The end of Halo 3 saw the death of the Prophet of Truth, the final destruction of the now Flood-infested capital city of High Charity and the apparent destruction of the Covenant as we knew it, with the remaining Elites making peace with humanity and the Human-Covenant war officially coming to a close. So why is it then that in Halo 4, Master Chief goes back to fighting Elites again? Didn’t the Elites leave the Covenant in Halo 2? How can the Covenant be back when it was destroyed in Halo 3? If you have ever found yourself asking these questions when playing 343 industries’ Halo games, then this crash course in post-war Covenant history will help fill answer these questions.
The Great Schism
The origins of Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant lie in the Great Schism, an event triggered during the events of Halo 2 that fractured the Covenant Empire. In the chaos surrounding the discovery of Installation 05, the death of the Prophet of Regret and the release of the Flood, the Prophet of Truth enacted the first stage of his plan and replaced all the Sangheili (Elite) guards with Jiralhanae (Brutes). This angered the Elites to the extent that many left the Covenant, and the Arbiter assumed leadership over most of the Elite forces in the immediate area around Installation 05, as High Charity descended into civil war. The holy city’s defence fleet practically destroyed itself in open combat as the Elites and Brutes battled for dominance, and to make matters worse High Charity itself was infiltrated by the Flood and transformed into a dreaded hive.
So by the time of Halo 3, the surviving Elites from High Charity and Installation 05 came to Earth in what few ships had survived, and this new fleet, dubbed the Fleet of Retribution, aided UNSC forces and would later form the backbone of the Swords of Sanghelios, the Arbiter’s new faction that opposed the Covenant. Following Halo 3, the Arbiter’s forces returned to Sanghelios and would establish themselves as a proper faction, amassing fleets and thousands of followers, mostly Sangheili who saw through the Prophet’s lies about the Great Journey. However, not all Elites saw it that way, and from as early as the first days of the Great Schism in Halo 2, Elite warlords in Covenant space took advantage of the fracturing of the Covenant and established their own tiny empires, often on colony worlds and former outposts. Considering the sheer size of the Covenant, this meant that there were now dozens of these factions, each sporting significant military assets usually comprised of the older and out-of-date domestic patrol fleets of the old regime.
The Rise of Jul ‘Mdama
So before Truth had even met his end, the Covenant itself had already fractured beyond repair as a result of his actions. The fragile relationship between many of the races of the once mighty empire dissolved, with Covenant space rapidly descending into a disorganised mess. With the fall of High Charity, the Covenant’s centralised capital city and primary control centre, coupled with the deaths of all three Hierarchs, communications between Covenant worlds began to break down. Some, like the Sangheili colony of Hesduros, were aware that the Covenant had fallen but were unaware as to the circumstances, whereas some colony worlds refused to believe that the Covenant had even fallen at all. Although these worlds were hardly equipped with state-of-the-art Covenant technology, they all each possessed a defence fleet, ground troops and other military assets. In theory, an opportunistic figurehead who was aware of everything going on behind the scenes could have easily taken control of the Covenant and there would have been little issues, minus the loss of High Charity.
Unfortunately for the Covenant, however, this didn’t happen in time. Although, a leader would eventually emerge to reignite the flame of the original Covenant, albeit without the former empire’s unity and co-ordination. Jul ‘Mdama, a pragmatic Sangheili who disavowed the Covenant religion but still revered the Forerunner’s technological prowess, recognised humanity as the greatest potential threat to the Sangheili, as their rapid expansion would stunt Sangheili development. As such, he worked his way into extremist Covenant factions and began to advertise himself as the new Prophet, amassing followers with the promise of taking them to Forerunner technology. By swaying several colony worlds to his cause, including Hesduros, Jul ‘Mdama’s military assets rapidly expanded, to the extent that his followers and even some in the UNSC began to refer to his faction as simply ‘The Covenant’. Although they were using outdated or improvised equipment, armour and ships, the new Covenant was just as fanatical and driven as the original regime had been. This would only intensify when Jul’s forces found and finally gained access to the Forerunner Shield World of Requiem, as not only did they gain allies in the Prometheans, but they also increased their claim to the former Covenant faith when they allied themselves with the Didact.
So, by the time of Halo 4, Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant were not only a fairly large military force, but also a significant threat to humanity, despite their status as a ragtag Covenant splinter faction. as previously mentioned, the ships and technology used by Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant were hardly up to the usual Covenant standard, but they were still capable. The bulk of their fleet was initially made up of CRS-class light cruisers, a diminutive ship formerly used for patrol duties that was a tiny cousin of the Covenant’s much larger mainline battleship, the CCS-class battlecruiser. As the supply of these ships began to dwindle, however, colony-based shipwrights began to manufacture new Sangheili warships based off old designs, such as the Sangheili Man O’ War and the gigantic Brigantine carrier. These ancient designs, upgraded with modern Covenant tech, began to slowly replace the old Covenant warships in the fleets of both Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant and the Arbiter’s Swords of Sanghelios. Likewise, newer models of Ghost, Wraith, Phantom and Banshee began to replace the aged and rapidly dwindling Covenant vehicles. Many of Jul’s old Covenant ships amassed around Requiem for three years, attempting to gain access to the planet, when the UNSC Forward Unto Dawn, carrying the Master Chief, drifted into orbit.
And this is the start of Halo 4, Master Chief awakens following his four-year cryo-sleep to find he is in orbit around a Forerunner Shield World surrounded by Covenant ships, and immediately sets to work destroying one, demonstrating the weaker status of CRS-class cruisers compared to the CCS-class battlecruiser. It would seem, therefore, that ‘Mdama’s Covenant were significantly weaker then the previous Covenant had been, although that is not necessarily the case. Following the Didact’s attack on Earth at the end of Halo 4, Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant became a primary target of the UNSC. After Halo 4, during the Spartan Ops missions, the UNSC Infinity returns to Requiem to deal with the considerable number of Covenant forces that remain there, and the following ‘Requiem Campaigns’ would later expand into a massive conflict for control of the Shield World. Unwilling to relinquish Requiem to humanity following the death of the Didact and the defection of Doctor Catherine Halsey to Jul’s cause, the Covenant destroy the Shield World and flee into space. Forming a unified fleet, Jul Mdama’s Covenant would fortify its presence on Sanghelios and other former Covenant worlds. However, a crippling blow would be dealt to Jul ‘Mdama’s faction soon after the destruction of Requiem, and it ties into the rise of Cortana’s faction of rogue AIs, the ‘Created’.
By the time of Halo 5: Guardians, Cortana had taken over many of the AIs in the Galaxy, including the Prometheans. This sudden turn took Jul ‘Mdama completely by surprise, and his Covenant experienced a mini-Great Schism of its own when their forces were suddenly forced to fight both the UNSC and the Created. Taking advantage of this confusion, Doctor Catherine Halsey managed to contact the UNSC, betraying Jul ‘Mdama to them in exchange for recovery. By this time, Jul was on the planet Kamchatka, attempting to determine the purpose of a Forerunner communication node that activated, causing his Prometheans to turn on him. This led to a massive battle on the planet, during which SPARTAN Fireteam Osiris managed to fight their way to Halsey and assassinate Jul ‘Mdama in the process. And just like that, the head of the New Covenant was severed. By another stroke of extreme bad luck, the retreating Covenant fleet from Kamchatka was then destroyed by Blue Team, leaving a massive power vacuum in the faction formerly known as Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant.
Following this, the remains of Jul’s Covenant rallied at the city of Sunaion on Sanghelios. Described by the Arbiter as the Covenant’s final stronghold on the planet, Sunaion had served as a bastion for the religion as much of the population of Sanghelios gradually swayed over to the Swords of Sanghelios. By this point, even before the death of Jul ‘Mdama, the Covenant had begun to splinter – one of the factions only CAS-class carriers was stolen by an Elite named Sali ‘Nyon and his forces who formed a whole new splinter faction, and as such the Covenant had truly descended from religious theocracy to deranged fanatical cult. By the time the Arbiter’s forces arrived at Sunaion, the Covenant had resorted to blaring loud transmissions through loudspeakers across the city, insisting on the supremacy of the Covenant faith as their fleet and army crumbled.
And thus ends the tale of Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant. Whilst it seems fitting that the remains of the Covenant Empire would fight on to the bitter end, it may not be the end for the Covenant, as despite the death of Jul ‘Mdama, many faithful Covenant citizens still remain. Following the rise of Cortana’s Created at the end of Halo 5: Guardians, not much is known about the state of the Halo universe, although it is known that Cortana travelled to Balaho and managed to sway the Unggoy population to her cause, suggesting that she may continue where Jul ‘Mdama left off – as an opportunist who manipulates those who clung to the Covenant religion and fashions them into a military faction for power. Ultimately, Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant proves the same enduring point that the Fall of the original Covenant did – that religious theocratic oligarchies are bad, especially when the leader happens to be a power-mad callous pragmatist willing to exploit the faith of their followers and achieve their goals regardless of the cost.