Master Chief loves Cortana: Halo 4’s Fascinating Relationship

by Gaetano 'Xbot' Prestia Featured 23 Comments 18 Votes 7009 Views 07/11/2012 Back to Articles

NOTE: The following article contains spoilers. Proceed with caution if you haven't completed the campaign yet.

If you’ve blasted through the Halo 4 campaign by now you’ll have experienced the fascinating and hard-to-explain relationship that is Master Chief and the interdependence he shares with AI friend, Cortana. The game explores the nature of the relationship in a deeper, more intricate way than other games in the series have, although the actual nature of their relationship and, most importantly, the morality of the hardline Master Chief, is still cause for much debate among Halo diehards. I, for one, am having trouble deciding on whether their obvious love for one another is platonic or romantic.

"In some ways they're friends, in some ways she's almost like a mother, in others they're skirting that line of lovers, and so all these different elements come into the relationship, making it complex and interesting to explore."

Those are the words of Halo 4 creative director, Josh Holmes, as he attempts to dissect Master Chief’s and Cortana’s relationship. He’s certainly right in saying that the relationship is “complex” in execution: the characters’ reliance on and trust for one another is compromised a number of times throughout the campaign, but neither ever even come close to breaking up the bond.

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Most interestingly, I found, was how Master Chief reacted to Cortana’s self-diagnosed rampancy, which is essentially the AI equivalent of Alzheimer's. Rather than respond to Cortana’s obvious malfunctions right in the heat of battle, he rarely even questions the rampancy progression, instead constantly reassuring her and offering a solution to heal her.

“Don’t make a girl a promise you can’t keep,” Cortana says in response.

That sort of interaction and reaction demonstrates a strange relationship bounded by the complexities of an intergalactic battle. Cortana loves Master Chief, and in Halo 4 we realise that, maybe, just maybe, there’s a human beneath that super-human strength and Spartan suit.

There’s subtle but frequent commentary on the robot-ness of Master Chief, a man that has shared ten long years in battle with an AI. Cortana, dying slowly, is quite clearly not quite up to the task, and yet Master Chief constantly sides by her. A number of times throughout the campaign Cortana’s functionality is questioned, and Master Chief shares absolutely no concern whatsoever. Cortana is all he has, and there’s absolutely no way he’s going to give up on her.

So what exactly is the nature of the relationship from Master Chief’s perspective? I’m not sure that a Spartan can ever truly fall in love, which presents a rather depressing and morally challenging dilemma for the narrative. Spartan’s are trained from an early age, are rushed through puberty, and probably don’t really know what it’s like to love someone: for him, Cortana is a friend that’s helping him on the battlefield, but if an AI can trust someone as emphatically as Cortana does Master Chief, then surely a human soldier can develop emotions of love and affection. It certainly appears that Master Chief loves Cortana as much as a Spartan could ever love someone. Halo books in the past have addressed the lack of libido in Spartans, although those books are canon and shouldn’t be directly compared to the games.

An interesting question is if Cortana is forming her treatment and affection toward Master Chief around her own assessment of future events. If she’s capable of drawing information from her memory for whatever reason, then perhaps she acknowledges that Master Chief as mankind’s last hope, and therefore treats him as the savior he appears to her to be.

The relationship between Master Chief and Cortana was complex after Halo 3, but its complexity goes to new heights in Halo 4. While I certainly see remnants of a brother/sister affection for one another, trust appears to be the definitive bond: Master Chief needs Cortana, and Cortana needs Master Chief. It’s a relationship that is neither exclusively platonic or romantic: it’s a combination of the two, because they’re both combatant realists, whose commitment to the cause and one another happens to be mankind’s last hope.

By Gaetano Prestia

How do you view the relationship between Master Chief and Cortana throughout the Halo series?

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Master Chief loves Cortana: Halo 4’s Fascinating Relationship Comments

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Keen to hear everyone's own thoughts. Please comment and share :)
Mikey is going to be hating on Master Chief forever now :P

GreenThumb said: Mikey is going to be hating on Master Chief forever now



Too emotional for him? :P

Beta said:

GreenThumb said: Mikey is going to be hating on Master Chief forever now


Too emotional for him?



Yeah. Lets go with that :P

GreenThumb said: Mikey is going to be hating on Master Chief forever now

Huehuehuehue.
Rule 34 baby =D :P
Has anyone actually finished the campaign? LOL
MC loves Cortana but is not IN love with her.

I see their relationship more like an Older brother protecting his little sister kind of thing.

Mirage said: MC loves Cortana but is not IN love with her.
I see their relationship more like an Older brother protecting his little sister kind of thing.



I don't know, I just think it's more complex than that, but maybe I am thinking about it too much.

She says things like, "I'm a lucky lady", and "I sure do know how to pick them!", which makes me feel like she loves him, he is like her protector, and he stands by her like as if she's been in his life for a while.

I actually she the lack of any conflict, disagreements as being proof that it's MORE than a sibling-like relationship.

Maybe.
Isn't she unusually emotional for an AI? Her view on love probably differs from how MC views love, which points back to what Mira said.
John absolutely loves cortana. Cortana absolutely love John. The seen where he pleads with her to come with him was heartbreaking. It isn't over the top emotional but when you know all we do about him from playing over the years, it becomes one of the most incredible portrayals of emotion in fiction.
The seen where she "touches" him is the same thing from her perspective. Given what she is that "touch" is the most passionate , and tender we have ever seen in a video game, if not ever.
cortana is mc human element, she is what makes mc human. Mc says he keeps all promises, yet at the end he wasnt able to keep one. I think we will see cortana again in halo 5 as MC has yet to find whether he is a 'machine' or a 'human' which is the last piece of the puzzle. When mc realises what makes him human (cortana) then he will go back and look for her. There has been hints that halo 5 will be a lot "darker", this could indicate the darkness within mc as he struggles to realise he isnt just a soldier but a man.

David343 said: John absolutely loves cortana. Cortana absolutely love John. The seen where he pleads with her to come with him was heartbreaking. It isn't over the top emotional but when you know all we do about him from playing over the years, it becomes one of the most incredible portrayals of emotion in fiction.
The seen where she "touches" him is the same thing from her perspective. Given what she is that "touch" is the most passionate , and tender we have ever seen in a video game, if not ever.



You pretty much nailed it here.
well i defintily cant wait for halo 5 now after completing the halo 4 campaign so many things need to be revealed they could stretch this story line out over so many games
i need to go back and complete on legendary now so i can see the legendary ending :'@
the halo universe is a terrifying place if all the soldiers are weaboos
I'm not ashamed to say that I cried when Cortana parted with Chief... Definitely the most emotional moment I've ever seen in any FPS, or video game actually. I really hope 343 brings her back in Halo 5... Am I the only one who thinks that maybe when she touched his chest she left some part of her within his suit? So that she can be regenerated?
Cute! that is all.. :D

Coriander said:Am I the only one who thinks that maybe when she touched his chest she left some part of her within his suit? So that she can be regenerated?



That's an interesting theory... ;)
MY THEORY IS THAT HALSEY MIGHT HAVE GOT AN UPDATE ABOUT HER RAMANCY AND WAS SOME HOW ABLE TO PULL HER TO EARTH OR THAT MAYBEON OF HER CLONES SURVIVED OR HER CLONES DIED FOR HER AND SHE SURVIVED AND WAS
I CRIED WHEN SHE TOUCHED HIS CHEST I CRIED
I CRIED WHEN SHE TOUCHED HIS CHESTAND LEFT I CRIED
I finished the game, I love the game but the boss, was'nt really a boss battle at all come on! Yea I almost cried at the ending too, when Cortana touched MC and she waited so long to do that proves she loves Chief. This ending was very touching and sad but I believe Cortana is not dead, just away in the dark. I know they have a really special relationship. If theres gonna be a halo 5 with MC in it, I'm betting he will be looking for Cortana. I know as he was looking at the Planet. He's planning for how he will find his companion and I know he will keep his promise because he is MASTER CHIEF 117. :)

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