(last chance to avoid spoilers!)
All right, so as we all know, Phyrra dies at the end of season 3. It’s a shocking twist for those who don’t expect it, and a legitimately horrible death scene – the choking gasps, the dissolving into sparks, the –
Yeah, that bit was weird. She dissolves into sparks. Now, you could easily say this is just the developers’ way of making her death pg for the kid viewers of the show. It’d be pretty hardcore to see a protagonist die choking on her own blood. Nevertheless, everyone would agree that she is undisputably dead.
At first, it was denial. Then, as I went back over the season, I realize that she couldn’t be dead. Really.
We’ll come back to the actual death – for now, please, indulge me for a few moments, as I recap Phyrra’s “final” story arc during the second half of Season 3. Trust me, we’ll get to where I’m going eventually.
It all starts in S3E6, where Ozpin meets Phyrra to tell her of the four maidens. To make a long story short, wandering around the RWBY universe, there are four women, each of whom represents a season. They’re essentially minor gods/superheroes, traveling and doing good as they bring their gifts to the land. What’s more, when a maiden dies, her powers leave her body and seek out a new host, ensuring the seasons are never lost, and that no one person holds the power forever.
That said, Ozpin tells Phyrra that she is suspected to be the next reincarnation of the fall maiden, through what Crow accurately describes as “a series of stupid and convoluted rules.” Basically, the final person who’s in the maidens’ thoughts as she dies is the one who gets the power next.
However, with the latest Fall Maiden, Amber, something’s gone wrong – someone, who we later learn is Cinder (cough bitch cough) – has stolen a portion of the Fall Maiden’s power through an unknown means. As a result, Amber is currently weak and dying, in a secret vault under the city.
In addition, as the one who was in the maiden’s thoughts last is the one who gets the power, this presents a serious problem if the maiden is murdered or severely injured – her thoughts will almost involuntarily be of her attacker as she dies.
The headmasters have devised a desperate gambit – to manipulate Amber’s aura into transferring over to Phyrra. Basically, they want to make her into an alternate Cinder, this one on their side. This is monstrous, as they admit – they’re basically killing Amber and taking her soul from her - but if Amber dies, there’s a good chance the powers will seek out her other half – her assailant, Cinder. If Cinder gets the Fall Maiden’s full powers, of course, the good guys are in deep shit. This is their only chance to prevent that.
Having heard all of this, Phyrra naturally needs time to think about this dangerous power transfer – for all she and the headmasters know, her mind will be overwritten by Amber’s, or the transfer might not work, or she’ll just plain die. The headmasters allow her time to think – but they will need her answer by the end of the vital festival (season 3).
Jumping forward, in S3E11, the city (god I’m bad with location names) is under mass attack. Phyrra, Ozpin and Jaun (John? Joan?) run down the vault, the fall maiden's powers being their last hope for saving the city. Phyrra gets into a transfer machine doohickey which will basically give her the fall maiden’s aura, and hopefully, powers.
Now, here’s where things get interesting. As the power transfer begins, we can clearly see Amber blinking (back to this in a second.) Nobody notices, however, and the transfer begins, causing Phyrra intense pain. Amber appears to be gradually waking up, but unfortunately, Cinder (cough BITCH cough) shows up at exactly the wrong time, and puts an arrow in the weakened Amber, killing her. Bad goes to worse, as not only does the transfer revert the power to Amber, as she dies, the power leaves amber and goes to Cinder, essentially making her the bootleg Fall Maiden.
From there, things are fairly straightforward – Cinder escapes, Phyrra goes after her (kissing Jaun in the process, yay!) and after a fight, she meets her untimely end.
Now, why have I told you all of this? Well, as you can see, the whole Fall maiden thing with Phyrra was clearly a well-thought-out plot element by the developers – we even see her debating the moral ethics of it with Jaun in one episode. However, here’s the six-million-dollar question.
What was the point?
Now, I hate breaking the immersion and looking at the technical aspects of a story as anyone, but it is unfortunately necessary if we’re to see the big picture. If Phyrra dies, what was the point of her whole “fall maiden” arc? When you think about it, she could have easily been left out of it – we could have just had the headmasters exposit about the maidens and the attack on amber without bringing in Phyrra. They could even have killed Phyrra off without bringing up the maiden thing at all – just have Cinder’s fire come from her semblance or whatever. In other words, from a storytelling point of view, what was the point of Phyrra’s fall maiden heritage if she literally dies and doesn’t get shit out of it?
Now, here’s where things get a bit theory-y, so bear with me. We clearly saw Amber being conscious on at least some level as the transfer took place. What’s more, we saw the transfer beginning to take place in Phyrra. The question is, even though Amber died, the powers should have continued transferring into Phyrra – heck, they should have transferred faster, now that Amber’s aura was nonexistent. Instead, we explicitly see the powers go back through Amber into Cinder.
Here’s my thoughts - I think that Amber felt the power transferring, and it woke her up. On some level, she knew that she was dying, and the person on the other end of the transfer would make a good host. Ordinarily, she would choose the next host herself, but these are not ordinary circumstances by any means. However, even though Amber knew Phyrra was the proper host, the powers still went to Cinder. Why? Simple. Amber didn’t know who Phyrra was. She knew her powers were being transferred to a (hopefully) worthy host, but she couldn’t picture her in her mind, therefore she couldn’t properly transfer her remaining powers to her. As a result, the Amber’s powers defaulted to return to their other half.
Do you see what I’m getting at?
Right. Let’s put this another way.
Why did Ozpin choose Phyrra to be the next fall maiden? Yes, you could easily argue that he could choose based solely on fighting skill and value of heart, and to an extent, he might have. However, Amber had never known Phyrra, and Ozpin knew it. Wouldn’t it make more sense to pick someone related to or friends with Amber, so that she could picture them more easily, and transfer to her more easily? However, he chose Phyrra, and I think I know why. The reason he chose Phyrra was for a reason that even Ozpin himself could not comprehend.
Remember Phyrra’s big theme throughout late season 3 – Destiny. Like the fall maiden arc, it was no whim that drove the developers to have Phyrra talk about fate and destiny like this. Phyrra’s definition of destiny, as she says in S3E8, is “some sort of final goal… something you work towards your entire life.” She continues to basically say that she’s now not sure what her destiny is – whether it is to be a huntress, or the fall maiden.
I think that Ozpin choosing Phyrra was destiny. On some level, Phyrra was born the fall maiden, and she would become the fall maiden whether she chose to or not. However, this is contradicted by Phyrra’s definition of destiny – that it’s, to some extent, something that you choose, and work towards your entire life. Phyrra can visibly be seen hesitating and pausing throughout the episodes of late season 3, and I think this is as she figures out what I think I’ve (maybe) figured out.
I think, in an ideal world – no cinder or nothing – Phyrra would have become a fall maiden AND a huntress. Her destiny wasn’t to be one or the other – it was to be both. I mean, adult Hunters/huntresses already travel around the world doing good and whatnot – what’s to stop her from using her huntress skills AND help others as the fall maiden? Phyrra is, and always was, meant to be the fall maiden – one way or another, she would have gotten the powers. It was her destiny.
Cinder, however, had different plans. She took a hammer and wrench to destiny itself, in stealing a portion of the powers from Amber. Therefore, she took the powers for herself, and left the true heir, Phyrra, without them.
Everything is determined, though, by Phyrra’s final line before Cinder kills her. “Do you believe in destiny?” Now, this may just be a poignant statement – I mean, I didn’t expect her to beg or insult Cinder. Still, though, it doesn’t make sense. I mean, if she’d followed it up with “because you’re destined to lose” or something, it could just be a witty snap, but she just leaves it like that. I almost think that her line wasn’t to Cinder, but to the audience, giving them a hint.
And this brings us to Phyrra’s death. Again, she doesn’t just fall over like a normal person, she explicitly flashes, glows orange, and dissolves into particles, which are blown away on the wind… like falling leaves.
Phyrra didn’t die. Well, she did. But not really.
The powers of the seasons are meant to be used to help people – not to harm and control them. Cinder is the definition of an unworthy heir to the powers. Cinder clearly was using her stolen season-powers to attack Phyrra. Maybe as they fought, the powers recognized Phyrra – they recognized her as the true heir to the powers, and… well, I’ll come back to this.
Alternatively, Phyrra could have said “do you believe in destiny” because she had faith that this was not her destiny. Wishful thinking or not, Phyrra knew that her destiny was something more than this.
Okay, with all this said, with all the facts laid on the table, here’s what I think really happened. Phyrra did not die. It was literally not her destiny to die like this. Like I said, in an ideal world, Phyrra would have just straight up gotten the powers. Considering Cinder’s meddling, though, things have taken a more roundabout turn. You ever see that trope where the guy goes to heaven, but St Peter says “It’s not your time” and sends him back? I think it’s like that, only without the whole heaven part.
While RWBY may be American-made, it is still – obviously – heavily based on Japanese animation and culture. Little history lesson on Japanese religion – Many Japanese believe not in heaven or hell, but rather in reincarnation and the void. Reincarnation is basically the best you can hope for – your soul gets reincarnated into a new form, and while you have no memories of your previous life, you still retain some traits of your previous form. However, evil and cruel people go to the void, where their soul is lost forever.
Phyrra is not dead. She has been reincarnated.
Now, at first glance, there really isn’t a difference between reincarnation and flat out death. Yeah, her soul is still alive, but it’s in another form and without her memories, so the Phyrra we know essentially doesn’t exist anymore. However, be it by destiny or by the seasonal powers, Phyrra has not been traditionally reincarnated. Instead, she’s essentially been broken down into a Phyrra-shaped jigsaw puzzle of aura and essence – and it’s the fates’ job to stitch the parts of her back together.
With all this put together – the fall maiden arc, the talk of destiny, the bizzare death scene, and the concept of reincarnation – I think it’s honestly inevitable that Phyrra return, even if she’s in a different form. She WILL be back – it’s destiny.
TL:DR – Phyrra isn’t dead, for it is not her destiny. She’s the true fall maiden, and will return to reclaim her powers.
What do you guys think?