30 Days of Avatar: Complicated Villains

Week 3: Avatar Villains

Day 7: Azula
Day 8: The Complicated Villains
Day 9: Ozai and the Voldemort Problem

Day 8 is for villains with some depth to them. So, not Ozai, and not Unalaq or Vaatu. And not Azula, who we’ve covered, and who isn’t that complicated.

Content warning: Suicide.

Super spoilery spoilers in this one.

All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.



Managing to be at least three times as scary as Ozai ever was, Amon also had an ideology that sort of made sense and a tragic backstory that explained everything.

Amon heads a movement of people determined to create perfect equality for all in Avatar land, and the only way to achieve this is to take people’s bending away. Amon has this ability and no one can figure out how he does it, until it’s explained later.

Amon’s ending is also perhaps the most tragic of all the villains. It’s nothing short of horrifying.

Tarrlok put an end to his own sad story. It’s doubly awful because you can trace these horrifying events back to a choice Aang makes – not that this is his fault, because everyone else involved certainly has their own agency. But still. Tiny baby Aang would feel so responsible for this.

The Red Lotus

Apart from being the most interesting villains when it comes to their bending abilities, the Red Lotus actually have an ideology that isn’t just about them having all the power when everything eventually goes according to their plan. They’re like Amon in that way, but their ideology is much stupider than Amon’s “equality for all.”

That’s why Zaheer is much more interesting when he’s fighting than when he’s speaking, and also why it’s OK for Bolin to just “put a sock in it” at the end. “We’d be better off without world leaders.” Whatever you say, bud. But there are no libertarians in an ice storm, as someone funny on Twitter once said.

Of course all you’d need in an ice storm in Avatar land is a couple of decent water benders, but the point still more or less stands.

How about, “There are no libertarians in a city invaded by spirit vines?” That one works, yes?

Zaheer’s merry band of talented anarchists all die and he ends up imprisoned for life, but in Book 4 Korra journeys to talk to him, believing that if she can see him face to face and know for sure that he’s not a threat anymore, she will no longer be haunted by him. Instead, Zaheer himself acts as Korra’s spiritual guide and helps her get over her fear of their past encounter, because, as he says, their interests are currently temporarily aligned – Zaheer totes wouldn’t be big on mega mecha-suit driving dictators, after all.

Speaking of which…


A lady dictator!!!!!!!!!!!!

This shouldn’t be so exciting but THANK YOU UNIVERSE, ALL OF THE DEITIES, CEILING CAT ET AL for this show and its multitudinous depictions of all of the women doing all of the things.

What’s even better about Kuvira is that she’s motivated by both personal politics and a deep sense of disappointment in her hero, Su, for not stepping up when she was offered the job that Kuvira then took and ran with, forever and ever. A lot of what Kuvira does in Book 4 is dedicated specifically to revenging herself on Su for not doing what Kuvira wanted her to do: taking the opportunity to unite the Earth Kingdom with her utopian ideals and advanced technology, and getting rid of a regressive monarchy. Suyin Beifong is Kuvira’s mother figure as well as her teacher, mentor, and leader, and Kuvira feels that Su’s refusal to take on the role of interrim Earth Kingdom leader is akin to the abandonment of an unwanted child.

We know all of this because Korra is determined, this time, to talk to her villain, to empathize with her, feel compassion for her, and make her see reason. Everyone tells her this is foolish.

But! Kuvira is the one and only villain who apologizes! Korra gets through to her eventually! Even though she will have to face justice – and she even says that she’ll face whatever justice the republic chooses! This is just great. Bless this show.


And finally there’s Zuko, who spends Book 1 being an angry jerk, Book 2 being a confused and angry jerk, and Book 3 redeeming himself. He’s not really a villain. Anyone could see just a few episodes into Book 1 that he’d eventually be redeemed, but man, his redemption journey is beautiful and painful and heart-wrenching and IROH and omg.

Poor Zu-Zu.

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