Greetings, my friends!
I hope that all who are reading this today have been well and are in high spirits. I myself have been quite well.
With Awakening the Nightmare only around a week away from release, I’ve gone back and read all of the Flood themed stories that we’ve gotten over the years. Mona Lisa, Human Weakness, and even William C. Dietz’s Halo: The Flood (which I harbor a dislike for) have all been part of my recent reading material, but the one that really caught my attention the most was the Last Voyage of the Infinite Succor, from the Halo Graphic Novel.
What made me take a newfound interest in this comic was not the Flood, however. Rather, it was the way that it built up and developed the character of Rtas ‘Vadum.
This got me thinking about Rtas quite a bit, and something I came to realize is that this character has gone fairly unnoticed and underappreciated in the Halo fan base. I think that Rtas is one of Halo’s best characters, and I believe that he resembles an exemplary commanding officer and one of the most honorable Sangheili that has ever existed within Halo’s canon.
So, today, I aim to analyze the character of Rtas and lay out the reasoning behind my love for him out in the open in the hopes that you too will recognize the brilliance of the way he was written — across all media that he appears in.
Character in Last Voyage of the Infinite Succor
One of the biggest ways Rtas is characterized in this franchise is within the pages of the Last Voyage of the Infinite Succor. Particularly, it occurs as the special operations strike team is moving further into the ship.
A Commander That Values the Lives of His Troops — and Knows How To Get the Most Out of Them
The significance of Rtas’s commands in this situation is monumental. For the first time in known Covenant history, a Sangheili commander is treating Unggoy as if they were equals.
Think about it. In every instance prior to this short story, Sangheili commanders (Voro ‘Mantakree from Ghosts of Onyx is a prime example) the Unggoy were used as nothing more than cannon fodder. They were given weapons, sure, but that didn’t change the fact that the Covenant still deployed them, unshielded and only lightly armed and armored, in hundreds, or even thousands, at a time.
Rarely meant to do anything other than sacrifice themselves in order to waste enemy ammunition or set up stationary equipment, it’s quite clear that Unggoy lives were far from valued by any members of Covenant society.
Yet, here, in the midst of an incredibly hostile and terrifying situation in which Rtas and his lance encounter the Flood for the very first time, Rtas prioritizes the lives of his Unggoy. Knowing that his Sangheili warriors, armed with energy blades and protected with shielded armor, are much more durable and capable than the weaker Unggoy, he orders them to stay between the two lines of Sangheili for protection and provide covering fire.
To me, this shows two things about Rtas. One, it illustrates that he values the lives of his Unggoy as much as those of his Sangheili. Two, it shows that he knows how to maximize the firepower of his troops in order to better keep them all alive.
Based on what we know of typical Covenant tactics, I would expect the average Sangheili commander to position his Unggoy in front of the Sangheili instead. Surely no Sangheili should have to die for a lowly Unggoy!
Yet, consider the benefit of Rtas’s strategy. Unlike the Unggoy, his Sangheili can actually take a few hits. Logically, since the Unggoy are weaker, they would be most effective in the fire support role, helping to keep the Flood away from the lance’s position by firing at them while safely protected by the Sangheili.
In the typical scenario, the Unggoy would die much quicker and more easily. This would cause the lance’s overall man (and fire) power to drop significantly, and in turn would lower the chances of all of them making it out alive.
You could make the argument that Rtas’s concern was not the safety of his Unggoy, but rather that the Flood would infect them and create more enemies to kill. However, I don’t think this is the case. At this point in the story, Rtas had not encountered the San’Shyuum Legate, and thus was not aware of how the Flood worked yet. Therefore, this would not be a concern of his.
Unfortunately, none of the Unggoy or Sangheili (aside from Rtas himself) managed to escape the Infinite Succor alive in the end. But it can’t be said that Rtas didn’t do everything he could to keep his men alive — and that’s all that you can ask for in a leader.
A Devout Soldier of Unwavering Loyalty
In addition to this, we see that Rtas’s concern extends not only to his men, but to the entire Covenant. When the Legate argued with Rtas about his plans to send the Infinite Succor into a nearby star because it would risk the Legate’s life, Rtas’s response was this:
“Now you will be quiet and let my men do their duty. Our prime concern is the safety of the Covenant. Not you.”
This represents Rtas’s unwavering commitment to the Covenant. Knowing that it would potentially take too long to get word to the fleet to destroy the ship, Rtas knows that the best solution is to manually fly the Infinite Succor into destruction themselves, even if it potentially means the death of a Prophet, his men, and himself.
This theme is enforced even further later in the comic after the Legate is infected and is used as a mouthpiece for the Flood to communicate. After attempting to intimidate Rtas, he says this:
“If it takes my death, so be it. You will not defeat the Covenant.”
This may seem contradictory at first — we just established that Rtas cared about the survival of his troops — but what you have to realize is that every one of those troops, and Rtas himself, all swore an oath to protect and serve the Covenant.
Rtas doesn’t want him and his men to die on the Infinite Succor, but he knows that at the end of the day, each and every one of them is prepared to do so in defense of the Covenant. Where his previous orders highlight Rtas’s exemplary ability to perform as a commander, this stoic willingness to die for the Covenant highlights his unyielding commitment to it as a soldier. As I said above, Rtas swore an oath just like his subordinates, and he’s fully prepared to see his promise through.
Again, though, what makes Rtas so great is that while he knows that he and his fellow Sangheili and Unggoy are sworn to fight and die for the Covenant, he does his very best to keep them alive. Soldiers are tools to be used, but as Thomas Lasky infamously said in Halo 4, soldiers are also people. And because of this, to Rtas, their survival is the next most important thing after the mission objective.
As I established above, Rtas himself was the lone survivor that was able to reach the Phantom transport and evacuate the ship. But he could have easily faced a fate similar to those of his troops, and I believe that that showcases his willingness to fight alongside his men. He may have been giving orders, but in the end, to him, all of the warriors in that lance were of the same rank. They all swore the same oath, and they all believed in the same thing.
At the end of the day, Last Voyage of the Infinite Succor solidifies Rtas as an impressive tactician, an unquestionably devoted warrior of the Covenant, and (perhaps most interestingly) a Sangheili who sees the Unggoy as people rather than simple slaves, as most other Sangheili appear to see them. It can be assumed he feels this way about the other lesser races in the Covenant hierarchy as well, considering the fact that the Unggoy are the lowest race in the empire.
Character in Halo 2
Rtas’s next appearance in the Halo universe (and the one that most people know of) is his role within Halo 2. And while the majority of the narrative spotlight is focused on the likes of Thel ‘Vadam, the Prophet of Truth, and Tartarus, I still believe that Halo 2 contains much about Rtas that is worthy of analysis.
Compassion For His Men — Disdain For the Arbiter
A theme that was explored in Last Voyage of the Infinite Succor also is present in Halo 2: Rtas’s concern for the survival of his men.
Aboard the Phantom, as he, Thel, and his lance of Special Operations troops fly towards the gas mine on Threshold, Rtas says something to Thel that very clearly illustrates where his priorities lie:
“You are the Arbiter, the will of the Prophets. But these are MY Elites. Their lives matter to me; yours does not.”
Here, we can gleam a lot about both Rtas’s commitment to his troops, and also the way he feels towards Thel.
The fact that he states that the lives of his Sangheili “matter to me” reinforces the theme that he considers the survival of his men an importance. By saying “yours does not”, though, Rtas is sending a very clear message: “You have dishonored yourself and the Covenant, and because of this, none of my men deserve to die so that you can live.”
I think this is quite a beautiful thing, actually. Rtas is telling Thel straight to his face that the honorable, loyal and noble Sangheili under his command are who he cares about, not him.
This may seem harsh, but you have to remember that to the Covenant, Thel was now a failure. He was the Sangheili who allowed the destruction of a Holy Ring, which was a monumental part of the Covenant faith — which is what, at this point in time, Rtas was so deeply devoted to.
Relationship With Thel ‘Vadam
As the events of Halo 2 pan out, Rtas’s opinion on Thel begins to improve. As Thel repeatedly proves himself by accomplishing goals such as killing Sesa ‘Refumee, combating the Flood, and retrieving the Index (or the Sacred Icon, as the Covenant refer to it) Rtas eventually comes to respect Thel and consider him redeemed. This transformation of opinion is subtle; it’s conveyed in the game through gestures (such as nods) and also a willingness to assist Thel when he doesn’t necessarily have to.
Over time, Rtas and Thel form a bond of trust, forged by the challenges of battle. What this illustrates about Rtas is that he’s not one who holds grudges. While it’s true that Thel failed terribly in protecting the Halo ring, Rtas comes to see that Thel is no heretic, and is instead one who wants to overcome his failure and prove his devotion to the Covenant.
Not Afraid To Question Authority
The final aspect of Rtas’s character in Halo 2 I want to make note of is the fact that he had the courage and the audacity to actually question Truth’s decision to pull out his forces before they could kill the Master Chief.
Following the Changing of the Guard and Regret’s death, Rtas is clearly frustrated by the logic behind Truth’s decision, as evidenced by his voiced concerns:
“His murderer was within our grasp! If you had not withdrawn our Phantoms…”
He’s not wrong, either. Rtas isn’t a fool — he’s well aware of the fact that his forces would have killed the Master Chief if Truth hadn’t ordered them to avoid the area, which we know Truth did because he wanted Regret to die in order to slander the Sangheili.
Of course, Rtas doesn’t suspect this, but he clearly feels that the Sangheili are being wrongfully blamed. And what makes him so unique is that he’s not afraid to speak his mind to higher authority. After generations of time in which questioning the word of the Prophets was considered absurd, he does it without hesitation. In my opinion, the best soldiers question their superiors when they suspect that their decisions are wrong, and Rtas proves that he’s one of these types of soldiers.
Character in Halo 3
In Halo 3, Rtas’s role is an important one as the apparent de facto Fleet Master of the Fleet of Retribution. During his time finishing the fight, Rtas did three things that further characterize him: eventually growing to trust humanity, winning the battle above the Ark against all odds, and putting the Covenant faith behind him upon hearing the truth.
A Foe Becomes a Friend
Similarly to how his relationship with Thel in Halo 2 showed that Rtas doesn’t hold a grudge, the fact that he ended up standing with humanity side by side in the final moments of the Human-Covenant War conveys this as well. While initially feeling great disdain at this (the tension with Lord Hood clearly illustrates this) he grows to respect and trust humans.
There are several signs of this as the Battle of Installation 00 rages on — complimenting the Master Chief’s destruction of a Scarab, cooperating with Miranda Keyes, and lending the Shadow of Intent’s weaponry as fire support to try and break the shield around the Citadel are a few examples — but the one I personally like the most is what Rtas says after Truth is defeated:
“We are aboard. Humans and Elites.”
This may seem insignificant, but the fact that Rtas was willing to allow the surviving human forces onto the Shadow of Intent, his own flagship, makes it clear that he has let go of his prejudices against humanity, just as he let go of his prejudice against Thel in the previous game. Both of these instances illustrate that Rtas is an open minded individual; the actions of others mean much to him. And when those he believes are dishonorable or untrustworthy prove otherwise, Rtas doesn’t shy away from changing his view.
A Tactical Mastermind
“Shipmaster, they outnumber us, three to one!”
“Then it is an even fight.”
While the details of the battle above the Ark are mostly a mystery, I would be remiss to not acknowledge the brilliant Sangheili victory that it resulted in. Not only did the Fleet of Retribution defeat a fleet triple its size, it did so without losing any large vessels.
There isn’t much to say here, other than the fact that this battle’s result proves that Rtas is an exemplary commander and strategist. While Last Voyage of the Infinite Succor shows this on a small scale, Halo 3 on a grand one.
A Man of Faith Sees the Truth — and Accepts It
While Halo 2 doesn’t show us how Rtas manages to overcome his devout belief in the Great Journey as Thel does, his position in the Covenant Separatist movement in Halo 3 indicates that he was able to put it behind him as well.
What this tells us is that Rtas, while being one who devotes himself fully to his beliefs, is also one who is open to reason. When the evidence is presented to him that the Forerunners aren’t gods and that the Great Journey isn’t real, Rtas, like Thel, chooses not to stubbornly cling to the age old beliefs as many within the Covenant did after the Schism. Instead, he accepts the objective truth in front of him. And he does something about it.
Character in Shadow of Intent
Rtas’s most recent appearance in the universe, Shadow of Intent, reinforces his previous traits — while also introducing some new aspects to his character.
Willing To Fight For Innocents — Even Prophets
Throughout this novel, we see the San’Shyuum Prelate curse Rtas time and time again for the death of his wife, whom he believes Rtas intentionally killed.
Later in the book, when he and Rtas meet face to face, Rtas tells the true story of the event. As the Covenant tore itself apart in High Charity, the Flood began its unstoppable onslaught throughout the space station. Mercilessly infecting all in its path, the Shadow of Intent was forced to abandon rescue efforts in order to ensure the safety of the ship. Rtas tells the Prelate himself that he would have saved his wife if he could have, and deeply regrets that he couldn’t prevent her death.
I love this. It shows that even at the apex of the Schism, when the Sangheili were enraged at the betrayal of the San’Shyuum, Rtas still fought for those in the Covenant who he believed were innocent. The fact that the Prelate and his wife were San’Shyuum meant nothing; they weren’t Truth, and they didn’t order the Sangheili to be killed.
Of course, the Prelate, blinded by his rage and hatred, didn’t believe him. But the sheer sincerity of Rtas’s words to him confirm that it was the truth. This entire event reinforces Rtas’s devotion to the lives of those in the Covenant, and also his ability to set aside grudges against a species to recognize when one is innocent.
A Warrior of Unparalleled Endurance
Throughout Shadow of Intent, Rtas reflects much about his long history of service to both the Covenant and the Swords of Sanghelios. The main takeaway from these moments in the book is that Rtas is, simply, exhausted. After sustaining numerous battle scars (the picture above illustrates the infamous loss of his mandibles, spawning the name “Half-Jaw”) and being on the front lines for decades, it would be an understatement to say Rtas was war weary.
Yet, by the end, Rtas swears to Thel to continue his service to keeping the Sangheili people safe from threats abroad, despite being told that none would find him dishonorable if he were to take a position in the Swords of Sanghelios that was more restful.
This part of the novel highlights Rtas’s endurance and resilience. We already know that Rtas fully devotes himself to his beliefs. But what Shadow of Intent does is make it clear that, no matter how weary Rtas is and no matter how challenging the task at hand is, he will always fight those who threaten him, his people, and his cause.
Rtas ‘Vadum is a brilliant tactician, a loyal and devout soldier, and a man who isn’t afraid to speak his mind if he feels those above him are wrong. In a command position, Rtas does his best to keep his troops alive, but doesn’t regret sacrificing them (as well as putting himself on the line with them) if he knows that it will accomplish a greater objective that will save more lives and further the cause that he and his men believe in.
He is a man of reason and open-mindedness, and does not let grudges or beliefs hinder his understanding of the truth. For causes that he believes in, though, Rtas fights fiercely and fights relentlessly, shrugging off fatigue and weariness in order to continue to do what he thinks is right.
Therefore, it is my opinion that Rtas ‘Vadum is, next to the Arbiter himself, the most honorable and upstanding Sangheili character in the Halo universe.
This was a super fun article to write. Rtas is one of my absolute favorite characters, and I’m really satisfied with the way I put my reasons why into words.
Do you agree with my analysis? Let me know what you think of it either here, or on Twitter!
Anyway, thanks for reading! I hope you all have an excellent day.
Play good video games, read good books, and remember to continue the march towards glorious salvation!