Halo TV series: 5 things you need to know before watching

Halo TV Series Master Chief
Halo TV Series Master Chief (Image credit: Microsoft / Paramount+)

While the Halo TV series has been written and designed to be completely separate from the universe established by the franchise's video games and novels, its showrunners have stated that there are many similarities between the "Silver Timeline" that the TV show takes place in and the core canon of other Halo media. Therefore, it's a good idea for newcomers to Halo to get a basic understanding of some of the series' main concepts, characters, and factions so that they'll have an easier time understanding what's happening in the show.

With that in mind, we've put together a small list of five things that you should know about the Halo universe before you watch the TV series. With this information under your belt, you'll have all the knowledge you need to watch the Halo TV series and have a good experience doing so.

Note that since the Halo TV series takes place in a separate timeline than the Halo games and books do, some of the details in this article may not line up with what's shown in the show.

What the Halo rings are

Source: Xbox Game Studios (Image credit: Source: Xbox Game Studios)

The official trailer for the Halo TV series features several mentions of a "Halo," a "sacred ring" of sorts that holds great importance. But what is a Halo, and what makes them so significant? In short, Halo rings are special superweapons created by an advanced civilization known as the Forerunners who inhabited the universe thousands of years before humanity and the alien empire of the Covenant rose to prominence.

The Forerunners created the Halo rings as a last resort against the Flood — a lethal parasitic life form that can infect other beings, hijack their nervous systems, and turn them into one of their own. The Halo rings have the ability to wipe out all life in the galaxy, including both the Flood and the creatures they could infect. When they were unable to stop the Flood through conventional means, the Forerunners collected samples of each life form in the universe à la Noah's Ark, fired the Halo rings, and then reseeded the universe with the protected life forms. The Forerunners then mysteriously disappeared, leaving the Halo rings behind.

Who the Insurrectionists are

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

While the UNSC (United Nations Space Command) and the Covenant will duke it out over the course of the Halo TV series, we also know that the human Insurrectionist faction will be present in the story as well. But who are the Insurrectionists, and what do they stand for?

Put simply, the Insurrection is a galaxy-wide group comprised of people living on the Outer Colonies — planets that are far away from Earth and other worlds located towards the center of humanity's territory. The Insurrectionists believe that the Unified Earth Government (UEG) and the UNSC that enforces its decisions are oppressive and tyrannical, and have chosen to take up arms against the UNSC in an effort to fight for freedom.

The origins of the Spartans

Source: Microsoft / Paramount+ (Image credit: Source: Microsoft / Paramount+)

Master Chief and his Spartan comrades will be some of the Halo TV show's most prominent characters, but what are Spartans, and where did they come from? The answers to those questions are complicated, but essentially, Spartans are human supersoldiers who were made through a program conceived by Dr. Catherine Halsey. The program involved kidnapping and indoctrinating young children and raising them as elite soldiers, then genetically and cybernetically augmenting them once they were teenagers. The Spartans were then given suits of extremely advanced titanium MJOLNIR armor that further enhanced their reflexes and provided them with extremely effective protection.

Originally, the Spartans were created to quash and suppress the Insurrection, which had become a major threat to the interests of the UEG and UNSC due to their large numbers and organized resistance. However, when the Covenant attacked humanity, the Spartans became humanity's most important weapon against the alien menace.

Why Cortana is so special

Source: Microsoft / Paramount+ (Image credit: Source: Microsoft / Paramount+)

The artificial intelligence Cortana is very prominent in the Halo video games, and the official trailer for the TV series confirms that she will have a role to play as Master Chief's ally in the show. But what exactly makes Cortana special compared to other AIs in the Halo universe?

The first reason Cortana is significant is because she's a "smart AI," or an AI that has personality, ingenuity, and the ability to learn from its surroundings. Most AI in Halo are "dumb AI," or AI that can't understand information outside of their programming and that lack the ability to feel or experience things subjectively.

Secondly, Cortana was also created with a cloned brain from Dr. Catherine Halsey, the creator of the Spartans and one of the most intelligent figures in the UNSC. This made her exceptionally intelligent and powerful even compared to other smart AIs. Because of this, Cortana can analyze, strategize, and process information much faster and more efficiently than any other AI in humanity's arsenal.

Why the Covenant hate humanity

Source: Microsoft / Paramount+ (Image credit: Source: Microsoft / Paramount+)

The Covenant Empire despises humanity and wishes to completely eliminate it from the universe, but why? Essentially, it all boils down to the Covenant's worship of the Forerunners. The Covenant is founded on the belief that firing the Halo rings would propel them on a "Great Journey" to godhood, but the Covenant's leadership discovered from a captured Forerunner AI that humanity was given the title of Reclaimer and that humans were intended to be successors to the Forerunners. This information contradicted the Covenant's belief that they would ascend to and succeed the Forerunners, so the Covenant's leaders chose to hide this information to prevent their empire from collapsing.

As part of their cover up, the Covenant leadership told their empire that humanity destroyed a large collection of Forerunner artifacts and that they were to be destroyed for this. Because of this lie, the Covenant believes that humans are heretics who defiled the property of their gods and that they need to be exterminated before they can stop the Covenant from starting the prophesied Great Journey.

Any questions?

Is there anything else you'd like to know about the Halo universe before watching the Halo TV series? Let me know in the comments, and I'll be happy to answer your questions. Also, if you'd like an in-depth overview of the full Halo story to read, check out my Halo Story Timeline series of articles that covers everything from the origins of the Forerunners to the conflicts between humanity, the Covenant, and other factions.

The Halo TV series is slated to debut on March 24, 2022, on Paramount Plus. The price for subscriptions to Paramount Plus begin at $4.17/month, and subscribers get access to a large variety of TV shows and movies.

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.