determination. An adaptation of Halo novel Fall of Reach would make sense—but if you're trying to bring in the Halo rings and tell a new story, that seems unlikely.

How many episodes will there be? 

Showtime’s initial order consisted of 10 hour-long episodes, a common season length for big-budget prestige TV series these days. That order has since been dropped to nine episodes. Showtime hopes Halo’s influential lineage will deliver the network’s "most ambitious series ever." No pressure.

“[Halo] is futuristic space-based science fiction," elaborated President David Nevins at the TCA conference. "It’s not fantasy. I think there's been one iconic franchise in my opinion in the history of television in that category and that's Star Trek. It was a long time to get the script where we felt we had something really interesting and felt like it belonged on Showtime in terms of its character depth. It’s going to be a big show.”

Who’s part of the production?

Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment is one of the bigger studios handling production duties. It’s yet unknown if the acclaimed filmmaker will personally have a role, but it appears Showtime’s project is a continuation of a concept Spielberg was set to executive produce back in 2013. Considering Spielberg’s background and enduring interest in science-fiction—being no stranger to the nostalgic pull of games—there’s a fair chance of spotting his name in the credits roll.

Developer 343 Industries (and Microsoft, by extension) is also involved in some direct capacity. Hopefully that's good news, and not the first step down a path towards another Assassin's Creed or Tomb Raider. 343’s responsibilities could simply entail making sure the series feels authentically Halo, leaving the TV pros to do their work.

Who is writing and directing the Halo TV show?

Kyle Killen was initially tapped as writer and showrunner. Killen’s most recent work, the largely panned Mind Games, failed to anchor an audience past its first and only season. His earlier and more fruitful endeavors included Fox’s Lone Star and NBC’s Awake, both sharing the same fate and lasting only one season. While Killen is relatively unblooded in the deep sci-fi genre, his recurring interest in theming a protagonist around facing plural realities could serve as an intriguing foundation for exploring the supernatural aspects of Halo’s far-reaching universe.

On a TCA tour, Levine explained Killen’s selection over more experienced writers was a deliberate one, saying, “We made a conscious decision to hire a writer not known for sci-fi and not known for big battle movies or anything. Because that's already baked into the Halo franchise and we will service that. But we also want to ensure that we get underneath the formidable armor of the Spartans."

Steven Kane (whose production credits include American Dad! and The Last Ship) has been attached as co-showrunner. Killen has now left the project, and Kane will apparently be leaving after the first season.

Originally director Rupert Wyatt was going to be part of the project, but he exited the show in December. Now the series has a new lead director and executive producer in Otto Bathurst, who most recently directed the 2018 Robin Hood, and the first episode of Black Mirror (you know, the one with the pig).

Omri Petitte

Omri Petitte is a former PC Gamer associate editor and long-time freelance writer covering news and reviews. If you spot his name, it probably means you're reading about some kind of first-person shooter. Why yes, he would like to talk to you about Battlefield. Do you have a few days?