Finally, all the build-up from the past few episodes culminates in all-out war between Salem’s Grimm and Ironwood’s Atlesian Military. All the while, the heroes and even some of the villains wrestle with a disturbing thought – how do you defeat an unstoppable force?
‘War’ has probably the coolest opening of any of the episodes in Volume 8, with the Atlesian Military forming ranks as hundreds of Sabyrs charge the soldiers. All the while, Monstra is summoning Grimm in droves, from slow-moving Apathy to giant Goliaths. Ironwood issues an order to have all of the citizens be evacuated to the city’s subway network as flying Grimm start to assault Atlas. This is such a harrowing opening, and outside of personally wanting to see more of the up-close-and-personal fighting between Atlas and the Grimm , it’s certainly a strong note to open on.
Elsewhere, Winter and the Ace Ops are flying into Atlas with Yang, Jaune and Ren in custody. As they witness the battle below, the two groups bicker: Yang condemning Winter for still following orders, Vine blowing off Jaune’s comment about Monstra being where Oscar as ‘Grimm don’t take prisoners.’ All this comes to a head when Ironwood tells Winter that they are planning to build a bomb to destroy Monstra.
Meanwhile, inside the whale Grimm, Salem is pushing the pools of Grimm out via the beast’s mouth while a piano piece plays in the background. The soundtrack has always been a strong point, but here it feels a little out of place. It’s clear that Salem’s movements are supposed to mirror the movements of an orchestra conductor, but it doesn’t feel tonally right in this instance.
Emerald witnesses this with a look of despair. She leaves the bridge and, while stealthily avoiding a patrolling Seer Grimm, she listens in to Oscar’s prison cell as Hazel continues his interrogation. A topic of fan discussion within the RWBY fandom has been whether Emerald would turn away from evil and help the protagonists. Some of her actions within earlier volumes, like her genuinely looking remorseful at the fall of Beacon. Additionally, outside of her allegiance to Cinder and her relationship with Mercury, she has no real ties to the villains. She doesn’t really share in their goals, so it’s interesting to see the beginnings of what will potentially be a big development for one of the secondary antagonists.
Back in Oscar’s cell, Hazel and Ozpin share some words. Again, Hazel proves to be a particularly interesting antagonist in comparison to the rest of his companions, because he has the clearest defined motivation for working with Salem.
“We share a vision. She’s going to create a new world order, no kingdoms…and no Huntsman academies.”
This development continues to great effect. While other villains have had vague motivations – Cinder craving power, Watts wanting revenge against Ironwood for wounding his pride – Hazel has the most clear-cut motivation behind his character and in this scene, he becomes the first villain who reveals how he came to work for Salem.
“Don’t you get it? She’s been alive longer than you can comprehend. All she craves now is release. Death.”
“STOP LYING! Salem can’t be killed! When she came for me, I killed her over and over again! The longest she was gone was only a few hours before she put herself back together. When I couldn’t lift my arms anymore, she showed me that through her, I could have the vengeance I needed.”
Hazel’s motivation as a villain was given in Volume 5, and back then, instead of given the proper time to process it, it was a quick ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ line that was lost in the chaos of the battle of Haven. However, here in ‘War’, it’s finally given proper room to breathe and is a welcome addition to Hazel’s character development.
‘War’ then moves to the Schnee manor, where Weiss is tending to Nora’s wounds. There is a moment of showing instead of telling going right: Weiss strokes Nora’s hair with a look of sadness. It’s very brief, but even if the relationship between Nora and Weiss hasn’t been well established, it signifies how far Weiss has come as a character, from a cold-hearted woman to one who cares about her friends.
Ruby and Blake walk in shortly afterwards, contemplating the gravity of the situation. It’s basically a lot of exposition, and while it was written to show the reactions of these characters, it could’ve been more powerful if a lot of it was cut as it goes over things the audience are already aware of. Maybe the characters have a brief conversation to see how Nora is doing, and let the silence hang in the air, breaking it when Ruby finally says, “how did it come to this?” – there is, after all, a war going on.
May walks in and offers to fly the team back down to Mantle to help protect the city from its Grimm invasion. May says in her dialogue that people are dying down there, but this is an example of show don’t tell going wrong. ‘War’ doesn’t actually show how the Grimm invasion is affecting Mantle, and it would have been nice to see the Happy Huntresses and Mantle police struggling alongside Atlas.
However, one good point of this scene is to do with the character of May Marigold. It was announced that her character was trans, and a criticism some fans had with it in terms of representation was that it was easy to stick a label on something, but that was as far as it went. That is, until this scene.
“People are dying here too. Don’t you have family in Atlas?”
“No. Mantle needed me, and to the Marigold’s, that meant I wasn’t their son anymore, and I made sure everyone knew that I wasn’t their daughter. So forget ‘em. They’ve got Henry, yours have Whitley, you get what I’m saying.”
The topic of representation is one that is regularly discussed in relation to modern media, and Rooster Teeth has been particularly good at representing queer characters – one of the best examples in my opinion was Val in Gen:LOCK The previous criticism about May’s sexuality being no more than a ‘check in the box’ is very valid, and this development for May hasbeen well received by fans. The only issue with this scene is that I needed to look up on the RWBY wiki who Henry was – he’s a character who briefly shows up in Volume 4 Episode 6 and is May’s cousin.
Going back to the rest of the scene, Ruby, Weiss and Blake contest May’s views of abandoning Atlas to its fate in order to help Mantle. Hidden in secret, Whitley listens in to the conversation. In the background, a nice flute cover of the main theme plays. All in all, it’s a nice scene.
Back in Oscar’s cell, Ozpin tries to tell Hazel the truth of Salem’s plans, but due to Hazel’s distrust in him, he blows it off. In an attempt to get Hazel to trust the pair, Oscar takes control of his body and finally tells him what he wants to hear, all the while Emerald continues to listen.
“I’m giving you the password and hoping you’ll find the truth for yourself.”
This creates an interesting path for the character. A small suggestion would be to see a flashback sequence of Hazel’s relationship with his sister Gretchen and how he lost her. Though he’s a secondary antagonist, he is getting some decent development, and it would be nice to see that getting built upon further.
As to what he will do with this information, maybe his loyalty to Salem will cause him to tell her the password, but that’s a bit uninteresting. A more satisfying angle would be for him to find the truth and turn from evil. Maybe he discovers that Gretchen’s death was caused by Salem, but he still doesn’t forgive Ozpin for putting his sister in that situation. Even with Emerald’s character it’ll provide some development. She’s been established as a master thief, so perhaps she’ll steal the relic for herself.
The scene changes to Emerald telling Mercury everything she overheard. At first, he seems uninterested, first mentioning that Oscar would say anything to stop being tortured (which isn’t that kind of the point of torture?) then saying that there’s no point in fighting her anyway if Hazel couldn’t beat her. All of this leads to some nice dialogue from Tyrian.
“And all of this is pointless anyway, Salem’s not ending the world.”
“Of course she is! You’re surprised? Salem is destruction incarnate! Our mistress wishes to see the end of it all. There’s no ideal more beautiful. If you couldn’t see that from the start… you must be out of your mind.”
While Tyrian’s character doesn’t have much depth other than just being the mad psycho archetype, that’s what makes him fun to watch. Even if he’s a character type that’s been seen before, his dialogue is always a pleasant mixture of chilling and enthralling.
There are some interesting things to note from the end of this scene. First, it’s revealed that Tyrian and Mercury are being sent to Vacuo. The writers are obviously laying the groundwork for the next volume, and it’ll be nice to see a new locale. It’ll be even more interesting to see how the insane Tyrian and more level-headed Mercury play off each other as characters. Plus, Mercury has taken a bit of a backseat since the fall of Beacon, so it’ll be good to see him doing something. Before the pair fly away, Mercury nods to Emerald, a look of realization on his face. Looks like she has all the reasons she needs to steal the relic.
‘War’ then takes us back to the Ace Ops airship, where Jaune convinces Winter that they should be the one to put the bomb in Monstra. This leads more into the Ace Ops themselves, who have acted more like colleagues instead of friends since their introduction, reflecting on the militaristic motivation as characters. It also gives the audience more of an insight into how Ren’s semblance works.
“Feelings don’t matter, the job matters. When you lose someone on your team, you move on. Replace them, like Marrow replaced Tortuga and Winter replaced- “
“NO! No one is replaceable.”
Ren has been shown to hide his companions from the Grimm in the past, but by what the viewer sees in this scene, it’s because he’s able to control people’s emotions. This is shown when the viewer sees that he can read the emotions of the Ace Ops: how Harriet is secretly furious at losing Clover, revealing that Marrow doesn’t want to be a part of the military anymore and how Winter, despite her calm demeanour, has loads of conflicting emotions. Ren later says that the Ace Ops’ suppressed feelings for each other is what caused them to lose to team RWBY is a bit of a stretch though, and could have used a bit of work in the delivery.
Also, there’s a nice wink to Harriet’s character being inspired by the hare from the parable of the tortoise and the hare. Some speculation, but perhaps it was Harriet’s nature that caused her slower companion to die. The scene concludes with Winter going against Ironwood’s orders, and agreeing to let Yang, Jaune and Ren infiltrate Monstra to rescue Oscar, but warning them they’re on a time limit.
The last scene in War concludes with Ruby’s group still debating what they should do with May: help Mantle or Atlas. That’s when they hear a knock at the door. At first cautious, they check it to reveal a character fans haven’t seen since Volume 5.
“Please don’t worry, my snowflake. It had nothing to do with you, and everything to do with Jacques.”
It turns out that Whitley called his ex-employee out to help Nora, which leads to a nice moment of sibling love between Weiss and her brother who share an embrace after nothing but coldness to each other. This is some good development: Willow told her daughter in the previous volume that despite everything, Whitley was still her brother. Additionally, he was just as much a victim of their father’s abuse as Weiss was, manipulated to be just like him. It’s nice to see the pair act lovingly without the toxic family element.
Additionally, although RWBY has A LOT of characters (the roster could do with some trimming down), Klein is still a fun character and his arrival is a cheerful bit of alleviation in a dark episode. He’s the closest thing Weiss and Whitley have to a loving father figure – he shares pleasant dialogue with Weiss, squeezes Whitley’s shoulder in support – and of course it would make sense that the man who was inspired by the seven dwarves would have one of his seven personalities would be a doctor after Doc.
‘War’ concludes on something of a questionable note, though. The gang go outside to find a crater at the front of the manor, with a very wounded Penny in the centre – and to end the mid-season finale on this note didn’t really feel satisfying. Personally, I think a stronger note to finish ‘War’ upon would be to see Penny in front of the Schnee manor, but with her systems hacked and ready to attack the trio. Maybe have her conscious of her actions while she’s doing it, being forced to fight her friends against her will. Hopefully it’ll be a plot point that’ll come up later in the volume.
‘War’ is a fairly crammed episode. It follows a lot of different characters and perspectives over its nineteen-minute run time. Though each section is enjoyable in their own right, the way they are edited together feels very jumpy. Despite this, ‘War’ is probably the most enjoyable episode of the volume and it’s exciting to finally get into the brutal action of a battle that has been built up for so long.
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While the previous episode’s flaws weighed it down as a whole, War is the opposite. Despite its noticeable room for improvement, the good outweighs the bad enough to make it an enjoyable viewing experience.
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