Halo Infinite is coming and with it should be the end of Master Chief's 20-year story.
It certainly seems like 343 Industries is teeing Halo Infinite up to be the final chapter in the epic saga that is John-117. The trailer that debuted at the Xbox Games Showcase ends with Chief coming face-to-face with a Banished leader whose monologue implies the Chief's demise: "But here you now stand. This is my last fight. A true test of legends, our story will outlive us both. Set a fire in your heart, Spartan. Bare your fangs, fight hard, die well."
With the news that Halo Infinite is meant to be the last standalone Halo title for a decade (opens in new tab), there's nothing left for 343 to do except to kill their darling – or in this case, their Master. The blatant throwback to Halo: Combat Evolved in the Halo Infinite box art and the game's nostalgic, sunny graphics hammers home the idea that Halo Infinite will close the loop that is the Halo saga. It's a narrative Halo ring, and this is the final piece.
Here's how all roads point to Halo Infinite closing the door forever on Master Chief, Cortana, and the Halo universe as we know it, and why that's a good thing.
The Lore of the Rings
While Halo lore is far more complicated than the gameplay would have you think, it's clear that the epic story has been funnelling us towards a logical conclusion. Let's recap, as it can get a bit convoluted.
Long before the events of Halo: Reach, humans were an advanced, spacefaring species in the running to obtain the Mantle of Responsibility. The Mantle is an ideology before it is an object, the creation of the Precursors (an ancient species responsible for genetically engineering many of the races in the galaxy). It represents the obligation of the most advanced race to protect lesser life forms in the galaxy – but the Forerunners, another alien race, believed they were the rightful inheritors of the Mantle, and began a long war that led to them forcing humans to live in a pre-technological state on a planet known as Earth.
The term "Reclaimer" is important here – it's used to refer to the species chosen to inherit the Mantle – in particular, it refers to humans who carry a special genetic code written in by a Forerunner known as the Librarian. Reclaimers can activate Forerunner technology – it's why Master Chief comes damn near close to activating the ring in Halo: Combat Evolved, and why he seems to know his way around the tech despite never having encountered it before. It's also why the Covenant have to kidnap humans to activate Forerunner tech – despite believing they deserve the mantle, none of the Covenant races are Reclaimers. Sucks to suck.
The genetic code that Chief contains is also responsible for the creation of other SPARTANs and Cortana's creation - the Librarian planted seeds that led to technological advances like the SPARTAN program and Smart AI. This speaks to the larger picture of the ties that bind Chief and Cortana.
Sacrifice is a common theme in the Halo franchise, though the ultimate sacrifice (giving one's life) has thus far been reserved for characters who aren't Master Chief and Cortana – though not for their lack of trying.
In Halo: Reach, every member of Noble Team (save one) sacrifices themselves to ensure humanity can stand against the Covenant. At the end of Halo 3, it appears Chief has sacrificed himself to save humanity, although he obviously ends up surviving. At the end of Halo 4, you control Chief as he desperately claws his way to a nuclear warhead that he detonates with his hands to save humanity. Again, Chief doesn't die, despite being centimeters away from a nuclear explosion - because Cortana sacrifices herself to save him.
By Halo 5, it's clear that Cortana is still alive, though driven to madness by rampancy (a sort of deterioration that advanced AI suffer after being online for more than seven years"), and determined to get her hands on the Mantle of Responsibility, which she claims belongs to AI.
For Halo: Infinite to narratively and thematically close the Halo loop, Chief should sacrifice himself to stop the Banished (and likely Cortana and the Created, a faction of rogue artificial intelligence she founded). But there's arguably an even bigger sacrifice, in John's future – Cortana herself, the closest thing this tragic figure has had to a loved one since his brief childhood.
Chief and Cortana, til death do they part
And that may very well be the core of this Halo epic. Master Chief and Cortana's relationship, brought together by destiny, by the genetic gifts bestowed upon humanity by the Precursors.
"We go together," Chief tells Cortana at the end of Halo 4. It's a simple statement that profoundly states his feelings for her. After she sacrifices herself for Chief, a montage plays of their interactions across the series, hammering home the notion that this bond goes beyond a soldier tasked with protecting an AI. She is, after all, the only real thing that gives Chief pathos in the entire series, and that's thanks to 343 deciding to lean into that relationship when they took the Halo helm.
Before that, Chief is merely a faceless super soldier with a pretty solid moral compass, one-lining his way through a franchise in order to save the world and his snarky computer lady. Cortana and Chief are the beating heart of the Halo franchise – but I think it's time for that heart to stop.
With the back-to-back fake-outs of Halo 3 and Halo 4, the stage is set for Chief to make the ultimate sacrifice. Cortana is still alive at the end of Halo 5, after having brutally betrayed him in order to continue on her rampage to get her hands on the Mantle. As the Banished leader said in the Halo Infinite trailer, it is indeed time for John-117 to "set a fire" in his heart in order to "die well." But not before he takes Cortana with him.