Skip to main content
If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

Netflix already adapted the most heartbreaking scene from Avatar: The Last Airbender in the best way possible

We're probably safe from crying ugly tears while listening to Leaves from the Vine.

Iroh's Tale of Ba Sing Se screenshot
Image credit: Nickelodeon

Popverse's top stories of the day

Filler is usually a naughty word in animation, but it isn’t always a bad thing. One of the best episodes in Avatar: The Last Airbender, the second season episode titled The Tales of Ba Sing Se, was a series of fun but inconsequential stories about the character’s during their downtime in the Earth Kingdom capital. Specifically, Iroh’s Tale stands as one of the most emotionally devastating sequences in Western animation history. Since the moment I started watching Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender, I wondered how they would handle this iconic but ultimately unnecessary scene. Then I realized they already have and in the best way they probably could.

Iroh’s Story shows the retired Fire Nation general and everyone’s favorite father figure wandering the city he once unsuccessfully laid siege to, offering kind advice and wisdom to the citizens he meets. It culminates in Iroh visiting a lone tree on a hilltop to tearfully celebrate the birthday of his son, who died during the campaign to take Ba Sing Se, singing the mournful Leaves from the Vine. It is generally considered one of the most beautiful but heartbreaking portions of the animated series, but, in the condensed episode structure of the live-action show, it is prime for the cutting room floor due to its obvious status as filler. How does Netflix maintain the tight pacing that its adaptation demands without completely cutting this iconic scene and risking the ire of the show’s fans?

Watch on YouTube

There is another, more emotionally charged element at play here and that is that Iroh's Tale of Ba Sing Se is a tribute to Mako, the character’s original voice actor. Mako was one of the greatest Japanese actors of his generation and became known both for his emotional delivery and the deep, almost spiritual tone of his voice. Sadly, he died shortly after recording his lines for season two of Avatar: The Last Airbender, with Iroh’s short in Tales of Ba Sing Se being posthumously dedicated in his honor.

Since then, the song Leaves from the Vine has become somewhat sacred among Avatar fans. Even Greg Baldwin, the voice actor who stepped into the role of Iroh in season three and has become the de facto stand-in for Mako in many of his other voice roles, won’t touch it. He told the Avatar: Braving the Elements podcast back in 2023 that he is frequently asked by fans to sing the song but has consistently refused. In his words, “It’s not my song. It’s [Mako’s] song and that’s a more noble way of putting it. It’s my way of saying ‘Thank you for what you’ve given me. I honor your life. I respect your legacy.’”

Now that it has been renewed for its second and third seasons, the Netflix adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender’s decision to bring content from later seasons forward is paying off in even bigger ways. The fourth episode of the first season, titled Into the Dark, features a flashback to Lu Ten’s funeral and Iroh’s obvious devastation at having to part with his only son only to be comforted by a pre-exile Zuko. It introduces Iroh’s deep regret at his role in the war and gives a glimpse of the eventual relationship between him and his nephew.

Watch on YouTube

This scene is clearly meant to fill the same emotional beat that Iroh’s Story – the producers as well as told us this by referencing Leaves from the Vine in the soundtrack to that scene. While it isn’t as heartbreaking as the original scene, it still fulfills the same purpose and doesn’t ask anyone, even the excellent Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, with trying to match the raw emotion that Mako brought to the role. It is the best way they could have handled the situation, even if some fans might pine for a more faithful adaptation.

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?

Follow Popverse for upcoming event coverage and news

Let Popverse be your tour guide through the wilderness of pop culture

Sign in and let us help you find your new favorite thing.

In this article
Awaiting cover image
Related topics
About the Author
Trent Cannon avatar

Trent Cannon


Trent is a freelance writer who has been covering anime, video games, and pop culture for a decade. (He/Him)