Ranking Every Episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender Part One: Season One
Avatar: The Last Airbender is without question a masterclass work of art from Nickelodeon Animation Studios. Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko’s world of the four nations has become not only one of the highest regarded animated shows out there, but one of television’s most critically acclaimed series to date. Now that Aang and gang’s adventures have finally made their way back to Netflix in the United States, many younger viewers will finally get a chance to experience the gratifying world of deep philosophy and fun action that previously captured millions of eyes over ten years ago. Meanwhile, you can expect veterans of the franchise to likely be on their (insert number) rewatch binge again because any reason to rewatch Avatar: The Last Airbender from start to finish is a good one! What better way to celebrate Team Avatar’s grand return to the world’s largest streaming platform than to rank every single chapter in each book from the least best to the best of the best- and let’s be honest, there are no rotten cabbages within this incredible batch. This is our chapter ranking for the season that kickstarted it all, Book 1: Water.
20. Chapter 11, The Great Divide
For the largest canyon in the Earth Kingdom, The Great Divide lacks a lot of depth compared to any other episode in Avatar although it also stands as the only filler episode in the series. While it may be proclaimed as the worst chapter- with even the creators going as far as to take a jab at this entry in the penultimate episode to the four-part series finale- that does not make it a poorly executed television show episode by any means. For The Last Airbender’s standards, it undeniably does not live up to the respectable themes or relatability that we find in the show’s stories and characters, yet the episode’s narrative can be rather justified from a certain moral standpoint. Sure Aang’s decision on how he ends the feud between the Ghan Jin and Zhang tribes may be rather questionable, but that does not mean there is absolutely nothing to take away from The Great Divide. His final decision can be compared to numerous lies across real history that solved longtime feuds.
19. Chapter 14, The Fortune Teller
While not the most interesting episode of the first book, The Fortune Teller should be noted for being a major stepping stone in the love side of Aang and Katara’s relationship as it is the episode where Katara starts to look at Aang as possibly being more than a friend in her future after hearing Aunt Wu’s prophecy that she would fall in love with an incredibly strong bender. The fortune teller herself does foreshadow to the show’s conclusion by looking into both characters’ futures, but besides that, this one is really just another standalone story with a batch of memorable comedic moments that help keep it consistently engaging. For older audiences, its a chapter where Sokka’s arguments aimed at those who believe in magic and beliefs with no evidence rather than science and logic can really land harder comedically than for perhaps the core audience the show was intended for.
18. Chapter 10, Jet
Jet is a character with a great overarching story, however, his first standalone episode does not land as perfectly as it could have- at least for Avatar quality when it comes to introducing and developing reoccurring minor heroes and villains. Chapter ten unquestionably has a strong moral and a likable cast of newcomers that would return on several occasions later down the line, but it is shrouded with a predictable outcome that affects the payoff viewers would hope to find in a scenario that was more well built up than its unfortunate foreseeable ending. Although the episode initially starts off interesting with its Robinhood-like charm, it ends on a rather bland note as we see how Jet’s darker viewpoint of life causes him to go too far to take down Fire Nation soldiers. The character himself may not have been as well developed as he could have been during his debut, but he certainly had a hard-earned redemption in book two. For a show that constantly brings several surprises to the table, it is shocking how typical this story unfolds.
17. Chapter 7, Winter Solstice Part 1: The Spirit World
The Winter Solstice story arc works far better as a back-to-back two-parter rather than single episodes- that really is a statement subjected to the first half though. Parts 1 and 2 are practically completely different chapters even though they revolve around the same location, the spirit world. The real event these two episodes focus on is the upcoming Winter Solstice Aang is told to utilize, except part one sadly falls victim to being the chapter that is forced to succumb to the events that escalate to the exciting back half. Its real highlight moment that caused a stir of speculation had to do with Uncle Iroh as the audience discovered that more people than just the Avatar can see spirits outside of their homeworld. Paired with part 2 this chapter definitely works as a strong buildup. On its own, however, it is a whole lot less electrifying even though it still manages to remain compelling the whole way through due to its many ideas that would receive better opportunities to be expanded upon in the future.
16. Chapter 6, Imprisoned
Imprisoned suffers from similar side-effects that chapter ten had. The two new earthbenders Haru and his father Tyro are characters that perhaps may not need a major buildup due to their minor appearances, but knowing more about the newcomers in Imprisoned would have been welcomed as they are backed up by an impressive setup. The episode’s premise of encasing earthbenders on a metal ship that they can not escape from as there is a lack of bendable material on board the fleet is fascinating and justifies the broken spirits of the prisoners had developed since their capture. The outcome is predictable and Haru was in desperate need of more screen time, yet the captivating setup and ethical construction of the setting never keep chapter six from going stale. On top of George Takei’s odd guest star appearance as the prison warden, there are several aspects of Imprisoned that the series easily could have explored more with a longer runtime.
15. Chapter 2, The Avatar Returns
The Avatar Returns is the episode that really completes the call to adventure stage of our heroes’ journey as we get to see some of the driving forces behind the main cast of characters. The Fire Nation was shown as a real threat for the first time on screen here as they pummeled through Katara and Sokka’s home village threatening the defenseless people of the Southern Water Tribe in hopes of capturing the Avatar. Chapter two establishes the fact that everyone in the world is expecting Aang to be a century old and already a master of the four elements. Many characters are yet to come to the shocking realization that the Avatar is nothing but a twelve-year-old inexperienced child. This entry is most known for being the first time we got to see the avatar state being used in an action scene as Aang rises from the depths of the South Pole waters to easily wipe out Zuko and his crew. An important detail we discover in this episode during its final moment was Aang’s distraught emotions with being the avatar- something that would not be explored until later down the line in The Storm.
14. Chapter 5, The King of Omashu
The King of Omashu is the first time viewers witness the capabilities of an earthbender in the series as Aang, Katara, and Sokka visit the long-standing Earth Kingdom city of Omashu. The uniquely structured cliffside city that uses gravity and earthbending to power a messenger system of unrailed carts was just as odd as Aang’s childhood friend Bumi who became the king of Omashu during the hundred-year war. The introduction of King Bumi is more than a welcomed change of pace from Book 1’s first few episodes as it throws a character into the mix that is so out of the ordinary from everything the show had presented up until that point. Of course, it is impossible to not acknowledge the fact that chapter five began the misfortunate traveling Cabbage Merchant adventures that would become a running gag throughout books one and two as Team Avatar always witnessed or caused new ways that would lead to the destruction of his valuable cabbage carts.
13. Chapter 15, Bato of The Water Tribe
Bato of The Water Tribe is one of the very few chapters in the entirety of Avatar that has caused a stir of debates online. When Aang finds a note from Katara and Sokka’s father he decides to selfishly hide the message in hopes that his friends will never discover it. Was Aang keeping Katara and Sokka’s chances of seeing their father again out of character or justified by his anxiety? Personally, I am on the more optimistic end of the spectrum although there evidently is credible reasoning on both sides. To some, Aang’s fear of losing the people that have become his only family despite his altruistic nature felt justified and humanizing, but it is hard to not consider the counterarguments. With Bato’s exit halfway into the episode and a focus on Zuko, Iroh, and June the bounty hunter, it is hard to not wonder why chapter fifteen helms its odd title. Nonetheless, with most viewers, this episode will come off as an emotional chapter. For those on the opposing end, it is hard to discredit the episode’s entertaining fight scenes and Sokka’s important memories derived from Bato’s water tribe traditions he bestows on him.
12. Chapter 4, The Warriors of Kyoshi
Avatar has always been a progressive show, however, the way in which it approaches several themes never fails to please younger and older audiences. Sokka’s dynamic with the Kyoshi Warriors is one of the earliest examples of this in The Last Airbender. The Warriors of Kyoshi handles the cliche of sexism in children shows smartly by developing Sokka’s character while introducing the Kyoshi Warriors, an order of women fighters who don the appearance of Avatar Kyoshi. The warriors prove to Sokka how women are more than capable of taking on the task of physical combat as he befriends one of the younger fighters Suki who is willing to teach him the order’s methods despite his gender difference. Besides Sokka’s major developments, Aang continued to see how the presence of the Avatar causes only destruction to those surrounding him as he failed to protect the island village when fame gets the best of him. This episode was downright packed with several humorous moments including the fan-favorite “foaming mouth character” and the “master of evasive maneuvers.”
11. Chapter 1, The Boy In The Iceberg
The first episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender is deceptively engaging. It is one of those rare premiere episodes that perfectly manages to encapsulate what a beginning should contain as it fashionably grabs the audience’s attention through both its beautifully structured script and marvelous visual storytelling from Clone Wars director Dave Filoni. From its onetime extended opening monologue to its closing action setpiece, The Boy In The Iceberg knew exactly how to multitask world-building and character development in a single twenty-minute block by defying audience expectations. The way it introduces its main cast and poses future questions that go unanswered for several episodes all culminates into an impressive groundwork that arguably is one of the lesser appreciated episodes throughout the fandom. It may be the oldest chapter in the series, but it certainly holds its own against the episodes that debuted after its opening success fifteen years later.
10. Chapter 17, The Northern Air Temple
The Northern Air Temple is a technological foreshadowing of future inventions that would aid and defeat our heroes over the course of the next two books. It manages to help develop the world of Avatar while also being a critical moment in Aang’s overarching story. Seeing Aang’s internal battle with those using the ancient temple grounds to accommodate for their survival is a relevant theme we still see today in society when old civilizations are torn apart and reconstructed time and time again. The Northern Air Temple excellently plays into both sides of a moral debate that we see mostly through the eyes of the last remaining airbender whose culture is being demolished by outsiders. The outsiders may know nothing of the air nomad culture, but is destroying the land worth their long-term survival? Is reconstructing where someone once lived ideal or unethical? Chapter seventeen brings an interesting pool of conflicts to the table before the climax of the episode can even be reached. It still somehow manages to amp up its stakes once Team Avatar discovers that the mechanics are being forced to develop weapons for the Fire Nation in exchange for their survival.
9. Chapter 9, The Waterbending Scroll
The Waterbending Scroll was where Katara’s waterbending skills versus that of her student Aang became more clear to the audience. In a selfish and jealous act to get the upper hand on waterbending, Katara not only steals a waterbending scroll from a group of pirates, but she secretly practices at night in hiding from Aang after getting infuriated with him for being a natural at the skill depicted in the lesson. With the multitude of likable dynamics between Zuko’s crew, the pirates, and Team Avatar, this episode brings several indulging conversations and character moments to the spotlight. Chapter nine is most recognized among fans for being the first appearance of the White Lotus insignia, a secret organization that would later play a major role in the final chapters of book three and The Legend of Korra. Even if it was because of a missing lotus tile that would later symbolize a crucial aspect of the show’s whole narrative, The Waterbending Scroll has a stimulating first half followed by an even greater climax.
8. Chapter 18, The Waterbending Master
As seen two episodes prior with Jeong Jeong, clearly the Avatar needs to find his or her own relatable teachers, yet that did not stop Katara and Aang from seeking out a master at waterbending when Team Avatar arrives at the North Pole. The Waterbending Master posed several interesting questions regarding the differences between the Northern and Southern Water Tribes while handling the importance of understanding the relationship between master and apprentice that was explored in The Deserter. Princess Yue is first introduced here, but her relationship with Sokka would be set aside for the two-part finale in order to give his sister the full spotlight. As for the second subplot of chapter eighteen, the assassination attempt on Prince Zuko’s life helped build a further divide between the character and his home nation, a major aspect of the episode that largely goes underestimated by viewers despite its grand importance in the Siege of The North finale.
7. Chapter 16, The Deserter
The Deserter himself, Jeong Jeong, is a massive contradiction to what fire is to the Avatar as we would see in the third season. The arrogant White Lotus member made for one of the absolute best first encounters Aang has had with an elemental master. Jeong Jeong’s presence allowed book one to explore more of the psychology of firebenders, specifically Admiral Zhao who we had not known much about until he encountered his former master. One aspect underappreciated with chapter sixteen has to do with Aang’s mastery of the elements. The Deserter shows the audience why it is important that the Avatar must master the four elements in the designated birth order the legends speak of. Aang clearly was not ready to embrace the art of firebending without understanding the elements of earth and water along with fire itself. The hot tensions between the group and Master Jeong Jeong culminate into several developments that would scar our characters until book three when Zuko would join Team Avatar.
6. Chapter 3, The Southern Air Temple
The Southern Air Temple unveiled the customs and cultures that inevitably drove two of the four nations to where they stood one hundred years into the war. The fire nation thrives in the art of combat while the air nation had been eradicated with its peaceful teachings. Chapter three is most notorious for being the episode in which Aang finally comes to the realization that he is truly the last surviving airbender after finding the skeleton of his best friend and teacher Monk Gyatso at his home temple. It was an emotional storytelling point that explored the series title and answered several questions regarding Aang and Zuko’s home territories that viewers posed based on first impressions in the first two episodes. While we are talking about this entry, it would be dishonorable to not mention that the exhilarating faster-paced version of the Agni Kai soundtrack played during the firebending duel between Prince Zuko and Commander Zhao would help make this episode be deemed as a classic among fans.
5. Chapter 8, Winter Solstice Part 2: Avatar Roku
Unlike that of its predecessor, Winter Solstice Part 2: Avatar Roku is chockfull of information yet balanced out by incredibly engaging action to break up the enrapturing exposition. From learning more about the spirit world to the cycle of the avatar, this episode is a fascinating ride as it switches between major action set pieces and excellently explained worldbuilding that heavily expands the spiritual and living ends of the Avatar universe. By far its biggest standout moment is when Aang summons the spirit of his past life, Avatar Roku, to help him escape from the overrun sacred tower located in the Fire Nation. There are several other moments like Zhao’s warship blockade and Roku’s guidance to write home about, but even those scenes are overshadowed by this adventure’s thrilling ending. Part 2 of the Winter Solstice story arc truly began to open up the mythology of Avatar in exciting ways that book one’s finale and the rest of the series going forward would explore when it came to expanding upon its vast universe of possibilities.
4. Chapter 19, Siege of The North Part 1
As goes most two-parters in Avatar, it is without question that the second half of Siege of The North is going to be the better episode. With that being considered, unlike many other duologies in the series, the first half of Siege of The North actually stands toe to toe with its second half in many aspects. Although it may not be as action-packed or mind-bending as its follow-up brother, Part 1 is flooded with great moments- so many that tons of fans will complain that the final story arc of book one is way too short. While it constructs a great dynamic between Sokka and Princess Yue, the shining moment of chapter nineteen is undoubtedly Iroh’s farewell to Zuko before he embarks on his infiltration mission to capture Aang. Books two and three give way to major development for Uncle Iroh, but this single moment was the first glimpse we had into his backstory. Hearing how his son’s death led to his profound care for his nephew was a heartbreaking yet beautifully written scene that changed how many viewers saw the Firelord’s brother.
3. Chapter 20, Siege of The North Part 2
It may not be the best Avatar season finale out of the three books, but being this high up on the list is a testament to just how great every ending of each season is. Siege of The North Part 2 is a damn fine conclusion to Book 1: Water. It manages to combine the season’s title and the spiritual connection of the Avatar into one ultimate large-scale conclusion. Part 2 is a high-stakes battle for the moon that is always exponentially rising in scale as it keeps on track towards its ending. Siege of The North Part 2 kept introducing new characters and concepts to the series such as the horrifying Koh The Face Stealer that contained the season’s scariest design and the human-world manifestation of the ocean and moon spirits. The last few seconds formerly introducing Zuko’s psychotic sister Azula with a cliffhanger only showed audiences how The Last Airbender was nowhere near finished. Siege of The North Part 2 only set the bar higher for what was to come in Book 2: Earth.
2. Chapter 13, The Blue Spirit
The Last Airbender was packed with several revelations and twists revolving around our main cast of characters over the course of the series. The Blue Spirit, however, is a whole different breed of mystery and a perfectly executed audience revelation. Perhaps its excellent unmasking twist should be obvious to many viewers, however, the reason it never was is because of a false perception we see of the characters we love. Its engrossing way of storytelling is a high point of the episode and from a directing standpoint, The Blue Spirit is Avatar at some of its very finest. The final few closing minutes depicting Aang’s disappointment in a potential friendship that was finite in the moment and Zuko turning his back on his homeland he just betrayed for his own selfish desires were purely heartwrenching to watch. Between an exhilarating team-up with our protagonist and antagonist and more screentime of the newly promoted Admiral Zhao, The Blue Spirit keeps the best aspects we love about a standard Avatar episode fresh by exploring alternative intriguing directional ques.
1. Chapter 12, The Storm
The Storm is without question the most compelling and well-executed episode of Book 1: Water. It added a unique rich sense of depth to Airbender that had not been seen in the series up until this devastating episode. It may playoff initially as a simple gather-round fire tale story but once it begins to explore the tragic consequences ingrained from our hero and villain’s past mistakes, viewers are guaranteed to be far more invested in the future of these characters as they begin to question who they should be rooting for. The Storm brings out a whole different range of emotions the viewers will have regarding the protagonist and antagonist’s moral compasses and decisions. We discover how Aang and Zuko’s mistakes both drove them down similar paths; a path that sees the two both attempting to correct the failures of their childhood innocence. The only difference is that Aang is hiding behind laughs and high-energy while Prince Zuko is shrouded in pure violence and unhealthy anger. Their backstories added a different level of shame and honor that was previously not found in the simple perspective many had of these characters. It changed the way in which we viewed Avatar: The Last Airbender.