One of the most popular and critically-acclaimed animated series of the last fifteen years is Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. Airing three seasons between 2005 and 2008, the show told the story of the Avatar, a twelve-year-old boy named Aang, the only person in the world able to field all four of the magical elements. Aang waged war against the evil Fire Lord Ozai, aided by a band of friends and allies, and eventually defeated the Fire Lord in an epic finale. Between 2012 and 2014 a sequel series, The Legend of Korra aired. The creators of Avatar are now working on a live-action version of the series for Netflix, expected to air in 2021.
The creators of Avatar mapped the world the story takes place in very early on: a map of the world appears in the opening credits of every episode. Over the course of 61 episodes, numerous locations were visited and diligently added to the map by fans.
The Avatar world consists of one major continental landmass which dominates an entire hemisphere. This landmass is mostly controlled by the Earth Kingdom, from its enormous capital city at Ba Sing Se. To the west of this landmass is a much smaller continent which is controlled by the Fire Nation. The Fire Nation also controls the island archipelago extending eastwards towards the main landmass, as well as another subcontinent located just off the north-western coast of the main landmass (a region known as the Fire Nation Colonies, and by the time of The Legend of Korra has become the United Republic of Nations).
There are small continental landmasses located at both the northern and southern polar regions, controlled by the Northern Water Tribe (the more populous and powerful of the two) and the Southern Water Tribe.
There are also a string of smaller island archipelagos and a stretch of the northern coastline of the main continent which used to be controlled by the Air Nomads.
In the backstory of the series, the Fire Lord Sozin had harnessed the power of an approaching comet to embark on a war of destruction and conquest. He was opposed by Avatar Roku, but after Roku perished in a volcanic eruption Sozin had a window of opportunity to begin the war before the new Avatar came of age. Twelve years after Roku’s death, Sozin began the war and destroyed the Air Nomads utterly. Unfortunately for him, the new Avatar Aang had been accidentally frozen in an iceberg and so escaped his purge.
NOTE: Spoilers for Avatar: The Last Airbender follow.
Book I: Water
In Avatar‘s first season (or “Book”), Aang is awoken after 100 years in the iceberg by Sokka and Katara, two young members of the Southern Water Tribe. Aang learned that the Fire Nation had conquered vast swathes of the world and now planned to conquer the rest. He saw this for the first time when Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation raided Sokka and Katara’s village. With their help, Aang defeated Zuko and resolved to help save the world. Sokka and Katara joined Aang on his flying air bison, Appa. Katara, a waterbender, agreed to teach Aang in the ways of water magic.
Their journey took them to the Southern Air Temple, Aang’s old home, before they visited Kyoshi Island (the home of the Avatar before Roku) and Omashu, the second-largest city in the Earth Kingdom, ruled by the ancient King Bumi (who was a childhood friend of Aang’s). They visited a mining village under threat from the Fire Nation, a crescent island where Avatar Roku was honoured and the village of Gaipan, defeated by band of freedom fighters led by the misguided Jet. They then crossed the forbidding Great Divide, visited a town during an immense storm and evaded Fire Nation pursuit at the stronghold of Pohuai. They then visited an abbey where Sokka and Katara learned their father was still alive and still fighting the Fire Nation, then met a Fire Nation deserter in a remote village. They visited the Northern Air Temple before finally pressing on to the great capital city of the Northern Water Tribe.
During their journey, they were pursued by Zuko. Zuko had been banished from his homeland for defying his father, Fire Lord Ozai, and saw capturing the Avatar as a way of regaining his honour. However, Zuko several times saw Fire Nation troops behaving dishonourably, including his own rival for capturing Aang, Admiral Zhao. Zhao led a huge Fire Nation armada against the Northern Water Tribe and almost succeeded in killing Aang and destroying the city, but Zuko betrayed him and saved Aang. Using a powerful form of bending known as the Avatar State, Aang then destroyed Zhao’s invasion fleet.
Book II: Earth
Having defeated Zhao’s fleet, the team relocated to Omashu so Aang could learn earthbending from Bumi, but they found Omashu under Fire Nation occupation. With Zuko in disgrace, his sister Azula had now been sent to capture Aang in his stead and several major battles erupted as she pursued the Avatar relentlessly.
In the city of Gaoling, “Team Avatar” (so-dubbed by Sokka) met a powerful blind earthbender named Toph, who joined the group to become Aang’s teacher. They crossed the mountains into the vast Si Wong Desert, pursuing rumours of Wan Shi Tong’s fabled library. They found the library and some useful and terrifying knowledge: at the end of summer, Sozin’s Comet would return, granting immense power to the Fire Lord. But, several weeks before then, a solar eclipse would take place over the Fire Nation capital, stripping the firebenders of their power. This gave the Fire Nation a moment of weakness when they could be defeated.
Unfortunately, Appa was kidnapped by sandbenders, forcing the team to proceed on foot to the great Earth Kingdom capital city of Ba Sing Se. They helped save the city from a Fire Nation attack, but learned that the Earth King had become a puppet, sealed from the outside world by his secret police who made sure no news of the war got to him. Eventually Aang and his friends convinced him of the threat, just in time for the secret police, the Dai Li, to launch a coup, aided by Azula. Zuko and his uncle Iroh had been living in the city in secret and initially opposed Azula, but at a key moment Zuko decided to join forces with her and helped her severely wound and apparently kill Aang. However, thanks to Katara’s discovery of spiritual healing magic, Aang was saved. Appa was also rescued and the gang reunited. Ba Sing Se had fallen to the Fire Nation, however.
Book III: Fire
Aang awoke to find that his friends had taken him to safety on the crescent island. From there they made their way along the Fire Nation archipelago. Their friends and allies from all over the world were gathering, planning to launch an assault on the enemy capital on the Day of Black Sun, the day of the eclipse.
The invasion was launched, but unfortunately failed: Azula had learned of the plan in Ba Sing Se and the Fire Lord had evacuated, remaining safe whilst he sat out the eclipse. Many of Aang’s allies were captured and imprisoned.
As the core Team Avatar group travelled, they were joined by an unexpected ally: Zuko had finally renounced the Fire Nation and joined forces with Aang. He gave Aang a crash-course in firebending and they both learned new techniques from the last two living dragons in the world. The team also rescued some of their captured allies from the formidable Boiling Rock prison. The group finally launched their final gambit: several of the team helped liberate Ba Sing Se (aided by the secret society known as the Order of the White Lotus), whilst others destroyed the Fire Nation’s fleet of new airships. Aang confronted Ozai in battle and defeated him, but rather than kill him he used a technique known as “energybending” to strip Ozai of his ability to firebend.
The war was over. Zuko became the new Fire Lord. His father and sister (the latter driven insane) were permanently imprisoned and the other nations freed from the threat of war.
Over the decades that followed, many new challenges arose to test the Avatar and his allies. The Fire Nation colonies in the north-west of the Earth Kingdom were reluctant to leave, especially the ones that had been established for a century with both earthbenders and firebenders living alongside one another in peace. The Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom almost came to the bring of war over the issue, until the Avatar settled it by forging a new, fifth nation out of the colonies: the United Republic of Nations. On the site of an ancient city founded by the noted ruler Tienhai, a new capital was founded: Republic City. And, seventy years after Ozai’s defeat, after Aang’s own passing, the next Avatar, Korra, would make her home there. But that is a story for another time.
Thank you for reading The Atlas of Ice and Fire. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content before it goes live on my blogs.