Zuko In Netflix’s ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender,’ Explained: Why Does Zuko Become The Blue Spirit?

Characters and its appropriate representation are indeed one of the few things that define Avatar: The Last Airbender. I think the characters, at least in the animated series, are timeless. Talking about characters, there’s a reason why people usually like anti-hero characters, as they show us their journey of redemption and the bitter struggles that make them who they are. Be it Itachi Uchiha from Naruto, or even Reiner from Shingeki No Kyoujin, one can’t help but empathize with and draw lessons from their predicaments. One such character is Prince Zuko. I remember watching the original animation as a child and absolutely despising him for the first two books, yet I was appalled to see what eventually became of him. Upon rewatching the series as an adult, did I actually empathize with his internal conflicts from the very beginning? As for the live-action adaptation, even though they tried to rush his story a bit, I feel they did portray him for who he was. Zuko might even be my favorite character from the series.


Spoilers Ahead

Who Is Zuko?

In the series, Zuko, the eldest son of Fire Lord Ozai, happens to be the rightful heir to the Fire Throne. But some three years prior to the events of the series, he was banished by his father and tasked with finding the avatar. Zuko carries a scar on his left eye inflicted upon him by Fire Lord Ozai. The only family member whom the prince is close to is his uncle Iroh, who sees Zuko as his own son. Introduced to us at the beginning of the series, when his ship is sailing near the Southern Water Tribe, he recognizes the Avatar’s return when he spots a strange beam of light from his ship. Trying to track down the Avatar, he lays siege to Sokka and Katara’s village. As a firebender and a swordsman, Zuko is quite skilled, which is why he easily overpowers Sokka in combat when Sokka offers to settle the matter without involving other people. What follows is a relentless pursuit of Aang, while Zuko himself deals with his inner conflicts on the path to regain his honor.


Why Did Zuko Want To Capture Aang?

The Avatar disappeared 100 years before the events of the series, at the beginning of the war. Ever since then, the Avatar has still been the biggest threat to the Fire Nation’s war effort. When Zuko loses the Agni Kai with his father, he is banished by the Fire Lord, only to return when he has captured the biggest threat to the Fire Nation. Ever since the incident, Zuko has been eagerly looking for the Avatar to get back to the life he once had and reinstate his standing in the royal family. However, more than that, he wants to prove himself to his father. Zuko is yet another child in the war-stricken world who falls victim to the feudal society of the Fire Nation. Zuko, like other members of the military, has been indoctrinated by the propaganda the Fire Nation has been spreading. At the end of the day, the only thing Zuko actually wants is to be recognized by his family. Aang even expresses to Zuko that they would’ve been friends if Zuko had met him a hundred years ago instead.

Why Does Zuko Become The Blue Spirit?

Zuko had been trying his best to keep the Avatar’s return a secret from the rest of the world; however, his intentions were foiled by Zhao’s hunger for conquest. After the events taking place in Omashu, Zuko had finally captured Aang, but Zhao’s promotion to Admiral gave him authority over Zuko as well. Zhao takes custody of Aang so that he can capitalize on the glory of capturing the last airbender, taking him to the fortress of Pohuai. Zuko, however, isn’t keen on letting Zhao steal away his only opportunity to return home. He dawns the mask of the Blue Spirit, infiltrating the fortress and freeing Aang. However, before he can take Aang for himself, he gets injured by the Yuyan archers. 


Why Does Zuko Get Banished By Fire Lord Ozai?

During Zuko’s first council meeting with the generals, he witnesses the generals discussing war plans for their assault on the Earth Kingdom. Ozai asks Zuko for his opinions, but being inexperienced in battle plans, Zuko provides underwhelming answers. When one of the generals proposes a plan that sacrifices soldiers from the 41st division, deemed expendable, Zuko criticizes it, deeming it a wasteful and unworthy strategy for the Fire Nation.

Infuriated by his response to the plan, Ozai demands an Agni Kai between Zuko and the general. However, at the time of the duel, Ozai reveals that he will be Zuko’s opponent. Ozai believes that by questioning the decision of the general, Zuko has questioned the Fire Lord’s authority instead. During the duel, Zuko is almost on par with his father but holds back from delivering the final blow, ultimately getting defeated by Ozai. As a punishment for hesitating and showing weakness, Ozai burns Zuko’s left eye, inflicting a permanent scar. Later, in Zuko’s bed chambers, Ozai sees that Zuko is still adamant about giving a chance to the 41st division because he believes that even weaker people can be quite strong when given the chance. Ozai believes that he has allowed Zuko to become weak by letting him harbor compassion, which, according to him, is a sign of weakness. Therefore, he banishes Zuko so that he can learn the ways of the world outside his father’s protection. He dispatches the 41st division to accompany Zuko in his banishment. 


Through the revelation of Zuko’s past, it seems quite clear that Zuko is not inherently a bad person. He has been led by his determination to prove himself to his father, who is a ruthless leader and will do anything to get results. Zuko’s compassion and self-doubt make him a stronger and better leader to his men than Fire Lord Ozai, as he actually cares for their lives. As a matter of fact, when Aang and Zuko escape from Zhao’s fortress, Aang gets to understand Zuko as well. He believes that Zuko is indeed quite alone in this world and shoulders a lot of responsibilities and expectations, just like Aang himself. 

What Happens To Zuko At The Siege Of Agna Qel’a?

After the attempt on his life by Admiral Zhao, he goes into hiding, making others believe that he is actually dead. During the siege of Agna Qel’a, he plans to capture the Avatar once and for all to prove his worth to his father. With the help of Uncle Iroh’s advice, Zuko embarks on the mission to infiltrate the fortified city. Despite knowing that it might kill him to enter the city, he believes that he will meet his end if he doesn’t succeed. 


After the tragic events that unfold at the sacred Oasis, he realizes that the Avatar is gone and blames Zhao for it. He confronts the admiral, leading to violent combat between the two. Before meeting his end, Zhao reveals that Fire Lord Ozai has been playing games with him and that his mission was a sham to begin with. Zuko’s adversities were actually meant to be a test for her sister Azula to motivate her to become Ozai’s vision of the ruthless future leader of the Fire Nation. Azula had been Zhao’s ally in the capital since the beginning and had been sabotaging Zuko’s moves all along. Realizing his life ever since his exile has been a lie, shatters Zuko completely. In the aftermath of the failed siege, Zuko and Iroh sail away from the ruins of Agna Qel’a, indicating that Zuko has given up on his dream of going back to his home. 

What To Expect From Zuko In Season 2?

In the second season, provided it doesn’t get cancelled, Zuko will have a lot to offer. If referring to the animated series, Zuko has had the most significant development out of all the characters in the plot. The way I see this, the three books of the original animated series presented different phases of Zuko’s life from an arrogant naive prince to eventually finding redemption. I am hoping the series will follow this path as well. It is uncertain as to where his journey will take him in the events of the second season. He might go through a harsh journey of self-discovery, embracing his exile and the truth about his life, which is likely to change once he finds out that Aang is indeed alive. A major side of Zuko’s story was his relationship with Uncle Iroh, who had been the father figure he needed in his exile. The dynamics of their relationship are bound to change as well, as Iroh is a righteous man despite being a firebender, perhaps the only one wise enough to understand the implications of the war, and Zuko is still a naive young man. 


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Shrey Ashley Philip
Shrey Ashley Philip
A teacher, photographer, linguist, and songwriter, Shrey started out as a Biotechnology graduate, but shifted to studying Japanese. Now he talks about movies, advocates for ADHD awareness, and embraces Albert Camus.

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