Halo: Who Is Var ‘Gatanai? One Theory Connects This Elite to a Video Game Character

The Halo TV series' new villain, Var 'Gatanai, may feel familiar to gamers. Here's why.

Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief in Halo Season 2
Photo: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+

This Halo article contains spoilers.

The second season of Halo may be hitting too close to home for Pablo Schreiber’s Master Chief and Silver Team. After the destruction of Sanctuary in the premiere, John-117 suspects it’s only the beginning of a mass offensive that will eventually end with the Covenant invading Reach, the center of ONI and humanity’s military might in deep space. If Reach falls, there’s basically nothing stopping the Covenant from heading to Earth next.

The invasion of Earth is something that did eventually happen in the games. Although the series is set on a separate timeline than the games, this invasion feels inevitable on the Paramount+ series too, especially since no one in ONI command heeds Master Chief’s warnings that the Covenant have already infiltrated Reach. It’s only a matter of time before the Covenant make their move. And when they do reveal themselves, it seems like they’ll be led by a mysterious new villain, a Sangheili/Elite general named Var ‘Gatanai.

In episode 3, “Visegrad,” Corporal Perez (Cristina Rodlo) plays John a very worrying Covenant prayer recorded on Sanctuary before its destruction. The prayer is spoken in Sangheili but Perez is able to translate for John. It’s yet more proof that the Covenant has its sights set on Reach, and that this Var ‘Gatanai is specifically hunting Master Chief, whom he refers to as “the demon,” just like in the games.

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“I bring you blessings, people of Reach,” Var ‘Gatanai begins his message. “Know that I have come without mercy, without pity. Know that I am the instrument of your extinction. I bring this planet forth as a burnt offering. Upon this altar, I place the head of the Demon. May his blood mark the way to the Sacred Ring and consecrate the Great Journey of my people. Know that I am Var ‘Gatanai. Know that I am…Death.”

Longtime Halo fans will of course suspect that there’s more to Var ‘Gatanai than just a bloodthirsty general determined to take down the Spartan. After all, he seems to fill a similar role to Thel ‘Vadam, the video game character better known as the Arbiter.

First introduced in Halo 2, the Arbiter was originally an Elite general who led the Covenant forces that defeated the UNSC on Reach and then chased Master Chief, Cortana, and the Pillar of Autumn to the first Halo ring. But after Master Chief and Cortana managed to destroy the ring and most of Thel ‘Vadam’s Covenant forces with it, he was stripped of his rank, imprisoned, and tortured for his failure.

Eventually, the leaders of the Covenant, known as the Prophets, brought Thel out of retirement and turned him into their Arbiter, a disgraced warrior tasked with the Covenant’s most dangerous missions. For Thel, it’s the only way to redeem himself in the eyes of the Prophets and regain his honor. Of course, the Prophets later betray the Arbiter after he recovers the key to firing a second Halo ring, leaving him for dead. This leads to the Arbiter leading an Elite rebellion against the Prophets and their loyal Brute minions. By the end of the game, a full-on civil war has broken out on the Covenant capital world of High Charity. Halo 3 then sees the Arbiter team up with Master Chief and the UNSC to end the reign of the Prophets once and for all.

Time will tell if Var ‘Gatanai is meant to fulfill this role on the show. Since the TV series takes place in the Silver Timeline, it technically makes sense that the Arbiter could have a different name in this version of the story. Or perhaps this is a different Elite, suggesting things won’t actually play out like they did in the game. Does that mean it’s possible Master Chief will be able to save Reach and take the story in a completely different direction?

Then again, it’d be pretty weird if Master Chief never actually has a reason to land on the Halo ring to kick off the events of the actual games…

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New episodes of Halo release on Thursdays on Paramount+