Uncle Iroh, y’all.
*******Spoilers for Avatar: The Last Airbender********
When we first meet Uncle Iroh, we see the genial companion to the young, brash Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation. We learn he’s fond of food and tea and Pai Sho*.
As the series progresses, we find out who he was, what changed him, what matters most now, and it’s hard to divorce that from a chronological discussion of character. So. Quick overview. Iroh was the eldest son of Fire Lord Azulon and grandson of Fire Lord Ozai, who initiated the conquest of the Four Kingdoms. A renowned general and exceptionally gifted Firebender, the Dragon of the West was on track to take down the Earth Kingdom stronghold of Ba Sing Se when he received word his only son had been killed in action. Overcome by grief, he abandoned the siege. While he was making his way back to the Fire Nation, his father died, and although Iroh was next in line for the throne, his younger brother Ozai claimed the title. Iroh, no longer interested in power, did not dispute the claim. His once warlike nature gentled; he gained an appreciation for the spiritual and for enjoying life, quite contrary to the Fire Nation’s martial spirit. It’s a testament to his generous nature and decency that he continued respected and well-liked.
When his nephew Zuko was cast out by his father**, given the task of finding the Avatar, Uncle Iroh volunteered to accompany the prince. He viewed him as his own son.
Iroh’s calm is a welcome foil for his nephew’s tempestuousness.
He loooooves his tea.
“I know you’re not supposed to cry over spilled tea, but… it’s just so sad.”
“Uncle Iroh: Euch! This tea is nothing more than hot leaf juice.
Zuko: Uncle, that’s what all tea is.
Uncle Iroh: How could a member of my own family say something so horrible!”
But he loves his nephew just as much. More. But also, tea.
“Uncle Iroh: So this is how the great Commander Zhao acts in defeat? Disgraceful. Even in exile, my nephew is more honorable than you. Thanks again for the tea. It was delicious.
Zuko: Did you really mean that, Uncle?
Uncle Iroh: Of course. I told you, ginseng tea is my favorite.”***
Tea jokes aside, Uncle Iroh is a generous and decent soul.
Let’s not forget that this loving spirit was forged in heartbreak.
And let’s not forget that he is seriously badass.
“Iroh: Did I ever tell you how I got the nickname, ‘The Dragon of the West?’
Azula: I’m not interested in a lengthy anecdote, Uncle.
Iroh: It’s more of a demonstration, really.”
He can redirect lightning. I repeat, LIGHTNING.
By his very nature he’s avuncular. He’s nurturing, understanding, supportive, and full of sage advice.
“Pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.”
“You sound like my nephew, always thinking you need to do things on your own without anyone’s support. There is nothing wrong with letting people who love you help you.”
“You must never give into dispair. Allow yourself to slip down that road, and you surrender to your lowest instincts. In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.”
When his nephew seems to be following the darkest path, when Zuko allows his uncle to be imprisoned, Iroh’s only concern is for the boy.
Doesn’t stop him from honing that roast-duck loving body into a MACHINE and breaking out of prison with his bare hands, but still… his first thought is Zuko. Always. And when Zuko arrives at his own decision, forges his own way, Iroh is there. So proud of his boy.
The dialogue in this scene guts me, every single time.
Maybe I love Uncle Iroh so much because he’s the kind of person I want to be. He makes me believe I can shape my life, tragedy and depression and everyday crap bedamned. You can be strong and sweet, badass and kind, and you can always find some manner of delight in a cup of tea with a stranger. Still working on it, but I aim to live my life in a way that would make Uncle Iroh proud.
* which turns out is super important to his character, because this is the AvatarVerse and the smallest details matter.
**more on that on Day Z
***later on it’s jasmine. I only mention this because jasmine is MY favorite, and that connects me to Iroh in a way I will defend as Important and Real