I might be in the minority, but I enjoyed the first season of the Paramount+ Halo TV series. Though it stumbled at times, I appreciated its attempts to flesh out characters like franchise lead Master Chief John-117, expand upon well-established Halo lore, and give us more than just a video game retrofitted into an episodic television show format. So when I sat down to chat with executive producer Kiki Wolfkill, new showrunner David Wiener (who replaced co-showrunners Steven Kane and Kyle Killen after the first season), and stars Bokeem Woodbine (who plays Spartan-turned-pirate Soren-066) and Joseph Morgan (new character James Ackerson), I was forthcoming about my affections for the franchise and the series, while acknowledging that many don’t feel the same way I do.
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The Halo TV team are well-aware of the critiques of season one, which not only unmasked the often-monosyllabic Master Chief, but gave him a sex scene (which actor Pablo Schreiber has outspokenly lambasted). But they’re not deterred by the feedback—they’re spurred on by it, determined to prove that they’re all Halo lovers here, and this second season will show that rather than tell it.
Halo season two is a (kind of) reset
“Reset is probably a strong word,” Wolfkill says after I reference comments made in previous interviews. “What was incredible was getting the season two pickup while we’re still in season one, so knowing we would have the opportunity—it’s the same in games, right, you’re making a game, you have the list of things you want to do on the next version, even as you’re closing out the game you’re making. It was less about reset, as much as it was, now that we’ve learned all the things we’ve learned about making a season, what do we need to focus on? What do we want to make sure to execute on?…How do we make sure that script and that story are the absolute backbone of our season?”
Part of those efforts to make sure the story drives the series forward involved a showrunner swap-up: David Wiener (Fear the Walking Dead) stepped in to helm Halo season two, bringing with him a more grounded tone that was inspired by war films like Fury and Saving Private Ryan. “It’s exciting, just because it’s Halo, it’s an opportunity to tell a story on a massive scale…and we do, it’s a really epic story,” he said. “We tried really hard to tell it from a very intimate point of view, so that our Spartans are a subjective perspective that provides a lens into the emotionality of the show. There are very few properties that provide that kind of opportunity.”
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Two people tasked with bringing that emotionality to the screen are Woodbine (Fargo) and Morgan (The Vampire Diaries), who are both fans of the franchise themselves. Woodbine’s Soren is a complicated character, equal parts detached, no-nonsense pirate and broken former soldier with a cross to bear, who treads a far different path this season than the last.
“The challenge was to try and understand the mentality of a guy who has accomplished so much in his life on his own, and has carved out a life for himself out of the rock of Gibraltar,” he says during our video chat. “Yet still here comes this unknown variable that he has to contend with…how does it feel to come so far and feel like you’re not getting your reward?” Soren is a “second skin” for Woodbine, though, so he was happy to step back into his boots for season two (boots which, he tells me, are “marginally” more comfortable than they were in season one).
Morgan, who is probably best known for playing sociopath-with-a-heart-of-gold Klaus Mikaelson in the beloved CW series The Vampire Diaries, is a newcomer to the Halo show—but not the franchise. “I grew up playing the games,” he says during our chat. And he’s also familiar with showrunner Wiener, who he worked with on the Peacock series Brave New World.
“[Wiener] had a grittier, grimier vision for the show, a little more faithful to the canon. I’m excited to be a part of that new vision,” Morgan said. “I feel really blessed to be a part of that. And you know, just being such a fan of the games, I grew up playing them and that world was such a part of my teenage years and my twenties, so it was a thrill to be on those sets.”
Halo season two will win over the naysayers
There’s one question I ask during each interview: “What do you tell the people who didn’t like season one?” Though everyone provides a different answer, there’s a consistent theme: this is a different take on live-action Halo, one more rooted in its source material. But that doesn’t mean Halo season two is completely backtracking on the path it laid out in the first season—namely, John-117 isn’t putting the helmet back on, guys.
“With season two, you really feel the fruits of that labor of love,” Wolfkill says. “We wanted to offer it up as a gift to the fans. I hope they know, for people who didn’t like season one, the helmet’s still gonna come off—that won’t change. But I do feel like there’s so much in season two that will really hit on those Halo pillars that I hope they try to come back and see.”
Wiener expanded upon that, saying that season two is “all the things that we love about Halo as fans, with a story that I think treats it all very seriously, and treats the character of Master Chief as a really complex, interesting protagonist…ultimately where we want to take our audience is to those places that Halo takes us. It’s emotional, it’s happening in your heart.”
When I pose the same question to Morgan, his answer surprises me:
I can probably be more honest than other people, because I wasn’t even a part of season one [laughs]. Look, I played the games, and I love the world. And I’m a fan of the aesthetic. I know that David Wiener, our new showrunner who brought me on, is a huge gamer as well…I think this is, to a certain extent, a reinvention of the show that is a lot more faithful to the canon…It’s the world of Halo that I [as a fan] want to see—if you want to see a Halo where Master Chief doesn’t take off his helmet, you’re not gonna like this, because he does take off his helmet—spoiler alert, his helmet does come off. But if you can get past that, it’s cool.
The action is more consistent, yet the show is more character-driven. We get to really understand the backstories for these characters and connect with them and relate to them, which makes the stakes very real because now we care about them. I think there’s a lot more of the kind of politics of the world of Halo in there…for me, this is the first season because I’m coming on as a new person, and for those who maybe weren’t satisfied with season one, maybe this is your season one.
Halo season two (or season one, according to Morgan) premieres February 8 on Paramount+. I know I’ll be tuning in.