It’s rare for a show to completely remodel itself the way that “Halo” has. The Paramount+ original started as a sprawling sci-fi epic about a chosen hero with ambitions that often surpassed its execution. That’s a far cry from the intimate saga of a dedicated leader desperate to protect his team that stands at the forefront of Season 2.
This shift is just one of the ways showrunner David Wiener has changed this adaptation.
“There’s a much different tone to the second season that feels, to me, like it matches the universe better, matches the franchise better. It feels a little darker, a little grittier, a little more mysterious,” series star Pablo Schreiber told TheWrap.
“Season 1 was such a learning experience about how to make the show. Even partway through Season 1, we knew the things that we wanted to do for Season 2 and the things that we wanted to get a little bit crisper,” executive producer Kiki Wolfkill told TheWrap.
Wolfklill, who produces the project through the Microsoft-owned 343 Industries, credited Weiner for bringing a “grounded sensibility” to the project. “The crew came together under this more focused vision from David for Season 2 and really let us deliver in a much tighter story.”
Based on the bestselling video game of the same name, “Halo” follows the journey of MasterChief (Schreiber), also known as John-117. A member of an elite sect of generically altered super soldiers known as the Spartans, last season started with MasterChief discovering an artifact that was in the crosshairs of the Spartans’ arch enemies, the Covenant. When he touched the object, MasterChief unleashed an ancient force that put him in the center of the Spartans’ war against the Covenant. This season was largely about “laying the foundation,” Schreiber explained, as MasterChief started to rediscover his humanity as John. “Halo” Season 2 is a continuation of that story “but told through a slightly different lens.”
“We’re putting you in the action with the character,” Schreiber said.
“Early on we had the sense that we wanted to be in a grittier, somewhat darker, much more subjective point of view. That means we don’t know things that our Spartans don’t know, and we don’t see things they don’t see” Wiener told TheWrap.
That ethos extended to how “Halo” filmed its many battle sequences. Combat in the first season often mirrored encounters in the games complete with wide, sweeping shots and stunt-heavy sequences.
“There’s a lot more of the fog of war,” Wiener explained. “There’s a lot more of that sense of confusion and the intimate brutality of our Spartans clashing with the Covenant and how much that is a fight for survival rather than just the fight for bigger ideas. It’s fight for yourself and for the people that you love.”
There’s another major reason why the combat may look different this time around. Unlike last season, which was criticized for not showing MasterChief in his suit often enough, Season 2 spends a more time zoomed in on the Spartan uniform. According to Wolfkill, showing the suits more often isn’t a response to anything other than the suits being “super cool.” “I love them,” she said.
Those Spartan suits weigh roughly 55 pounds each. And yes, unless there’s serious stunt work involved, that is Schreiber behind the helmet.
“I love being in the suit, I love being behind the mask. I love what it feels like to project without the use of your face,” Schreiber said. “Whenever he’s in the suit and there’s acting or dialogue or even just stuff that you want to feel the presence of the real character underneath it, it’s me.”
The actor noted that the size of the suits make movement difficult, let alone stunts. Justin Howell and Luke Davis serve as Schreiber’s “fantastic” main stunt doubles for this season. But there is a “positive” element to this hulking chunk of armor.
“They really make you quite an imposing figure,” Schreiber said. “It has a presence every time you’re on screen.”
Yet arguably the biggest change between seasons doesn’t have to do with MasterChief but instead with his team. Though the Silver Team appeared in the first season of “Halo,” they were largely secondary characters to the saga of MasterChief, the AI implanted in his brainy the name of Cortana and the human member of the Covenant, Makee. In Season 2, MasterChief’s team — composed of Natasha Culzac as Riz-028, Bentley Kalu as Vannak-134 and Kate Kennedy as Kai-125 — steps more into the spotlight.
“Season 1 gave us so much story-wise. Then it just became a question of what’s the most effective way to make an emotional connection between the audience and the experience of these soldiers?” Wiener explained. That solution was focusing on MasterChief’s unexpected family.
“That dynamic is super important. There’s this additional level of responsibility and pressure, not only to execute his mission, but to keep the people he loves alive,” Wiener said. “The drama comes from how am I going to help these people? And what does it mean to be a leader?”
Schreiber dubbed his expanded scenes with the Silver Team as “one of my great joys.” “They all get their moments to shine. We start to get to know them a little bit more individually and who they are as people,” Schreiber said. “It’s really wonderful and pleasing for me as an actor to see my friends get to have a little bit more to do. And for viewers, the more we know about the people around him, the deeper the relationships become, the better the drama.”
Though it’s too early for Paramount+ to announce a Season 3, the team behind “Halo” told TheWrap they still have plans for more. And those plans involve Wiener, according to Wolfkill.
“The things that were really important for us to do with Season 2 are things that David’s been able to deliver in spades,” Wolfkill said.
New episodes of “Halo” premiere on Paramount+ Thursdays.
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