Salem has stated that she wishes to snuff out the hope of Humanity. However, she possesses a healthy respect for their resourcefulness and ingenuity and knows that Humans are able to derive strength from hope. However, by dividing them and depriving them of hope, she can rob Humanity of their strength. In doing this, she can ensure that when The Gods return, they will destroy Remnant and her curse will be broken.
As stated by her in "Witch", Salem considers Remnant to be a "ruined world", showing how tired she is of living and her complete disregard for Humanity and all other living beings within the planet.
Salem is the Grimm's master and as such, she can command them to do her bidding. She also possesses the ability to alter the physiology of Grimm and graft Grimm body parts to a Human's body.
She has also been experimenting on new types of Grimm, as seen with The Hound. In "Dark", it is revealed that her experiments are of creating Grimm hybrids, as the core of The Hound contained a Faunus with Silver Eyes.
Much like her enemy Ozpin, Salem has her own cabal of loyal followers, whom serve to further her agenda for Remnant. Said group includes Arthur Watts, Tyrian Callows, Cinder Fall and Hazel Rainart. There have also been members that served her in the past, such as Tock and an Unnamed Female Warrior who killed Ozma during his time as "The Infinite Man". She treats them with a sense of respect and ensures their infighting doesn't cost them, even giving them advice from time to time.
However, it is revealed in "War" that she is in truth using them. Having deceived them into believing that she is making a new world order, when in truth, is attempting to destroy it.
After his wife's passing, Salem's father locked her away in a giant tower in fear and paranoia of losing his daughter as well, allowing only himself and a nanny to visit Salem under the threat of death. Her father would visit her frequently, bringing Salem gifts to make sure she loved him. He originally hoped that his child would be born a boy since he wanted an heir, but was disappointed that his child was born a girl instead.
Over time, her father became more consumed by grief and paranoia, visiting Salem less and less as he took to materialism and mania. Salem would discover that the spell he put on the tower only kept away animate objects, as such inanimate objects could pass through.
On Salem's 16th birthday, he visited her tower and explained why she was locked in the giant tower specifically – the view was Salem's mother's favorite place in the tower, ignorant that it had become Salem's prison. That day, Salem realized her father didn't love her like a child, and hatched a plan to escape, asking him for pen and paper to write stories of her own. Salem penned stories of being locked by an utter monster who wished to keep her at home forever, sending the letters out of the window into the air. Word caught wind about The Girl in the Tower, and after many warriors died trying to save her, Salem's father was one day killed by the legendary hero Ozma, who rescued the young princess from him.
In the later stories that would become the famous fairy tale, Salem would detail her father's past, but would use it as propaganda to elicit sympathy for herself to bring others to serve her, leaving out her own mistakes and taking away from many morally ambiguous aspects of the full story, such as the many who died for her sake.
Salem's nanny was the only other person besides Salem's father to be allowed to see her whist she was locked away in her tower. The nanny would teach Salem to read and bring her stories and books of brave heroes and fairy tales to entertain Salem.
Ozma is Salem's former husband. He was the one who freed her from imprisonment by her father. After their escape, the two fell deeply in love, planning great adventures and a full life together until Ozma fell gravely ill and passed away. Salem deeply loved Ozma and grieved horribly upon his death, her grief was great enough for her, to decide to go against the Gods in order to get him back.
When Ozma and Salem encountered each other again centuries later after he'd been reincarnated, despite the many changes they'd gone through, the two instantly recognized one another and shared a heartfelt reunion. Though when they discussed their circumstances, Salem lied to Ozma, afraid he would feel disgusted once he learned of the lengths she had gone to either bring him back or commit suicide to be with him in the afterlife, blaming her situation on the Gods. Together, the two of them used their powerful magic to portray themselves as gods to Humanity and the two formed a Kingdom together. The two finally got married and formed a happy family, with Salem giving birth to four daughters.
However, Ozma's lingering guilt overtook him and he confessed to Salem. She reassured him that the past didn't matter anymore. Though, when Salem proposed a plan to exterminate and replace Humanity with a species in their vision. Ozma's warning from the God of Light came true and made him decide to take their daughters and escape. After catching him trying to leave with their children, a hurt and betrayed Salem attacked Ozma in a bloody duel that resulted in the deaths of their daughters. Flipping an injured Ozma on his stomach, Salem condemned him for choosing his promise to the Gods over their family, then burned him alive. Thus the millennia-long feud between the two began.
In "End of the Beginning", Salem affirms that she intends to watch him burn, but only after she destroys everything he has built. Judging from comments made by Cinder during the events of "Heroes and Monsters", Salem now deems Ozma exceedingly arrogant. In every aspect of their conflict over the Relics, Salem appears to hold a great deal of contempt towards the man.
Given that their conflict is thousands of years old, her enmity for him has been given a great deal of time to ferment into a festering hate for him. When Salem learns from Hazel that Ozma had already reincarnated and was taking the Lamp to Atlas, she orders all her subordinates to leave before unleashing a scream of fury and destroying her conference room. This display of her barely restrained powers shows just how strong her hatred for her former husband has grown.
Upon reuniting with Ozma in his current incarnation as Oscar Pine, she adopts a mocking tone towards him, stating that his new host was so small and is surprised that her Hound didn't break him. She is also somewhat possessive as well, calling him "my long lost Ozma" upon Oscar first awakening. However, Salem is not above displaying her contempt and hatred for Ozma, as when Oscar attempted to mimic him, she retaliated by furiously grabbing his head and making it clear his attempt to pretend was futile, and proved more than willing to torture him herself for information over the Lamp. She is not surprised when Oscar does not know the location of the Relic of Choice, indicating that she has a good understanding to Ozma's thought process and personality, and effortlessly saw through Oscar's lies of the Lamp's questions having all been used.
Later on, Salem shows delight at the idea of forcing Ozma to watch as she destroys Atlas and mocks him that he was too late when he tried to reason with her subordinates that they were only helping her bring about the end.
In "Witch", after she stops him from escaping Monstra, she gives him a pitiful look, asking why he's debased himself, showing she bares some respect for Ozma and his former power.
Later, she would then angerly demand to know why he keeps coming back in frustration due to his continued interference with her plans.
Not much interaction has been shown between Salem and her daughters, but she loved and cared for them deeply. When she found out that one of her daughters could use magic, she looked genuinely happy and proud of her. However her love for them was not enough to stop her from fighting Ozma when he tried to leave with them and they were killed in the ensuing battle.
Whether Salem has remorse or not for their deaths and still feels love for them is unknown.
In "Fault", Salem was seen conjuring smoky images of her daughters upon reuniting with Ozma, showing that Salem still harbors lingering feelings towards them.
Salem's Inner Circle
Cinder is one of Salem's subordinates. She holds her in high regard due to her status as the Fall Maiden, her success with destroying Beacon Academy, and her understanding that Cinder killed Ozpin. Salem does, however, refer to her as "young Cinder", which adds a note of condescension in their relationship. While treating Cinder in "Of Runaways and Stowaways", Salem asks her if she really killed Ozpin. She forces Cinder to speak for herself without relying on Emerald's assistance. Whether or not she believed Cinder is uncertain, but she did order more reinforcement at Beacon directly after. Salem puts Cinder through harsh training soon afterward, reminding her of her desires for power. In "No Safe Haven", Salem is pleased when Cinder displays mastery over the Maiden's power. In "Dread in the Air" Salem reminds Cinder that while she will get the power Salem promised her, that there is only so much she can do to aid her.
In "So That's How It Is", Salem is revealed to know that Cinder is alive, but that she is greatly disappointed at Cinder for being unable to complete the mission. She calls her a failure and decides to keep Cinder isolated until she redeems herself. She is unaware that Cinder is going against orders to bring Ruby alive.
During the events of "Divide", Cinder's relationship with Salem is further highlighted. It is shown that while Salem appreciates Cinder for her abilities, she none the less considers Cinder as nothing more than a piece in her chessboard and places her at a slightly higher value than a "pawn". She also makes sure to reinforce the hierarchy between them when Cinder becomes too ambitious, making it clear that she was to only act when Salem orders her too.
Between Cinder and Salem, they both have different meanings about leadership. Cinder herself lacks the strategic mindset Salem has and tends to end up pushing away her followers as a result while Salem is able to manipulate them into doing what she wants.
As seen in "Fault", Salem demonstrated a more strict attitude towards Cinder due to her continued insistence to go after the Winter Maiden by having The Hound threaten Cinder, as well as warning her not to go against her orders.
In "Midnight", Salem punishes Cinder for disobeying her orders by inflicting pain on her Shadow Hand, before apologizing to her for it, claiming she was only holding her back since she has lived her whole life trying to get what she wants. She then gives Cinder permission to seek out Watts to find Penny and claim the Winter Maiden powers for herself.
In "The Final Word", when Cinder gives her the Staff and the Lamp, Salem initially looks suspicious of Cinder's explanation for Ruby's "death" and likely suspected that she was not telling her the whole truth regarding the loss of the Lamp's last question, and her failure to gain the Winter Maiden's power. However, she is nonetheless pleased to gain the Relics, and acknowledges that Cinder has done well, saying that no cost can be too great in pursuit of a "new world".
Salem found Watts to be a rather competent subordinate, leaving the complex and highly specialized task of replacing Tyrian's tail to him. However, despite her trust in him for such complex medical feats, she found his commentary regarding Cinder's injuries at the hands of Ruby Rose to be less than charming and rather counterproductive to their agenda, showing that her respect for his talents and tolerance for his less savory behavior had its limits. When Salem dealt with Watts, she boosted his ego to make him easier to manipulate.
In "Midnight", Salem was pleased with Watts when Tyrian revealed that he had managed to gain a level of control over the current Winter Maiden Penny Polendina and immediately tasked Cinder to go free him.
However, when Atlas collapsed onto Mantle in "The Final Word", she doesn't bother searching for Watts or even confirming whether he survived or not.
Salem trusts Tyrian enough to have him hunt the Maidens and Ruby Rose. In "Taking Control", she states that she is very disappointed by Tyrian's failure to capture Ruby.
In "Dread in the Air", she requests Watts to have a new tail made for Tyrian following his loss to Ruby Rose, showing that her use for him is not yet at an end despite his failure to capture Ruby and kill Qrow. Before Cinder leaves, Salem asks her to bring Tyrian and says she wants to have a word with him. Tyrian's commitment to Salem and his zealous if not psychotic determination to serve her at all costs is likely why she granted him the clemency of seeing fit to have his tail restored in spite of his failure.
Following the setback at Haven Academy, Salem orders both Tyrian and Watts to go to Atlas and prepare for her arrival. Both of them do so in "Lost".
"Worst Case Scenario" reveals that Salem was the one who broke Tyrian free from his prison transport to Atlas, by amassing a large group of Grimm in an area where there was no activity.
In "Midnight", she is pleased with Tyrian when he delivers the news that Watts is working to gain control of Penny Polendina, patting him on the head.
As seen in "War", Tyrian is aware of Salem's goal to destroy Remnant, finding it to be a beautiful ideal. It is because of this that he sees her as the incarnation of destruction and likely why he worships her as a goddess.
As one of Salem's lieutenants and her former liaison with the White Fang's Adam Taurus, Salem originally trusted Hazel to handle matters with the extremist faction into working in her favor of dividing Humanity.
However, when Hazel tried to take the blame for failing the mission at Haven, Salem retaliated by binding him to the floor with Grimm arms, knowing that Cinder was the real guilty party and disliked how he lied to her, despite his noble actions.
In "Fault", Salem had Hazel beat Oscar to torture him, counting on Hazel's hatred for Ozpin to have him be merciless.
In "War", it was revealed that when Salem first sought out Hazel, he killed her multiple times. However, because of her immortality, she simply regenerated each time. Eventually, once Hazel had been broken, she told him that he could have his vengeance through her. Hazel accepted, and joined her group.
In "Witch", Salem was amused when Hazel turns against her, wondering why he would forsake his vengeance for his sister after all this time. After a short battle between the two, she quickly incapacitated him. However, Hazel deliberately overdosed on using Dust due to already knowing that he wouldn't survive the fight and sacrificed his own life to temporarily put Salem out of commission with the help of Oscar.
Prior to her death, Tock served under Salem as a subordinate. During their time together, Salem was a mentor to her, advising Tock on use of her Semblance and warning her to finish her prey off before it wore off. Tock never took this information to heart, remaining cocky and arrogant. This ultimately resulting in her demise in a battle with Maria Calavera.
When the group known as The Circle was active, Salem sent one of her subordinates to have it be destroyed. The subordinate, alongside her band of warriors, invaded the town the group settled in, and she stepped up to challenge an incarnation of Ozma known as "The Infinite Man", as she wanted to kill a god.
During their duel, Ozma realized that someone sent her to kill him and asked who, to which she doesn't answer. As the fight progressed, he allowed her to kill him as he saw that the fight would cause substantial collateral damage, but only if she promised to let the group go free. After his death, the woman broke her promise and slaughtered the entirety of The Circle, all but Ozma's most loyal follower, and left her alive as a message for him in his next incarnation.
During her attendance to Cinder's meetings with Salem, Emerald showcased a level of fear when near or interacting with her, as seen where she showed horror when observing Salem's command over the Grimm. During "Haven's Fate", Emerald conjures a horrific illusion of Salem which is based on how she sees her.
Following their loss at Haven, Salem easily intimidates Emerald into confessing that Cinder was the reason for their defeat. Pleased with her truthful answer, she adds that Cinder is alive, but is temporarily exiled for her failure until she can redeem herself. She later frightens the girl when she is about to burst out in fury upon learning that Ozpin has reincarnated.
In "Witch", upon seeing Hazel defecting from Salem, Emerald decided to cooperate with him and act on her doubts of continuing to side with her. Later when Salem captures her, she is both impressed and incensed by her Semblances' power to affect her mind. She also intended to interrogate Emerald on the Lamp's location, due to suspecting her of taking it despite Emerald's insistence of not knowing what happened to it.
Similar to Emerald, Mercury was shown to possess the same feeling of fear at Salem and her powers. Later, upon expressing her anger and hatred for Ozpin after hearing his revival, he fled away with the others.
In "Midnight", Salem promotes Mercury to be a member of her inner circle. He later kneels with the rest of the group on the bridge.
In "War", he is sent along with Tyrian to Vacuo on her orders. Although, Mercury starts having second thoughts about her cause after learning from Emerald and Tyrian that she's really going to destroy the world.
In "Divide", Salem encounters Neo for the first time, clarifying she had no idea who the girl was. Salem asks Cinder about Neo, who tells Salem of Neo's valuable skills. Salem dismisses Neo as another asset of Cinder, and doesn't press for any more information.
As seen in her interactions with Oscar, Salem has little care for him, and while initially hoping to manipulate him to have a easier time getting the info she needs, she personally has no problem torturing him when he proved difficult and defiant. Later upon seeing Oscar's attempts to trick her, she displays a mocking demeanor for his similarities to Ozma.
In "Witch", she directs her anger towards him after the Lamp goes missing, seeing him and Ozma as the same.
Salem appears to hold some amount of respect for Qrow, believing him to be the most competent of Ozpin's followers and referring to him as "the last eye" after Tyrian reveals that he poisoned him. However, in "Dread in the Air", after finding out that he survived she grew visibly enraged but was able to maintain her calm demeanor until she was alone with Tyrian.
Leonardo was Salem's informant in Mistral. Salem used his fear of her to control him and intimidated him if he overstepped certain boundaries. In "Haven's Fate", Leonardo was preparing to flee Haven when Salem's Seer caught him. Leonardo then offered to go to Salem insisting he could still be of use to her, but she disagreed and had her Seer kill him, calling him a coward afterward.
In "The Final Word", Salem doesn't acknowledge Ironwood as she left Atlas with the Relics.
Even before meeting, Salem was aware that Ruby and her Silver Eyes are a threat to her agenda, and is planning to eliminate this problem. At the end of "End of the Beginning", Salem refers to Ruby as a "smaller soul", referencing Ozpin's words from "Ruby Rose".
When Cinder inquires about Ruby in "The Next Step", Salem reassigns Tyrian from going after the Spring Maiden to capturing Ruby and bringing her to the Land of Darkness. She expresses disappointment in Tyrian after his failure in carrying out the task and Cinder expresses that she may be punished if she kills Ruby instead of bringing her alive to Salem while talking to Neo, showing that Salem views her capture as very important.
It is not until "Gravity" when the two meet. As Salem is demanding that Ironwood surrender the Staff and the Lamp to her, Ruby interjects to tell her how they learned the truth about her from the Lamp and will still stop her even without killing her. Salem merely tells her that Summer Rose once said those same words but was proven wrong, causing Ruby to break down crying with her Silver Eyes flickering and flaring.
Regardless of whatever intention she has for Ruby, she considers the Relics to be far more important. In "The Final Word", she briefly looks suspicious, but accepts Cinder's lie that she was killed by Neo as Cinder still provided her with the Staff and returns the Lamp, claiming that her "new world" is worth any sacrifice.
Salem first sees Yang in Ironwood's office in "Gravity", but does not interact with her.
In "Witch", she quickly incapacitates Yang and her team trying to escape with Oscar. Yang demands to know why she keeps coming back, and cites that all the people she's lost is because of her. When Salem asks whom she means, Yang replies her mom, Summer Rose, which Salem finds amusing.
During "Gravity" it was revealed that Salem once encountered Summer Rose. What happened during the encounter is unknown, but it was implied that Salem is possibly responsible for her death and that the encounter was memorable enough for Salem to distinctly remember it.
In "Witch", when she learns Yang Xiao Long identifies Summer as her mother, Salem is visibly amused.
Raven is aware of Salem's existence and seeks to protect her tribe from her. She knows that Salem wants the Relic that is located at Beacon and is fearful enough about her having it to seek information from Qrow. Upon learning that Raven has the Spring Maiden, Salem sends her subordinates to convince the bandit leader that she needs to cooperate for the survival of her people.
However, in "Vault of the Spring Maiden", she is unaware that Raven Branwen is the true Spring Maiden and the tables have been turned against her and her faction. In "Haven's Fate", Yang states that if Raven gets the Relic of Knowledge, Salem will go after the bandit with everything she has until the Relic is hers.
Salem was grateful for Adam's loyalty to her cause and entrusted him with ensuring the White Fang's cooperation. Adam was aware of her existence and stated that having her backing is part of the reason that the White Fang can win a war against humanity. On his own initiative, Adam killed Sienna Khan and took over the White Fang, stating this resolved Salem's concerns about Khan's willingness to work with them. Ironically, this decision would end up backfiring on both of them. As Adam would use his newfound power in a failed attempt to kidnap Blake Belladonna and kill her parents, who later formed a Faunus militia that foiled Adam's end of the mission to destroy Haven. It's unknown if Salem knows or cares that Adam is dead.
However, sometime before the current events of the story, Salem changed from killing Silver Eyed Warriors to instead collecting them for her experiments, as seen with The Hound being a Grimm hybrid.
Salem harbors a deep resentment for the Brothers, calling them "monsters" for denying her pleas and killing Ozma repeatedly in their feud. For the God of Light, she harbors hate due to his initial refusal to bring Ozma back to life and later destroying him after being resurrected. For the God of Darkness, she watched him kill Ozma in her arms after he was told by his brother of Salem's attempt to manipulate him into disrupting the balance between life and death. Afterwards, both Gods cursed her with immortality to deny her from rejoining Ozma in the afterlife. In time, Salem fruitlessly attempted multiple suicides simply to spite them and grew to resent them to the point of raising an army against them. In the present, she intends to acquire the Relics so that when the Gods return and destroy Remnant, the curse on her will be broken allowing her to finally die.
Out of any other group or individual, Salem appears to hate the Gods nearly as much as she grew to loathe Ozma.
- RWBY Volume 8 Directors' and Writers' Commentary chapter 6
- Volume 5 Directors' Commentary Chapter 2
- RWBY Volume 8 Directors' and Writers' Commentary Chapter 9
- RWBY: Amity Arena Tock Card Bio
- Volume 5 Directors Commentary Chapter 14