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Season two of Paramount’s big-budget sci-fi thriller finds Master Chief battling both the Covenant hordes and his new commander, while grappling with the loss of his closest ally

Change is rampant on the second season of Halo. Onscreen, there is a new guy in charge of the Spartan program, after the untimely departure of Dr. Catherine Halsey (Natascha McElhone), but behind the scenes there is also a brand-new leader, which signifies a different creative direction for the science fiction series. “We’re working hard to bring [new showrunner] David Wiener’s vision of Halo to life, and I think it’s a really interesting and unique take,” says leading man Pablo Schreiber, who portrays Master Chief Petty Officer John-117. “It’s a little darker, a little more mysterious, a little deeper. What we’re shooting feels more subjective and puts you into the battle sequences with the characters rather than looking at it from afar. All of these things, I think, lend themselves to a more gritty, darker and deeper Halo universe.”

Halo on Paramount+. Pictured: Elite though they may be, the Spartans are in for the fight of their lives in season two, as the enemy throws them a curveball and their own ruthless leaders push them ever deeper into a war of attrition.

It feels like an apt course to take, as John, after discovering his humanity in season one, now deals with a very personal crisis. “Season one was the burgeoning of his own identity. It was a guy who for most of his life had been unavailable to emotions and sensations, who suddenly was opened up to a world of possibilities,” Schreiber explains.

Indeed, season two ended with Master Chief giving over his newfound consciousness to Cortana (Jen Taylor), the A.I. created and implanted by Dr. Halsey to affect Master Chief’s decisions. “He spent most of the first season pushing her away and being untrustful of this new addition. Eventually, he gives himself over completely to her,” says Schreiber. “In season two, she’s been taken away from him and we don’t know why. It puts him into a place of having to wrestle with what it meant to finally have somebody — and what it means now to be alone. He’ll spend a few episodes really trying to fight his way back to her in a way that I think will be really pleasing in later parts of the season.”

Halo on Paramount+. Pictured: Bokeem Woodbine as Soren, a Spartan soldier turned insurrectionist.

This is not Master Chief’s only conflict. We quickly establish that John and Halsey’s replacement, Colonel James Ackerson, played by The OriginalsJoseph Morgan, do not see eye to eye in the war against the Covenant aliens. “He’s using the team in a way that doesn’t feel right from John’s point of view,” says Schreiber. “The first few episodes are a cat-and-mouse game, feeling out what his intentions might be. Then Ackerson starts to question John’s judgment and whether he’s going a little bit crazy. One of the interesting things for me about that dynamic is leaning into, ‘When the world around you begins to question your sanity, how do you react?’ ”

Morgan does not deny that his character is willing to sacrifice a few soldiers for what he views as the good of the cause. “Ackerson, he’s a manipulator,” states the British actor. “What he wants more than anything is the survival of humanity. He’s under a tremendous amount of pressure, so with each person he interacts with, he shows a different side of himself, because he’s really trying to get done what needs to be done. He will be your best friend if you’re going to do what he wants and if not, he’ll be whatever it takes to get you to do that. John immediately sees through that and doesn’t want to play that way. So, Ackerson decides to take a different tactic with John and to knock him down a peg or two.”

Halo on Paramount+. Pictured:  Joseph Morgan joins the cast as new UNSC commander Col. James Ackerson, a master manipulator who is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to defeat the enemy.

For Morgan, playing this chameleon of a man is a dream come true. “I love an unpredictable character. To me, the most fun you can have is when actors aren’t sure what’s going to happen in the scene. I think a sense of danger and a sense of tension elevates a scene to no end,” he says. “It makes me excited watching a scene like that. I’m on the edge of my seat. So I try to preserve that in my work, because I want the audience to feel like they are not sure what this guy’s going to do. And sometimes Pablo, Natascha or Bokeem [Woodbine], they’ll do something in the scene that I wasn’t expecting, and I go, ‘Oh, you’re going to go there?’”

Halo on Paramount+. Pictured: Last year, Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) suffered an identity crisis that only intensifies in this new season, just as the threat from the Covenant horde ratchets up.

As a lifelong fan of the Halo games, Morgan feels he has joined this universe at just the right time. “I think they’ve made the Halo that I want to see,” he says. “I love that look in sci-fi, that kind of grimy futuristic world. And what they’ve done very well is the politics that go on in that world. In our show, there’s often another scene going on beneath the scene you’re seeing. It’s really rewarding as an actor, because there’s all this stuff to play underneath the dialogue. It’s a very adult show in that way. It maintains the action throughout season two, but there’s a tremendous amount of complexity to the relationships and that was very exciting to me. I feel like it’s a show you can really invest in.”

Halo begins streaming Thursday, March 7 on Paramount+

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