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“Avatar: The Last Airbender” is one of the best animated series of all time. In fact, it’s one of the best shows of all time, full stop. There, I said it. The series as a whole is excellent, but how do the individual episodes stack up? By no popular demand, here is an entirely objective ranking of all 61 episodes of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” from worst to best.
Lots of spoilers ahead.
61. Book 1, Episode 1: “The Boy in the Iceberg”
The first is the worst. It’s a good sign when a series only goes up from the first episode.
60. Book 1, Episode 11: “The Great Divide”
This episode is fine. It’s a bit moralistic and heavy-handed, even if Aang’s lie to the two tribes is hilarious.
59. Book 1, Episode 2: “The Avatar Returns”
For the record, Aang was never officially unbanished from the Southern Water Tribe. And off the bat, Zuko shows he has honor — he promises to leave in peace if given the Avatar, and he does. It deftly establishes Zuko’s potential, and when Aang, Sokka and Katara take off on Appa, it’s the real beginning of the show.
58. Book 1, Episode 5: “The King of Omashu”
Insane King Bumi’s introduction is fun, even if it’s a bit obvious that he’s Aang’s childhood friend.
57. Book 1, Episode 4: “The Warriors of Kyoshi”
Sokka learns that girls can fight too and Aang learns that hero worship is a double-edged sword. Fun is had by all.
56. Book 1, Episode 14: “The Fortune Teller”
This episode gave us memorable exchanges like “Can your science explain why it rains?” “Yes! Yes, it can!” — not to mention some lovely messages about shaping your own destiny — but is largely inconsequential.
55. Book 1, Episode 7: “Winter Solstice — Part 1: The Spirit World”
Exposition time: In addition to learning the four elements, the Avatar has a spiritual responsibility. This episode is fine.
54. Book 1, Episode 6: “Imprisoned”
This is a Katara episode. Like the preteens and teenagers that Aang, Katara and Sokka are, they see getting captured by the enemy and becoming a literal prisoner of war in order to incite resistance against oppressors as a good plan. Honestly, it’s exactly in the spirit of Avatar. It turns out the Gaang can’t make people want to fight; because “Avatar” is all about choices, the Earth Kingdom prisoners have to choose it for themselves.
53. Book 1, Episode 9: “The Waterbending Scroll”
Another Katara episode — in case you were starting to think she was the Mom Friend, she decides to steal from pirates, before Zuko’s cronies get involved, and it goes about as well as you’d expect. A great ride.
52. Book 1, Episode 8: “Winter Solstice — Part 2: Avatar Roku”
Naked Iroh fights off Earth Kingdom soldiers, we meet Aang’s predecessor Avatar Roku, and the Gaang successfully convince a murderous panda spirit not to kidnap villagers. The exposition has a point, thankfully, so it’s ultimately an enjoyable episode.
51. Book 1, Episode 3: “The Southern Air Temple”
You thought this was going to be a happy-go-lucky kids adventure? Sorry, turns out Aang is the only survivor of a genocide of his people. We also meet antagonist Admiral Zhao, who Zuko defeats in the show’s first Agni Kai. When Zuko wins he shows more honor than Zhao does by taking his victory with grace, further setting up Zuko’s spectacular redemption arc.
50. Book 1, Episode 15: “Bato of the Water Tribe”
Up to this point in the series, Aang has been a funny, lighthearted and well-meaning kid. Here he does something bad out of fear and reaps the consequences, as he learns to trust his found family.
49. Book 2, Episode 2: “The Cave of Two Lovers”
As well as being a Kataang episode, this one showcases a delightfully wacky group of nomads who increase in number as the episode goes on, sing the absolute jam “Secret Tunnel,” and make Sokka facepalm so much his face goes red. Classic.
48. Book 1, Episode 10: “Jet”
Jet is the original bad boy, and the first seed of one of the show’s ultimate messages is shown: No one nation is the good guy, and no one nation is the bad guy. People in pain may do terrible things and convince themselves that awful violence and hatred are excusable. Here, “Avatar” tells us that such violence is never okay.
47. Book 1, Episode 17: “The Northern Air Temple”
Teo is wheelchair-bound with the soul of an airbender, so Aang decides to share his culture. Moreover, the Gaang give the village a way to fight back against the Fire Nation, which has been forcing Teo’s father to build machinery for it. Here, “Avatar” is teaching that you should always fight and try to do the right thing, even when you’re backed into a corner.
46. Book 2, Episode 5: “Avatar Day”
The Gaang follow Sherlock-esque clues to prove Avatar Kyoshi couldn’t have have committed a mysterious murder, only for Kyoshi to show up and admit she did it before peacing out. It’s hilarious, and hilariously pro-murder for a children’s show.
45. Book 2, Episode 4: “The Swamp”
We see how Sokka was affected by losing Yue, Katara still feeling the loss of her mother, and hints pointing to a lifelong friend Aang is about to meet. It’s an absurd and fun Wizard of Oz-style episode.
44. Book 3, Episode 9: “Nightmares and Daydreams”
Not the best Book 3 has to offer but it’s a worthy part of the season nonetheless. It’s the run-up to the Fire Nation Invasion and Aang is a scared kid with hilarious nightmares.
43. Book 1, Episode 13: “The Blue Spirit”
“Do you think we could’ve been friends?” Zuko dons a mask and rescues Aang for completely selfish reasons, and Aang learns more about the war and the state of the world. It’s a great showing for Aang, Zuko, and Admiral Zhao.
42. Book 2, Episode 1: “The Avatar State”
The Gaang’s first meeting with an earth kingdom official is with one who is callous, corrupt, and manipulative. Good and evil are not easily separated during war and this character is a fantastically nuanced way to show it. Moreover, we see the best villain introduction ever when Azula says “Maybe you should worry less about the tides, who’ve already made up their minds about killing you, and worry more about me, who’s still mulling it over.” Azula is not only intimidating as hell, but her descent into madness is already being foreshadowed.
41. Book 1, Episode 12: “The Storm”
This episode once more highlights how “Avatar” is both morally profound and totally worth being an internet sensation. Zuko and Aang both reveal their backstories during a storm. Alone and afraid, Aang ended up in the iceberg after he ran away from his destiny, so he wasn’t there to protect his people. As a kid, Zuko broke the rules and spoke out in a council meeting, so he was burned and banished by his father. This episode also illustrates their complementary character flaws: Aang runs away out of fear, while Zuko unwisely runs headlong into more problems.
40. Book 2, Episode 7: “Zuko Alone”
An incredibly important, incredibly sad lesson for Zuko. He did a good thing — protecting a young boy from Earth Kingdom thugs — but did so while trying to cling to pride for the nation that caused the war that gave those thugs power. He discovers that being a kind stranger and being proud of the Fire Nation as it stands are incompatible.
39. Book 2, Episode 15: “Tales of Ba Sing Se”
A filler episode with the power to make you cry. All of the mini-stories are great and tell you something about the characters, the themes or the overarching plot.
38. Book 1, Episode 16: “The Deserter”
This episode is underrated. Aang doesn’t respect firebending and accidentally hurts Katara, despite all of his new master’s warnings. In response, Katara discovers she’s a healer and Aang uses his new understanding to trick Admiral Zhao into destroying his own fleet.
37. Book 2, Episode 3: “Return to Omashu”
Not only does this episode introduce us to the phenomenal Ozai’s angels (Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee), but it also revels in the satisfying complexity of a villain being the one to value non-benders enough to choose them as her elite fighters over fellow firebending masters. The clash with the new antagonists is amazing and Aang leaves in search of a new earthbending teacher.
36. Book 1, Episode 19: “The Siege of the North — Part 1”
When Aang returns from helping attack the many, many Fire Nation ships coming to lay siege to the Northern Water Tribe, he tells Yue: “I’m just one kid.” Yeah, Aang is all-powerful and has a grand destiny, but he is also 12. This is a show about kids doing their best and fighting to protect people because despite being kids, they don’t want to stand aside — they choose to use their powers and do the right thing. However, this reminder that all of the powerful main characters in “Avatar” are children carrying heavy burdens is heartbreaking.
35. Book 2, Episode 10: “The Library”
Sure, there’s great expositional plot development with the revelation of the Day of Black Sun that will render firebenders powerless, but now’s the time to discuss how Toph’s blindness is expertly handled. She can take care of herself and do things no one else can (metalbending) yet also needs extra help around air, water and sand. While the others might forget she’s blind at times and it’s still debilitating in some circumstances, she doesn’t let it hold her back and no one sees her as any less for it. She’s as much a protagonist as Katara or Sokka and that’s wonderful.
34. Book 2, Episode 14: “City of Walls and Secrets”
The origin of “There is no war in Ba Sing Se.” When Jet accuses Zuko of being a firebender hiding in Iroh’s tea shop, he jumps at the opportunity to duel a customer. As someone who has worked in a coffee shop: Honestly, same.
33. Book 2, Episode 18: “The Earth King”
The Gaang — four teens and preteens, and two animal companions — lay siege to the Earth King’s palace to tell him about the war with the Fire Nation. Meanwhile, Zuko goes into an angst coma because for the first time in his life he did the right thing — helped the Avatar by giving him Appa back — and his body is so shocked it literally treats it like an allergic reaction.
32. Book 2, Episode 11: “The Desert”
Where Katara actually was the Mom Friend. Aang is devastated without Appa, Toph is struggling to walk on the sand, and Sokka is literally high, so Katara holds them together. It’s both bitterly sad and offers some of the show’s best moments of levity: “Drink cactus juice. It’ll quench ya! There’s nothing quenchier.”
31. Book 2, Episode 16: “Appa’s Lost Days”
This episode about what happened to Appa after he was taken by sandbenders won a Genesis Award from the Humane Society of the United States for its depiction of animal cruelty and it absolutely deserved it.
30. Book 2, Episode 17: “Lake Laogai”
This one is about choosing your destiny. Iroh begs Zuko to consider what he wants his destiny to be; when he finds Lake Laogai and tries to steal Appa for himself, Iroh berates Zuko about how lucky he has been time and time again, as he doesn’t think his plans through. Zuko lets Appa go to Aang, and finally gives up his Blue Spirit disguise. Could this be his redemption? (No, we’re not there yet.)
29. Book 2, Episode 19: “The Guru”
This episode is mostly Aang sitting around and meditating but somehow it works? It’s a great character episode for Aang and all the moving pieces of Katara discovering Zuko, Sokka getting to see his dad, and Katara being captured by Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee is fantastic pay-off, raising the stakes for the season’s finale.
28. Book 3, Episode 1: “The Awakening”
“I need to redeem myself. I need my honor back.” Sound familiar? It’s Aang saying it this time! Aang is dismayed that the world thinks he’s dead and Zuko is hesitant when his father accepts him back into the family. Aang and Zuko are two sides of the same coin, and this flipping of motivations epitomizes why both of their arcs are amazing.
27. Book 3, Episode 2: “The Headband”
A “Footloose” homage? Yep, they went there and it is glorious. And the messages they snuck in about imperialist propaganda and Fire Nation kids not being inherently evil? Epic grey morality in a fun episode about a dance party.
26. Book 3, Episode 3: “The Painted Lady”
Another amazing Katara-centric episode about selflessness, bravery, and not turning a blind eye. The Gaang couldn’t compel the people of the village to save themselves — they took steps to help (including blowing up Fire Nation military’s supplies), but only the entire village banding together to clean the river could really solve their problems.
25. Book 3, Episode 4; “Sokka’s Master”
In this house, we respect Sokka. This episode’s A-plot is Sokka learning to wield a rad space sword, the B-plot is the other members of the Gaang lying around and talking about how much they miss Sokka, and the C-plot is Iroh getting ripped. Enough said.
24. Book 2, Episode 12: “The Serpent’s Pass”
What should be an unremarkable episode becomes lovely and incredibly significant: We see the return of Suki (sans her warrior makeup!) and Sokka deals with his guilt over Yue’s death, Aang comes to terms with his pain and grief at the loss of Appa and we finally viscerally see the struggles faced by some of the many people displaced by war. The birth of a child literally named Hope represents a moment of peace before the dangers of Ba Sing Se and the escalation of the war.
23. Book 1, Episode 18: “The Waterbending Master”
Katara literally fights the patriarchy. Does she win? Of course not, she’s never had a waterbending lesson in her life. But she stood up with all the teaching she clawed for herself and wouldn’t be told no. Chills. And that fight scene!
22. Book 2, Episode 6: “The Blind Bandit”
The introduction of Toph! Do we need to say more?
21. Book 3, Episode 8: “The Puppetmaster”
The Gaang meet Hama, who was kidnapped from the Southern Water Tribe by the Fire Nation and kept imprisoned under terrible conditions. To escape, she taught herself a horrific sub-style of waterbending: bloodbending. Remember how there are bad people in every nation? Remember how people in pain can do bad things and that isn’t okay? Wow. Wowee. Her rage against the Fire Nation people is understandable even if it’s misdirected, and bloodbending is terrifying.
20. Book 3, Episode 17: “The Ember Island Players”
When a standard show does a recap episode, they recycle old footage, maybe throw in some animated bloopers or a new voiceover. “Avatar,” on the other hand, chose to gloriously satirize itself and raise the new question that will lead us into the finale: Should Aang kill the Fire Lord?
19. Book 3, Episode 6: “The Avatar and the Firelord”
Remember The Storm? Remember how Aang and Zuko are two sides of the same coin? This episode is a great example of these themes; Zuko finds out one of his great-grandfathers started the war and another was the previous Avatar who failed to prevent it, and these two sides have always warred within him. During the scene where Iroh explains this to Zuko in his prison cell, the staging puts Iroh in a pool of light and Zuko in shadow behind the prison bars — yet another example of the incredible cinematic attention that went into this show. Finally, Zuko starts to realise honor is something you earn, not something that can be bestowed upon you.
18. Book 2, Episode 9: “Bitter Work”
Now that it’s finally time for Aang to learn earthbending from Toph, he struggles to reconcile its unyieldingness with his peaceable airbender nature. And when Zuko struggles to learn lightning-bending, everyone’s favourite angsty boi responds by yelling at God to strike him down because he’s completely fine and has no trauma. Aang begins to master earthbending when he realises the value in standing your ground and Zuko learns to redirect lightning even though he can’t produce it. This episode is underrated.
17. Book 2, Episode 13: “The Drill”
Remember, Azula was sent to bring Zuko and Iroh home. Instead, she found herself in Ba Sing Se and decided, might as well conquer the unconquerable city. And while her plan in this episode — drill through Ba Sing Se’s walls — doesn’t pay off thanks to the Gaang’s awesome teamwork, she does accomplish it in the end. Forget Ozai — Azula is the scariest antagonist in this show.
16. Book 3, Episode 7: “The Runaway”
This one is a great showcase for Katara and Toph’s relationship. Their dynamic is amazing because it isn’t “girls are catty because they must compete to be The One Cool Girl” or “girls stand next to each other instead of having conflict or meaningful interactions because Girl Power.” Their characters are almost diametrically opposed — so of course, they clash — but they value each other and pull off a badass scam. Plus: Sokka and Aang forgetting Toph can’t read.
15. Book 3, Episode 10: “Day of the Black Sun — Part 1”
Sokka chokes trying to explain his plan to the soldiers, because even the comic relief on this show has depth. But the 15-year-old is also terrifyingly competent, as he organized this invasion and brought them all together. He designed a submarine!
14. Book 3, Episode 18 “Sozin’s Comet: Part 1 — The Phoenix King”
This is a lovely, fun episode where the Gaang prepare for the end of the war and possibly the world by… throwing a beach party. It’s great. When Zuko makes them actually prepare we see Toph having a blast as “Melonlord” and, over in the Fire Nation, Ozai is preparing to take over the world. Everything falls into place as the finale ramps up.
13. Book 3, Episode 12: “The Western Air Temple”
“Hello, Zuko here.” Zuko is socially awkward, okay? His adorkably embarrassing attempts to get on the Gaang’s good side and his continued screw-ups are both necessary (because this show loves to provide an abundance of evidence that nothing comes easy to Zuko) and amazing.
12. Book 1, Episode 20: “The Siege of the North — Part 2”
This is the episode where, after kidnapping Aang, Zuko decides to fight Katara — a master waterbender — on an island made of ice surrounded by water. It goes exactly as you’d expect. Additionally, Zhao kills the moon spirit and knocks everything out of balance, leading to Yue’s heartbreaking sacrifice. When all seems lost, Aang says: “No. It’s not over.” He becomes a giant spirit monster who strikes down only those who oppose him, and Zhao chooses to die rather than let Zuko help him. Chills.
11. Book 3, Episode 13: “The Firebending Masters”
Now that Zuko has joined the Gaang, Aang and Zuko are finally in harmony with themselves and each other. So as they stand to learn the truth of firebending from the last surviving dragons, we hear the end credits swell in the middle of the episode — because we are so close to the end, and Aang and Zuko are so nearly ready.
10. Book 3, Episode 14: “The Boiling Rock — Part 1”
We’re into the top ten now and the competition is close. We get the return of Suki and Sokka dealing with his feelings of inadequacy. Plus, the origin of “That’s rough, buddy.” (Which is actually a completely reasonable response since Zuko probably doesn’t know what happened to Yue, that she was involved with Sokka, and he has the social skills of a rock.) Sokka is, again, a mastermind of planning and learns to trust himself even if he isn’t infallible.
9. Book 3, Episode 16: “The Southern Raiders”
This is an amazing Katara episode that ties up some of the biggest questions in “Avatar.” It doesn’t just deal with Katara’s grief after she lost her mother; it shows how Katara is still affected by it, how she had to become her mother’s replacement when she was still a child, and the burden and resentment that caused her to feel. Aang the pacifist monk told Katara not to look for vengeance while Zuko understood that she needed to. But Zuko has chosen to step away from defeating the Fire Lord — Aang will have to kill him. How can he?
8. Book 3, Episode 5: “The Beach”
This episode is about the villains — because they are people too, and they are kids too, worrying about their relationships or being liked or their teenage angst. The bad guys on this show have depth and it makes all of the conflict up to this point and everything that follows more meaningful. Not to mention how it’s a turning point in Zuko’s arc, as he finally inspects his feelings about choosing his sister and betraying his uncle at the end of Book 2.
7. Book 3, Episode 19: “Sozin’s Comet — Part 2: The Old Masters”
The one where all of Aang’s past lives tell him to betray his principles and kill Firelord Ozai. Aang’s peaceful nature is central to his character, but he is not weak. For standing by his values even when the whole world is telling him to give in and kill someone, the Lion-Turtle rewards him with an out (hence we forgive it for being an ex-machina). Zuko and Iroh also reunite and everyone cries, so this episode really is the culmination of everything.
6. Book 2, Episode 8: “The Chase”
Toph joining the Gaang is an adjustment, especially given that everyone is sleep-deprived as they’re on the run from Azula, Mai and Ty Lee. When they split up, we get an amazing and revealing three-way fight between Aang, Azula and Zuko. Iroh and Toph exchange wisdom, and pain is felt when Azula nearly kills Iroh. In response? With the help of the rest of the Gaang, we see water, earth, fire, and air (and boomerang!) united for the first time against a common foe. Badass.
5. Book 2, Episode 20: “The Crossroads of Destiny”
So that’s what happens when a villain attacks a character during his power up sequence. Zuko makes the ultimate wrong choice but we understand, even as we hate it. From the power move of Azula casually defeating the primary Earth Kingdom antagonist Long Feng to the amazing fight scenes, from Iroh turning his head away from his nephew to Katara bringing Aang back from the dead: This is an electrifying season finale.
4. Book 3, Episode 15: “The Boiling Rock — Part 2”
It’s amazingly cathartic when Mai betrays Azula, but when Ty Lee chooses not to stand with Azula? Even the minor antagonists make completely shocking but logical decisions and this is the beginning of Azula’s downfall.
3. Book 3, Episode 11: “Day of the Black Sun — Part 2”
They lose. In this kids show, in an important battle, the good guys lose and there are repercussions, as all of the adults return to prison. It’s the invasion of the Fire Nation capital during the eclipse that renders firebending null. Azula is the best liar and manipulator, and Zuko’s confrontation with his father is epic. Lightning represents the abuse of his father and his family — with his Uncle’s love and support, Zuko learns to let that lightning pass through him without hurting him and chooses not to take vengeance on his father. Zuko stands up to his father and tells him that he was abusive and wrong. He knows his worth, and now he’s going to do the right thing no matter the consequences. Zuko’s redemption arc is exceptional and this is a brilliant moment that shows just how far he has come.
2. Book 3, Episode 20: “Sozin’s Comet — Part 3: Into The Inferno”
Truly everything happens in this penultimate episode: A bunch of old guys take back Ba Sing Se! Toph, Suki and Sokka take over an airship by themselves! And Azula’s descent into madness is complete. She was a child prodigy who grew up under her father’s abuse and crushing expectations. Mai and Ty Lee’s betrayals broke her because she thought she was never wrong, that fear would never fail her. From her first introduction she wanted to be perfect — not “one hair out of place” — yet now the pressure has become too much. The mad queen has met her inevitable fate. “Game of Thrones” could never.
The Last Agni Kai between Zuko and Azula begins; the haunting violins are sad, because this is a tragedy. Both were abused by their parents, but without Uncle Iroh’s support this is what Azula became. And Azula attacked Katara with dishonor because she knew she couldn’t win.
1. Book 3, Episode 21: “Sozin’s Comet — Part 4: Avatar Aang”
The best episode has to be the finale. From beginning to end, everything is tied up; it’s the kind of finale every show wishes for.
With a broken leg and no weapons, Sokka holds on to Toph by her fingertips, watching as Fire Nation soldiers come to kill them. They both know they’re going to die, and hanging in the air, Toph can’t “see” anything but Sokka. They are kids. Yet when Suki saves them, they keep fighting to the end.
With Zuko injured, Katara faces Azula. Now a waterbending master herself, she outsmarts Azula by taking an insane risk, nearly taking a lightning bolt to the face. She incapacitates Azula and saves Zuko’s life.
Aang is losing until Ozai throws him into a rock and hits the scar on his back Azula gave him when she killed him — his chakras realign and he is able to reach the Avatar spirit and fulfill his potential as the Avatar. Yet when he faces Ozai, he does so as himself, not in the Avatar State. He nearly loses, but his strength of will is stronger, and he takes away Ozai’s bending. Dead, Ozai would’ve been a martyr — instead, he was defeated by a 12-year-old pacifist and is succeeded by the son he called a weakling. A true defeat.
The ending is beautiful as Zuko is crowned Firelord, witnessed by crowds from all the nations, before the extended Gaang celebrate in private, finally allowed to relax and have fun. For the first time in their lives (with the exception of 112 year old Aang), there is no more war and no reason to fear.
It was a fantastic ride.
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