5 Times “Avatar: The Last Airbender” Wasn’t Afraid to Get Real

Our favorite emotional moments from Book One: Water

The Netflix live adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender is fast approaching, so if you’re scrambling to rewatch the original animation to refresh your memory we’ve got a list of our favorite moments right here!

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Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA) premiered in 2005 and is still regarded as an extremely well-written animated series. The Nickelodeon show tells the tale of Aang, the titular Avatar – a powerful individual whose existence in the world is necessary for keeping the balance of power in check. The series follows his adventures as he masters the four elements (Air, Water, Earth, and Fire) and makes friends along the way. 

Don’t let the fact that it’s a cartoon fool you – as the story takes place during a time of war, it covers a lot of very nuanced, complex topics, making it a series you can enjoy for its humor, action, animation, or deep storytelling, as well as something that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults alike.  

With Netflix’s live action adaptation of Book One: Water just around the corner, you may be wanting to binge the entire first season of ATLA for a refresh or just to relive the amazing moments. But since it’s the middle of the school/work week and we definitely don’t recommend staying up and ignoring your responsibilities to do so (we won’t judge, promise), here’s a list of some scenes that had all of us shocked at how *real* they got.


Sokka, the skeptic non-bender of the group who is often a source of comedy in the show, is a beloved member of Team Avatar. But he wasn’t always the most likable. In fact, the first few episodes saw him level some pretty wild sexist statements at his sister, and women in general. However, when outmatched by the warriors of Kyoshi island – a highly skilled combat group of entirely female soldiers – he quickly learns his lesson and starts to show the women around him the respect they deserve, going even so far as to humble himself and ask the Kyoshi warriors to train him in their ways. We love a man who can admit his mistakes and grow as a person. 

Another moment where the show tackles sexism head-on is when Katara, after traveling with Aang for months to find a Waterbending master only to be refused by Pakku as he believes women can only be “healers” and not “combatants”, stands up for herself and shows off her strength and potential. This moment was a big moment for young girls watching, clearly sending the message: “Gender standards be damned!”

The Genocide of the Air Nomads

Aang, having been frozen in the iceberg for a century, was probably grappling with the fact that basically everyone he knew was no longer alive. However, when returning to his home in the Southern Air Temple to reminisce the good old days, he discovers remnants of the Fire Nation’s assault on his people and must come to terms with the fact that his home was violated and his people violently wiped from existence. The episode is chilling, and serves to remind us all of the horrors of armed conflict. 

Learned Hopelessness and Rebellion

When Team Avatar encounters a small Earth Kingdom town that is being heavily oppressed by Fire Nation soldiers – to the extent that all Earthbenders are imprisoned with no hope of release – Katara takes it upon herself to infiltrate the prison to help their new friend, Haru, and the others escape. However, when she first arrives she finds that their spirits have been broken by their extremely harsh environment. After providing the inmates with the material needed to fight back, however, the rebellion succeeds. It was a heartwarming reminder that: sometimes all you need is a spark.

Is *All* Fair in War?

Midway through the season we are introduced to the charming Jet and his band of Freedom Fighters – a group of vigilantes that actively disrupted various Fire Nation activities in order to drive them from their home – and many teens and preteens met their first crush. That feeling is quickly spoiled, however, when we see that Jet acts indiscriminately against anyone from the Fire Nation – even civilians. This episode begs the audience to consider: How far will you go to seek revenge? How different are we from our enemies? Is anyone truly innocent? 

The Loss of Innocence and Childhood

This one is a huge theme that persists throughout all seasons of the show. The exchange between Aang and Zuko when they first meet (“You’re just a child”-“Well you’re just a teenager”) hits much, much harder watching the show as an adult. But one of the most painful examples of this that we see in Book One is during the season finale, when after the treacherous Commander Zhao kills the Moon spirit, endangering all life in the different nations, Yue must give back the gift of life bestowed upon her by the spirit at birth to save everyone. She gives up her young, mortal life and love for the sake of others, kissing Sokka goodbye forever. (We’re not crying, you’re crying.)

You can rewatch the original animated series or catch the new live action adaptation on Netflix Philippines