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Emertainment Monthly’s Top Ten Episodes of ‘The Legend of Korra’

Joey Sack ‘17 & Phillip Morgan ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writers

This past February marks the 10th anniversary of when Avatar: The Last Airbender first premiered, and what started as a three-season animated epic turned into a seven-season franchise covering the lives of not one, but two Avatars, with some of the best animation, characters, mythology, and storytelling that Western animation has seen in a long time. Seeing as The Legend of Korra, the sequel series to Avatar, just finished its four-season run this past December, it’s only fitting to look back on the episodes that helped earn Korra her legendary status. So, without further ado, these are the top 10 episodes of The Legend of Korra. Full spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

10. Out of the Past (Book 1: Air, Chapter 9)

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This episode showed us something that many fans were hoping The Legend of Korra would be filled with: flashbacks to the original Team Avatar, all grown up. Korra, having been kidnapped by the bloodbending councilman Tarrlok, is imprisoned in a cabin high in the mountains outside of Republic City. She meditates on her previous visions of Aang’s life, and she is finally able to see what he was trying to show her: 42 years ago, Avatar Aang helped to take down a dangerous crime lord named Yakone, a practitioner of the illegal art of bloodbending, who could bloodbend without a full moon. Korra concludes that Tarrlok is Yakone’s son, and that the councilman planned to gain more power by becoming something his father could not be: Republic City’s savior. But this reveal is not what keeps you watching; the real appeal of this episode is seeing Aang, Toph, and Sokka, all in their early to mid-40s. They’re all still the same and also quite different; Aang is much more serious and deals with problems more head-on than when he was a child. Sokka has retained his humorous side when he talks about his “trusty boomerang,” and his public speaking skills have improved significantly. Toph is Republic City’s law-abiding chief of police, a radical departure from her rebellious 12-year-old self, but she still retains her love of annoying the Avatar by calling Aang by her childhood nickname for him, “Twinkle Toes.” But most importantly, Aang is still the all-powerful Avatar we expect him to be, and is more liberal with his use of the Avatar State using it to kick all sorts of butt. Of course, there is a side plot going on in this episode, which sees Lin, Tenzin, Mako, Bolin, and Asami search the city for Korra, and Book One’s infamously painful love triangle rears its ugly head. This is somewhat excusable, since the stuff with Korra reliving Aang’s memories is so good, but it doesn’t stop the episode from portraying Mako as an insensitive boyfriend by worrying so much about Korra and completely ignoring his then-girlfriend, Asami. So, in that respect, the episode falls a bit flat. But the stuff with Korra meditating and seeing Aang’s experiences with Yakone more than makes up for it. “Out of the Past” gave us a glimpse into the lives of Aang and his friends in the decades after the Hundred Year War, and it’s always great to see the simple monk we all know and love be the strong and confident Avatar we all knew he could be. – Joey Sack

9. Skeletons in the Closet/Endgame (Book 1: Air, Chapters 11-12)

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Sure, the Book 2 finale had a much larger impact on the series overall, but there’s no denying that the end of Book 1 is much stronger in both delivery and conception. Spiraling out of the Equalists’ assault on Republic City in “Turning the Tides,” Team Avatar is in hiding, planning a counterattack with General Iroh while Amon gets busy eliminating every known bender in the city. They decide to split into two teams, with Iroh, Bolin, and Asami taking out the Equalist airfield funded by Asami’s psychotic dad, and Mako and Korra sneaking into Amon’s HQ in order to catch him off-guard. On the way, they encounter a de-powered Tarrlok in a holding cell, where he decides to drop two pretty heavy plot twists: 1. Amon is actually a bloodbender and uses the skill to turn people’s bending off, and 2. They’re brothers. It’s a pretty chilling revelation that unites Book 1’s two main antagonists at the last moment, complete with some dark flashbacks about the upbringing that led them on their dark paths. Then, as is the case in every season finale ever, things gets real, and everyone gets a shining moment. Iroh takes to the skies to sabotage the fleet of Equalist biplanes, Bolin takes on an army of mecha tanks and chi-blockers by himself, Asami has an epic mecha tank fight with her bender-hating dad (the emotional toll of which stays with her all the way to Book 4), and Korra and Mako face off with Amon , who holds Tenzin and his family prisoner. The two-on-one duel with Amon is a spectacle to behold, with Amon unleashing his full wrath on the two young benders, no longer concerned with exposing himself as a bender to the Avatar now that she knows the truth. The terror that Mako and Korra feel when they try and fail to escape his bloodbending feels directly lifted from Alien, especially when Amon finally does catch Korra and takes away her bending. But Korra’s suddenly unlocked airbending allows her to defeat Amon, expose him as a bender, and effectively end the Equalist Movement. And while the ending where Korra finally connects with Aang, goes into the Avatar State, and regains her bending abilities does smell a bit like a Deus Ex Machina, it’s a fitting conclusion to her struggle with discovering her role as the Avatar. Not to mention that it’s completely overshadowed by the tragic fate of Amon and Tarrlok, which set the tone for how much darker and complex this series could become morally. This is a season finale that’s a thrill ride from start to finish, and certainly set the bar for the rest of the series. – Phillip Morgan

8. The Voice in the Night (Book 1: Air, Chapter 4)

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This episode gives us one of our first glimpses into the Avatar’s emotional turmoil regarding her identity, a theme that would play a vital role in Korra’s character development throughout the series. In “The Voice in the Night,” Korra is haunted by nightmares of facing Amon, the mysterious leader of the Equalists and having her bending abilities taken away. The most important thing to take from this episode is the main reason behind Korra’s fear: she thinks that if she doesn’t have her bending, she doesn’t matter; that if she’s not the Avatar, she’s nothing. As this idea would be explored from time to time in subsequent episodes in this season and beyond, it’s a great introduction to the idea that Korra is, in fact, vulnerable. When we first meet her, she’s headstrong, overly confident, and she thinks that no one can defeat her; but this is the first time that she’s run into somebody who may be stronger than her. This episode solidifies Amon as a true psychological threat to Korra, as she doubts whether or not she can defeat him. At the end of the episode, having survived an encounter with Amon and retaining her bending abilities, Korra admits her fears to Tenzin, who would become a father figure to the young Avatar; here is a young woman who is, for all intents and purposes, a god, experiencing terrible nightmares and who is unsure of what she should do. She challenges Amon to a duel to appear strong, but she was merely acting strong in the face of this threat; in reality, she’s horrified of losing the one thing that has defined her since she was four years old: her identity as the Avatar. In the original series, Aang was a simple monk first, the Avatar second, which allowed him to establish his identity beyond his ability to bend all four elements. Korra doesn’t have that luxury; she has been aware that she is the Avatar for the majority of her life, and that’s all she has ever wanted to be: the best Avatar ever. Now, she’s worried that this masked revolutionary will rob her of the chance to leave her mark on the world. A terrifying villain, a horrified protagonist, and a good first glimpse into Korra’s psyche, “The Voice in the Night” is a great episode that establishes that Korra may be the Avatar, but she can still be scared of things that go bump in the night. – Joey Sack

7. Operation Beifong (Book 4: Balance, Chapter 10)

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If you thought Book 3’s “Old Wounds” had a lot of Beifong Family Drama, you may wanna sit down, because this one has ALL THE BEIFONGS. And we mean all, as Toph randomly appears at the edge of Zaofu offering to join Lin’s stealth operation with Opal and Bolin to free their captured family members. However, Lin’s old wounds regarding her mother have not fully healed; from the very first greeting, with both women blankly staring at each other with the solemn, “Hey chief,” you can feel Lin’s rage boiling again, this time not at the sister she blames for tearing their family apart, but at the mother she feels allowed it to happen. Incensed by Bolin’s constant fawning over Toph, his hero, Lin opens the floodgates on her pent-up angst, citing Toph’s casual dismissal of the identity of her father, her not-so subtle favoritism toward Su, and absence in both of their young adult lives as the reasons she’s still refused to patch things up with Toph, even though Su already has. Lin then declares she will never forgive her, and even though Toph’s stone-cold response, “If that’s your decision and it makes you happy, then fine,” sounds pretty heartless, it makes sense. As “Old Wounds” taught us, the Beifongs settle their turmoil by chucking a rock at it, so it only stands to reason that Toph and Lin would work things out through saving their family. And they do, in one of the most ingenious stealth plots in the entire series, but that’s only the beginning. Back aboveground, we find Bataar Jr. and Zhu Li trying to get their Spirit Vine Deathray to work, but there are hints that Zhu Li may be sabotaging the project, which are confirmed when Kuvira catches her in the act during the weapon’s unveiling. Besides learning just how awesome Zhu Li really is through her defiant, “You’re a monster. I regret nothing.” (*mic drop*), it’s also the first time we see the Spirit Cannon in action, and it looks like something that would be attached to a Gundam as it drills a hole through a mountain. While Opal and Bolin bail Zhu Li out, the Beifongs decide to try to take out the cannon, and we get the most elegant metal/earth fight ever with Su and Lin vs Kuvira. It’s the metal dance from “Old Wounds” on steroids, complete with Toph’s last minute intervention giving them an easy escape. This is an episode of reconciliation. Bolin escapes the doghouse with Opal for helping her rescue her family, Toph and Lin make amends through beating up Kuvira’s metalbenders, and Zhu Li’s story arc comes full circle as the secret ally they never knew they needed. It’s a hell of a ride that’s sets the stage for everything that happens at the show’s end, and it’s an example of just how awesome LOK can be when you dial back on the Korra. – Phillip Morgan

6. Long Live the Queen (Book 3: Change, Chapter 10)

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The last few episodes of Book 3 are pretty much the highmark of the entire series, and it all begins here in Chapter 10. Things are looking a tad dicey for Team Avatar, separated in captivity en route to Ba Sing Se, with Asami and Korra apprehended by Earth Kingdom soldiers and Zaheer & Friends abducting Mako and Bolin. But that’s ok, because at long last Asami is back in the action, bailing Korra out of her constraints no less. Her quickness to react to their capture and bust them out could bring fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Kill Bill to tears, and the two young women’s time alone (with a semi-antagonistic Earth Kingdom crew) stranded in the desert is a major stepping stone into their blossoming relationship as the series progresses on. Of course, what makes Asami vital to the new Team Avatar is her technological savvy, and when Korra accidentally crashes the airship in an attempt to take it over, it’s her time to shine. Even the Avatar herself respects her knowledge, carrying out her instructions without contest, and even the crew that was previously taking them to prison in Ba Sing Se acknowledges her expertise enough to pitch in. Having been obscenely underused since the Book 1 finale, Asami taking charge here is a welcome return to form and a healthy expansion on the two women’s friendship. However, that’s only half the story here, as The Red Lotus delivers Mako and Bolin to the Earth Queen , planning to strike a deal with her to get Korra into their custody. But after learning of Korra’s escape, they decide to switch their agenda to “liberating” the Earth Kingdom. Ghazan breaks down the walls of Ba Sing Se with his lava bending, and Zaheer assassinates the Earth Queen with the darkest use of bending ever seen: he literally airbends all the oxygen out of her while giving a grimly appropriate speech on how freedom is as precious to him and her people as air itself. Now, the creators have never shied away from mortality (see: that time Aang got zapped), but up until now the idea of an airbender using lethal force was unprecedented. It goes against everything the Air Nomads believe, and the consequences of Zaheer’s actions echo all the way through the rest of the series. You could say this moment is the true beginning of Book 4, because when Zaheer announces to the citizens that the queen is dead and they are free, absolute chaos erupts in the streets of Ba Sing Se. It effectively brings the Earth Kingdom to an end and allows for Kuvira’s eventual rise to power three years later. It’s the first real glimpse we get of the Red Lotus’ ultimate plan as well as how far they’re willing to go to achieve it, and when Zaheer tells Bolin and Mako he’s going to release them so they can send a message to Korra, everyone watching knew shit just got real. “Long Live the Queen” harbors both one of the most uplifting and one of the most grim scenes in the entire series, and its swift flight through the highs and lows might just blow you away. – Phillip Morgan

5. The Ultimatum (Book 3: Change, Chapter 11)

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Two airbenders fighting each other. That is one of many things that make “The Ultimatum” a great episode of The Legend of Korra. Mako and Bolin escape from the chaos of Ba Sing Se and meet up with Korra and Asami at the Misty Palms Oasis, as well as Tonraq, Lin, and Lord Zuko. Their main concern, however, is to deliver a chilling message to the Avatar: the Red Lotus is heading to the Northern Air Temple, and if Korra doesn’t surrender herself, Zaheer will wipe out the new Air Nation. Not entirely sure what to do, Team Avatar rushes to radio the Temple to warn Tenzin, and Lord Zuko tells Korra that Aang would be just as conflicted on what to do as she is. The Red Lotus arrives at the Air Temple and after Tenzin refuses to surrender to Zaheer, the two airbenders engage in fierce combat. This is the first time we’ve seen airbenders fighting each other, and it is glorious and intense to watch Tenzin hold his opponent at bay for so long. Tenzin would have won his duel with few problems if it had remained a one-on-one duel, as the son of Aang was the only one landing any solid hits on the anarchist leader. This episode is great because of the very real danger the airbenders are in; we saw in the previous episode that Zaheer has no problem killing people to achieve his goals, and the way “The Ultimatum” ends made fans unclear on whether or not something terrible had befallen the only living airbending master. After arguably one of the darkest moments in the entire Avatar franchise taking place only one episode ago, it seemed like anyone and everyone was fair game. This episode brought our heroes down to their lowest lows in preparation for the finale, with little kernels of hope sprinkled in for good measure. But those lowest lows, we’d soon discover, could go much lower. “The Ultimatum” is an intense lead-up to the Book Three finale that made us all fear for the well-being of our heroes, while also leaving us optimistically hopeful that everything would turn out for the best for Korra and the people she loves. – Joey Sack

4. Day of the Colossus/The Last Stand (Book 4: Balance, Chapters 12-13)

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Nothing ends a beloved series quite like taking down a colossal mecha equipped with a city-erasing laser cannon and accidentally creating another hole between the Physical and Spirit Worlds. But when you say farewell by presenting the first openly bisexual couple in the history of Nickelodeon, that’s the moment when legendary status is finally achieved. In a series that borrows so heavily from anime visually and conceptually, an epic battle for the city against a mechanical behemoth seems almost inevitable in retrospect. The Colossus’ outward design might not be all that fearsome or creative, but that doesn’t make it any less shocking or terrifying when Kuvira disintegrates a city block with a swing of her Spirit Cannon Arm. The scenes depicting Kuvira metalbending levers to make the Colossus mirror her movements are by far some of her most intimidating moments, as it shows this is the ultimate application of metalbending and that it’s Kuvira, rather than the mecha itself, who is the monster leveling Republic City. Like any epic finale, the story strives to include all the major characters in the effort to end Kuvira’s rampage, and while it does come up a little short here (i.e. nearly all the airbenders), the characters who do enter the limelight absolutely shine, however unlikely (Prince Wu, Meelo, Varrick) or heart-wrenching (Hiroshi Sato). Meanwhile, the final battles inside the Colossus are nothing short of mesmerizing. After nearly a whole season sidelined to babysit Prince Wu, Mako finally gets in on the action, launching a vicious Mako/Bolin tag-team assault on the engine room, culminating in his near-suicidal plan to overload the Spirit Vines with lightning in order to shut the engine down. It’s apparent he feels like he has to prove he’s still a worthy team member after all the time away (despite Bolin’s appropriately meta rebuttal), and that makes it all the more gut-wrenching when he takes on the raw power of the Spirit Core. Yeah, Bolin bails him out at the last second, but for a moment there we were completely convinced that Mako was going to die, and that somber tension and misdirection is superb when done correctly. Of course, the pinnacle of this episode is Kuvira and Korra’s final showdown, and it’s a duel to the death if there ever was one. Kuvira, pushed to the edge in the face of the Colossus’ breakdown, brings a ferocity to metalbending that would bring Azula to tears, incorporating liquid and solid metal attacks in a devastating assault. Korra, on the other hand, is the calmest she’s ever been in a fight, holding her own despite the tactical disadvantage of an all-metal control room, quietly overwhelming Kuvira with multi-element attacks. For the first time it’s the villain, not Korra, who gives into their anger during the fight, and the results are both figuratively and literally explosive. Alas, Korra creating a new Spirit Portal using the energy from Kuvira’s cannon feels a bit like a deus ex machina, but Korra and Kuvira’s heart-to-heart in the Spirit World more than makes up for it, and is proof that Korra has truly grown from her experiences as the Avatar, and is at last ready to be the vessel of peace in this world. After all the devastation packed over two episodes, the end comes on a resoundingly high note for all involved, especially for Korra and Asami, whose relationship finally blossoms after nearly two Books of growing quietly in the background. It didn’t make saying goodbye to Korra any easier, but at least it went out with a bang. – Phillip Morgan

3. Beginnings, Parts 1 and 2 (Book 2: Spirits, Chapters 7-8)

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For an episode that barely featured Korra and didn’t feature any other main characters, “Beginnings” is a testament to the power of the mythology that The Legend of Korra and Avatar: The Last Airbender are built on. It also helped to give “Book Two: Spirits” a greater sense of purpose and became one of the season’s saving graces. When Korra is attacked by a dark spirit and loses her memory, the Fire Sages who come across her work to purge the dark energy that has infected her before it destroys the Avatar Spirit. In order to remember her life and her role as the Avatar, Korra meets her most distant past life, Wan, who, over the course of his life, became the very first Avatar nearly 10 thousand years ago. The animation style of this two-part episode is stunning, looking like an old painting that comes to life to explore the origins of the Avatar Spirit. The way the elements are animated differently is a nice touch, and the backgrounds are absolutely beautiful. The designs of the various spirits that Wan encounters quite clearly draw influence from the work of Miyazaki, whose animation has always served as an inspiration for Mike and Bryan, the co-creators of the series. The voice acting for all these new characters is great, and the characters themselves are very likeable and are established well in only two episodes, especially the character of Wan. While there is a bit of retconning in regards to the origin of the Avatar, it’s quite forgivable, as the spirits of Raava and Vaatu are interesting, and the friendship that develops between Raava and Wan really gives an extra layer to the relationship that the Avatar has with his or her spirituality. Wan and Raava initially agreed to work together to defeat Vaatu and keep 10 thousand years of darkness at bay, but over the course of training to face chaos head on, they would develop a deep friendship, one that, in the words of Avatar Roku, would “transcend lifetimes.” And the fighting in this episode was great, especially when Raava and Wan combine their energies to combat Vaatu; the music, the quick movement, and the stakes all add to the greatness of this hour-long episode. For years, fans wondered how the Avatar first came to be; “Beginnings” gave us that answer and set the rest of “Book Two: Spirits,” and perhaps even the rest of the series, in motion. – Joey Sack

2. Korra Alone (Book 4: Balance, Chapter 2)

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Unless they’re of your fallen Jedi Masters, frequent hallucinations are usually not a good sign, and Korra learns that the hard way during her three year road to almost-recovery. Condensing a three year timeskip into thirty minutes of story is no easy task (most animes just skip it entirely), and this episode thrives on how effortlessly the narrative flows between past and present. Instead of constant, tedious flashbacks, we start off with Korra leaving an underground earthbending ring when suddenly she sees herself from three years prior when Zaheer forced her into the Avatar State via metallic poison. Ghost Korra feels like Poltergeist reborn, and few things are as terrifying as having a younger version of you following you around, attempting to ensnare you with liquid metal chains (a fitting visual, given the circumstances of Korra’s trauma). After the encounter nearly blows her cover, we jump back three years and learn how Korra ended up in Earth Kingdom Fight Club. Returning home to the Southern Water Tribe, Korra undergoes intense rehabilitation with Katara, and while the letters from Mako, Bolin, and Asami are encouraging (Bolin’s are by far the best), all Korra feels is anger at how useless she is in her current state and how everyone in her life is moving on without her. We also get more signs at a deeper relationship between Asami and Korra, she offers to join Korra at the Southern Water Tribe for the duration of her recovery, and Korra ultimately writes to her and not Bolin and Mako because “it’s easier to talk about these things with you.” After two years of rehab with Katara, Korra decides she needs to forge her own path, and sets out on a pilgrimage to reconnect with herself, cutting her hair and changing her clothes so that no one will recognize her. After a failed attempt at reestablishing a spiritual connection at The Tree of Time, she starts seeing Ghost Korra more and more frequently, which ultimately leads to the fighting ring we saw her getting pummeled in at the beginning. Eventually, her soul searching leads her to The Foggy Swamp, infamous among fans of ATLA for being a massive hub for freaky spiritual energy, and unfortunately for Korra that means Ghost Korra is stronger than ever, and she gets beaten to a pulp by her own personal demons in one of the creepiest fight scenes since we learned what bloodbending was. But at the end of this long, painful sojourn lies hope, in the form of Toph, who’s been living in seclusion in The Swamp in order to stay connected with the world through the Spirit Vines but without having to interact with people all the time. Much like Korra, we don’t know yet if things will ever go back to the way they used to, but her path to recovery is not quite finished. There is a glimmer of hope that Toph can help her get there, and after seeing Korra constantly get beat into the ground by the physical manifestation of her own fears, a little hope is better than none. – Phillip Morgan

1. Enter the Void/Venom of the Red Lotus (Book 3: Change, Chapters 12-13)

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This is it. This two-part episode is one of a handful that made The Legend of Korra truly legendary. Why? Because it is emotional, action-packed, perfectly animated, scored beautifully, and almost every minute of this episode is intense and will leave you both emotionally fulfilled and emotionally drained. Korra decides to give herself up to the Red Lotus to save the Air Nation, but ends up fighting Zaheer after a double cross. Fights between various heroes and villains take place, with Korra and Tonraq’s battle against Zaheer being a notable highlight. Throughout this finale, several of the villains from this season meet fairly brutal ends, but, by far, the one who suffers the most in this finale is the Avatar herself; captured by the Red Lotus and injected with a metallic poison, Korra is forced into the Avatar State, putting Korra in a bit of a tight spot. If she dies in the Avatar State, the reincarnation cycle will break and the Avatar will never be reborn again. So, what does she do? Exactly what you’d expect her to do: fight back. In an aerial battle similar to the final fight between Aang and Ozai in the finale of ATLA, Korra battles Zaheer with vicious elemental attacks, holding her own against the now-weightless airbender until the poison starts to take its toll. Even though Jinora, the other airbenders, and Su Beifong are able to save the Avatar’s life, the finale ends with Korra injured, in a wheelchair, and visibly depressed. For a show on a children’s network to end like this is beyond bold, and something that not even the original series really did; while Aang was injured in the finale of Book Two: Earth, but his recovery took place mostly while he was unconscious; Korra does not have that luxury. She is wide awake, and now she faces a long and painful recovery that, eventually, takes three years of her life to complete. Korra also doubts whether or not the world needs her anymore, with Tenzin dedicating the new Air Nation, and its latest airbending master, Jinora, to roaming the world helping to maintain balance in the Avatar’s place. Korra doesn’t know if, when she does recover, the world will need an Avatar anymore, and, as in previous episodes, she fears that if she’s not the Avatar, she’s nothing. It emotionally obliterates both our protagonist and the fans; confined to a wheelchair is the Avatar, a god among mortals, and everyone is unsure on whether or not she’ll ever regain her former strength and bring balance to the world. Intense all the way through, action packed, emotionally draining, and featuring beautiful animation and music, “Enter the Void/Venom of the Red Lotus” is the best episode that The Legend of Korra had, and truly made Avatar Korra’s journey the stuff of legends. – Joey Sack

Honorable Mentions:

Darkness Falls/Light in the Dark (Book 2: Spirits, Chapters 13-14)

Old Wounds (Book 3: Change, Chapter 6)

The Calling (Book 4: Balance, Chapter 4)

Turning the Tides (Book 1: Air, Chapter 10)

Original Airbenders (Book 3: Change, Chapter 7)

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2 Comments

  1. Yeah! First Comment! Okay, I was going to write what my personal favorite episode was, but I like too many to choose just one. I do have a favorite season, at least – season 3, where Korra starts to like Asami (I support them, not because I want to make a political statement, but because I think they work well together, even if they were just friends), they meet the new airbenders (Go Uncle Bumi!), Korra (and everyone) becomes more compassionate, and it overall presents a more well-written, deep-thought yet still cheerful mood. I love The Legend of Korra equally to Avatar: The Last Airbender, but in completely different ways. Oh, and fantastic list! :)
    Note: I’m thirteen, having started watching Avatar: The Last Airbender when I was eight. Therefore, I’ve sort-of kept up with every episode… right?

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