Let’s Discuss the Ending of Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 1

Culture

Spoilers below for season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix.

Avatar: The Last Airbender (2024-) is no Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008), but neither is it (mercifully) The Last Airbender (2010), no matter the similarities these productions bear in name and characters. The latest incarnation of Avatar Aang’s story belongs to Netflix, a new live-action rendering that toes a tricky line: The series seeks to mirror (and honor) the original cartoon, while remixing storylines and making the impacts of war more plain. In animation, a scar can be rendered in a simple pink swatch; in live action, that same scar must illicit the brutal impact of puckered flesh. The latest Avatar, led by showrunner and executive producer Albert Kim, sometimes struggles to balance these stakes, but in the season 1 finale, “Legends,” the pieces at last assemble into a more enticing chess match—or, shall we say, a clever game of Pai Sho.

The episode begins on the cusp of a battle between the Northern Water Tribe and the Fire Nation, set on the banks of the icy capital city Agna Qel’a, where friends Aang (Gordon Cormier), Katara (Kiawentiio), and Sokka (Ian Ousley) have arrived in the hopes of mastering Aang’s water-bending. But, as is their wont, the Fire Nation attacks, eager to smite the remaining Water Tribe forces and capture the young Avatar in the process. An immense battle results—Aang becomes a whale, sort of, and the moon dies—but the Gaang narrowly survives the encounter, from which they plan to next conquer Aang’s earth-bending in the capital city of Omashu.

Still, the finale is not without its heartbreaks, ending on a particularly ominous note as Fire Lord Ozai (Daniel Dae Kim) outlines his next move. As fans await news from Netflix on the show’s future, let’s dig into a few potential questions that result from “Legends.”

What exactly happened at Agna Qel’a?

Led by Commander Zhao (Ken Leung), the Fire Nation forces descend on the city, and Zhao kills the legendary Moon Spirit in order to strip the Northern Water Tribe of their water-bending powers. Doing so renders the tribe unable to defend themselves, but it also infuriates the grieving Ocean Spirit, which merges with Aang in the hugely powerful Avatar State. Together, they create Whalezilla. As Whalezilla inflicts havoc amongst the Fire Nation troops, Princess Yue (Amber Midthunder) sacrifices herself to become the new Moon Spirit, therefore redeeming nature’s balance and restoring water-bending to the Water Tribe. The Fire Nation flees, and Agna Qel’a survives, though with heavy losses.

OK, but what went down in Omashu?

As Fire Lord Ozai makes clear in the final moments of “Legends,” the battle at Agna Qel’a was a diversion. While Aang and co. were busy defending the Water Tribe, other Fire Nation battalions—led by Princess Azula (Elizabeth Yu), sister to Zuko (Dallas Liu)—captured the Earth Kingdom hub of Omashu, as well as King Bumi (Utkarsh Ambudkar). As Kim himself explained in an interview with Netflix’s editorial outlet Tudum, “That’s a major development in the course of the war. It means that only [the Earth Kingdom capital city] Ba Sing Se stands [in the way of the] Fire Nation ultimately conquering all of the Earth Kingdom. It signals a shift in the power balance of the world and indicates a much bigger threat for the future.” In other words: The Big Bad is, indeed, bad!

Did Princess Yue really die? Why?

Sadly, yes. When the Northern Water Tribe’s princess was only a child, Yue fell ill. The Moon Spirit within the Spirit Oasis healed her, gifting her a part of itself. During the siege at Agna Qel’a, Yue finally returned that favor, stepping into the waters of the Spirit Oasis and relinquishing the Moon Spirit’s life essence. By doing so, she saved the lives (and powers) of her fellow water-benders, but sacrificed herself in the process. It’ll take sweet Sokka some time to get over the sting of that loss.

What about Commander Zhao?

Zhao, too, is sacrificed amidst the violence, though his apparent death is much less honorable. When the zealous warmonger reveals to Zuko that the young prince’s quest to track down the Avatar was, in fact, a “sham,” he tries to kill the Fire Lord’s son, only to be stopped by Uncle Iroh (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee). Suitably pissed off, Iroh sets Zhao on fire and launches him into the sea. But we never get official confirmation that Zhao has indeed passed from Avatar’s earthly plane. As Kim told Tudum, “Zhao’s arc in season 1 is definitely over. As a villain, he has been conquered. As to his ultimate fate, it’s left a little bit open-ended. It’s meant to be a little bit of a mystery.” Curious indeed.

What’s up with Sozin’s Comet?

Here’s where things get interesting. In the original Avatar cartoon series, Sozin’s Comet is a “ticking clock,” as Kim put in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. When the notorious comet dips down closest to the atmosphere—once every 100 years—the Fire Nation reaches the height of its fire-bending powers, rendering its soldiers virtually unstoppable. With such might, they’d have no difficulty finishing off their Hundred Year War and conquering the world. As such, Aang must master all four elements—earth, air, water, and fire—prior to the comet’s descent and stop the Fire Nation before their strength makes his own obsolete.

Up until “Legends,” Sozin’s Comet was conspicuously absent from the Netflix series. “We removed that particular ticking clock from our show for now, because we couldn’t know exactly how old our actors would be for the subsequent seasons,” Kim told EW. “We definitely thought about that going into season 1, so that we can accommodate for puberty, adolescence, time passing—all of those fun things that happen to real-life human beings that don’t happen to animated characters.”

But in the final moments of the finale, the Great Sage (François Chau) informs Fire Lord Ozai that the comet is returning “soon.” This loose time stamp gives Kim more flexibility with aging actors, but it still sets a deadline on Aang’s training—and gives the Netflix show some of the urgency missing from its earlier episodes. The comet is also a flashing neon signal to fans of the original series: More is coming soon.

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