Zuko and Iroh’s Relationship Is Even Better in Live-Action AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER

The relationship between Zuko and his Uncle Iroh in the Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon is one of the most beautiful ever written. At times, it seems like Iroh is the only person who can see the good in Zuko. And though Zuko, especially at first, appears ungrateful for his Uncle’s teachings and guidance, it becomes increasingly clear that the wayward prince loves Iroh very much. Zuko, meanwhile, helps Iroh heal after the death of his son and, in a way, motivates him to do more than just passively disapprove of the Fire Nation’s actions. Neither Zuko nor Iroh would likely have survived and, beyond that, thrived without the other.

And that’s why when I say that Netflix’s live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series intensifies this perfection, I do not do so lightly. By offering viewers two scenes they do not get to see in the cartoon, the live-action ATLA succeeds in, not necessarily improving, but evolving the relationship between Iroh and Zuko. 

Avatar the Last Airbender Live-Action Dallas Liu as Zuko comforting iroh

In a set of cleverly mirrored moments during episode four, the Avatar: The Last Airbender live-action series transports us to Zuko and Iroh’s lowest times of existence. For Iroh, brilliantly played by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, a flashback takes us to see him right after the death of his son, Lu Ten. And for Zuko, perfectly brought to life Dallas Liu, his greatest pain comes to life as we experience the moment in which he leaves behind his home in disgrace and banishment.

While the cartoon implies these scenes, we mostly see their aftermath there and the relationship they helped to form. But the live-action takes us into the heart of the greatest griefs and losses the two characters face, even given the future events of the series itself. As we see Zuko and Iroh at their most precarious, it is Zuko who steps in to reach out for his Uncle, and Iroh who steps forward to ensure his nephew is not alone. This casts a whole new light on the pair’s inextricable bond.

As Iroh mourns Lu Ten, the rest of his family offers him empty, cold platitudes about honor and legend. But only Zuko speaks sincerely to him of his lost son. Perhaps, the series implies, Zuko was the single member of the Royal Family who knew Lu Ten as a person and not just a soldier. And it is only Zuko who cares enough to stay silently by Uncle Iroh’s side as a sea of mourners come to offer him their empty condolences, a determined, comforting presence.

With his heartfelt actions, Zuko helps Iroh break through the numbness of his grief and allows him to finally cry and mourn his loss openly. In this moment of true heartbreak, we see that Iroh truly only has Zuko, and Zuko steps up for his Uncle. It may seem a small addition to Avatar‘s story in the scheme of things, but it offers a whole new level of insight into how and why Iroh and Zuko’s devoted bond came to be.

Meanwhile, a little later in the flashback timeline, Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s live-action series gives us the story of how Iroh comes to travel with Zuko in exile. The cartoon never explains why Iroh accompanies his nephew on the hunt for the Avatar. Although most fans have speculated this was a choice Iroh willingly made and not a mandate from Fire Lord Ozai, it’s brilliant to see the former explanation explicitly canonized. In the scene, we find Zuko at his most vulnerable, preparing to leave the only home he’s ever known for a life of exile. As he’s about to set sail, Uncle Iroh steps onboard his ship to accompany him on his uncertain travels. Zuko warns his uncle they might not return “home” for a long time. But Iroh offers him the simple truth, “Home.” He ponders, “Everything I need is on this boat.”

Though his father has banished Zuko to the delight of his sister, his uncle comes to stand, singular but strong, by the prince’s side. In this perilous moment that is finally shown to us, it is Iroh that brings Zuko one measure of constancy and solidity. It is also worth noting that in the cartoon, Iroh is more directly responsible for Zuko’s fate, inadvertently allowing him into the war council that changes his life. But the live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender removes this guilt from Iroh’s shoulders. And that makes the tender moment we see even more meaningful. It is an act of pure love that brings Iroh to Zuko’s ship. (And ostensibly, the audience to tears.)

Avatar the Last Airbender Live-Action Dallas Liu as Zuko with Iroh and June

Although these scenes are just slight extensions of what we see in the cartoon, they have tremendous consequences for how we view the bond between Iroh and Zuko. The live-action crystallizes for the audience just how Zuko and Iroh arrived at the relationship we see them in during the present day. Not only do the scenes reveal that Zuko and Iroh had only one another for much of their lives, but they overtly manifest how integral the relationship was at the most painful of times. At their respective rock bottoms, Zuko catches Iroh and Iroh catches Zuko. That’s why their bond is the way it is in present day.

Of all the changes and additions the live-action made, these scenes feel like the ones viewers will apply across canon. From now on, when watching the cartoons, fans can know that Zuko comforted Iroh after the death of Lu Ten, and Iroh stood steadfast by Zuko as he sailed into banishment, and feel a new glow of love for the relationship between the pair.

Top Stories
More by Rotem Rusak
Trending Topics