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Avatar Kyoshi: The Earthbender Who Split a Continent

7 Minute Read
Jul 3 2024

One of the most iconic characters from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Avatar Kyoshi is the epitome of the “tall queen.” But who was this statuesque Earthbender, and did she do more damage than good?

The AtLA universe has no shortage of powerful figures, but few are as well-known as Kyoshi. The imposing Avatar that predated Avatar Aang by two cycles was war-like, tactful, and deadly. Throughout her brief appearances in the show, she has no problem with violence, and advises Aang on multiple occasions to abandon his ideals for the sake of the world. One of her most iconic lines comes when Aang seeks her advice for facing Firelord Ozai: “Only Justice will bring Peace.”

However, precious little is shown about this imposing figure during the run of the show. We know she came before Roku and that she split the continent to create an island of her own, but not much else. Thankfully, author F.C. Yee gave us a glimpse at her story in his Chronicles of the Avatar novels. Thanks to these books, we learn the humble origins of Kyoshi and how she came to be the painted warrior we know and love.

Servant of the False Avatar

Kyoshi was the child of a renegade Air Nation nun and an Earth Kingdom criminal. Believing their life to be too dangerous for a child, they left her in the care of a villager in Yokoya Port. They left her with a small chest containing her mother’s iron fans and her father’s acting troupe makeup. Unfortunately, the villager went back on the deal, abandoning Kyoshi to the streets. She likely would have starved to death if not for the actions of an Air Nomad named Kelsang. Kelsang was traveling with an Earthbender named Jianzhu, looking for the new Avatar, and he took pity on the young, starving Kyoshi.

Kelsang even let her take the Avatar test. Though Kyoshi successfully identified one of the Avatar’s items, her mistrust of authority and kindness prevented her from completing the test. Because of her reluctance, a young Earthbender named Yun was declared the Avatar. Kyoshi was adopted into the Avatar’s household, where she and the young Avatar became fast friends. She also met the Firebender Rangi, the daughter of one of Kuruk’s previous companions and bodyguard of Avatar Yun. Yun and Kyoshi grew closer, and an unspoken romance began to blossom. However, they did not pursue their feelings, believing the difference in their stations would make such a romance impossible.

A Destiny Betrayed

Though he did not speak his feelings aloud, Kelsang believed that Kyoshi was the true Avatar. He approached Kyoshi with his theory, but she dismissed it as impossible and asked him to keep his thoughts secret. However, circumstances would soon let the tigerdillo out of the bag. While accompanying Yun to the South Pole to oversee peace negotiations with a pirate gang, Kyoshi discovered a threat to Yun’s life. Tapping into the latent Avatar state, she performed a staggering act of Earthbending, decimating the pirate fleet. With the Avatar’s identity in flux, Jianzhu prepared a deadly test. He presented both Kyoshi and Yun to Father Glowworm, an ancient and deadly spirit. By tasting their blood, Father Glowworm discerned that Kyoshi was indeed the Avatar. However, rather than retrieving them both, Jiangzha fled with Kyoshi, leaving Yun behind to die.

Concerned for his foster daughter, Kelsang arrived at Jiangzha’s manor to try and get Kyoshi out. In a rage, Jianzha murdered Kelsang, but Kyoshi and Rangi were able to escape on his flying bison. They connected with the Flying Opera Company, the front Kyoshi’s parents had used during their criminal days. Fully embracing her destiny at last, she began to train in the other styles with the criminals. In secret, she also trained with the assassin Lao Ge, who taught her not only subterfuge and politics but also a secret Earthbending technique that was said to grant immortality. Kyoshi also found she was developing romantic feelings for Rangi, and was relieved to learn the young Firebender felt the same.

Earth and Thunder

After some time traveling with the criminals, Kyoshi and Rangi were tasked with freeing a prisoner. Lao Ge gave Kyoshi secret instructions to slay the man, but Kyoshi chose to spare him at the last moment. Unfortunately, the prisoner turned out to be a violent psychopath. To prevent a killing spree, Kyoshi challenged him to single combat, unaware that he was a powerful Lightningbender. She had to unlock the Avatar state to finally defeat him, and even then, she was wounded to near death. The worst was yet to come, however, as Jiangzhu tracked her group down, capturing Rangi and killing one of her syndicate friends.

Kyoshi swore she would have her revenge and hunted Jianzhu to Qinchao village. The sage tried to convince Kyoshi to be his pupil, but she refused. She would not allow herself to train with a person who murdered their friends and left children to die. Furious, they began a titanic duel. For a time, they were evenly matched. However, Yun returned unexpectedly and killed Jianzhu before disappearing without a word. Kyoshi fled, having earned the ire of the local Chin clan, and reunited with her criminal friends. While she had dueled Jiangzhu, they had rescued Rangi. However, they all decided to separate, giving Kyoshi the time and space she needed to finally announce her Avatardom to the world.

The Camilla-Peony War

After the events of Qinchao Village, Kyoshi was acknowledged as the true Avatar, but she found the diplomatic hand-wringing unpalatable. She abhorred having to play nice with the corrupt Earth Kingdom officials, much to the dismay of her handlers. Kyoshi was not above using force to achieve her ends and set out to destroy the worst criminal syndicates plaguing the Earth Kingdom. After some time, she halted her work in the Earth Kingdom to visit Rangi and Hei-Ran, Rangi’s mother, in the Fire Nation.


While in the Fire Nation, she witnessed an attempted coup by a rival clan of the Fire Lord, perpetuated by Yun. Yun held the assembled Fire Nation nobles hostage, sowing distrust in Kyoshi and the Fire Lord and kicking off the Camilla-Peony War, a close comparison to the real-world War of the Roses. Hei-Ran blamed herself for the attack and asked Kyoshi to allow her to sacrifice herself against Yun. She cut her topknot to symbolize her shame. After several failed skirmishes, a false double of Yun was brought forward. He confessed to the crimes and caused a nationwide purge of the Fire Lord’s rivals. Kyoshi knew that the real Yun would reveal the ruse. She agreed to hunt him down in exchange for the false Yun’s life.

The Judgement of Yun

Kyoshi and Rangi believed that Yun had been possessed by the spirit of Father Glowworm, and set out to free him. However, after years of failure, Kyoshi was finally able to cross into the Spirit World and commune with Kuruk, her predecessor. Kuruk told her about his lifelong campaign against dark spirits. He told her that while they could influence humans, direct possession was impossible. The her dismay, Kyoshi surmised that this meant Yun was acting of his own accord. Flying back to the Avatar’s mansion, she confronted Yun.

Rangi and Kyoshi fought Yun, whose Earthbending was refined to deadly lengths. He was able to tunnel around the women’s attacks and stabbed Rangi with a pillar of stone. Kyoshi tried to apologize for her part in the events, but Yun mocked and chastised her. Finally, she was able to get close enough to Yun to freeze his lungs, killing him at last. She and Rangi confessed their love for one another and began a relationship in earnest. As she was exiting the mansion, a fox spirit guided her to a pool, where she met the spirit of Yangchen. Yangchen told her that she blamed herself for Kuruk’s hard life and agreed to help Kyoshi, naming the fox her spirit guide.

Life After Yun

Kyoshi returned to the city of Ba Sing Se, where she trained to master the Avatar state. She had a good relationship with the spirits. Kyoshi even maintained a working relationship with Wan Shi Tong, the owl spirit of knowledge. Wan Shi Tong warned her about a potential criminal uprising. However, with all her duties, she had to leave that to her allies.

She maintained a tense relationship between the Four Nations, thanks to her sometimes cruel tactics. She was also not silent about her bisexuality and tried to gain support for non-heterosexual members of the Earth Kingdom. Unfortunately, the Kingdom remained staunchly traditional, and little change was made. When she returned to her home island, she found the men to be lecherous towards the young women. Kyoshi decided to train them in her own combat arts. These women became the first Kyoshi warriors. When she separated the peninsula from the mainland during Chin the Conquerer’s campaign, Yokoya was renamed Kyoshi Island. Chin, of course, was too stubborn to step back from the schism she made, and fell to his death.


Ancient as the Earth and Tall as a Mountain

Kyoshi was an imposing woman, even in her early years, standing at an impressive 6′ 6″. She was also very physically powerful, and perhaps one of the strongest Avatars, though Korra comes close. Thanks to her training with Lao Ge, she lived an impressively long life, finally dying at the age of 230. Before her death, she established the Dai Li to maintain order in the Earth Kingdom. She had a daughter named Koko, who succeeded her as leader of Kyoshi island. Whether she was adopted or the product of a relationship after Rangi is unclear.

Author: Clint Lienau
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