Since both the show and comics have Iroh leaving Zuko for a tea shop in Ba Sing Se, do you think Master Piandao could have stood in as Zuko's emotional/mental/spiritual support? I mean, since he is such a good friend of Iroh's, it seems like the most natural thing to do. Not only would he be giving Iroh peace of mind, but he'd also have a chance to transform his former student into a master. I think this would have been a nice thing to do for Zuko instead of leaving him all alone. :(
It would have made a lot of difference, wouldn’t it? In the “Lost Adventures” comic “Swordbending”, Zuko tells Sokka that he studied with Piandao, and I wish they’d had enough time to really bond over it. Another idea to have gone into A:TLa’s fourth season!
What point did Zuko start training with weapons? I doubt Ozai ever deigned to learn such a skill, as much as he loves to rely on his firebending. My guess is that it was just after Lu Ten’s death and Ursa’s banishment.
His mother was gone; his father was distant. His uncle would be lost in grief over Lu Ten. Zuko would have only the last token of affection someone had given him to hold onto: the knife that said, “Never give up without a fight.” And Azula had indirectly baited him by saying he wasn’t even good with it.
It wouldn’t have been easy, I’m sure. Eleven-year-old Zuko, lost and hurting and incredibly angry, would have been an unlikely candidate for Piandao to take on. Zuko would first try to gain entry on his name, only to learn that simply being nobility wasn’t enough and that Piandao wouldn’t accept a student unless it was on merit. But after a solid week of the swordmaster coming home to find a determined little boy kneeling in the entryway, Piandao would sigh, rub his temples, and give the prince a chance.
Away from the palace at his sword lessons, Zuko would be free to be himself. He wouldn’t be browbeaten for acting “weak” and would have been taught the principles of an honorable contest. Piandao would be impressed by Zuko’s sheer ferocity and determination. The kid is a survivor, he’d realize–but also, maybe a leader. And after several months of diligent practice, Piandao would reluctantly coax Iroh into the training room.
Iroh, meanwhile, would be mired in grief. He had ceded the throne to Ozai without a fight and would be starting to question the whole motive behind the hundred-year war. In desperation, he had ventured into the Spirit World, only to be denied what every human wanderer had been denied before: a chance to see his loved one again. But somewhere, perhaps, he’d meet Roku’s dragon, or the real Blue Spirit. He might have imprisoned himself in the Fog of Lost Souls. And somehow, at the end of his rope, he would rediscover himself. Iroh was able to leave the Spirit World on his own, one of the few non-Avatars ever to do so, and on returning to the mortal world, would want to set everything right.
Living in the physical world without Lu Ten would be difficult, and sometimes Uncle couldn’t get out of bed in the mornings. He would sometimes feel so helpless that he’d question why he’d bothered to return. It’d take considerable cajoling from his old friends, Piandao in particular, who’d pretend to have momentous White Lotus news just so Iroh would have something to latch onto. The swordmaster would encourage Iroh to visit his home, and arrange for Zuko to be there when he did.
Zuko’s true self, which he’d been free to explore at the master’s, always had to be stifled at the palace, causing frustration and turmoil. Eventually, being true to himself would be so painful for Zuko that he would separate himself from his non-bending persona. But in the training ring, a smile might gleam on his face now and then, and Piandao would feel a strong sense of winning a battle against Ozai that the Firelord didn’t even know was taking place.
The sight of young Zuko, at first, would have been almost unbearable to Iroh. He would frequently have to leave the room so his nephew wouldn’t see the tears. But with every passing day, he would perceive Lu Ten’s ghost less and Zuko a little more, and would gradually take pride in his nephew.
And one day, Iroh sees Zuko pick up the mask that was left behind by his mother, the mask of the Blue Spirit. In that moment, Uncle knows what he has come back into the world to save.