In which book of ATLA would you say Zuko really evolved as a character and how would you describe his character development?
There is no contest for me, it’s Book 2. I always liked Zuko, even in Book 1, but Book 2 really made him feel human. I would describe his character development in Book 2 as almost perfect. It was gradual, extremely realistic, and very engaging. I definitely felt the most emotional connection with him during Book 2, and that was when Avatar‘s writing was at its peak for me.
I really loved how slow and gradual his development was. He felt like a real person. In the first episode he is so rude to his uncle, but you see that he just wants to feel loved. Iroh never held it against him. The conflict with Azula really made me feel for Zuko. His family is so cruel. And he is pretty cold to Song, and even steals from her, but you can see that he did feel empathy for her. But Zuko is a person who shuts down his emotions in the beginning.
He was very flawed, and I liked that, but it wasn’t as exaggerated as it was in Book 3. He had a lot of pride as a prince and he felt humiliated that he didn’t really know how to take care of himself on his own without stealing. I think that was the main reason he left his uncle. He was ashamed at how helpless he was at having to rely on Iroh for everything. Iroh let him go, but he knew that Zuko still needed him, and they would eventually get back together.
You see his backstory which really made me empathize a lot more with him. I found the Royal Family so fascinating, too. His childhood was so lonely, and he really was a sweet kid who was forced into such a tough role, groomed to be a soldier. But he still has a kid side to him, and his bonding with Lee showed that he isn’t heartless or cold by nature. But he really is an outcast. His family disowned him, and even the people he helped hate him by the end.
He had a fierce rivalry with Azula, and still wanted to capture the Avatar, but he cared more about his uncle, and I liked seeing him break down when Azula shot him. He didn’t care at all about Aang anymore during that moment and you really saw that they have a father/son relationship. It was very realistic (unlike the finale…). You see him shed a tear for the first time in Book 2, and I remember how moving I found that moment when I first saw it, especially with the music. He was begging to be struck, and he knew that there was a very good chance he would die. But he didn’t care. It was subtle, but so powerful.
After he reunites with Iroh, he is a lot more considerate towards him, and I liked that. After he almost lost his uncle, his entire attitude changed and he realized he took him for granted, and he didn’t want to do that anymore. You could see they had grown a lot closer in the second half of Book 2. Then he meets Jet, and I really liked their parallel relationship. I thought it was really interesting foreshadowing for Zuko joining the GAang.
Zuko didn’t really want friends, but I don’t think he disliked Jet. He just didn’t want to risk getting close to anybody from the Earth Kingdom after what happened with Lee. I think he felt sorry for Jet. It was very telling that he decided to light the fountain on his date. It was a very subtle, but significant moment, that really showed his sensitive side. He knew it would make Jin happy, and he really liked her because she accepted him, even though he was so awkward. He has come a long way since Book 1.
He starts off so angry at the tea shop before he decides to go after Appa. But by the end of the episode, his uncle confronts him and they have one of the most well-written conversations in the show. Iroh’s speech to Zuko was incredible, and Mako had such fantastic voice acting in it, too. It obviously moved Zuko as well, and he just can’t go on with his mission anymore. He looks emotionally exhausted and lets his Blue Spirit mask go for good. After that he has a spiritual awakening, which can be a very painful and terrifying process if you are not prepared. I always though Zuko’s dreams were an incredibly fascinating glimpse into his psyche.
After his fever, we see him finally embrace the side of his personality that he has been suppressing for so many years, due to his upbringing. I loved seeing his authentic personality without his rage. His moments with Iroh at the tea shop were so touching and he also has such a powerful moment with Katara. Zuko’s character development up until this moment was so perfect, and then…it’s all down hill after that. His decision was SO out-of-character, too, because Zuko always cared more about his uncle than the Avatar, even in Book 1. That was one of the main aspects of his character. His character development in Book 3 is so sloppy compared to Book 2.
I completely redid the map that was I using from scratch. Click here to see it on imgur with more pixels and more info. For comparison, here’s my earlier attempt.
In the newest map I’ve added pretty much all of the canon locations, as well as Garsai and Han Tui which have no known location (apart from being in the west). One notable difference between the two is that the newer has one less province: the one to the west of the Si Wong. This is because that province exists on Kuvira’s map and it’s Zaofu, but Zaofu probably didn’t exist in 40AG.
If you’re looking for a small writeup on what the map means for the war, here’s something.