Halo Season 2: Why Cortana Looks Different, Explained

By Klein Felt Posted:
Cortana from Halo Season 1 and Season 2

Fans might be wondering why Cortana looks so different in Season 2 of Paramount+'s Halo TV series. 

Based on the beloved Xbox video game franchise, the Halo streaming show has done a decent enough job of adapting the fan-favorite sci-fi universe. 

But this has come with controversy, as the TV take on the Halo world does not follow the games' events exactly. It has made some major changes to characters, including showing the face of the franchise's traditional helmet-adorned protagonist, Master Chief.

[ Full Cast of Halo Season 2 Paramount TV Series - Every Main Character & Actor Who Appears (Photos) ]

Why Did Halo Season 2 Change Cortana?

Halo Season 2 Cortana

Some may have noticed that the fan-favorite Halo A.I. Cortana looks slightly different in Season 2 of the Halo Paramount+ series. 

Since the franchise's beginning, Cortanas has been vital to the Halo story, and that has—for the most part—translated to the streaming take on Xbox's iconic sci-fi world. 

However, Master Chief's A.I. companion underwent a major change between Seasons 1 and 2 of the series and looks completely different in this latest batch of episodes. 

This is largely due to the change from a CGI model for Cortana—created using motion capture by voice actress Jen Taylor—to an actress named Christina Bennington physically playing the character in Season 2, while Taylor still provides the voice. 

Following the critically maligned Season 1, significant moves were made to improve the show heading into Season 2. One of these plays was changing the way Cortana looks and feels on-screen. 

Cortana's CG model from Season 1 was one of the biggest points of contention among fans. Audiences complained the character looked far too much like a regular human than the traditionally blue A.I. look seen in the Halo games.

According to executive producer Kiki Wolfkill, who was promoted to showrunner for Halo Season 2, Cortana's Season 1 design was changed to capture the "full range of emotion and facial nuance" that only a real actor can bring (via GameSpot):

"The original Season 1 Cortana was a fully CG character. It was not based on an actor. We pulled in some of [Dr. Halsey actress] Natasha [McElhone]'s attributes, but really, it was a wholly created character. It was very much about how do we make sure we're getting the full range of emotion and facial nuance? And maybe that can only come from a real person."

Wiener added, "The solution [they] came up with" provided them with "a lot of creative benefits," including being able to "ground the show:"

"I think that the solution we came up with had a lot of creative benefits and most of them have to do with just trying to ground the show as much as possible and keeping it feeling human and photo-real. And while you can achieve some things with a CG asset, we know that there's really something ineffable about human beings and particularly with actors, you know, you can get these nuances and subtleties that I think connect us to what's going on inside on a subtextual level."

As for how the creative team made it work with two different actresses playing the physical and vocal performances of Cortana, voice actress Jen Taylor said, "We would talk through and rehearse possibilities for each scene." During shooting, she would "be on hand to help guide the [physical] performance" to match her voice:

"We would talk through and rehearse possibilities for each scene the day before we were on set. I'd send Christina a few different takes of each of Cortana's lines as reference for cadence and tone. Then on the day, we would work through the scenes with the director and our fellow actors and, once we began filming, I'd be on hand to help guide the performance."

Star of the series Pablo Schreiber (who plays the TV take on series icon Master Chief) told Radio Times he attributed the Cortana change to "a new vision" for the series:

"That does occur in the games. The difference in appearance I would also attribute to a new showrunner, a new vision for the look."

Are There More Changes for the Halo Series?

This Cortana change is the tip of the iceberg of changes to the hit Paramount+ series in Season 2. 

Halo Season 1 was a miss among critics for a streamer looking for its first real must-watch exclusive piece of programming. 

Whispers of a Halo TV show or movie swirled for decades before the Paramount+ series, so it was assumed the demand would be there because of the name Halo

However, that was not the case, as the diehard fans who did show up found a product that lacked major connections to the game and featured significant character changes (a la Cortana). 

For Season 2, an effort to turn this starship around was made. This resulted in David Wiener being brought in as showrunner, a from-the-ground-up redesign of the series, and the tying in of major gaming plot points like the Battle of Reach (the flashpoint that sets off the Halo adventure in the video games). 

Halo Season 2 has been generally well-received, sitting at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to Season 1's 70%. So the major changes are likely done. 

However, a project like this is a living organism, so if/when the streaming sci-fi series is greenlit for Season 3, Wiener and the team will likely take feedback from Season 2 into account and implement it. 

Halo Season 2 is streaming now on Paramount+. 

- In This Article: Halo (Season 2)
Release Date
February 08, 2024
Jen Taylor
Pablo Schreiber
Shabana Azmi
- About The Author: Klein Felt
Klein Felt is a Senior Editor at The Direct. Joining the website back in 2020, he helped jumpstart video game content on The Direct. Klein plays a vital role as a part of the site's content team, demonstrating expertise in all things PlayStation, Marvel, and the greater entertainment industry.