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Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender ending explained

All the details on the first season of Netflix's live-action adaptation of the popular animated series!

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Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Avatar: The Last Airbender is the story that fans (and Hollywood) just cannot get enough of. Having originated as a mega-popular animated series in the mid 2000s, Airbender has since been turned into comics, prequel novels, and a live-action movie from M. Night Shyamalan.

Fans met the news of Netflix developing a live-action series with both excitement and hand-wringing. Could it capture the energy and spirit of the animated series? Or would it repeat the commercial failure of the live-action movie?

The first season is now out on Netflix. Here's all that you need to know.

What is Avatar: The Last Airbender?

Promotional still from Avatar: The Last Airbender
Image credit: Netflix

Avatar is a live-action version of the animated fantasy series Avatar: The Last Airbender that aired on Nickelodeon between 2005 and 2008 (and now airs on Netflix).

It tells the story of Aang, a 12-year-old boy who discovers he is the Avatar, able to manipulate the four elements of fire, air, water, and earth, and tasked with bringing harmony to the four nations of the world, each of which has people with the ability to “bend” one of the elements. As the series begins, Fire Lord Azai leads his army against Aang’s people, the Air Nomads, knowing one of them is the new Avatar. Meanwhile Aang and his sky bison Appa are caught in a storm at sea. Falling into the water triggers Aang’s Avatar powers, and he flash-freezes the two of them.

100 years later Aang wakes up, his powers reawoken by those of the young water bender Katara as she tried to grab her brother Sokka’s boat. Aang soon discovers that his people have been completely wiped out by Azai and that the Fire Nation at war with the three other nations.

What does the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender cover?

The first season of the Netflix series covers “Book One: Water,” the first season of the animated series.

What happens at the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender?

Having gone on a series of adventures over the course of the season, Aang , Katara and Sokka finally arrive at the icy city of the Northern Water Tribe, followed closely by the fleet of the Fire Kingdom, which are hunting the Avatar.

While Katara has grown from an uncertain water bender to a confident warrior, Aang still has no ability with water. He’s spent the season trying to help whomever the group encounters and communing with past Avatars (and his old mentor Gyatso) to try and understand his mission.

Under the Ice Moon, a moment when the spirits of the moon and the ocean take physical form for a night, the Fire Kingdom launches its attack. While Katara and the Northern Water Tribe fight to defend their home, the Fire Kingdom’s leader Commander Zhao secretly travels into the sacred grove of the Northern Water Tribe to hunt the moon spirit. Killing it with a special knife made in the spirit world, he darkens the moon, seemingly permanently, and renders the water benders powerless.

Refusing to accept this outcome, Aang sacrifices himself and his power to the ocean spirit, which becomes a raging water kaiju and runs amok.

Fleeing, Zhao encounters Prince Zuko, from whom he had wrested control of the mission to hunt and kill the Avatar. The two battle to a standstill, until Zhao reveals the Prince’s mission to hunt down the Avatar had just been a scam whipped up by Fire Lord Azai to keep him out of the way while Zuko’s sister Princess Azula prepared to ascend.

With Aang at its center powering it, the Ocean Spirit Kaiju wipes out the Fire Kingdom’s fleet. When Sokka insists there must be something that can be done to bring Aang back, Princess Yue gives up the bit of the spirit of the moon that had saved her life as a child so that the Moon Spirit can live again. Seeing the moon return, the Ocean Spirit relinquishes its kaiju form. And Aang emerges, now with his water bending abilities unlocked. He, Sooku, and Katara look to the future, intent on unlocking his powers and bringing balance back to the world.

Prince Zuko and Uncle Iroh escape, their mission now uncertain. Meanwhile Fire Lord Azai shows little concern about losing the battle or the Avatar. He reveals that attacking the Northern Water Tribe was always just a distraction to enable his daughter Azula to take the Earth Kingdom city of Omashu.

As Fire Lord Azai contemplates conquering all of the Earth Kingdom, his Great Sage informs him that Sozin's comet, which first empowered the Fire Nation with the might to destroy the Air Benders, is soon to return.

Who dies in the season finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender?

Princess Yue sacrifices her life to save the spirit of the moon and with it her people.

Hahn, who leads the Northern Water Tribe’s troops and had once been betrothed to Yue for a time, dies in the battle with the Fire Kingdom.

Prince Zuko’s Uncle Iroh incinerates Commander Zhao after he tries to murder the Prince from behind. Zhao falls into the icy ocean, seemingly dead.

Sokka’s lemur and BFF Momo gets crushed by a falling piece of concrete after he rescues a child from death. But never fear, Momoheads: At the brink of death, Princess Yue is able to use the healing waters of the Northern Water Tribe’s Sacred Grove to save him.

How does the live action Avatar: The Last Airbender series compare with the animated series?

Though the live action season has only 8 episodes as compared to the animated season’s 20 episodes, the run time is pretty similar. Even so, the live action series has to streamline, and offers fewer of the stand-alone adventures of the animated series.

It also has a few interesting tweaks. Princess Azula also gets a lot more screentime than she does in the first season of the animated series, and it really adds to the story. Elizabeth Yu is fantastic.

Sokka's sexism in the animated series has largely been edited out; his character development instead focuses on learning that he doesn't have to be a warrior to be a hero, which works well. Actor Ian Ousley brings a very believeable vulnerability and insecurity to the role.

Also, Hahn and Princess Yue are formerly betrothed here, which allows Yue’s chemistry with Sokka to be more straightforward. Also it cleans up their storylines; in the animated series Yue doesn’t really want to be betrothed, and Hahn is a jerk who tells Sokka he took her because “she [came] with the most perks.” Joel Oulette’s Hahn is instead a gentle warrior who clearly loves Yue but respects her decision.

Even with all of the changes, the spirit of the show feels very similar. Gordon Cormier as Aang has all of the playfulness, vulnerability and heartfelt earnestness of the animated character. The actress Kiawentiio likewise captures the quiet strength and warmth of Katara. In many ways the heart of the first season is her journey to become more confident in herself as a water bender and warrior. Daniel Liu’s Prince Zuko likewise has that combination of sullenness and desperation for his father’s approval that fans of the animated series would expect.

There’s a lot of great scene stealers among the supporting cast. Ken Leung plays the manipulative Commander Zhao with a quiet cool. Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, who plays Captain Carson Teva on The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and Ahsoka, gives Uncle Iroh a gentle humanity that really stands out amongst the overall nastiness of the Fire Kingdom. And though he’s killed in the pilot, Lim Kay Siu as Aang’s teacher Gyatso delivers so much love for Aang you feel it all the way through the season.

Who’s a good sky bison?

Yip yip, y’all. Appa looks really good.

Does Avatar: The Last Airbender have a mid or post-credits scene?

No. The season ends prior to the credits on the reveal that Sozin's comet is coming back.

Will there be a season two of Avatar: The Last Airbender?

Netflix has not yet announced whether they will greenlight another season of the series, but we'll keep you updated if anything changes.

Netflix has renewed Avatar: The Last Airbender for season 2! While you wait, check out our watch order for newcomers, an exclusive Avatar reunion panel from ECCC 2024, and a couple recommendations on what to watch after the series. Heck, we've even interviewed some of the best Avatar cosplayers from across the four nations - why not check it out?

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Jim McDermott avatar

Jim McDermott

Contributing writer

Jim is a magazine and screenwriter based in New York. He loves the work of Stephen Sondheim and cannot take a decent selfie.