The newest Halo episode showcased the ultimate form of a Spartan

After Halo season 2 ultimately depicted the decline of the planet Reach — a foundational, emotional moment in Halo lore — I decided to craft a few words of admiration about it. However, upon viewing the subsequent episode, “Aleria,” I realized that episode, not “Reach,” is the one that truly provides a Halo experience deserving of the games yet so delightfully different from them.

Warnings for Halo season 2 to follow

One of the components lacking from Halo season 1 was the friendship between Spartans. The initial section of Halo’s second season more effectively developed and delineated the connections of Silver Team (Master Chief Petty Officer John-117, Riz-028, Kai-125, and Vannak-134); specifically, Riz-028 (Natasha Culzac) and Vannak-134 (Bentley Kalu), who were all but disregarded in season 1, truly received moments to shine in season 2. Riz, after enduring a debilitating injury, grapples with keeping up with the physical and emotional demands of being a Spartan. Meanwhile, Vannak, after removing his emotion regulator chip, is fostering a tranquil life for himself beyond his Mjolnir armor.

It was heartwarming and amusing to see Vannak exhibit as an animal facts guy who enjoys nourishing the local pigeons while Riz experiences a bit of chagrin realizing the guy she’s developed a crush on is in a committed relationship. However, Halo is also a tale of warfare. And concerning the planet Reach, in the guise of a devastating surprise assault, Riz, Vannak, and the rest of Team Silver are summoned into action — and some of them don’t survive.

I anticipated the demises of prominent characters in the “Reach” episode. It disheartened me slightly to witness Vannak depart because viewers were provided with so little time with him. Captain Keyes’ (Danny Sapani) demise also caught me off guard since that character perishes elsewhere in the games, and I didn’t assume the show would eliminate him so swiftly. In the end, “Reach” was a satisfactory episode with fragments of truly good action but lacked the emotional impact an episode centered on one of the moments in Halo lore ought to have.

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The subsequent episode, “Aleria,” commences right where “Reach” concluded, with the surviving Spartans and Dr. Halsey besieged by Covenant troops with no possibility of escape. However, as often transpires in this series, Halo conveyed hope.

As everyone boarded the ship, the Covenant continued to draw near. Riz, despite being wounded and sans her armor (no one has any armor because storyline) leapt off the ship armed only with pistols, ostensibly to hold off the Covenant to allow the ship to depart safely.

I began yelling, angered that the show was on the verge of terminating yet another character I had grown fond of.

Riz returned bearing Vannak’s remains, and my infuriated yells transformed into equally loud sobs. That wasn’t her courageous sacrifice suicide mission. She simply went back for her friend, her comrade, her brother.

In that instant, Riz-028 offered the best depiction of a Spartan witnessed outside the series’ myriad games, while the show itself subverted my predictions.

I was prepared to reluctantly acknowledge Riz’s demise as I had Vannak’s and Keyes’. In the end, Riz is a Black character, as were Vannak and Keyes, while a previous valiant death in the “Reach” episode featured yet another Black character. In a media landscape where characters of color are frequently sacrificed as a means to heighten stakes or intensify emotion without imperiling a show’s “more valuable” white stars, Riz’s death would have fit right in. Furthermore, Riz is a Spartan — so long as she’s not John-117, she’s expendable.

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Following which, as everyone reassembles and recuperates on the planet Aleria, Riz elects to stay behind as John swears vengeance on the military leaders accountable for deserting Reach to its destiny. John vehemently opposes this, endeavoring to guilt her by inquiring what she plans to do about their lost planet and comrades.

“I’m going to exist,” she states.

For Halo, that’s deep.

Spartans are always at war. Always. There’s an in-universe military command that mandates Spartans never be declared “KIA” but “missing in action,” not only to strengthen their myth as the invulnerable soldier but a perpetual one as well — one who’s always still out there, still fighting.

When they are unable to engage in combat, like the Spartans who survived augmentation with enduring disabilities, they still serve in the military in some capacity. Even when there are no more conflicts to partake in, Master Chief himself never sets aside his firearm, famously instructing Cortana at the conclusion of Halo 3 to awaken him when he’s required once more. And when we witness Spartans perish, it is always in dedication to the mission.

But TV Halo, for the first time in the series, dares to envision something distinct for a Spartan: life, one beyond combat, serving, or demise. And it was delightful to witness.

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