Avatar: The Last Airbender: Winter Solstice Parts 1 & 2: The Spirit World & Avatar Roku   Rewatch 
March 12, 2015 6:30 AM - Season 1, Episode 7 - Subscribe

Upon stopping at a town being troubled by an angry spirit, Aang learns about the spirit world and finds out that Avatar Roku has a message for him at his Fire Temple. Meanwhile, Iroh and Zuko have some trouble with some Earth Kingdom soldiers, then Commander Zhao, because Zuko just can't leave the Avatar alone. Hold on tight, everyone, it's the first two-parter, and it's a doozy.

What we learn here with Aang:
The Spirit World exists
Spirits are affected by the destruction of their area and turn "bad"
Aang can go into the Spirit World and come back
Avatar Roku had a badass dragon
Avatar Roku also had his own sweet Fire Temple
The Fire Nation likes naval blockades
The Fire Sages used to support the Avatar, but now support the Fire Nation
Sozin's Comet is approaching
The Fire Lord will use the power of Sozin's Comet to take over the world
Roku could lavabend

What we learn with Iroh and Zuko:
Iroh likes hot tubbing
The Earth Kingdom is still angry about the great city of Ba Sing Se
Iroh is a badass
Zuko is a badass
But Zuko really needs to quit with the Avatar-chasing thing
posted by Katemonkey (14 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I was a bit iffy on making this one the first two-parter we join together, because they feel like different episodes.

But, at the same time, it's all about Aang discovering Avatar Roku and the spirit world, so...

Also, it probably was just firebending and not lavabending, but with lavabending confirmed in Korra and only earthbenders having that ability, I'm declaring it canon that, much like Korra being the first Avatar to metalbend, Roku was the Avatar who learned to lavabend.

Meanwhile, I want to share a hot tub with Iroh.
posted by Katemonkey at 6:36 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Youthful optimism for the win!

Actually, Korra facilitated two of the successes in these episodes: first, telling Aang that the acorns would grow into trees to replace the burnt forest (and then Aang's optimism for the future turned the angry spirit back into the giant panda), and then realizing how to make the best of Sokka's failed attempt to fake fire bending.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:22 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think these episodes are where I started to actually *like* Zuko and finally realized that Iroh used to be (and still is) a bad ass fire bender himself. Previously, he mostly seemed like an old dog enjoying his naps in the sun. But the dog definitely has some bite!
posted by jillithd at 10:22 AM on March 12, 2015

My head explodes with two episodes at once, but my too long for posting thoughts for The Spirit World here and for Avatar Roku here.

Quick thought, we actually learn the age of Zuko in this episode, 16. More thoughts later?!
posted by Atreides at 11:18 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

More quick thoughts...this is one of the first episodes where we are exposed to people of the Fire Nation who are not explicitly the opponent/enemy of the Avatar. Beyond the obvious nature of Roku, the lone fire sage who helps Aang represents a nice disruption to the easy path of declaring all Fire Nation people as bad or evil. Later on the show goes further in this regard, but yet one more sign that the writers and creators are determined not to take the easy path of simply equating "Fire Nation = Bad." Incidentally, I think the more complex Zuko's character becomes, the more we are given glimpses of Fire Nation people who make the idea of the evil Fire Nation complex and nuanced.

The Spirit World...in the regular world? We can sort of see the evolution of the idea of the Spirit World happening right in front of us, be it the idea that people can be taken to it and vanish to the rule against bending unless physically present (or if you're the Avatar, spirit bending exception). Additionally, we see the difference between an angry spirit versus a dark spirit, granted the exaggerated change in colors were probably developed for the purpose of a greater contrast in Korra. The spirit design had me thinking Miyazaki, an ongoing influence on the show. A burning question remains, did Sokka get taken to the Fog of Forgotten Souls? (See Korra seasons 2/3)

The wild appearance of Roku at the end. It's not something that happens in Korra and happens perhaps one more time in the show with a different Avatar.

Speaking of complexity to characters, Zuko makes the decision to pass up on the Avatar (actually just Appa and Katara) to save Iroh. This is a telling moment given that the Avatar represents a return to his old life and Iroh offers an alternative. The choice and anguish of choosing between these two will come to define who Zuko is by the end of the show. For those familiar with Korra, we know where Iroh ends up and his ability to see Aang and Roku's dragon indicates why this was possible.

Potentially nice touch. In an episode where Aang is told he must master the elements in record time, it ends with him flying toward the moon which has a "home" where Aang will meet his first water bending master.
posted by Atreides at 5:42 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Does the fact that Iroh can see the spirit world become relevant later, or is it just a one-off thing showing that some people can do that, but most can't?

The bear spirit reminded me of Miyazaki, too.

Uh. I think watching 2 episodes in a row has melted my brain a little. Were those earth benders riding chocobos? Appa wins best animal this time, for his efforts running the blockade and then his rightful collapse afterwards.

I hope Roku is proud of the one sage who kept the faith. (I've forgotten his name.)

And yay, more statues in temples! That's a costly act of destruction, Roku.
posted by minsies at 11:10 AM on March 13, 2015

Does the fact that Iroh can see the spirit world become relevant later, or is it just a one-off thing showing that some people can do that, but most can't?

Not that I remember in the A:TLA series. I haven't seen the Korra series at all, yet. I actually missed any relevance or out-of-the-norm signifiers of that ability until Atreides mentioned it!
posted by jillithd at 11:18 AM on March 13, 2015

Iroh plays a role in Korra that is attributed to him having a very strong spiritual nature, so this is more of just a nod to that aspect of his character. Does he do a lot with it in this series? Not really, but the more we learn about Iroh the more complex and awesome he becomes. That's about as far as I can go without ruining Iroh's role in Korra!
posted by Atreides at 11:25 AM on March 13, 2015

I'd totally forgotten about Iroh seeing Aang and the dragon! The same episode he first gets called the Dragon of the West. Nice.

Gonna have to gently disagree with jillithd and Atreides here: both Iroh's spirituality and his association with dragons have huge ramifications for the story (in different ways), although it takes a long time to piece it all together.

The chocobos are called ostrich-horses, and we will also see more of them later but not in a plot-significant way. Mostly.
posted by bettafish at 11:47 AM on March 13, 2015

Does Iroh's spirituality play a large role in the series? Feel free to MeFi if you're afraid of spoiling anything! I'm really just curious if I'm forgetting anything. As for the dragons, you're right, and I actually just lumped Roku's dragon friend into the spiritual angle, but it definitely makes sense, given what we know down the line that that could play a role, too!
posted by Atreides at 12:54 PM on March 13, 2015

I think my favorite thing about this pair of episodes is the first hints at Roku's story (outside the intro) which we get in a lot more detail later, and the close, Obi-Wan-style relationship he develops with Aang that doesn't really match up with any between other avatars we've seen, past or present. You don't see the same connection between Korra and Aang (though I can understand why--having Aang reappear too much in LoK would have been fanservicey and distracting, and you do get something similar-ish between Korra and Raava/Wan and Raava), and I tend to look at the way things go in this episode now though the lens of the sorrow at the world Roku left behind, his incomplete duty, and what's become of things in the time since his death.
posted by Kosh at 1:30 PM on March 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

A few other things I liked about the episodes that I want to mention:

- That between Imprisoned and The Spirit World Sokka and Katara trade roles as Optimist and Pragmatist and it totally works
- The way they tag teamed opening the door in the temple. ~Water tribe!~ (we're gonna need an emoji for that)
- Zuko and Iroh the (up til now) sneaky stealth badass father-son team, plus our first look at Zuko's non-bending combat skills which for a significant stretch are far more impressive than his firebending
- Seriously, he broke a thick metal chain with a single kick what what what
- The landscapes. I think this is the first time since the opening story that the land itself felt integral, like a character in the story (which, well, it literally was), and it's beautiful
- Along with the obvious Miyazaki ref, Hei Bai also looks a bit like Venom from Spider-Man during that orca stage he had in the mid-2000's. I doubt it was intentional, but it amuses me.
posted by bettafish at 6:26 PM on March 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Incidentally, I read this in the most recent Avatar comic book collection (The Rift), but Hei Bai literally translates to, "black white." (Okay, after googling, it's also on the Avatar wiki!).
posted by Atreides at 2:17 PM on March 14, 2015

Wow, the animation really kicked it up a notch in this two-parter. So many great visuals. The storytelling seems pretty different from the first six episodes, too.

My eight-year old wondered during Part 1 whether Uncle Iroh is secretly Avatar Roku. Also, Sokka's "really have to go to the bathroom" line just slayed her. We had to pause for several minutes before we could finish the episode.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:49 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older It's Always Sunny in Philadelp...   |  Podcast: The Allusionist: 6. T... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments