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Covenant concept art for Halo Reach Image: Bungie via Halopedia

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Every Covenant race in Halo, explained

Elites? Grunts? Hunters? What’s up with those guys?

Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

So you know the Halo story and the general timeline. You’ve played through the games and felled thousands of enemies. But have you ever wondered what that Elite’s deal is? Or why the Grunts have those backpacks? Those are great questions, and we’re here to answer them for you.

Let’s take a look at the eight Covenant races seen throughout the Halo series, and explain the religious organization’s primary motivation for destroying everything good in the galaxy.

What is the Covenant?

The Covenant is a religious organization that serves as the main villains in the Halo series. It’s a group of multiple species — some that came to the Covenant willingly and others that were conquered into it.

The Covenant are driven by their worship of the Forerunners, the race of aliens that built the series’ titular Halo rings. This worship informs “The Great Journey,” the ultimate goal of the Covenant. They believe the Forerunner activated the Halos — the “Sacred Rings” — and took the Great Journey, ascending them to godhood. In reality, the Forerunners activated the Halos to purge the universe (themselves included) of life, starving the parasitic Flood species. But the Covenant don’t know that — initially, at least.

Prophets (San’Shyuum)

The Prophets all speak together in Halo 2 Image: Bungie/343 Industries via Halopedia

The Prophets are a very old alien species, and they allied with humans in the original war against the Forerunners. Their home world is Janjur Qom, and it was rich in Forerunner artifacts, priming the Prophets to be leaders of the Covenant.

The Prophets are mostly non-combative race and don’t show up in the Halo series until Halo 2.

The three most prominent Prophets are the Prophet of Regret, the Prophet of Mercy, and the Prophet of Truth. Master Chief beats the Prophet of Regret to death on Delta Halo in Halo 2. Mercy dies on High Charity due to a Flood invasion, and the Prophet of Truth abandons him to die, ensuring Truth will gain full control over the Covenant. Truth, always the leader, is the main villain of Halo 3, and the Arbiter kills him in the Citadel on the Ark.

Prophets have hunched backs, large heads, and long necks. They apparently stand about 7 feet, and are even taller when riding around in their “Gravity Thrones,” sitting at 7 and a half feet. Outside of the Covenant council, the Prophets are mostly extinct.

Elites (Sangheili)

The Elites march toward the UNSC in Halo Wars Image: Ensemble Studios/Bungie via Halopedia

The Elites are probably the most important and iconic race in the Covenant. They’re the primary military squad leaders for Halo and Halo 2, leading primarily Grunts, Jackals, and Skirmishers in battle. They all serve directly under the Prophets as honor guards until the Prophets replace the Elites with the Brute in Halo 2 (an event called “the Great Schism”).

Elites are a battle-hardened race and the warrior half of the Covenant founders (the Prophets act as the brain).

There are several notable Elites in the Halo universe. The most significant Elite character is the Arbiter, Thel ‘Vadam. He’s a playable character in Halo 2 and a co-op companion to Master Chief in Halo 3. He plays a crucial role in Chief’s story, and the two eventually form a friendship. Rtas ‘Vadum, the shipmaster with the badass nickname Half-Jaw, also played a major role in the Elite’s defection from the Covenant, helping to aid humanity at the end of the war. He and Thel ‘Vadam eventually helped form a new Elite government after the war.

Jul ‘Mdama was an Elite that maintained a Covenant cell after Halo 3, during Halo 4. He eventually served the Didact, until the Spartan Locke killed him in Halo 5.

Elites are very tall, standing anywhere from 7 feet, 4 inches to 8 feet, 6 inches — making Master Chief himself (who stands about 6 feet, 10 inches without his armor and about 7 in full dress) look small in comparison. They also have four jaws, each with a row of teeth lining the inside.

Jackals/Skirmishers (Kig-Yar and T’vaoan)

Jackal Concept art Image: Bungie via Halopedia

Most of the other Covenant races aren’t nearly as important or complex as the Elites or Prophets.

The Kig-Yar (Jackals) and T’vaoan (Skirmishers) are actually the same race; the Skirmishers are just a sub-race that come from an asteroid colony.

The Jackals are an avianlike species with feathers and beaklike snouts. They primarily serve the Covenant military as snipers or shield-bearing infantry support. They have impeccable smell and vision, which is why they’re usually the first enemy types to spot you — or kill you with a single headshot on higher difficulties.

Jackals stand between 6 and 6-and-a-half feet but hunch to about 5 feet.

Grunts (Unggoy)

Grunts in the Halo 2 Anniversary collection Image: Bungie/343 Industries via Halopedia

The Grunts are interesting little creatures and serve as the — pun intended — “grunt” infantry of the Covenant army.

The most interesting fact about the Grunts is that they breathe methane thanks to their home world’s atmosphere. That’s why they wear breathing machines in all the Halo games, and wear a backpack that steams any time it gets broken.

In terms of their tenure in the Covenant, the Grunts actually caused a bit of a panic. After being bullied by the other races — and getting threatened with chemical castration — the Grunts incited a Covenant rebellion, which ultimately failed.

Grunts are the smallest of the Covenant; they’re about the size of an adolescent human or short adult. At their tallest, the Grunts stand 5 feet, 6 inches, but they can only be only 4-and-a-half feet at their shortest.

Hunters (Lekgolo, Mgalekgolo when combined)

A Hunter attacks a Spartan in Halo: Reach Image: Bungie via Halopedia

The Hunters are secretly the coolest Covenant race. While they look like giant, walking tanks, they’re actually a collection of worms all connected together by a suit.

That’s right, the Lekgolo are worm-like creatures from the planet Te. They’re mildly intelligent individuals that can pilot machines. But together, the worms can combine to become one singular personality or community. When they combine, they become more powerful and more intelligent.

As more Lekgolo combine, they eventually become Mgalekgolo, capable of configuring themselves into the powerful Hunters the Covenant employ. Another fun fact about the Hunters is that they always travel in pairs because of a unique bond they share. When Mgalekgolo get too big, they split, but they maintain a connection to their former worm buddies. So two Hunters were usually one at one point.

Hunters are also huge. While each Lekgolo is only a few inches, Hunters are a little over 12 feet tall and can weigh up to 11,000 pounds.

Drones (Yanme’e)

Drones fly in Halo 2 Image: Bungie via Halopedia

The Drones are four-winged flying insects that like to eat meat. Gross! There are so many of them that they almost defeated the Covenant with sheer numbers before the organization assimilated them.

Drones didn’t make an appearance in the Halo series until Halo 2, where they mostly just fly around and shoot you with plasma pistols. Like flying Grunts, the strategy with Drones is to overwhelm the enemy; they implement very few tactics in combat. Other than their sheer volume, their only real skill is in mechanics.

Drones may sound gross, but things get worse when you realize that they can stand anywhere from 5 feet, 8 inches to 6 feet, 7 inches tall. They’re big enough to pick up a UNSC marine and carry them away.

Brutes (Jiralhanae)

Brutes stand together in Halo 3 Image: Bungie via Halopedia

The Brutes are latecomers to the Covenant, but they rose through the ranks very quickly due to their sheer ferocity. They’re big, hairy, and don’t play well with others — even those in the Covenant, as evidenced by their longtime feud with the Elites.

Brutes are one of the most important Covenant races, playing a major combat role in several titles while featuring heavily in the story. They don’t show up until Halo 2, but the Prophets quickly used Master Chief’s assassination of the Prophet Regret as reason to replace the Elites with the Brutes, as the Prophet’s guards. This caused The Great Schism, which led to the Elites leaving the Covenant to join humanity’s cause. It’s also why Brutes are the primary enemy type in Halo 3.

There are a lot of significant Brutes in the Halo series. Tartarus serves as the main antagonist for Halo 2, and he attempts to activate Delta Halo. The Arbiter kills Tartarus and stops the ring from firing. Atriox is the primary villain in Halo Wars 2, but he wasn’t killed off. Escharum, the main villain in the upcoming Halo Infinite, evacuated Atriox, so it’s likely we may see both in Infinite.

The Brutes are the most physically imposing race outside of the Hunters. They stand anywhere from 8-and-a-half feet to a little over 9 feet tall, and they weigh up to 1,500 pounds.

Engineers (Huragok)

An Engineer floats around Earth in Halo 3: ODST Image: Bungie via Halopedia

The Engineers are ancient, mysterious beings built by the Forerunners to act as mechanics. The Engineers are actually quite docile and support-focused rather than combat-focused, making their inclusion in the militaristic Covenant quite sad.

Engineers really only show up in four Halo games: Halo 3: ODST, Halo: Reach, Halo Wars, and Halo Wars 2. That means Master Chief never comes face-to-face with one of these things in a Halo video game, as they “mysteriously disappeared” sometime into the human-Covenant conflict. One Engineer does play a major role in the end sequence of ODST, but the rest of them primarily just provide Overshields to their allies until destroyed.

Engineers are shaped kind of like a floating snail, or a rock with a snake poking out of it. Their height varies wildly between nearly 6 feet and barely 8 feet.