Top 10 Surprising Facts About Avatar: The Last Airbender



Top 10 Surprising Facts About Avatar: The Last Airbender

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
These surprising facts about "Avatar: The Last Airbender" will blow you away. Our countdown includes it set a Netflix record, the inspiration for Lake Laogai, Zutara was almost canon, and more!
Script written by Nick Spake

Top 10 Surprising Facts About Avatar: The Last Airbender

Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Surprising Facts About Avatar: The Last Airbender

For this list, we’ll be looking at interesting trivia regarding the production and impact of this animated series. In case you haven’t seen “Avatar” before, a spoiler alert is in order.

Are there any fun facts we missed? Let us know in the comments!

#10: It Set a Netflix Record

Even fifteen years after premiering, “Avatar” is demonstrating no signs of fading into obscurity. If anything, its fanbase is only growing and the show’s presence on Netflix is proof. In May 2020, the series returned to the streaming service in the United States. Although it wasn’t showcased on the main page, “Avatar” became U.S. Netflix’s most popular series within one week, even surpassing newer shows like “Dead to Me” and “The Outer Banks.” By July 2020, “Avatar” set a record for the service, maintaining the longest-consecutive run on Netflix’s daily Top 10 chart. It appeared on the list for 60 straight days while the second-place holder, “Ozark,” had a 57-day run. Whether audiences were revisiting the series or discovering it, “Avatar” is truly timeless.

#9: Azula’s Abandoned Arranged Marriage

The invaluable Grey DeLisle-Griffin landed the role of Azula due in part to the fact that she was the only actress who didn’t scream her lines while auditioning. Azula didn’t need to raise her voice to sound intimidating. DeLisle-Griffin brought a naturally menacing presence to the character, whether she was commanding an army or “flirting” with an unfortunate Fire Nation boy. Speaking of which, Azula was supposed to have an arranged marriage in Season 3. The creators ultimately didn’t follow through on this idea, however. Although it might have offered an interesting dynamic, Azula will always be the alpha in any relationship. So, we’re not sure what a fiance could have brought to the table. Azula is probably better off single.

#8: The Inspiration for Lake Laogai

Animator Sangjin Kim received a Primetime Emmy for his work on the episode “Lake Laogai.” The titular lake appears tranquil on the surface, but underneath is a prison where people are brainwashed. Considering that “Avatar” wasn’t afraid to tackle real-world issues like war and genocide, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Lake Laogai was inspired by an actual Chinese labor camp system. Laogai is the shortened version of “Láodòng Gǎizào,” meaning “reform through labor.” In the 50s and 60s, Laogai camps were common in the People’s Republic of China. In addition to forced labor, brainwashing was one of the many forms of torture that prisoners could be subjected to. What was already an incredibly dark episode is suddenly given another layer of real-world horror.

#7: Jet’s Off-Screen Exit

As if “Lake Laogai” wasn’t grim enough, this was also the episode where Jet dies at the hands of Long Feng. Of course, Jet’s demise isn’t made immediately clear to the audience. When we last see Jet alive, he’s in critical condition and it’s strongly implied that this is the end for him. Jet isn’t brought up again until one of the last episodes when Sokka points out that his fate was left unresolved. According to the creators, Nickelodeon was against showing a kid die onscreen. They weren’t even allowed to confirm Jet’s death later in the show’s run. Finally, when the third season got released on DVD, a commentary bubble clarified, “For the record: Jet is dead.” Toph was right, he was lying.

#6: Serious Sokka

Sometimes a performer can reshape a character’s identity. Sokka provided much of the show’s comedic relief, but he was conceived as a far more serious figure. That all changed when Jack DeSena landed the part. Starting out as a regular on “All That,” DeSena brought his signature goofy edge to the character. This not only inspired the creators to make him Team Avatar’s resident joker, but also to expand upon his role. It was a good call. We mean, could you imagine if Sokka had been a somber buzzkill? Oh, right… [broll: Jackson Rathbone as Sokka in the film] DeSena has brought the same comedic timing and unexpected depth to his equally beloved role on “The Dragon Prince.”

#5: Prince Zuko Wasn’t Supposed to Be a Major Character

Prince Zuko is a practically Shakespearean villain when we first meet him, driven to restore his honor by capturing the Avatar. Over the course of three seasons, Zuko goes through one of the most fascinating redemption arcs in any medium. Zuko’s journey is so fleshed out that it’s hard to believe he was essentially a last-minute addition. For most of the series, Fire Lord Ozai is a shadowy figure who operates from afar. Although this built up great tension for the final battle between him and Aang, it also restricted the big bad’s screen time. Thus, the writers decided to put another character out in the field who would pursue the Avatar. Enter Zuko, who quickly evolved from a minor player to an essential one.

#4: Zutara Was Almost Canon

Team Zutara or Team Kataang? These two ships inspired many debates among “Avatar” fans, but the series ultimately closes out with Aang and Katara sharing a kiss. Zutara shippers almost had it their way, however. The idea of getting Zuko and Katara together was apparently seriously considered by the show’s writers. An attraction seemed to be hinted at during Season 2 when Katara offered to heal Zuko's scar in the crystal catacombs. They developed a stronger bond in Season 3, as Zuko helped Katara track down her mother’s murderer. The supposed love triangle between Zuko, Katara, and Aang was even alluded to in “The Ember Island Players.” In the end, though, Aang and Katara express their love while Zuko ends up with Mai.

#3: Toph Was Almost Male

Another highlight from “The Ember Island Players” sees Toph portrayed by a hulking man. In the context of the show, this references Toph’s commanding presence and hard-hitting nature. If you do some research, though, you’ll find that this casting choice is also a clever in-joke. Early on in development, Toph was going to be a muscular male earthbender. Instead of being twelve, the character was envisioned as a sixteen-year-old. On top of all that, the character wasn’t even going to be blind. It was head writer Aaron Ehasz’s idea to make Aang’s new earthbending teacher a little girl who could more than hold her own in a fight. Although co-creator Bryan Konietzko was initially against this, Toph would evolve into one of his favorite characters.

#2: Uncle Iroh Was Meant to Betray Zuko

Following the passing of actor Mako, Greg Baldwin inherited the role of Uncle Iroh for Season 3. When “Samurai Jack” returned for its final season, Baldwin would also voice Aku, another role originated by Mako. Iroh and Aku are very different characters, one being a source of wisdom and the other being evil incarnate. These two almost had more in common than you might think, however. In the series finale, Iroh was originally supposed to backstab Zuko, revealing himself as a double agent! Iroh and his nephew shared one of the show’s most heartfelt dynamics. Had the creators followed through with this twist, it not only would’ve destroyed their relationship, but Iroh’s entire character arc. Fortunately, this idea didn’t make the cut.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

The Cabbage Merchant Was Intended to Be a One-Off Character
His Misfortune Became Arguably the Show’s Best Running Gag

Co-Creator Michael Dante DiMartino Is a “Family Guy” Alumnus
He Left That Show to Pursue “Avatar”

Commander Zhao Was Based on His Voice Actor, Jason Isaacs
His Role in “The Patriot” Helped Inspire the Character

A Documentary Inspired the Series
Thank You, Ernest Shackleton

There Was an Unaired Pilot
It Was First Made Available on DVD

#1: Why We Didn’t Get a Season 4

DiMartino and Konietzko decided early on to limit the series to three seasons. While Konietzko reportedly claims that this was always the plan, Ehasz tells a different tale. According to Ehasz, the writers briefly considered doing a fourth season of “Avatar” that would’ve provided a redemption story for Azula. Ehasz claims that the idea was scrapped as the M. Night Shyamalan movie moved forward. Ironically, Shyamalan was apparently in favor of a fourth season while the creators pushed for the live-action movie to be made. Although we never got Season 4, Aang’s story would continue in the comics, while the “Avatar” legacy lived on in “The Legend of Korra.” We’re even getting a live-action Netflix series, WITH the original creators… oh, right, scratch that last part ...
But tbh does who shipped zutara honestly didn't see the chemistry between Aang and Katara