One aspect that makes RWBY interesting is that main conflicts and themes don't reveal themselves for several episodes - or seasons. It's easy to assume that Roman is the main villain, but the truth is more complicated and affects more characters than suspected. This becomes clear when Salem's backstory is fully explored. But can Salem ever be killed?
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Salem is the main antagonist in RWBY - though this only becomes fully clear by season 3 of the fantasy anime when things take a tragic turn.
For the next few seasons, one might assume she's just another generic villain, as her purpose for reason for having gathered malicious followers and Grimm whom she sends to spread chaos is unclear.
RWBY Volume 6 reveals that Salem's influence goes a great way back in time - when the world was an entirely different place.
In the past, Salem was a lonely but not evil young woman. Her self-centered quest for happiness, however, caused her to resolve to extreme actions.
When her lover, Ozma - a past incarnation of Professor Ozpin - died, Salem tried to trick the gods into bringing him back, then to turn humanity against gods.
Her increasingly desperate plans to keep her lover with her eventually caused the gods to give up on humanity and destroy the world but leave Salem alone and immortal to teach her the necessity of death as an inextricable part of life.
Eventually, the gods decided to give humanity a second chance, though the new humans have nothing like their predecessors' magic - only a semblance of it.
From there on, Ozma keeps reincarnating and attempting to stop Salem's evil plans.
So far, he has not succeeded, taking the conflict that started centuries ago into the narrative present, and making the need to stop her increasingly urgent.
Can Salem Be Killed?
So far, it has been made clear in RWBY that Salem cannot ever be killed. Jinn, a powerful spirit who can answer any three questions every 100 years has also confirmed that there is no way to kill Salem.
Does this mean that the battle is hopeless? At this point, we've no clue as to how RWBY will end, so it's hard to tell. But ultimately, RWBY is a hopeful story, so the creators will most likely come up with something!
Salem's Plan Explained
Salem's motivations for inflicting pain upon humanity might seem obscure at first, causing people to assume she's just a stereotypical villain who enjoys being evil.
In truth, it's more complicated. Having lost everything she once loved, having tried and failed to end her life thousands of times, Salem has concluded that only the gods can revoke her immortality.
Her twisted plan is to ensure that humans will be so hopelessly divided that the gods will give up on them and end the world, this time for good.
Of course, a question remains; if the gods have already destroyed the world once and chose to leave Salem in it, what would make them change their mind the second time and destroy her too?
It will be a while before we have any semblance of an answer, but RWBY Volume 9 will hopefully shed some more light on Salem's motivations - and perhaps on the key to her defeat.
And who knows? RWBY: Ice Queendom, a fantasy anime adaptation by Studio Shaft might even reveal new secrets about the show's main villain.