This Halo article contains spoilers.
Although the Halo TV series puts it front and center for the first time, the planet Madrigal has in fact appeared in franchise lore before. Although its two big appearances take place in separate continuities, with the TV show’s “Silver timeline” opening up new storytelling possibilities, Madrigal is basically the same place in both timelines: a space colony of human insurrectionists, and one of the first to be attacked by the alien Covenant.
So, what’s the true significance of Madrigal in Halo lore?
To start, Madrigal is actually a reference to a completely different (and unrelated) video game series developed by Bungie, the studio that first launched the Halo franchise in 2001. Originally the name of a city in Bungie’s Myth series, “Madrigal” not only became the name of a planet in the Halo universe but also one of the franchise’s recurring easter eggs. All of the Halo games developed by Bungie feature a hidden piece of music called “The Siege of Madrigal,” a song originally composed for the Myth series. But easter egg hunters will need to stand in a specific spot in the games to hear the familiar tune, which is easier said than done.
In terms of in-universe Halo game lore, Madrigal mostly serves as an off-screen cautionary tale. By the time we meet anyone from that planet in the 2008 novel The Cole Protocol by Tobias Buckell, only refugees are left after the alien attack on their colony. Most of the book takes place elsewhere, particularly in the asteroid belt where they’re hiding out. Like in “Contact,” the Insurrectionists once opposed to the UNSC are forced to work with Spartans and space marines to take down their common enemy.
The Silver timeline presents an even darker fate for the people living on Madrigal. The entire colony of Insurrectionists is virtually wiped out before they even have a chance to become refugees. But before the Covenant attack, Madrigal does give us a deeper view into how the Insurrectionists living in the “Outer Colonies” feel about the UNSC and Spartans like Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber).
While the Insurrection has always been part of Halo lore, it’s primarily set aside within the games themselves. The existence of Insurrectionists is meant to explain why humanity had Spartans ready to go when the aliens attacked: originally, Spartan super-soldiers were created to bring order to human colonies that rebelled against the UNSC, another weapon of oppression as opposed to the legendary heroes they would become later. And we see on the show that Master Chief and his team aren’t particularly heroic: they take down the aliens, sure, but they don’t actually save any of the colonists. That evolution comes later, at least for Chief.
There’s another connection between the video game canon version of Madrigal and what’s been established on the TV series: in The Cole Protocol, the Insurrectionists also end up encountering Captain Jacob Keyes, who is played by Danny Sapani on the show. While they don’t meet in “Contact,” it’ll be interesting to see how Keyes’ relationship with Madrigal in the games informs how he feels about Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha), the only surviving member of that colony in the Silver timeline.
The drug grown on the planet Madrigal and referred to by the same name is a creation for the TV show, however. Presumably, it adds stakes to the fate of the planet. The drug has galactic import as starship fuel, while the wild-growing plants can also be mild enough to create a recreational high. It’s “the galaxy’s highest concentration of heavy hydrogen,” according to Kwan Ha.
There isn’t a lot yet known about this drug/fuel, but as with Dune‘s spice, there will surely be someone looking to exploit it. The UNSC is going to need fuel to bring the fight to the Covenant fleet, after all. The Insurrectionists held a motherlode and now the fate of the planet is up in the air with the Insurrectionists gone and Master Chief and Kwan rebelling against the UNSC in part because of it.
The ancient alien artifact Chief and the Covenant discover on Madrigal also opens up some questions. It was presumably put there by the Forerunners, the ancient aliens the Covenant worship as deities. Does the existence of the drug have something to do with the fact that Forerunners were once active on Madrigal?
The planet is just one of many examples of the Silver timeline mixing and matching deep cuts from classic Halo lore. And with Kwan front and center in the show, Madrigal may get more time in the limelight, too.
The nine-part first season of Halo releases on Thursdays on Paramount+.