The Fractured Narrative of Cortana’s Fate

By now many of you reading this have likely read Halo: Tales from Slipspace, the second Halo comic anthology released in the franchise’s history. I was among the lucky few to get it digitally when it was seemingly accidently released back in October. Personally, I felt the anthology was a fairly lackluster addition to the franchise with only the stories “Hunting Party” and “Undefeated” being the standouts. Of note, however, was “Dominion Splinter” by Frank O’Connor. This story was the long-awaited revelation about how Cortana survived her death in Halo 4 to become the self-proclaimed inheritor of the Mantle in Halo 5. Halo 5’s narrative offered some clues, but nothing concrete. O’Connor’s story would finally make sense of this point of controversy about Halo 5’s story and offer us insight into the subtlety and nuance of 343’s vision.

Well, not particularly.

See, while those of us who read it early seemed to find some satisfaction in the notion that what we saw in “Dominion Splinter” were rampant fragments of Cortana assuming direct control of Domain and thus explained why Cortana in Halo 5 just did not seem right, further reflection makes me doubt that explanation. The story of “Dominion Splinter” almost seems at odds with everything else we had been told about Cortana’s fate up to this point. In fact, I’d argue we have about three different accounts of just how and why Cortana is still alive.

The first is what we get in Halo 5. Chief mentions that the Didact’s ship was pulled into slipspace and that “it could have gone anywhere.” Naturally, Catalog back on the Halo Waypoint forums corroborated this by noting the “heart” of the Didact’s ship initiated an emergency slipspace jump. At the time I felt this was a cop-out, but it is fair enough. After all, we saw parts of the ship land on Installation 03 and it’d make some sense that the last visited location would be where an emergency system would take what is left of the ship. The question remains, however, how and why Genesis was also accessed? But, okay, that’s a start.

Yet the entry for Genesis on Halo Waypoint mentions that her matrix was forced into the Domain after her sacrifice to stop the Didact was made. Not much there, but nothing specific is there about fragments or even the Didact’s ship.

“Dominion Splinter” starts with Cortana’s world starting to go black only for a mote of light to draw her attention. Somehow, this places her at the proverbial doorway of the Domain where she meets the Warden Eternal who blocks her way. This Cortana calls itself a fragment only for more fragments to show up out of nowhere later on that sneak past the Warden and force him into servitude. And denying Composed essences from entering the Domain (which seems just unnecessarily spiteful but you do you Cortana).

So we have two situations that kinda connect with Genesis’ article and “Dominion Splinter”, but then that renders the Mantle’s Approach’s presence to explain Cortana’s survival moot. Yet Genesis’ article suggests her matrix was forced into the Domain, not several fragments. At the same time, is the implication in “Dominion Splinter” that all the other fragments of Cortana were just hiding the whole time or perhaps that fragment of Cortana made fragments of her own? Maybe I’m just being obtuse, but this real lack of consistency bugs me to no end. This is not to say one couldn’t take all these accounts and weave something sensible together, but the holes still sink this ship. Maybe as the Mantle’s Approach went into slipspace the fragments or matrix of Cortana “fell out” into the void, found the Domain, went to Genesis because it was a gateway, and there you go. Course, that still leads one to ask why parts of the Didact’s ship would be going to Genesis at all (and of course we never see this emergency slipspace jump happen in Halo 4 mind you) and why this is treated as relevant in Halo 5 when 2/3 accounts don’t seem to require it.

Frankly, it just doesn’t seem like Cortana’s survival was planned out all that well. I can give Brian Reed and Frank O’Connor the benefit of the doubt that Cortana’s survival was known before Halo 5 started development (which makes their claims about her being killed in Halo 4 and that what we see in Halo 5 is Cortana’s “ghost” according to Frankie in a Gameinformer article weird ones to make). I still people suggest that maybe the Logic Plague or some outside force is controlling her may be an additional element, but what we have so far does not seem to suggest it explicitly. Then again, with how inconsistent this is I would not be shocked if it was deliberately written in such a way that any new development can be thrown in. We will have to see, but I don’t think the folks at 343 have been doing a good job at hinting at or exploring the subtlety and nuance of how they are handling Cortana’s story. Almost as if you can’t be subtle or nuanced about something that is a work in progress.

““When the game is over, the king and the pawn go back in the same box.”

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5 thoughts on “The Fractured Narrative of Cortana’s Fate

  1. I think that Frank and Brian have some ideas where they are going with the concept of the Domain, and the Warden, but the fine detail is something they are more liable to get messed up. They were vague about the Didact’s composing for quite some time, and may have only given Grim a vague set of details on the Mantle’s Approach trying to save itself.
    I have continually felt the logic plague to be a very likely prospect going forward, perhaps lying dormant since Halo 3, and released via Cortana’s fragmenting. The Warden seems initially the one imprisoning essences, and that may call back to Static Carillon’s comments about Prometheans. Warden also speaks about inherent shortcomings of organic minds – and may parallel Abaddon’s (protective?) rage. If this sparks use of a Composer boosted by a Halo, there may be a nasty first strike coming…

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  2. From reading what Frankie and Brian have said, it is clear they have some long-term plans for the Domain and the Warden in mind, but may be hazier in presenting fine details (ie to the likes of Grim). Warden is presented as the main factor in blocking essences from the Domain, and may be echoing Static Carillon’s comments about the Prometheans. Warden also speaks about organic minds being an inferior flowering, perhaps reminiscent of Abaddon’s (protective?) anger. Add to that Cortana’s threats about remaking people, and we could be looking at the use of Halo-boosted composer in a first strike. And if she also carries the Logic Plague…

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