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Why General Ironwood Was Right in "RWBY"

Jeremy enjoys anime when not working as a chemist or building manager.

General Ironwood in season 7

General Ironwood in season 7

General Ironwood and Atlas

Major spoilers ahead for RWBY through volume 8, so stop now if you haven't watched it. Still here? Good, then you'll know that as time progresses, Atlas (the most technologically-advanced and militaristic kingdom in RWBY) leader James Ironwood's actions become increasingly ruthless and questionable, culminating in team RWBY fighting against their former ally.

The show works hard to convince its audience that RWBY is right and Ironwood wrong, but I'd argue it's actually the reverse—at least in season 7. So, what exactly did Ironwood do, why did he do it, and how do his plans compare to RWBY's? Here's why Ironwood was actually making sense throughout season 7!

Team RWBY vs the Ace Ops

Team RWBY vs the Ace Ops

Team RWBY Turns on Ironwood

First, let's summarize how volume 7 ends. RWBY has been cooperating with Ironwood for weeks, but Salem's incoming attack makes Ironwood abandon the lower-class Mantle city to shore up in Atlas, while Ruby's group thinks they should try to defend Mantle and call for help.

This disagreement leads to Ironwood ordering their arrest (plus Jaune's group and Qrow) and team RWBY having to fight the elite Ace Ops, their former mentors and friends. But on examination, Ruby's group is equally—if not more—at fault than Ironwood.

Atlas Academy

Atlas Academy

1. Ironwood's Embargo

Many citizens in the city are understandably upset with Ironwood's embargo, preventing Atlas and Mantle from trading with other kingdoms. Weiss's father Jacques Schnee is particularly angry because the embargo is negatively affecting his business, and Mantle has a gaping hole in its wall (letting in Grimm monsters) that Ironwood is taking forever to fix. So why is Ironwood destroying his reputation by maintaining the embargo and not addressing these issues?

I'm not saying it's a flawless strategy, but there are legitimate reasons behind it. Following Cinder's hacking of the Atlas robots in volume 3, Ironwood was understandably worried that other kingdoms would hold Atlas accountable, so he wanted to stockpile magic dust to prepare. More than that, he's secretly trying to get global communications back online with his covert Amity Tower project, using the kingdom's tension as an excuse to hole up supplies. Early on in season 7, he admits he knows his actions are causing harm in the short term, but by concealing the plan (from the citizens, he's honest with RWBY), he lowers the risk of Salem's agents sabotaging it. Which of course they attempt when they later find out.

It's basically a lose-the-battle, win-the-war approach, weathering a few months of hardship to make a huge stride in transnational communication and cooperation. True, Ironwood's actions are causing other prominent government figures (Robyn and Jacques) to doubt him, but as we see, the more people who know, the quicker the information gets to Salem.

Ruby and Jinn

Ruby and Jinn

Ruby Withholds Critical Information

Most of why Ironwood eventually turns on Ruby's group is because of their illogical plan to handle Salem's attack (more on that later), but another part is their betrayals of trust. Ruby chooses to lie to Ironwood by telling him the lamp (which can answer any question) has no answers left while also withholding that Salem is immortal, and her team follows her lead.

Do I think they should have immediately trusted Ironwood? Perhaps not (even though he's open with them from the start), but then he spends weeks sheltering, training, and promoting Ruby's group to huntresses, and they still don't tell him. Remember, Ironwood's ultimate plan is to get communications back up, allowing the kingdoms to coordinate their forces against Salem and wipe her out—but knowing she can't be killed would have been invaluable information that should have been presented earlier, especially after Ruby's group just freaked out on Ozpin in season 6 for keeping secrets.

Yang and Blake inform Robyn about Amity Tower

Yang and Blake inform Robyn about Amity Tower

Yang and Blake's Betrayal

Early on in the season, Yang and Blake reveal to councilwoman contender Robyn Hill the plans for Amity Tower. Their intentions are good, trying to convince her Ironwood isn't up to anything nefarious, so wasn't this productive? Well, not really. It's leaking military secrets to a very questionable party (Yang and Blake barely know of Robyn, and she's been raiding military supplies), and of course, when Ironwood ultimately finds out, he's understandably upset.

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Plus, while Robyn means well, her actions are pretty suspect. She's been looting military shipments of dust (albeit with good intent, to get the supplies to Mantle), but she's incredibly prone to outbursts and poor judgment, as seen with…

Robyn and Qrow vs Clover

Robyn and Qrow vs Clover

Robyn and Qrow Get Clover Killed

After Team RWBY and their associates are ordered arrested, Qrow wants to talk things out with Ironwood, which may have helped, while Clover wants to temporarily detain Qrow. Being friends, they probably could have compromised—until Robyn completely screws up by picking a fight with Clover, which crashes their airship.

This frees their prisoner Tyrion, the serial killer they had just captured, and a three-way battle between Qrow, Tyrion, and Clover begins. Here, Qrow carries the idiot ball, agreeing to team up with Tyrion (which leads to Clover getting killed).

Robyn shouldn't have started the fight, and Qrow should have allied with Clover, at least until Tyrion was recaptured. If anyone's making stupid decisions here, it's these guys, not General Ironwood.

Good luck against Monstra, RWBY

Good luck against Monstra, RWBY

RWBY's Plan Is Suicide

Team RWBY wants to stand its ground and call for reinforcements while evacuating Mantle; Ironwood wants to desert Mantle to save Atlas. On paper, RWBY's plan sounds more humane, as they won't abandon Mantle's citizens.

But does it really make sense? Remember, Mantle had already been invaded by Grimm, so the Atlas huntsmen and military are already tired. More than that, Salem has just announced that not only will her forces attack en masse (led by giant whale Monstra, the biggest Grimm yet), but she herself will lead them. Keep in mind Salem is ridiculously powerful (stronger than all four maidens) and immortal, so her entering direct combat will make it much harder to repel her forces. We hear from multiple sources (the Ace Ops, military communications, etc.) that there's no way to win the fight.

Ironwood knows Salem's goal is to obtain the winter maiden's power and the two relics currently in Atlas. He realizes that staying to fight a losing battle risks losing the relics to Salem, which means humanity would soon fall, so as ruthless as it seems, his plan ultimately gives mankind a fighting chance.

But what if reinforcements came to help, as RWBY suggests? The problem is, not only are the other kingdoms weaker than Atlas (especially after the previous volumes throw them into chaos), it'll take them time to mobilize. For them to mean the difference, they'd have to receive the call for help, choose to lend aid, organize and transport their forces, and have enough manpower to actually turn the tide.

The show offers plenty of evidence that even the Atlas military will quickly get demolished if they stand and fight in Mantle, where at least Atlas (which floats in the air) makes a tough target for Grimm to reach. Despite being based on the Tinman from Wizard of Oz, Ironwood isn't heartless, he's just making the least-terrible option available.

Salem leading her forces

Salem leading her forces

Why Ironwood Orders RWBY's Arrest

Let's recap all the reasons why Ironwood wanted team RWBY arrested; there's a surprising amount of logic behind it:

  • Ruby withholds key information about Salem and the lamp
  • Ruby leaks information over an open channel to Jaune
  • Blake and Yang leak government secrets to a vigilante they barely knew
  • RWBY's plan would probably result in more deaths than Ironwood's

Also keep in mind Ironwood's state of mind—he just had his arm badly damaged while fighting Arthur Watts, plus he found Cinder's chess piece in his office, indicating she's loose in the city, and Ironwood is understandably paranoid after her hijacking in volume 3. Plus, he's only ordering RWBY detained, presumably to be released after they calm down, far from an irredeemable action.

RWBY never did tell Ironwood the lamp still has one question; had they done so, perhaps he could have used it for advice on the best course of action, but as is, he's making tough calls under lots of pressure.

Ironwood's Due Process pistol

Ironwood's Due Process pistol

Ironwood's Terrible Semblance

One reason Ironwood can sometimes come across as inflexible is his Mettle semblance, which basically strengthens his resolve when he makes a decision. Talk about a lame power; not only does this barely help in battle, but it can also hinder Ironwood's ability to consider other arguments.

I'm not saying Mettle means Ironwood gets a free pass to do whatever he pleases, but it's a contributing factor that the show oddly doesn't make mention of.

James Ironwood and Glynda Goodwitch

James Ironwood and Glynda Goodwitch

Everything Nice Ironwood Did

Throughout the many seasons he's appeared in, we've consistently seen Ironwood be one of the most selfless characters, arguably more so than Ozpin. Here's a recap of his kindness:

  • Gave Yang her mechanical arm
  • Utilizes military machines in part to reduce human casualties
  • Congratulates Ruby for attempting to stop Cinder (season 2) even though she failed
  • Warns Glynda in season 2 (correctly) that Ozpin is keeping secrets
  • Encourages Weiss in season 4
  • Ignores RWBY's transgressions (like stealing an airship) and immediately tells them his plan. Also lets them hang onto the relic of knowledge.
  • Takes time out of a busy schedule to give RWBY and JNR their licenses, complete with cake, and orders them to take a day off after their hard work
  • Unlike many in Atlas, holds no hatred for Faunus and regularly employs them
  • Keeps the old winter maiden alive and comfortable as long as possible, even when killing her would let him access the maiden powers much faster
Ironwood shoots Oscar

Ironwood shoots Oscar

Ironwood's Sloppy Writing

We've looked extensively at Ironwood's numerous compassionate acts, and why even his more-ruthless ones had good intentions and often logic behind them. But the writers can't have RWBY be the bad guys of course, so starting in season 8, they make Ironwood start completely slipping, like murdering Councilman Steele, to cement the idea that "oh he's bad and RWBY's right to oppose him," sadly removing the engaging moral debate from the prior season.

Really, Ironwood starts to slip at the very end of volume 7, where he shoots Oscar, but even that's slightly defendable considering 1) Ozpin (and thus Oscar) will reincarnate and 2) Oscar had just said that he considered Ironwood as bad as Salem, and Ironwood knows he can't risk RWBY's plan. But I'll grant that this action is where his writing gets messed up, as there were better alternatives he could have employed.

So, while far from perfect, James Ironwood not only meant well, but had reasonable plans to counter Salem's forces based on the information he had. He only fails from a combined factor of inner betrayal (Jacques, RWBY, etc.), sabotage (Watts and Tyrian), unknown variables (Cinder), and Salem's giant army. But for now, share your thoughts on Ironwood and I'll see you at our next review!

© 2021 Jeremy Gill

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