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AtLA: Avatar Roku — The Man Who ALMOST Stopped the Fire Nation

5 Minute Read
May 8 2024

Roku is a stunning mix of wise sage and loyal friend—and a blatant example of what not to do with the powers of the Avatar.

While the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe contains several Avatars who’ve made less-than-stellar decisions, none are quite as polarizing as Avatar Roku. This Fire Nation Avatar who directly preceded Aang had a friendship with a young Firelord Sozin. Unfortunately, this friendship blinded him to Sozin’s ambitions and ultimately led to his death.

Of course, no Avatar is without fault, and I think Roku is unfairly treated simply because we know the most about him. He clearly expresses remorse and even cautions Aang that an unwillingness to take a life for the greater good could lead to worse in the future. He was one of Aang’s staunchest guides, and though the Fire Nation was their enemy, Avatar Roku was a vital ally to Team Avatar through his guidance.

The Young Avatar Roku

Roku was born to a highborn Fire Nation family (unlike his predecessor Kyoshi.) Thanks to Kyoshi’s actions, the world was entering an era of prosperity and industrial advancement. Business leaders and nobility were collaborating at an unprecedented rate, and the world was finally at peace. Nothing could possibly disturb that peace, right? …Right?

While visiting the royal palace with his family, Roku met a young Prince Sozin. As the eldest child of the current Fire Lord, Sozin was next in line for the throne. However, with Roku, he was just another boy the same age. Exactly the same age, in fact, as the two young men shared a birthday. Their friendship developed quickly, and Roku began to spend more time at the palace. He and Sozin were inseparable, and they shared everything.

Avatar Roku and the Fire Lord

The two young Firebenders spent almost all their time together. They were so close that Sozin identified Roku’s crush on the young noblewoman Ta Min. He encouraged Roku to talk to her, and she eventually became his wife. However, their lives would be irrevocably changed on the night of their 16th birthday.

While celebrating their mutual birthday parties, the Fire Sages informed Roku of his Avatar status and that he would have to leave the Fire Nation. Sad about his friend’s journey but happy to send him on his way, Sozin gifted Roku a headpiece traditionally worn by the Crown Prince. Sozin was due to ascend to the throne soon, so he had no need of it. Roku always kept it as a memory of his friend.

At some point on Roku’s journey, he hatched a dragon egg, bonding with the red dragon within. He named it Fang, and it served as his animal guide for the rest of his life.

As Roku’s training continued, the world began to change. By the time he finished mastering the four elements, the Earth King had purged all the Earth Sages, and the corrupt officials were beginning to grow in strength in Kyoshi’s absence. Even the Dai Li, the secret police Kyoshi had set up to combat corruption, began to fall into crime.

Friendship Betrayed

Upon his return to the Fire Nation, he finally married his childhood love, Ta Min. Sozin, now the Fire Lord, served as the best man and asked to speak to Roku in private after the ceremony. In their meeting, he spoke of the prosperity of the Fire Nation and announced his intentions to conquer the other nations.


Roku, however, recognized the unique significance and sovereignty of each of the four nations. He also saw Sozin’s first bid to colonize the world. He advised his friend to never bring up the subject again lest he be forced to act as the Avatar against his friend. Horrified but seemingly understanding, Sozin excused himself.

Thinking the matter settled, Roku went about his life with Ta Min. They had one daughter, Rina, and lived in relative happiness on a small island. However, 17 years after their initial encounter, Roku discovered that in his absence, Sozin had gone ahead with his by establishing colonies in Earth Kingdom land.

Enraged, he burst into the throne room and demanded that Sozin explain himself. Sozin merely scoffed, claiming that Roku was still a servant of the Fire Nation, and to act against him was treason.

Roku warned his old friend not to test him, but as he turned to leave, Sozin attacked him. But Roku was a fully realized Avatar. He easily defeated Sozin, destroying his throne room in the process and suspending him on a column. He told Sozin that he was sparing his life in memory of their past friendship, but that to continue his conquest would result in his immediate death.

Rage of the Elements

25 years passed, and Roku was living happily on his island with Ta Min. One night, a violent volcanic eruption sent ash and magma cascading across Roku’s island. The eruption threatened his life and the lives of all those who lived nearby. Roku fought valiantly to contain the poisonous vapor and molten rock, but he was an old man, and it quickly overwhelmed him. All seemed lost until his old friend, Fire Lord Sozin, arrived to assist.


They staved off the volcano for as long as they could. However, eventually, the gas forced them to flee further down the mountain. Roku was able to protect them from the gas using air bending until a geyser erupted in his face, filling his lungs with poison and blurring his vision. Roku reached out to Sozin for help, but the Fire Lord finally saw his opportunity to continue his plans. Mounting his dragon, he left Roku behind. Roku died shortly after from the fumes. His loyal dragon Fang refused to leave him, curling around Roku’s body and dying alongside him.

Legacy of the Avatar

Roku was integral in Aang’s defeat of Fire Lord Ozai. He told him about the power of the comet and helped him navigate the Spirit World. Unlike the more warlike Avatars before him, Roku was remembered more as an intellectual. Aang would call on his mentor many times during his time as the Avatar, even into adulthood. He remained an integral force in the world long after his death.

Author: Clint Lienau
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