Halo 5: Why Catherine Halsey Should Be the Main Villain

Dr. Catherine Halsey is one of the most enigmatic characters in the Halo series. Could she be the villain of Halo 5?

This article does NOT contain spoilers for Halo 5: Guardians.

While Master Chief and the Blue Team battle the Covenant, the Prometheans, and whatever else is thrown their way, there is one shadow that looms over them all: Dr. Catherine Halsey, their creator, mother, and tormentor. She’s the woman who ordered them kidnapped as children in order to put them through terrible experiments. It’s peculiar then that she remains a sympathetic character to the Spartans, particularly John-117. Could this put her in the position to manipulate the events of Halo 5: Guardians and become the new villain of the series?

Halsey is one of the most complex characters in the Halo franchise. However, most of her development goes on in the periphery of the games. The creator of the Spartan program, she made multiple appearances in Halo: Reach and opened Halo 4. Halo 5: Guardians could bring even more attention to this secretive scientist, though – perhaps as an antagonist.

It’ll be interesting to see how Halsey interacts with Agent Locke, the new Spartan who’s on a mission to bring the Master Chief back to Earth after the famous hero goes AWOL during a mission. One important thing to point out is that Locke was once an agent for the Office of Naval Intelligence, a branch of the UNSC that first employed Halsey to create the Spartan program and then condemned her for it. 

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In Karen Traviss’ Kilo-Five series, Halsey’s conviction places her in opposition to the manipulative Office of Naval Intelligence. Could Halsey become a target for Agent Locke in Halo 5?

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The last time she was seen in Halo 4, Halsey was in the custody of Covenant radical Jul ‘Mdama, the vicious Elite antagonist in Spartan Ops. She had lost an arm to Spartan Sarah Palmer’s bullet and was in the business of revenge. In the on-going Halo: Escalation comics, Halsey continues to side with Jul ‘Mdama. Hailed as a Reclaimer by a Forerunner AI, she succeeds in getting closer to the Absolute Record

Her role in Halo 5 could manifest in many different ways:

As ally to Jul ‘Mdama

In Episode 4 of Spartan Ops, a mysterious message leads Halsey to the Elite fanatic Jul ‘Mdama. Halsey notes that “my compatriots were a hit squad, not a rescue team.” She’s desperate and hardened by Sarah Palmer’s attack. “The UNSC just tried to execute me. So you’ll need to offer something other than idle threats if you want me to help you.”

This could set her in opposition to the UNSC as a whole.

In Spartan Ops, she has been consistently portrayed as revealing her loyalty to neither humans nor the extremist Covenant faction. Any and all of her dialogue could be a lie or a misdirection, reflecting her own motivations – the desire to save humanity, but also a cold curiosity.

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At the end of Spartan Ops season 1, Halsey looks down at her severed arm when she tells ‘Mdama that she wants revenge. Halsey could continue to seek revenge on Sarah Palmer and the Spartan-IV program, with which she always had a relationship of mutual resentment. As an opponent to the UNSC, she would be an opponent to the Spartans and troops like Thomas Lasky, whom fans got to know in Halo 4. In the current run of Escalation, Halsey is still critical of the UNSC’s actions.

More on what that opposition would mean later, but there are other, more personal connections which could make Halsey a powerful, intriguing antagonist in Halo 5.

Her connection to Master Chief

Halsey’s continued alliance with the Covenant extremists could put her in direct conflict with Master Chief, who seems to find the aggressive aliens everywhere. This would be unlike any fight he has experienced before, since Halsey knew the Master Chief as a child. Their relationship during early Spartan training has never been explored in a game, but Halsey still clearly cares about John, as shown by her interest in his name in Halo 4.

She can’t match him on physical terms, but she knows more about the Spartans’ psychology and physical makeup than anyone else. Her enmity would force John to fight a mental battle with the person who knows the most about him. Halsey could become even more of a mastermind figure than she already was, in direct opposition to the player.

The invisible story of Halo is the story of Halsey’s success. Master Chief saved the galaxy because Halsey had augmented him.

John has been given easier struggles compared to ONI’s secrecy in the Halo novels and Halsey’s tentative alliance with ‘Mdama. His missions are clear-cut, black and white: against the ravenous Flood, against the destructive Covenant, against the power-hungry Didact. He has not yet had to encounter the fact that the Office of Naval Intelligence took Halsey prisoner and supplied weapons to Covenant terrorists.

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A darker Halsey could use this information and her knowledge of his childhood not to help him, but to fight him. If John finds her to be working with the Covenant, he could feel betrayed and conflicted.

Her connection to Cortana

Halo 4 was intended to be a look inside Master Chief’s head, and most of that came through his connection with Cortana. When Thomas Lasky asks in one of the final scenes whether the Chief is more machine than man, the Spartan replies only to himself, referring to Cortana’s words.

Halsey is both Cortana’s template and the destroyer of many AI, including Cortana’s “sister” unit Kalmiya. A good portion of Halo 4’s plot involved John trying to get Cortana back to Halsey.

Chief could seek Halsey out in Halo 5 to restore Cortana, but would the doctor even care? With the Infinity Key in pieces and the Librarian still operating through Halsey, Cortana might not be a priority for the enigmatic scientist. This trio of chess masters – Cortana, Halsey, and the Librarian – will surely have some effect on John’s journey.

Halsey knows about the close relationship between John and Cortana, and depending on the circumstances, she might use it to manipulate him. This could be one of the few things that would turn the Master Chief against his creator.

As opponent to ONI specifically

At the end of Spartan Ops season one, in Jul ‘Mdama’s company, Halsey wants revenge. Whether she plans to go after Palmer specifically, or the Spartan-IVs, or the UNSC, we don’t know. But in the Halo novels Halsey has a clear rivalry with the commander of ONI, Serin Osman, a “failed” Spartan too damaged by her augmentations to serve. Osman hates Halsey and ordered the attack on her, and Halsey knows it.

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Halsey could continue to oppose ONI on her own, behind the scenes, without even Jul ‘Mdama’s knowledge. Perhaps she would find innocent people, like Lasky, to be more unfortunate sacrifices which have to be made in order for her to focus on her own rivals. Halsey and ONI both believe in helping humanity survive no matter the cost, but John might be caught in the middle of the very different ways they go about it.

It seems unlikely that she would die, even if she becomes an antagonist. Halsey survives until the year 2589, her voiceover in Halo: Reach indicates. If Halsey was to die during the Reclaimer Saga, though, this could easily be retconned as a recording.

Even if she acts as an antagonist for a short time, this would not necessarily make her a villain. Instead, it would continue to deepen the character of one of the Halo series’ richest creations.

Halsey can never quite be a hero, and she can never quite be a villain. But acting as an antagonist, even temporarily, to the army for which Master Chief is fighting could lead to her to a larger role in Halo 5: Guardians. The fate of the planet may rest in her hands.

Megan Crouse is a staff writer.

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