Oh, my sweet baby Zuko.
I knew from the moment I chose the theme of Fictional Favorites that it would be bookended by characters from Avatar: The Last Airbender. This post covers a huge character arc, so if you’ve yet to see the show and want to remain unspoiled, move along. Don’t worry; you can come back and read this once you’ve watched all three seasons.
*****SPOILERS for Avatar: The Last Airbender*****
As the series opens, 16 year old Prince Zuko is on a quest to find the missing Avatar. The completion of this task is the only thing that will allow him to reclaim his birthright, win back the respect of his father, and restore his honor.
Zuko’s drive to find the Avatar defines his every moment, as does his anger. It comes as a surprise to find that he had a decent childhood.
His mother was warm and loving.
Then, his father Ozai claimed the throne and title of Fire Lord.
Zuko’s mother was sent away. The boy was left to the company of his gifted but manipulative sister Azula and the growing disregard and disappointment of his father. When Zuko was 13, he begged to be allowed to attend a military strategy meeting. Speaking out against a plan to sacrifice troops in a diversionary maneuver, he was called out for insubordination by his father. Ozai demanded Zuko reclaim his honor by participating in an Agni Kai, a firebending duel, then stepped up to fight the boy himself. Zuko would not lift a hand against his father, and asked forgiveness. It was denied.
He was scarred, banished, and set upon a fool’s errand to regain his honour. This is all Zuko has left, and he clings to it.
Despite his father’s disdain, Zuko is a formidable firebender.
He’s also skilled with dual blades.
His very nature is at war with itself: he longs for the acceptance of his war-like father, but finds appeal in the more reasoned, kinder approach of his Uncle Iroh. For a time, it looks as if Zuko might find peace without fulfilling his quest. Then his sister returns with promises of Ozai’s praise, of a place at his side.
Zuko betrays his uncle and they return to the Fire Nation: Iroh in chains, Zuko certain that his honor will be restored at last. He’s a prince once more.
He remains conflicted. He’s angry, he’s moody, he’s given to the dramatic.
At last, he realizes why he’s so desperately unhappy.
His honor was always his to reclaim for himself: his choice, his path.
Armed with newfound resolve, he confronts his father.
“Zuko: For so long, all I wanted was for you to love me, to accept me. I thought it was my honor I wanted, but really, I was just trying to please you. You, my father, who banished me just for talking out of turn. My father, who challenged me, a thirteen-year-old boy, to an Agni Kai. How could you possibly justify a duel with a child?
Ozai: It was to teach you respect!
Zuko: It was cruel! And it was wrong.”
He announces his intention to join the Avatar, to bring peace to the Four Nations. He heads to the prison to free his uncle, but Iroh has broken himself out of jail and is long gone. Zuko follows the Gaang, though he struggles with how to approach them. Straightforward seems best.
Naturally, the team is pretty wary, sending him packing.
When he steps up to protect them during an attack (of an assassin he had previously hired, no less), they tentatively agree to give him a chance. Appa is totally cool with this.
He finds his place in Team Avatar gradually. Zuko teaches Aang firebending, though it requires a quick field trip.
He fights alongside Sokka on a mission to rescue Sokka’s father.
They form a comfortable friendship.
On the eve of battle, he is reunited with Uncle Iroh – the man who has been more of a father to him than Ozai ever was. The man he betrayed. The man who loves him and is deeply proud of him.
As the members of the Gaang disperse to their separate fights, Zuko meets Azula in a spectacular Agni Kai. Seriously, the entire scene is stunning, from visuals to choreography to score.
When the war is won, newly crowned Fire Lord Zuko is free to make good his promise of rebuilding a kinder world.
“I promised my uncle that I would restore the honor of the Fire Nation, and I will. The road ahead of us is challenging. A hundred years of fighting has left the world scarred and divided, but with the Avatar’s help, we can get it back on the right path and begin a new era of love and peace. “
I know I ran long with this, and even so failed to touch on particular character beats, dialogue, and moments that make Zuko such a well-realized, memorable character. Flameo, hotman. Flameo.
And so ends the A to Z Challenge for 2016. Thanks for stopping by, for commenting, for liking, for being the awesome people that you are.