After years in development hell, the Halo TV series is moving forward. Master Chief is headed to Hollywood with a TV series on Showtime. Steven Spielberg's Amblin Television is producing, and we now know roughly when it's coming, and who's playing some of the most important characters.
There's not much we know for sure about the content of the show, but there are going to be Spartans, with Master Chief taking his proper place as a central character. Cortana's along for the ride. And if we had to bet on it: There's probably going to be a Halo ring, too.
The nine-episode TV series is early in production. The most recent casting news gave us some clues as to the characters we'll be seeing when the show arrives in 2021.
Here’s everything we know about Showtime’s Halo TV series so far.
When does the Halo TV series air?
The latest news says the Halo TV series will begin production in Budapest "later this year," so fall or winter 2019. Unfortunately, we won't be seeing it on our televisions as soon as we hoped. Showtime hasn't given a date for the series yet, but has said it's coming in the first quarter of 2021. That will likely give the series a long stretch of post-production, which is probably necessary for a show as effects-heavy as this one likely will be.
Is Master Chief in the Halo TV series?
Yes. Yes he is. He's been confirmed at every opportunity, and as of mid-April, 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.
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.”
Halo TV series begins production with new cast photo
The ball is finally rolling with the Halo TV series. Showtime has announced that the cast is set, table reads are finished, and production has begun in earnest. We're still a long way out from the show's release, but it's exciting to see the pieces coming together.
Who’s part of the production?
Apart from Showtime’s obvious involvement, 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 has been 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."
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).
Any confirmed actors?
Yep! Showtime dropped casting details on a few more characters in the show. Natascha McElhone (Californication, Designated Survivor, The First) will take on two roles: Dr. Catherine Halsey, "the brilliant, conflicted and inscrutable creator of the Spartan supersoldiers," and the blue-hued AI Cortana. If the show is anything like the games, we may be hearing McElhone's voice more often than we see her as a hologram, though she'll likely get plenty of screen time as Halsey as well, who features prominently in the Halo books and later games.
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.