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Salem is the primary antagonist of RWBY. An extremely mysterious figure in Remnant and highly knowledgeable about the world and its forgotten history, she is the leader of a group of beings with malicious plans. Her goals are to find the Maidens, take their powers, take the Relics from the Huntsman Academies and weaken humanity by snuffing out their hope. She is opposed by Ozpin, with whom she speaks directly in "Ruby Rose" and "End of the Beginning".
Salem is voiced by Jen Taylor. She was named Mysterious Narrator in the credits of "Black and White" and "Breach". In "Ruby Rose", the first episode of Volume 1, she serves as the narrator, giving the opening voice-over for the series. She is also the narrator of the first four RWBY: World of Remnant episodes. She makes her first on-screen appearance in the Volume 3 finale, "End of the Beginning".
Millennia ago, Salem was a human woman with fair skin, pale blonde hair, and light blue eyes. She wore most of her hair down, with a small section of it tied into a small bun that trails some of the hair down below it. Most of her bangs were tied back, aside from a large lock that framed her face to her left.
She wore a white, sleeveless shirt with a raised, pale blue collar and a blue rhombus-shaped crystal on the upper chest. Her long, high-waisted skirt was white with a faint purple tint and a purple sash around the waist. For accessories, she wore gray, circular earrings and a pair of dull brown bracers, and her long fingernails were painted pale lilac.
Salem's skin is a deathly pallor, covered with deep red and purple veins that run up her arms and face. The sclerae of her eyes are jet black and her irises glow red, shining brighter when she is agitated. She has a black diamond-shaped marking in the center of her forehead.
She wears a very long black robe with red designs resembling eyes. She also wears a ring resembling an insect on her right index finger. She has white hair formed into a bun with six offshoots from which ornaments are suspended.
Salem is insidious, patiently moving to undermine and destroy her enemies with cold, deliberate resolve. She is also highly intellectual, with a healthy respect for her enemy, mankind, which she recognizes as possessing both resourcefulness and ingenuity. She also acknowledges humanity's capacity to draw strength from hope, but she uses this knowledge to subvert and destroy them. She is humble enough to recognize that there are limits to her abilities and that she can only do so much for her subordinates.
She is very confident and self-assured, secure in her knowledge that she can best whatever Ozpin sends to stop her and her goals. She also appears to be cruel or sadistic, for she seems to relish the prospect of watching Ozpin burn.
In contrast, Salem is also fair and collegial towards her allies, giving credit where credit is due and showing genuine appreciation to those who are loyal. In enforcing this atmosphere of fairness, she also discourages unnecessary malignance and cruelty amongst her associates. When Tyrian Callows returns after having failed to capture Ruby Rose, she merely tells him that he disappointed her and walks away. She is also seen tolerating her allies unruly behavior to some extent, such as Tyrian's maniacal tendencies and Watts' snide and condescending attitude. In "So That's How It Is", Salem shows her fairness when she only blames Cinder, who was in charge of the mission, for their failure in acquiring the Relic during the Battle of Haven and forbids Hazel Rainart from taking the blame, even threatening him when he continues to attempt to do so.
However, Salem is not above losing her temper, as she is particularly demanding when inquiring whether Cinder Fall has truly killed Ozpin or not. She later became angry with Lionheart after he started to become less afraid of her and be more outspoken in her presence. This display of sheer dominance shows Salem's rather imperious and demanding personality. Her biggest displays of anger are shown in "So That's How it Is", when she first binds Hazel to the floor after he tries covering for Cinder by claiming responsibility for their defeat at Haven, and then when she destroys all the windows in her council chamber upon learning that Ozpin has already reincarnated and has acquired the Relic.
In the distant past, Salem was shown to be a kind yet lonely woman, but appeared to be slightly manipulative. This was shown when her lover Ozma died of an illness, she tried tricking the Brother Gods to bring him back and then when she tricked Humanity to turn against them, only for both to fail. After she jumped into the pool of darkness in another suicide attempt, she gained a destructive nature, though she managed to curb said nature for a while.
When she and Ozma reunited, she was shown to be truly happy and Salem was shown to be a genuinely kind and loving mother to her and Ozma's daughters. However, this did not stop her from murdering Ozma and, accidentally, her daughters in a rage when she learned they were trying to flee their home once Ozma realized the monster she had become.
Both Qrow and Raven describe her as a being who would make use of anybody to help further her goals, something Salem herself suggests when explaining her decisions to Cinder. Raven states that she would discard the people she uses if they become obsolete to her, which is later violently demonstrated when she uses a Seer to kill Lionheart for trying to run from the Battle of Haven.
Powers and Abilities
Salem, being a member of the first wave of Humanity created, has access to magic. She is shown to be able to fire blasts of magic from her hands, and summon Grimm-like arms. In addition to her other magic, she appears to be able to project telekinetic force, as she shattered the windows in her council chamber in a fit of uncontrolled rage.
She was also cursed with immortality by the Gods, making it impossible to destroy her.
Raven Branwen reveals that Salem is the Grimm's master. As such, she can command them to do her bidding and even create them from the pools of black liquid outside of her home. Salem has lived for thousands of years, during which she acquired extensive knowledge of the nature of Aura and Dust, as well as an understanding of human nature, society and history.
Salem is also very effective at getting others to follow her orders through fear. She controls Tyrian with statements of approval or disapproval and controls Lionheart and others by conveying their well-being is contingent on cooperation.
Qrow Branwen claims he has "seen the things she's made" and that "they are fear". She also possesses knowledge on how to steal the powers of Maidens, a feat of which was never accomplished before according to Ozpin's group.
Salem also appears to know how to graft Grimm body parts to human bodies, as is the case when Salem gives Cinder the arm of a Geist.
She also possesses some form of superhuman strength or telekinesis, as she easily flipped the massive table in her headquarters, all while seated.
- The name "Salem" comes from the Hebrew word שלם (shalém), which means the state of being whole or intact. The name also has associations of witchcraft and the occult, due to the Salem witch trials, where many people were accused of witchcraft and executed.
- It is also a cultivar of rosemary with pale blue flowers, which is also associated with witchcraft.
- In an interview with Afterbuzz TV, writers Miles Luna and Kerry Shawcross revealed that Salem's concept was done before the concepts for Team SSSN. At the first RWBY Panel at RTX 2016, they estimated that she was the ninth character designed (after Teams RWBY and JNPR).
- Writers Miles Luna and Kerry Shawcross have confirmed that any visual resemblance between Salem and the original Winter Maiden (from the RWBY: World of Remnant episode "The Four Maidens") was a coincidence and unintentional.
- One of the fairy tales mentioned by Pyrrha in the episode "Fall" is "The Girl in the Tower". As several fairy tales turned out to be real or be based on real Remnant world events, the title The Girl in the Tower likely references Salem, as she spent her early life locked away in a tower by her father.