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The Ending Of Netflix's Live Action Avatar: The Last Airbender Explained

Contains spoilers for "Avatar: The Last Airbender" Season 1

The animated series "Avatar: The Last Airbender" holds the distinction of being one of the most mature works of children's television. The song "Leaves From The Vine," which the heartbroken Uncle Iroh sings at his son's grave, has been known to make grown men cry. Unfortunately, Netflix's live-action reboot doesn't hold a candle to the original series (and critics have plenty to say about it), but at least some of the show's mature themes survived the translation from animation to live-action.

Since the eight-episode Netflix show weaves together storylines from 20 different episodes from the first season of the animated series, the plot can get pretty tangled. So viewers may still have questions after the season is over. Like, why does Uncle Iroh (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) tag along on a mission he doesn't care about? And why does Prince Zuko (Dallas Liu) spend much of the season trying to capture the Avatar, only to later set him free? Here's everything you need to know about the ending of Netflix's live-action "Avatar: The Last Airbender."

What you need to remember about the plot of Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 1

A young Airbender named Aang (Gordon Cormier) learns from his mentor Gyatso (Lim Kay Siu) that he is the next Avatar, the only person who can master all four elements (air, earth, fire, and water). Yet Aang is still a boy, and he's not ready to handle such a massive responsibility. Hoping to prevent the rise of the Avatar (who could easily threaten their domination), the Fire Nation slaughters every last Airbender — except for Aang, who narrowly escapes the massacre because he is running away from his duties as Avatar.

For a hundred years, Aang survives frozen inside an iceberg. When he emerges, he hasn't aged a day, but he finds the world is a very different place. The Fire Nation controls much of the world and hunts down any Earthbenders or Waterbenders who might stand in their way. Once Aang learns that his people were wiped out because he wasn't there when they needed him, he vows to take his duty as Avatar seriously.

After Aang has a vision of an attack on the Northern Water Tribe, he teams up with a Waterbender named Katara (Kiawentiio) and her brother Sokka (Ian Ousley) to try and stop it. However, hot on Aang's tail is Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation. His father, the Fire Lord Ozai (Daniel Dae Kim), has exiled him, telling him not to return until he captures the Avatar. Zuko sees this mission as the only way to earn his father's approval.

What happens at the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 1?

When Zuko learns that Commander Zhao (Ken Leung) is also trying to capture the Avatar for the Fire Nation, Zuko races to reach Aang first, because his father's respect matters more to him than victory.

Along his journey, Aang discovers that while many people are bitter that the Avatar abandoned them, others are hopeful that he can end the Fire Nation's oppression. Katara refines her waterbending skills, while Sokka falls in love with the spiritual leader of the Northern Water Tribe, Princess Yue (Amber Midthunder). Aang tries to learn how to control his powers, with a little help from the previous reincarnations of the Avatar, whom he can contact from the spirit world. All of the previous Avatars tell him that he must shoulder this burden alone. However, Aang only starts to get the hang of his abilities once he allows his friends to help him.

While Zhao's army besieges the Northern Water Tribe, Zhao enters the tribe's sacred grove and kills the moon spirit. Since the waterbenders get their abilities from the moon, this renders them powerless. Luckily, the Avatar is unaffected, and Aang saves the Water Tribes, though this victory doesn't come without a cost: Yue must sacrifice herself to save them. Aang knows he still has much to learn if he hopes to master all four elements.

Before his defeat, Zhao tells Zuko that Ozai never expected him to find the Avatar — Zuko's father simply sent him on a fool's errand. This knowledge leaves Zuko shaken.

Hope is a double-edged sword

Aang may not quite be the savior everybody is hoping for, but he can still make a difference in the world as a symbol of hope. As Katara points out, it isn't enough to simply survive — "You have to give people something to live for." With Aang's help, the disillusioned King Bumi (Utkarsh Ambudkar) reclaims a bit of his childhood innocence, while Teo (Lucian-River Chauhan) decides to fight back against the enemy occupation of his home.

Yet there is also a flip side to the hope that Aang inspires. As Avatar Kyoshi explains to him, "Hope does not come without a cost." For instance, the appearance of the Avatar draws the Fire Nation to Wolf Cove, even though the Firebenders had left the village alone for years. Aang may inspire Bumi and Teo to fight back against the Fire Nation, but hope alone isn't enough to protect their city from an army of Firebenders. Worst of all is what hope does to Zuko, who has spent three years in exile hunting for the Avatar and finally feels like he can be redeemed in his father's eyes. It pains his Uncle Iroh to see him like this, because he knows that even if Zuko does succeed in capturing the Avatar, he won't be welcomed back home with open arms. Iroh observes sadly, "Sometimes hope can be a cruel thing."

Why does Uncle Iroh go along with Zuko?

Right from the start, audiences can tell Uncle Iroh is a good guy. He could care less about catching the Avatar, and his heart isn't in the Fire Nation's objective to consume everything around it. He is more concerned with simple pleasures like playing Pai Sho and sipping tea. So why does he even bother supporting a cause that he doesn't even believe in?

He's doing it for Zuko, of course. Every time Iroh looks at Zuko, he sees his own son Lu Ten, who died fighting for the Fire Nation. Nowhere is this more apparent than when Iroh says goodbye to Zuko right before the prince attempts to enter Agna Qel'a alone. Iroh warns Zuko to be careful, just like a protective father would, and you can tell Iroh is thinking of how Lu Ten charged blindly into battle (and how Iroh did nothing to stop him). Uncle Iroh sees Zuko as his second chance to be a father, and he does not want to make the same mistake twice.

In a glimpse of General Iroh's backstory, we see him choose to accompany Zuko in his exile. Since Zuko is only leaving his family because he has no choice, the prince can't comprehend why his uncle would want to leave everything behind. Iroh replies, "Everything I need is on this boat," and he's not talking about his stash of fine teas. He means that his true home is with Zuko.

What happened to Katara's mom?

Although Katara's mother Kya (Rainbow Dickerson) dies at the hands of Firebenders, Katara blames herself. Since the Fire Nation is hunting down Waterbenders like Katara, she is the whole reason the Fire Nation attacks her village. After Kya hides her daughter from the soldiers, Katara tries to use her waterbending to help her mother, but she only succeeds in catching a soldier's attention. Desperate to save her daughter, Kya claims she is the Waterbender instead, and she is killed.

Now, anytime Katara waterbends, she carries the trauma from this incident. She is afraid to waterbend, since she knows the consequences all too well. Yet at the same time, she feels that if she had only practiced her waterbending more, she could have saved her mom.

Just like Aang, who comes to realize that it's not his fault the Air Nomads died, Katara gradually accepts that she couldn't have done anything to save her mother, and embraces the sacrifice she made. Kya knew that the only way the Fire Nation would leave her tribe alone would be if they believed they had taken all the Waterbenders. She knew that her daughter was the best hope for the future, and she gave her life for that future. 

That's why Katara refuses to let Master Pakku (A Martinez) tell her to remain on the sidelines at Agna Qel'a. Katara knows this is her chance to do for the Northern Water Tribe what she couldn't do for her mother.

Why does Sokka want to be a warrior?

Aang may have been forced to grow up too soon, but he's not alone. After Sokka's father Hakoda (Joel Montgrand) sails off to fight in the war against the Fire Nation, he leaves young Sokka in charge of the entire village. Sokka takes this responsibility very seriously — perhaps too seriously. That's why Sokka identifies so much with Princess Yue. Both are expected to be leaders of their people, even though they threaten to crack under this pressure. It doesn't help that Sokka is the only member of the main trio who is not a bender; he needs to make do with only his wits and his boomerang.

On a trip to the Spirit World, Sokka discovers a sobering truth: His father never believed in him. After Sokka fails his ice-dodging trials (a rite of passage for young men in Wolf Cove), Hakoda admits that he doesn't think Sokka can handle being a leader. For Sokka, it is devastating to hear these words coming from his own father.

However, the Mechanist (Danny Pudi) opens Sokka's eyes to other possibilities. The Mechanist reminds Sokka that just because he fell short of his father's expectations as a warrior, it doesn't mean he is worthless. Instead, he encourages Sokka to pursue his natural talent for engineering. At the end of the series, Chief Arnook (Nathaniel Arcand) assures Sokka, "You don't have to be a warrior to be a hero."

Why does Zuko wear a mask?

Why does Zuko help the Avatar escape after trying so hard to capture him? It's because the victory means nothing to Zuko unless he brings in the Avatar himself. Yet he can't let Zhao know that he is working against him, so Zuko disguises himself as the Blue Spirit.

But that's not the only mask Zuko is wearing. He tries to act tough to please his father, even though it's not in his nature to be cruel. (Zuko may be impatient and arrogant, but he still has a strong sense of honor.) In fact, Zuko was exiled because he cared too much. The young and idealistic prince spoke out against Ozai's plans to send the 41st Division to certain death simply to be used as a diversion, insisting that these loyal soldiers didn't deserve to be used as bait. Yet after his father scarred his face and humiliated him, Zuko vowed to bury that idealistic boy deep inside himself.

Zuko is convinced that the compassion he showed in the war room is a weakness, but it is actually his greatest strength. After all, it's how he earns back the loyalty of a crew on the verge of mutiny — the 41st Division, whom Ozai assigned to Zuko instead of sending into battle because he felt it would be an ironic punishment. So when Zuko wears the Blue Spirit mask, he is not hiding his true identity. Instead, the mask allows him to embrace the part of himself that has long remained dormant.

Why does Azula train so hard?

Zuko isn't the only one of the Fire Lord's children who craves his attention. Zuko's sister Azula (Elizabeth Yu) also wants desperately to be noticed by Ozai. She hates to be reminded that Zuko is the one who found the Avatar and is next in line to the throne. Despite the great lengths Azula goes to show Ozai she is worthy, her father shows little interest in her. Still, Azula trains late into the night, hoping to learn moves that will impress him. Her friends keep assuring her that she's the best at what she does, but only one person's approval matters to Azula.

In the penultimate episode, Azula provokes Lord Ozai to fight her, even though she knows that he disfigured Zuko's face for doing the same. For Azula, even having her father burn her would be better than him ignoring her. It's no wonder, then, that Azula is arguably the most ruthless character on the show. The Fire Lord's iciness to his daughter has shaped her into a monster.

Dedicated fans of "Avatar: The Last Airbender" will know that Azula's name means more than you think. Just like in the original animated series, Azula is named after her great-grandfather Azulon, which reminds viewers of the great pressure she feels to live up to her family's legacy.

The Avatar must walk alone

When Aang seeks the advice of the previous Avatars, they all tell him the same thing: The Avatar must carry the weight of the world alone. Avatar Roku warns Aang that friends can be a weakness because his enemies know that the best way to torment the Avatar is to target his loved ones. When Avatar Kuruk (Meegwun Fairbrother) allowed himself to get too close to the woman he loved, Koh the face stealer (George Takei) consumed her soul, and the previous Avatars are concerned the same will happen to Aang and his friends. Even King Bumi insists that Aang cannot count on his friends, because sooner or later he will be forced to make an unthinkable choice. Although Aang can't imagine saving the world without his friends, he decides that maybe it's better to cut himself off, for their own protection. However, Katara and Sokka remind him that they are stronger as a team.

A recurring theme in the show is that nobody needs to go it alone. After all, Aang could never have escaped Pohuai Stronghold without Zuko's aid. Likewise, Sokka couldn't have passed his ice-dodging trial without a little help from Bato (Trevor Carroll). Master Pakku and the other men at Agna Qel'a couldn't have held their own against the Firebenders without the help of the female Waterbenders in their tribe. So perhaps Aang knows something that generations of Avatars before him don't: That it's okay to ask for help from your friends.

Why does Yue sacrifice herself?

In the climax of Season 1, Zhao finds the ocean and moon spirits, two deities that visit from the spiritual world once each year for a taste of what it is like to be mortal. He kills the moon spirit, the source of all the Waterbenders' powers. By harnessing the power of the ocean spirit, Aang manages to drive away the Fire Nation, but the moon is still missing from the sky.

That's when Princess Yue steps in. She sees that Aang will be forever trapped as a vessel for the ocean spirit as it mourns its lost partner. She knows that even with Aang's new powers, the Fire Nation can wipe out the Water Tribes now that none of them can waterbend. Recognizing her duty as the spiritual leader of the Northern Water Tribes, Yue steps forward to take the place of the moon spirit. Since the moon spirit touched Yue when she was just a baby, giving her life when she was at death's door, she still carries a sliver of the moon spirit inside her. However, to revive the moon spirit, Yue must return what the spirit gave her: her life.

As she gives Sokka a tearful goodbye, Yue tells him that she is grateful for the time she has spent with him. Just like the two spirits who chose to become mortal, Yue knows that life's brevity is what gives it value.

What the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 1 could mean for the franchise

There is no news yet on whether or not Netflix has renewed the live-action "Avatar: The Last Airbender" for another season. However, the ending of the first season is already setting up future seasons.

For one, the reveal that Ozai sent his son a fool's errand marks a huge turning point for Zuko. It's unclear whether Zuko is ready to accept the truth about his father, but either way, he seems likely to change his tactics — especially now that his sister is in the game.

Unlike Season 1 of the animated series, Aang hasn't yet learned waterbending, so he will likely master it throughout the next season, along with earthbending. We know Aang plans to travel to Omashu to train under King Bumi, but what Aang doesn't know is that the Fire Nation has already seized the city of Omashu. Most likely, that means the first episode of Season 2 will closely follow the events of "Return to Omashu," an episode from Season 2 of the animated series.

The final episode of Season 1 also teases the coming of Sozin's Comet, a celestial event anticipated to amplify the power of the Firebenders and ensure them a quick victory. This concept was originally introduced halfway through Season 1 of the animated series, but the showrunners of the live-action series chose not to include Sozin's Comet until the very end – for a good reason.