This one really required no thought for me, as Thel ‘Vadam (more commonly known as ‘The Arbiter’) is one of the best characters in the Halo series.
A lot of people had issues with Halo 2, I had issues with Halo 2, but the transformation of the narrative to incorporate dual-protagonists was, in my humble opinion, one of the best things Bungie did with the series.
There have been many Arbiters throughout the history of the Covenant, going back to a time before their formation when the Sangheili lived alone on Sanghelios. Back then, the position of Arbiter was one of prestigious honour, a title and rank given to the commander of the Sangheili military. But this role was corrupted and bastardised by one of the Covenant’s Prophets as Fal ‘Chavamee, the Arbiter at the time, refused to submit to the Covenant religion and was made a symbol of dishonour, sedition and, worst of all, heresy.
The position of Arbiter, the “blade of the Prophets”, then became one of shame, given to Sangheili who had been disgraced in some way as a final chance for them to attempt to regain some honour by going on suicidal missions. The Arbiter who we see in the events of Halo Wars, Ripa ‘Moramee, was one such Sangheili who had attempted to stage a coup against his clan mates and failed. Instead of being granted an honourable death, he was locked up in a prison and on multiple occasions attempted to escape – even the Covenant military had to get involved during one particular attempt.
But I don’t want to just sit here and give you a history lesson, not right now anyway. Let’s talk about Thel.
Thel is the link back to the first Halo game, as Halo 2 opens with his trial before the Prophets and the High Council for failing to protect Installation 04 – the Halo ring that the Master Chief encounters and destroys. He is sentenced to execution and is branded with the Mark of Shame by Tartarus, the Chieftain of the Jiralhanae.
(Warning: Sangheili nudity, avert your eyes!)
Before he can be executed, the Prophet of Truth decides that Thel should be given the position of Arbiter to go on a suicidal mission to quell a Heretic uprising. You see, upon the destruction of Installation 04, the Monitor of the Halo, 343 Guilty Spark, went to Threshold and encountered a Covenant mining team there. Upon speaking to their commander, Sesa ‘Refumee, the Covenant religion was exposed as a lie – there was no Great Journey, the Halos, when activated, are designed to kill all sentient life in the galaxy as a means to starve the Flood to death. Sesa starts an uprising and it’s now up to the Arbiter, totally oblivious to the fact that he’s being used or that his religion is false, to stop him so that none of the rest of the Covenant learns the truth. The result would be total fragmentation of the Covenant, civil war and, worst of all, losing the war to humanity.
The Arbiter completes his mission and is somewhat shaken by Sesa telling him that the Prophets are false and the Great Journey is a lie. It’s only in the Arbiter’s next mission, the retrieval of the Index to activate the newly discovered Halo ring, Installation 05, that he accepts the truth. The story of the Master Chief and the Arbiter converge with the final act of the game, as both fall (literally) into the clutches of the Gravemind.
The Gravemind, the Monitor of Installation 05, and the Master Chief all tell the Arbiter that his faith is wrong. He is reluctant to believe it at first, but gradually comes to accept it upon learning that the Prophet of Truth has started the Great Schism where the Brutes have totally taken over the Covenant’s political stage by eating the Sangheili Council. Thel allies with the group of humans on the Halo and leads the assault on the control room where Tartarus has captured Miranda and is going to force her to activate the installation, 343 Guilty Spark reveals he has all the relevant data on the last time the Halos were fired by the Forerunners and that it was nothing more than their final desperate measure to destroy the Flood. Thel finally accepts this and offers Tartarus a chance to turn against the Prophets, but the Brutes have never been known for their intelligence so he leaves Thel no choice but to kill him – though, not before he places the Index in Miranda’s hand and begins Halo’s firing sequence.
The Halo’s firing sequence is stopped at the last minute as Miranda dashes to the Index and removes it, but at the same time a signal is sent to the other 5 remaining Halos which puts them all on stand-by mode. All the Prophet of Truth needs is to find a place that will activate them all at once – the Ark. It just so happens that he’s found it on Earth, the portal created by the Librarian 100,000 years ago which was designed for humanity to find so they could reclaim the Mantle. Truth smashes through Earth’s home fleet with the Keyship and his fleet of Covenant ships and starts glassing Kenya to find it, at this time the Master Chief has stowed away on the ship after leaving Cortana in the clutches of the Gravemind aboard High Charity and is intent on “finishing this fight” – the final line of Halo 2‘s climactic cliffhanger ending which had millions of people throwing their controllers at their screens.
Annoyingly, the Arbiter plays a very small role in Halo 3. He’s only playable if there’s two people playing co-operatively and he doesn’t really do much outside of killing the Prophet of Truth. Halo 2 was truly the high-point of the story for the original trilogy as I’m personally not fond of how Halo 3 ‘resolved’ things (by not resolving anything at all and not having an actual plot for half the game). The best aspects of Halo 2‘s story were removed for the sequel and left me feeling a bit empty by the end of it all. I was adamantly following the ARG that Bungie had started in the lead-up to Halo 3, the IRIS Campaign and AdjutantReflex were really fascinating additions to the lore which built up a lot of things for the Forerunners and what looked like their involvement in the game. However, this wouldn’t come to fruition for about 5 more years when halo 4 was released (and boasted an infinitely superior story, in my opinion).
That said, the denouement of Halo 3‘s story where the Arbiter returns to Earth to take part in the memorial ceremony for the Human-Covenant war was quite emotional as he expresses his belief that John is still alive and out there somewhere. It’s a sombre, introspective moment where the player is made to appreciate the bond that developed between Thel and John over the course of the game and one that I hope to see continue in future instalments of the series.