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‘Halo: The Series’ Interview: Negative Season One Feedback Is Being Heard

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‘Halo: The Series’ Interview: Negative Season One Feedback Is Being Heard

After months of waiting, Paramount+ and Halo: The Series have dropped in the UK. Of course, the release touches down several weeks after the season one finale aired in the US, but good things come to those who wait.

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As part of the UK release, GAMINGbible got the chance to chat with actors Pablo Schreiber and Natascha McElhone — who play Master Chief and Doctor Catherine Halsey respectively — plus executive producer Kiki Wolfkill.

Fan feedback on season one has generally been mixed, with certain areas of the Halo fanbase loathing the approach taken with the new story beats and the more human take on Master Chief. Case in point: in the show he’s referred to more often by his name, John. With all of this in mind, I was genuinely taken aback in my chats by how forthcoming both Pablo and Kiki were with feedback from the show and recognising aspects that could have been improved (or avoided).

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"I will say that as hard as it is hard to hear a lot of the negative feedback, you also have to hear all of it," says Wolfkill. "You have to look across negative, positive, super hardcore Halo fan, the not hardcore sort of mainstream Halo fan - you have to look at all of it - because there's always stuff in there, that's valuable to take forward. I will say that we're always listening to feedback. And we are super aware of what are the things that are resonating or not resonating and why."

Wolfkill joined 343 Industries in 2008 as executive producer on Halo 4, taking over the franchise from previous developer and series creator Bungie. Wolfkill now oversees all Halo transmedia including the Halo television series. Prior to this, she worked on the Xbox franchises Midtown Madness and Project Gotham Racing.

"Just like the game, sometimes you have a design and creative intent that isn't necessarily coming through in the way that you expected," she continues. "With games you playtest along the way, so you tend to learn a lot. With a TV show, we're getting that feedback now. So for sure, there’s a tonne of learnings from season one we learned well before the show came out, and a lot of learnings that we have now that the show is out, we will take all of it.

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"We have an incredibly passionate crew who want to make an amazing Halo show. And we're so proud of what we did for season one. The same crew wants to do even better for season two."

Master Chief / Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+
Master Chief / Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+

John’s humanity is a major throughline in Halo: The Series, often more of a narrative crux than the Human-Covenant war or search for the titular Halo ring. Many fans expected budget-related constraints to shift the narrative away from the constant battles of the games, but no one really saw the depths and fairly huge deviations from established lore of Master Chief himself coming. Some might say that these narrative beats left viewers baffled and alienated from the project. It seems though, that this was done by design.

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"It's less about repeating things from the games, as it is about honouring the games, right?," considers Schreiber. "What was really important is figuring out what had been established and what people who are deep fans of the Halo gaming experience had been exposed to. I wanted to see every scene they've ever seen. So I know what's been established as Chief. What was super important there is taking the elements of Master Chief that were inescapable in whatever iteration of media.

"In the video game, Master Chief was created as an avatar for the gamer. So, immediately, in bringing it to a television series, it was very important to disrupt the relationship between the gamer and Chief and how they interface with that dynamic. We always knew [it] was going to be very uncomfortable because you're upending the relationship between the gamer and the character. But our hope as creators is that over a long-form television series, that decision to go through some discomfort in the first season will pay off in the long run. All the places you're going to get to go with him, and the intimacy that gets established between starting to know the person as a human and experiencing things with him over time."

Master Chief and Kwan / Credit: Paramount+
Master Chief and Kwan / Credit: Paramount+
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One significant sticking point in the first three episodes of the show for fans wasn’t the reveal of Master Chief’s face, but instead, shockingly, his ‘Master Cheeks’. Seeing Chief’s caboose (one for the RvB fans there) was hardly gratuitous or salacious in the context of the narrative, but for Halo veterans, who had never seen John’s adult face in 20 years that the games have spanned, seeing his moneymaker just three episodes into this first season was jarring.

"It's so funny because I am hyper-focused on every moment," Wolfkill admits. "You know, how are fans gonna think? We're kind of always doing this analysis of how everything may play out.

"And for some reason, I had a little bit of blind spot on the ‘Master Cheeks’ moment. I didn't think of it as being something that was going to be controversial. Because for me, I was looking at it — it is such an important moment to see the human and see there's just the frailty of flesh, and the scarring marks of what he's been through. So that was always what I was thinking about… beyond it just being awkward to see the naked butt of someone you know. I have to admit on that one, it caught me a little bit by surprise that there was such an uproar there."

"It is what it is," Schreiber adds. "The scene was there for a very specific reason. Obviously, the helmet coming off was the first step very important to breaking down this relationship, and then very early on to just really show his humanity, we're in bear form. It all goes along with the discomfort of the growing pains in the first season - of breaking down the relationship between the gamer and the character."

John begins the season not having access to his childhood memories, begins the season with a hormonal regulating pellet. But when he decides to take it out, he embarks on a whole new journey of accessing and being in a relationship with his own humanity, that opens him up and brings him to places that he wasn't before.

Pablo Schreiber as John / Credit: Paramount+
Pablo Schreiber as John / Credit: Paramount+

It's clear that a lot of thought was put into the series’ approach to breaking down and building up the character of John, but he wasn’t the only major character to appear in the series. Dr. Catherine Halsey first appeared on-screen in Halo: Reach, but had been integral to long-established lore through the novels. The Fall of Reach was the first of many tie-in Halo novels, one that treads similar ground to the television series. Released prior to the first game, Halo: Combat Evolved, it introduced the world to the beginnings of the Spartan-II program, the kidnapping and training of John, as well as Halsey’s role in masterminding the program and ‘raising’ the Spartan-II soldiers.

For many fans, seeing Halsey in live-action was just as enticing as Master Chief, and - say what you like about the series’ narrative choices - Natascha McElhone in the role is a stand-out.

"[Natascha is] amazing," says Wolfkill. "Halsey is such an extraordinary character and probably my favourite character in canon because of that complexity. There's brilliance, and there's humanity in there, but there's a sort of “end justifies the means” aspect to her. You see the results of what she's done, and you know, we haven't lost the war yet. But at great cost. So I think Natascha dove into this role with such curiosity."

"I got quite immersed. I did, I got really immersed in it and probably annoyed them a lot," McElhone adds. "I guess [I read] quite a bit of Nick Bostrom, Max Tegmark and a bit of Ray Kurtzweil. The first book I read was called The AI Doesn't Hate You, which was really helpful, because it was a sort of continuum of the first forays into that, and Silicon Valley and all the different important characters.

"I also studied quite a lot of someone I thought was absolutely brilliant Dyson, who is a computational historian. His stuff was really interesting. He is such a maverick thinker. So it wasn't even just AI, it was often people with a sort of computer or scientific background, who were breaking down belief systems and our current moral construct and sort of smashing it apart. 

"I'm not going to go on about names, but there's this whole various different schools of thought around that, human beings are unhappy as a species We're in a kind of unhappy valley, we haven't gone far enough yet in our process of evolution to come out the other side, and for the scientists anyway, they're still regarded as they're still legislated against. Because people don't quite understand what it is they're trying to do."

Natascha McElhone as Halsey / Credit: Paramount+
Natascha McElhone as Halsey / Credit: Paramount+

It’s clear that Natascha (The Truman Show, Ronin, Solaris) has taken on the role with both hands and dove head first into all aspects of the scientific nitty-gritty that props up such an incredibly intellectual character like Halsey.

Going forward, Pablo seems genuinely excited about the future of the show. On our Zoom call, the joy about the series' potential was palpable. Halo is in the fortunate position of having a second series already commissioned, but the show will have a brand new showrunner and writers for this one, with scripts that the actor seems eager to hype up.

"It's been an honour to be a part of it. I don't take any of it lightly," Schreiber says. "The process of the first season for me was trying the hardest I could and working as hard as I could every day to elevate the project and all the people around me to do the best work that we could and to make the show the best we could. But you know, doesn't stop with the first season.

"I have all my own feelings about what we were successful at, what we were not successful at, and how we can get better. We've only spent this time since this first season ended preparing, to learn the lessons that we could from season one, and only be better in season two. One of the major steps in that direction is starting with new writers for season two. I’m very, very, very excited about the writer and showrunner, who's come on for our second season. David Wiener scripts are coming in and they're fantastic. It's a whole new level and I just couldn't be more thrilled to get back and start working."

Halo The Series / Credit: Paramount+
Halo The Series / Credit: Paramount+

As alluded to by Pablo, season two of Halo has a brand new showrunner, in the form of Fear The Walking Dead writer and co-executive producer, David Wiener. Hopefully, Pablo’s excitement translates into a second season that finds its stride and a warmer reception by the franchise’s most vocal fans.

The first three episodes of Halo: The Series are available to watch now in the UK on Paramount+, with further episodes released weekly on Wednesdays.

Featured Image Credit: Paramount Plus

Topics: Halo, Halo Infinite, Microsoft, 343 Industries, Xbox

Tom Ryan-Smith
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