Nothing improves the depth of a villain’s character than adding moments of clarity that make fans second guess their motives. Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the most popular western animations of all time, and the biggest contributing factor to this is how well developed the characters were. Adding more dimensions and tear-jerking backstories to villains viewers were supposed to hate created a complex ensemble of friends and foes that fans couldn’t help but fall in love with.
A show that aired on a children’s network but kept true to many adult themes like war, death, revenge, redemption, and suffering loss, Avatar is a show that appeals to both adults and kids alike. One of the biggest themes within the show is that of redemption and morality, and how there’s both good and evil inside of everyone, but it’s our actions towards those virtues that matter.
9 Iroh’s Best Kept Secret
As the voice of reason for the entire Fire Nation, and the wisest of all the main characters, Uncle Iroh will appear quite frequently on this list. This event happened offscreen and before Aang’s story began, but it’s explained that dragons all went extinct due to a hunting sport started by Fire Lord Sozin.
Iroh was assumed to be the one that wiped them out, as he returned from his quest proclaiming he had slain the last of the dragons. However, this turned out to be a lie by Iroh in order to protect the last of the species, which ultimately led to Zuko and Aang learning true Firebending.
8 The Painted Lady
While not technically direct villains of the story, citizens of the Fire Nation can still be considered enemies of the protagonists as they’re fighting on opposing sides. During the beginning of Book Three, the Gaang have to hide out in the Fire Nation until the invasion to maintain the surprise that Aang is still alive.
Thus it was a huge risk when Katara and the rest end up helping a small fishing village from the factory polluting the lake. They could have easily been turned in by the residents of the village, but their secret was kept safe.
7 The Blue Spirit
Considered one of the greatest redemption arcs of all time, it seemed impossible for Zuko to be forgiven by the heroes after two seasons of treachery and unrelenting hunting.
One of the moments fans got a glimpse of Zuko’s potential good side was when Aang had been captured by General Zhao and had to be rescued. Zuko risked his life and his legacy by single-handedly helping Aang escape. While it can be argued that this rescue was for selfish reasons, it still resulted in Aang surviving.
6 Combustion Man’s Lips Are Sealed
On the topic of doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons, Combustion Man embodied this notion perfectly. It’s always a mark of good writing when a character that doesn’t say a word still comes across as a menacing threat.
The assassin was hired by Zuko to hunt down the Avatar (who was still presumed dead at the time) and kill him, whilst also making sure the secret didn’t get out. During a moment of lapsed judgment, Aang gets noticed by a Fire Nation outpost and they send a hawk to the Fire Lord. Fortunately, this gets intercepted by Combustion Man, who can clearly keep a secret.
5 Iroh’s Connection With The Spirits
During the climactic ending of Book One, anyone with a brain could understand why General Zhao’s idea to destroy the Moon Spirit would be disastrous for everyone – not just Waterbenders. Unfortunately, it seems like Uncle Iroh is the only member of the Fire Nation who actually considers this and tries to talk him out of it.
In a desperate, last-ditch effort to convince him otherwise, Iroh tries to threaten Zhao with his strength, not caring that the act would be considered treasonous by his brother.
4 Avatar Roku’s Sage
The Fire Sages were supposed to be a secular-religious organization from the Fire Nation, who were responsible for identifying and staying loyal to the Avatar. Unfortunately, after 100 years devoid of an Avatar, and a tightening grip of power by the Fire Lord, the Sages ultimately reneged on their duties.
All but one of the Sages, Shyu, attempted to stop Aang from communicating with Roku. Shyu maintained his loyalty to the Avatar and helped them reach their goal, which led to his arrest.
3 Zuko Releasing Appa
This was the final virtuous act Zuko did in Book Two – before he chose the side of good permanently. While he and his Uncle were hiding out in Ba Sing Se, it seemed like Zuko was finally on the cusp of redemption and normality (until he finds out that Appa is somewhere in the city).
He uses his Blue Spirit disguise and manages to track down Appa when he’s confronted by Iroh about what his plans are once he has the Sky Bison. Rather than steal, or worse, kill, Appa, he decides to release him. This causes Zuko to have an existential breakdown.
2 Mai and Ty Lee Fight Back
Azula is the most formidable and terrifying antagonist of the entire series, and getting on her bad side is something nobody wants. That’s what makes the moment when her best friends – Mai and Ty Lee – fight back even more impressive.
On Zuko and Sokka’s mission to escape the Boiling Rock, they are at risk of dying as the ropes holding the gondola carrying them are being cut. Mai’s love for Zuko prevails as she goes against Azula’s wishes and protects Zuko, while Ty Lee stops Azula from retaliating. Love trumps hate and fear every time.
1 Uncle Iroh Fending Off Zuko And Azula
The culminating battle in the catacombs of Ba Sing Se is one of the most emotional moments of Avatar. Since the Avatar State can’t be reached, Aang and Katara face off alone against Zuko, Azula, and Dai Li agents in a seemingly hopeless battle.
Aang lets go of his love for Katara to unlock his full control of the Avatar State, only to get struck down by Azula’s lightning. If it wasn’t for Iroh coming in to fend off the advance, Katara would have never been able to escape with Aang, even though this led to Iroh’s imprisonment.
NEXT: Avatar: 10 Times Zuko Could Have Joined Team Avatar (But Didn’t)