Halo: Season 1 Ending Explained

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Warning: this article contains full spoilers for Halo: Season 1! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out IGN’s review of the Halo: Season 1 finale.

Halo has ended its nine-episode first season on Paramount+, but this story is only just beginning. The streamer already confirmed Halo: Season 2 before the series even premiered. And based on the events of the finale, we definitely have an idea of where the series is headed.

Keep reading for a full breakdown of Season 1’s dramatic ending and how the show is building on the foundation of the games. IGN also spoke to executive producer Kiki Wolfkill, who serves as the Head of Transmedia at Halo developer 343 Industries, to learn more about why the show is making some significant changes to the traditional Halo mythology.

Is Master Chief Actually Dead?

The Season 1 finale showcases Master Chief’s most dangerous mission to date, as he leads Silver Team into the heart of Covenant territory to steal back the two Forerunner artifacts that contain a map to the elusive Halo station. Surprisingly, all members of Silver Team survive what seemed to be a suicide mission, though Master Chief’s fate is certainly left ambiguous as the episode ends.

In fact, it could be fair to say John-117 is dead, for all intents and purposes. After becoming overwhelmed by the much larger Covenant army, Master Chief opts to let himself be pushed to the brink of death fighting the hammer-wielding Brute. This enables Cortana to take control of his body and become the true unification of Spartan body and artificial intelligence Dr. Halsey envisioned.

This powered-up Master Chief succeeds in recovering the artifacts and escaping with Silver Team. But the question now is whether Cortana can undo the act of overriding John’s brain. Can his mind be restored, or is Master Chief doomed to be mindless puppet controlled by his AI partner? Expect that to be a major focus of the series when it returns in Season 2.

“I don’t want to spoil Season 2 so early in the process, but I think that we’re able to end Season 1 with this very definitive act and decision, which in some ways sort of expresses who John has sort of learned to be,” Wolfkill tells IGN. “In Season 2, I think we’ll sort of continue to explore that. I think it’s safe to say the story’s not over for John.”

The Halo games don’t necessarily have any spoilers to offer on this front, as Cortana’s takeover of Master Chief’s body is one of many plot points unique to the live-action series. However, it does echo certain developments in the games. Master Chief is left to an ambiguous fate at the end of 2007’s Halo 3 as he enters cryosleep aboard a drifting spacecraft, before finally returning in 2012’s Halo 4. Halo 4, meanwhile, ends with Cortana sacrificing herself, only to return as an antagonist in 2015’s Halo 5: Guardians. So the two characters do have a habit of flirting with death and returning later.

Basically, it’s probably only a matter of time before John’s mind is restored in Season 2. As Wolfkill explains, the real significance of his sacrifice in the finale is that it’s a conscious choice made by a soldier who’s been denied the luxury of choice for most of his life.

“I think what’s powerful to be able to see is, you see the Master Chief making a decision that isn’t an order,” says Wolfkill. “This idea that you really feel that there’s both the Master Chief as you know him, but also John as you’ve learned to know him through the show, making a decision on behalf of not just himself, but on behalf of his fireteam, and again, humanity, knowing what the stakes are.”

“You see the Master Chief making a decision that isn’t an order.”

This choice also signals that John has come to trust Cortana, finally cementing the bond that’s existed in the games since the original Halo. Given the betrayals he’s been dealt by mentors like Halsey and Captain Keyes, Cortana may be the only being in the galaxy outside of Silver Team that John does trust with his life.

Wolfkill says, “It’s a level of trust we get to see in the games, because that’s sort of the nature of the gameplay, but I think through the course of the season, we get to see how that trust develops, and then we see the manifestation of him taking all these inputs he’s had over the episodes and what he’s learned about himself and what it means to be human and Spartan, and the end result of that being he’s making that choice to give humanity the best chance they can have.”

What Exactly Is the Halo?

Halo: Season 1 doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining the backstory behind the UNSC/Covenant conflict or what the titular Halo actually is. That’s either a good or bad thing depending on your perspective and familiarity with the franchise. But assuming you’re not well-versed in the games, it’s probably worth recapping the basics of the Halo technology and what new plot elements we’re likely to see in future seasons of the show.

The two artifacts seen in Season 1 were created by the Forerunners, an ancient, highly advanced civilization that left behind traces of their incredible technology. The Forerunners created a number of Halo rings, only some of which have survived to the present day. These space stations contain a vast tract of wilderness on their inner surface and a deep network of facilities and tunnels underground. The rings were originally meant to serve multiple purposes, including as research stations and doomsday weapons.

The Covenant Hierarch worship the Forerunners, believing these ancient beings activated the Halo rings and used their collective power to ascend to godhood. The Prophets seek to locate the seven surviving Halo rings and repeat that process, which they refer to as “The Great Journey.” They believe that by aligning the Halo rings and firing them, they’ll purge all unworthy lifeforms from existence and become gods themselves.

The Covenant’s hatred of humanity stems from the fact that the Forerunners viewed humans as their true successors. That’s why Master Chief and Makee were both able to activate the artifacts in Season 1 where no other beings could. The quest to complete the Great Journey is also complicated when it’s discovered that the Halo rings are breeding grounds for the Flood, a parasitic organism that was responsible for wiping out the Forerunners. Once Master Chief finally sets foot on a Halo, expect these zombie-like creatures to start playing a major role in the series.

The Halo Timeline: Will The Fall of Reach Still Happen?

Fans of the Halo games and various tie-in media know that the story is heavily shaped by a conflict known as the Fall of Reach. First chronicled in the 2001 novel Halo: The Fall of Reach and then realized in video game form in 2010’s Halo: Reach, this battle serves as humanity’s greatest defeat in its long war with the Covenant. Despite the valiant efforts of the Spartans and many other UNSC soldiers, the Covenant annihilates the Reach colony and all but cripples the UNSC as a military power.

Fans have naturally assumed it’s only a matter of time until we see the Fall of Reach play out in the live-action series. The show is essentially a prequel to the first Halo game (despite not taking place in the same continuity), and that game takes place shortly after Reach’s destruction. Before Master Chief can actually set foot on the Halo, Reach has to be destroyed.

Halo: The Series Gallery

Episode 8 even seemed to be teeing up that battle when Makee turned against her captors and activated the artifact, presumably signaling Reach’s location to the Covenant military. However, despite the looming threat of battle in the finale, Reach hasn’t been invaded yet. Wolfkill hints that we likely will see the Fall of Reach at some point during the course of the series. But when we do, it’s a story that will likely need more than one episode to be told.

“I think the fall of Reach is such an important historical moment in Halo, and it’s such a pivotal moment,” Wolfkill says. “Certainly, I think just hitting on it at the very end of a season wouldn’t do justice to how impactful a moment that is for Halo. I can definitely say that.”

Wolfkill adds, “As you can see with Season 1, there are things that fans expected and things that fans didn’t. I think what we always want to try and do is take our fans on a journey and give them something that feels familiar, but also is different and feels new for them. That’s a tough needle to thread, and I don’t expect that’s going to get easier. That said, there’s so much to express with the Halo universe and so much to express still with Chief and John and these characters that we just started to introduce and flesh out in Season 1 and, for sure, something we want to continue to do in Season 2.”

For more on Halo: The TV Series, find out why fans are upset about Master Chief losing his virginity, and learn more about Halo’s hard-fought battle to TV.

Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.

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