Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the greatest animated works ever. The story of a group of kids with magic powers trying to take on an evil tyrant holds incredible depth and emotion beneath the surface. During its three seasons, Avatar’s characters shared their thoughts on a great many topics, including destiny, friendship, forgiveness and more. From Iroh to Toph, these wonderful characters continually hit us in the feels and made us think on life’s deeper questions. Sometimes, it was even uproariously funny while doing so.
The magic and power of Avatar has endured long past its original air date and touched many who weren’t in Nickelodeon’s usual demographic. Rewatching this show only confirms how brilliant it is. Here, we have collected twenty of the best quotes from this incredible series.
“Pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source.”—Iroh, Episode 2.09 “Bitter Work”
Zuko’s arc in Avatar is one of coming to accept his own past and realizing that he’s the only one who can restore his honor and sense of self-worth. This episode comes at about the halfway point in the series, when Zuko is struggling between the influence of his father and his uncle. Iroh tries to explain to Zuko that the anger he feels towards the world is born from his shame for not fulfilling the role expected of him as a prince. Zuko retorts that he is “as proud as ever,” but Iroh knows that pride and shame often coexist, that pride fuels shame. The only way for Zuko to let go of his anger is through humility, not pride, Iroh explains. It’s one of Iroh’s wisest moments in the series, exemplifying how much Avatar has to share with its audience beyond its tale of adventure.
“There is no war in Ba Sing Se.”—Dai Li agent, Episode 2.13 “City of Walls and Secrets”
Ba Sing Se is the capital of the Earth Kingdom, and the last major holdout in the 100 Years War. The head of the city’s secret police, the Dai Li, explains that Ba Sing Se is the only peaceful place left, and the only way to maintain that is to suppress any knowledge of the world outside its walls. For much of the first two seasons, Aang and his friends view the Earth Nation as the “good guys,” a refuge against the Fire Nation. But just like in the real world, things are rarely so black and white. The Earth Kingdom may be fighting the Fire Nation, but the widespread suppression inside their city depicts the shades of gray in real war, where even the “good guys” are capable of atrocities.
“This tea is nothing more than hot leaf juice!”—Iroh, Episode 2.13 “City of Walls and Secrets”
Iroh is without a doubt the wisest character in Avatar, but he is also one of the funniest. Shortly after arriving in Ba Sing Se, Iroh and Zuko are served tea in a shop. Upon drinking it, Iroh spits it out, delivering this brilliant line. Zuko retorts “That’s what all tea is,” which really sets Iroh off: “How could a member of my own family say something so horrible?!” This is even funnier when you consider the fact that Iroh’s brother is Firelord Ozai, and his niece is Azula.
“Anyone’s capable of great good and great evil. Everyone, even the Firelord and the Fire Nation, have to be treated like their worth giving a chance.”—Aang, Episode 3.16 “The Avatar and The Firelord”
Avatar condenses the lives of two men, Avatar Roku and Firelord Sozin, into a 22-minute episode and does so without losing nuance or emotion. Through their friendship, their falling out and Sozin’s ultimate betrayal, Aang manages to take away the hopeful message that anyone is capable of good or evil, and so everyone deserves a chance.
“Sharing tea with a fascinating stranger is one of life’s true delights.”—Iroh, Episode 2.08 “The Chase”
Iroh’s resilience and ability to find happiness in life seems boundless. His son was killed in battle, his brother stole the throne from him and now Zuko has left him. And yet, he takes time to have tea with Toph, whom he’s never met before. He smiles and shares his wisdom. Iroh knows the importance of appreciating the little things in life.
“As long as I’m confident with who I am, it doesn’t matter what other people think”—Smellerbee, Episode 2.12 “The Serpent’s Pass”
Smellerbee doesn’t get much screen time, but she makes an impression in the short time we spend with her. Smellerbee is a great example of how Avatar doesn’t just include badass women in its main cast, but everywhere in the world. She’s a freedom fighter and skilled swordsman. Furthermore, Smellerbee doesn’t conform to gendered standards of dress, and this line is actually in response to Iroh mistaking her for a man. She knows that it doesn’t matter, and that self-worth always comes from within.
“For so long I thought that if my dad accepted me, I’d be happy. I’m back home now. My dad talks to me, he even thinks I’m a hero. Everything should be perfect, right? I should be happy now, but I’m not. I’m angrier than ever and I don’t know why.”—Zuko, Episode 3.15 “The Beach”
“The Beach” is one of my favorite Avatar episodes, taking inspiration from coming-of-age stories like The Breakfast Club. In it, Zuko finally confronts his emotions over betraying Iroh and siding with Azula. Gathered around a fire with Azula, Mei and Tai Lee, he loses it, exploding in anger at them. But he realizes that his anger is actually towards himself. It’s a pivotal moment in his journey towards redemption and eventually joining Aang.
“It’s easy to do nothing, it’s hard to forgive.” Aang, Episode 3.16 “The Southern Raiders”
Perhaps more than any other episode in Avatar, “The Southern Raiders” really pushes the boundaries of what many of us thought could be shown in something billed as a “children’s cartoon.” This episode sees Katara—one of the main heroes—trying to murder someone. She makes her intentions clear: she wants revenge on the man who murdered her mother. Aang tries to convince her against taking such action, and to forgive him. Zuko says that forgiveness is the same as doing nothing. Aang disagrees, sharing the above quote, inspired by the Buddhist philosophy at the heart of the Air Nomads.
“Sometimes life is like this tunnel. You can’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you keep moving, you will come to a better place.”—Iroh, Episode 2.19 “The Crossroads of Destiny”
This episode features one of the only moments in all of Avatar between Iroh and Aang. They are both searching for people they love, Zuko and Katara. This search brings them together for a short while, and Aang shares his concern that he isn’t strong enough, that he won’t be able to restore balance. But Iroh knows, despite how bad things may seem, they will eventually come to a better place. Unfortunately for both of them, that better place was still quite a ways off.
“My father says Azula was born lucky. He says I was lucky to be born.”—Zuko, Episode 1.20 “The Siege of the North, Part 2”
Avatar spent much of the first book finding its footing and laying groundwork for the incredible show it would become. Zuko starts as a standard bad guy, but by the end of the season it’s easy to start sympathizing with him. Zuko talks about his father with an unconscious Aang (well, technically he’s in the Spirit World). It cements the physically and emotionally abusive relationship his father has with him, and the hardships he is going through, despite being the antagonist of the first book. Avatar succeeded in creating one of the most nuanced characters in all of animation with Zuko.
”Life happens wherever you are, whether you make it or not.”—Uncle Iroh, Episode 2.13 “City of Walls Secrets
Book Two of Avatar presents Zuko and Iroh with the life they could have lived, had they not been born Fire Nation royalty. They move to Ba Sing Se, they set up a tea shop, Zuko goes on a date. And they almost forget about the Fire Nation for a little while. Zuko is initially resistant to the idea, protesting that he does not want to make a life in Ba Sing Se, but Iroh knows that whether or not Zuko wants it, life will continue on around him. Better to make the best of it.
“Secret tunnel! Secret tunnel! Through the mountain! Secret, secret, secret, secret tunnel! Yeah!”—Earth Kingdom Nomads, Episode 2.02 “The Cave of Two Lovers”
This beautiful, unparalleled song has become something of a rallying cry for the Avatar fandom. Renditions are regularly done at conventions across the country. The song about two lovers digging a tunnel to see each other brings a tear to the eye of anyone who listens.
“It’s the quenchiest!” Sokka, Episode 2.11
This is one of the most oft-quoted and funniest lines in all of Avatar. Sokka, ever the comedic relief, gets high off cactus juice and shares his eternal wisdom on its quenchiness. His trip comes at a very opportune time when the Team Avatar is lost in a desert. Oh, Sokka.
“You have come to the crossroads of your destiny. It is time for you to choose. It is time for you to choose good.”—Iroh, Episode 2.20 “The Crossroads of Destiny”
The Book Two finale is one of the most emotional episodes in all of Avatar. During the second season, Zuko goes through a great deal of trial and hardship. By the time we get to “The Crossroads of Destiny,” he is not the same person he was at the beginning of the series. And so it is here that Zuko must make a choice between what is right and what he believes will bring him honor. When I watched it for the first time, I thought Zuko was finally going to choose good. Iroh’s pleas don’t reach him, but they reach the audience with a deep emotional impact, echoing the episode’s title.
”I know now that no one can give you your honor. It’s something you earn for yourself by choosing to do what’s right.”—Zuko, Episode 3.11 “The Western Air Temple”
This quote represents the culmination of Zuko’s internal journey. Up until this point, Zuko has been at war with himself. He has wanted so desperately to restore his honor, and for the longest time, he believed that only his father, the very man who gave him his scar and banished him, could do that. After much suffering and searching, in this episode he has finally realized that honor and self-worth come from within. And it’s in this episode that he finally joins Team Avatar.
“The greatest illusion of this world is the illusion of separation. Things you think are separate and different are actually one and the same. We are all one people, but we live as if divided.”—Guru Pathik, Episode 2.19 “The Guru”
Guru Pathik argues for a world where national boundaries do not matter, where all people, fire bender and air nomad, bender and non-bender, can live together in peace. The things that separate the people in both Avatar’s world and our own are illusions, he says. We are all one people, and we should act like it.
“I am not Toph, I am Melon Lord! Mwahahah!”—Toph, Episode 3.18 “Sozin’s Comet”
Even in the finale, when everything is falling apart and Firelord Ozai is about to destroy the world, Avatar still finds time for a little levity. Toph transforms into the Melon Lord to help Team Avatar prepare to fight Ozai, and maybe gets a little carried away with her power.
“Some friendships are so strong, they can even transcend lifetimes.”—Roku, Episode 3.06 “The Avatar and the Firelord”
Roku says this to Aang after Aang realizes that he and Roku were both friends with Monk Gyatso. At the end of the episode, Toph asks Aang if he thinks that’s even possible, and Aang believes that it is. This is then brilliantly echoed in Avatar’s sequel series, The Legend of Korra, when Korra befriends Toph, carrying on the cycle of friendship, like the cycle of the Avatar.
“There is nothing wrong with a life of peace and prosperity. I suggest you think about what it is you want from your life, and why.”—Iroh, Episode 2.17 “Lake Laogai”
After Iroh and Zuko have settled into life in Ba Sing Se, Zuko learns of the Avatar’s presence in the city. Zuko would throw everything away to capture the Avatar and restore his honor. Zuko believes it is his destiny, but Iroh tries to convince him that is not the only way. This life they have in Ba Sing Se could belong to them. And it does, for a little while longer, until Azula returns. Peace and prosperity have a value that many often overlook. Zuko eventually comes to realize this, and in many ways resembles his uncle in his later years, as seen in Korra.
“My cabbages!!”—The Cabbage Merchant
Oh, the poor Cabbage Merchant. He just can’t catch a break.