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The entire Avatar: The Last Airbender timeline explained

Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel, Avatar: The Legend of Korra, wove a rich tapestry of story over the course of their combined seven seasons. Its fantasy world, in which select humans can control, or "bend" the elements of water, earth, fire, and air, brushed tantalizingly close to our own while remaining altogether magical. War raged, cultures clashed, and teenagers fell in love with the wrong people — or the right ones at the wrong time. Avatar's feats of bending might were always wondrous to behold, but they served the story and its characters above all, creating a world that always felt close enough to touch, yet vastly distant enough to dazzle.

As is the case with any intricately constructed fantasy world, Avatar's has a long, tangled history. Events that are literally thousands of years in the past came to bear upon Korra in her modern age of automobiles and skyscrapers, while Aang was heir to conflicts that had simmered decades before his birth. Add in things like hybrid animals, metal, lightning, and blood bending, and an oddly unstoppable cabbage merchant, and keeping the timeline straight can be overwhelming. Allow us to assist in your Avatar appreciation with this account of the Avatar world's history, from the legacy of the Lion Turtles to the assembly lines of Future Industries.

10,000 years BA (before Aang's birth): The Avatar cycle begins

Roughly 10,000 years before the start of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the world was a misty wonderland of spirits, humans, and the Lion Turtles, the last of whom were tasked with protecting humanity. It was on their mammoth shells that humans huddled together, venturing into the spirit wilds beyond only when necessary. To protect them on those occasional journeys, the Lion Turtles granted humans the power of bending for the duration of their time in the wilds. The system was broken, however, when a human named Wan used firebending for selfish ends, and was banished to the wilds in punishment.

His exile became a journey in which he encountered Raava, the primordial spirit of light and peace, and Vaatu, the spirit of darkness and chaos. Wan, tricked into freeing Vaatu, merged with Raava in an effort to undo his mistake and keep Vaatu from flooding the world with malice. They succeeded, and their bond was made permanent, making Wan the very first Avatar. Thus empowered, Wan sealed off the polar portals that linked the spirit and the human worlds. In so doing, Wan created the foundations for the world of Avatar as we know it, and set out to safeguard its future.

1,000s of years BA: The four nations form

Thousands of years passed between the era of Wan and that of Avatar: The Last Airbender's heroes, in which the four nations as fans would come to know them coalesced into their familiar shapes. The Water Tribe, originally concentrated in the North Pole, split into two nations, with a splintered third settled in the Foggy Swamp. Centuries of tribal warfare, fortress-building, and subterranean exploration created the Earth Kingdom, united under a single monarch. The Sun Warriors, who would go on to teach Aang and Zuko the Dancing Dragon form, grew, declined, and finally settled into the obscure existence glimpsed in "The Firebending Masters," while the archipelago that would become the Fire Nation was brought together during the Unification Wars.

In the midst of this upheaval, bending, once possible only through the Lion Turtles, was rediscovered and refined. Firebenders learned through observing dragons, waterbenders through studying the tidal pull of the moon, airbenders through their bonds with the sky bison, and earthbenders through the tunneling of badgermoles. Forms, disciplines, and styles were created, explored, and advanced, from lightning generation to literal flight, in the case of the legendary Guru Laghima. Though many years of this era are heavy with warfare and famine, so too are they bursting with exploration, adventure, and spirituality.

300 years BA: The era of Avatar Kyoshi

300 years prior to the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Avatar Kyoshi rose to power. Though she would become a formidable enforcer of justice, she was born to an infamous pair of criminals who left her in the care of strangers who, upon learning of her parents' eventual death, abandoned her on the streets to starve. Years of deprivation, study, and conflict ensued, molding Kyoshi into an Avatar as celebrated as she was feared.

Her most well-known exploits happened later in her reign: the creation of Kyoshi Island and the founding of the Dai Li, the cultural authority of Ba Sing Se who, by the time Aang encountered them, acted as a brutal secret police force. The former event, in which she bent the earth down to its magma to split off the tip of a peninsula and make it an island, was to keep the village located there safe from Chin, a fearsome conqueror. The latter act was in response to a peasant uprising, and would go on to be seen as one of Kyoshi's greatest mistakes. She was a complicated figure, her legacy up for debate from all corners, but there is no disputing the massive effect she had upon our heroes, centuries after her death.

100 years BA:The era of Avatar Roku

When Kyoshi's long life finally came to a close, the next Avatar was born: Roku, a noble son of the Fire Nation. Growing up beside Sozin, his best friend and heir to the throne, his life was largely untroubled until he was revealed as the Avatar as the age of 16. Years of training ensued, during which Sozin became Fire Lord — and yet the two remained as close as brothers. They reunited, reconnected, and when the time came from Roku to marry, it was Sozin who acted as best man.

But Sozin's ambitions had grown with every passing year. He revealed his plans for world conquest to Roku, who was horrified, no matter how benevolent Sozin claimed his intentions to be. The two split, passing decades without contact. When the volcano crowning Roku's island home erupted, Sozin did rush to his friend's aid — only to let him die in the ashes, upon realizing that Roku's death would allow him to carry out his vision of globe-spanning rule. Hundreds of miles away, a boy named Aang was born in the Southern Air Temple, heedless of the Fire Lord's intentions and the mess they would make of his childhood.

12 years AA (after Aang's birth): the Avatar disappears

The years between Roku's death and Sozin's destruction of the Air Nomads were, from Aang's point of view, peaceful ones. An eager student, he mastered airbending with enthusiasm and an innovative spirit, topping off his years of study with the invention of the air scooter. Raised by Monk Gyatso, living in harmony with the sky bison, playing games with his friends — these were gentle days, brought to a brutal end when the temple's elders, fearful of global unrest, told Aang of his Avatar destiny. Overwhelmed, Aang ran off alongside Appa, his bonded bison, only to be thrown into the midst of a violent storm. Terrified, Aang went into the Avatar State, encasing himself and Appa within a massive iceberg.

Aang was, by all accounts, missing. And so there was no Avatar to confront Fire Lord Sozin when he harnessed the power of the Great Comet, later renamed Sozin's Comet, to deliver a devastating first strike in the Hundred Years War: the genocide of the Air Nomads. Sozin, knowing they were the nation to which the current Avatar had been born, destroyed them utterly, an outrage that would spur the Earth Kingdom and the Water Tribes into action against the Fire Nation. Yet for all this slaughter, the prime target remained at large. Sozin would write, years later, of his failure to capture the Avatar, who he knew to be "hiding out there somewhere... the last airbender."

12-112 years AA: The Hundred Year War

Aang proceeded to spend 100 years in the ice, leaving the world without an Avatar in its time of greatest need. Fire Lord Azulon succeeded Sozin, continuing his campaign of conquest with bloodthirsty zeal. The Southern Water Tribe was devastated during these years, subject to an assault that destroyed their central city, kidnapped their waterbenders, and led to decades of violent raiding which would eventually claim the life of Kya, Katara and Sokka's mother.

The Fire Nation's attempts to destroy the Earth Kingdom went less smoothly. Though enormous swaths of the nation were indeed decimated, subjugated, and put under Fire Nation control, Ba Sing Se, the legendary capital city, resisted capture. General Iroh, crown prince of the Fire Nation, had received a vision in his youth that appeared to bode well: Himself, conquering Ba Sing Se at last. Empowered by this prophecy and at the apex of his legendary skill, he laid siege to the city's outermost wall with all the might of the Fire Nation army behind him.

100 years AA: The Fire Nation's royal family splinters

Though the Earth Kingdom's forces fought mightily, Ba Sing Se's outermost wall was eventually breached. This was hailed as a tremendous victory — until General Iroh received word that his son had died in combat. Devastated, Iroh took stock of his battered army, their flagging morale, and his own demoralization. After 600 days, the siege was brought to an end, the Fire Nation withdrew, and Ba Sing Se was left unconquered.

Ozai, Iroh's younger brother, sensed an opportunity to advance his own position amidst this tragedy. As Iroh was returning to the Fire Nation in disgrace and lacking an heir, he suggested that their father, Fire Lord Azulon, establish him as the heir to the throne. Azulon was outraged, and commanded Ozai to murder his firstborn son, Zuko, in penance. Ursa, Zuko's mother and Ozai's wife,conspired with her husband in a desperate attempt to save her son, concocting a poison which killed Azulon in his sleep. Ozai was crowned Fire Lord, but Ursa was banished — leaving Zuko without a protector. In a few short years, Fire Lord Ozai would punish his son for speaking out of turn in his war room by facing him in a public duel, permanently scarring his face, and sending him on what he believed to be a fruitless search for the Avatar alongside his uncle Iroh. Ozai's power was cemented, and all who threatened his rule expunged.

112 years AA: The Avatar returns

When Aang was finally woken from his century-long slumber, it wasn't by the Fire Nation forces so eager to ferret him out of hiding, but by Katara, a girl out practicing the waterbending her mother had died to protect from the Fire Nation's clutches. Aang emerged onto a world utterly unlike the one he had left, yet still he found himself as weighed down by responsibility — if anything, more so. When Katara showed him a captured Fire Nation ship, brought down decades ago by waterbenders who would be kidnapped in retaliation, Aang reeled in confusion: Hadn't he only been in the ice for a week? A month, at most, if he really had to stretch it? Katara, incredulous, deduced that Aang had been effectively dead to the world for 100 years. The four nations were in turmoil, and his absence was, in part, at fault.

And so began Avatar: The Last Airbender. Aang would go on to learn of his people's obliteration, the dominance of the Fire Nation, and the long, cruel reach of the war into even the most remote places. Alliances would shift, battles were fought, and spirits were negotiated with. Some people, like Jet, became casualties, while others, like Toph, emerged from the crucible of war as benders of unparalleled skill. Aang, as the Avatar, led them all, the responsibility of his role at last assumed.

113 years AA: The Hundred Year War ends

Only one year passed between Aang's emergence from the iceberg and the end of the Hundred Year War — but oh, what a year it was. In its 365 days, the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender unfolded, from the siege of the Northern Water Tribe to the final battle of Wulong Forest. At the end of it all, Fire Lord Ozai was defeated, his bending taken away in an unprecedented use of the Avatar's connection to the origin of all bending. In meeting a Lion Turtle who revealed the secrets of energybending, Aang hearkened back to the era of Raava, tens of thousands of years in the past, to save his modern world. His 100-year absence might have thrown the world farther out of balance than it had ever been before — but in his victory over Ozai, he restored it in legendary style.

Thus deposed, Fire Lord Ozai was succeeded by Fire Lord Zuko. Zuko's ascension was risky, predicated on his worth as a newcomer and "idealist," as his uncle referred to him — not a virtue the Fire Nation was then holding in high regard, and a dramatic departure from the last four Fire Lords. But the throne was his, and so began a new age of repair, reconciliation, and above all things, peace.

113-130 years AA: The postwar world takes shape

As our heroes entered adulthood, so too did they enter the world of diplomacy. The War was won, but its aftermath would need to be reckoned with for decades to come — and most of the time, in ways that had nothing to do with who could best who in a bending battle.

This era is largely chronicled in the Avatar comics, which take place over the course of the handful of years immediately following the TV series' end. In these, we see the origins of Republic City, the multicultural metropolis that would become home to Avatar Korra, as the Fire Nation colony of Yu Dao, in which Fire Nation colonists and Earth Kingdom natives had become so intertwined as to be inseparable. Ursa, Zuko and Azula's mother, was also discovered and returned to her family — alongside Kiyi, her youngest child by her second husband. Zuko's reign was disturbed by the actions of the New Ozai Society, a shadowy group that sought Ozai's restoration and Zuko's murder. Even the Southern Water Tribe, long left behind in the march of progress, grew beyond its humble borders into a thriving city. These decades were full of trial and tribulation, but so too were they the years in which Aang and Katara married and started their family, Toph established metalbending as a discipline, and the United Republic of Nations was formally created. 

143 years AA: Yakone terrorizes Republic City

Approximately 40 years before the events of The Legend of Korra, Republic City fell prey to Yakone, a waterbending crime lord. A canny, calculating man, Yakone wasn't just a top-tier waterbender, nor even just a bloodbender: Yakone was a bloodbender who could use that terrifying skill during any moon phase, at any time of day, without moving his own body. Essentially, he was able to control anyone, at any time, without revealing himself as the puppeteer pulling the strings. Years went by in which he evaded capture and punishment, expanded his criminal empire, and honed his bending to an ever-sharper point. Eventually, however, the law caught up to his tricks, and Aang was forced to remove his bending as he'd once done to Fire Lord Ozai.

But Yakone's network was not erased along with his bending, and he was soon broken out of prison and spirited away to the North Pole. There, he underwent extensive plastic surgery to construct a new face, married, and had two sons, Noatak and Tarrlok. Yakone trained the boys as bloodbenders, but Noatak, fed up with being treated as a "tool of [his father's] revenge," ran off into the polar darkness. Yakone's dreams of taking Republic City back through his children died that day, and soon enough, so did he. Yet his influence lingered in Tarrlok, who would become a Republic City councilman, and Noatak, who would re-emerge as the fiendish Amon.

183 years AA: Avatar Korra emerges

The decades following Yakone's exile were comparatively quiet. When Aang died at the age of 66, that changed: the Order of the White Lotus were sent to search the Water Tribes for the next Avatar, Aang and Katara's daughter Kya returned to the South Pole to support her mother, and Tenzin, suddenly the leader of the Air Nomads and the only living airbender, stepped into a leadership position unlike any other. Korra, cognizant of her Avatar status from a startlingly young age, was found, installed in a training compound, and prepared for her role as the bridge between worlds.

But as the events of The Legend of Korra's first season revealed, that role had changed massively. The world was rapidly industrializing, exposing a schism between benders and non-benders barely examined by Avatar: The Last Airbender. Amon seized this opportunity, leading the Equalists, his movement to end bending, to a frenzied peak of popularity centralized in Republic City. Though Korra, then struggling with airbending, made more than a few missteps in handling Amon, her first major challenge as the Avatar, she ultimately stopped him and his followers alongside new friends Mako, Bolin, and Asami. The threat had passed, but Republic City was forever changed — and Korra, having briefly lost her bending to Amon, was as well.

184 years AA: Korra opens the spirit portals

The year after Amon's defeat was a very different one indeed. While Amon and the Equalists presented Korra with an external problem to solve, Unalaq, her uncle and leader of the Northern Water Tribe, represented an internal conflict rooted in her own reluctance to engage with the spiritual. Unalaq, a schemer interested in seizing power across the physical and spiritual planes, manipulated his niece into opening a polar portal to the Spirit World, sparking a civil war between the Water Tribes, and, ultimately, undoing the work Avatar Wan completed thousands of years in the past.

This reached a crisis point when Unalaq was able to free Vaatu, spirit of darkness and chaos, from his imprisonment in the Tree of Time. He merged with the spirit, much like Avatar Wan did with Raava thousands of years prior, and become the world's first and only Dark Avatar. A thrilling battle ensued between the maliciously-empowered Unalaq and Korra, their spirits projected into Republic City's bay as towering giants of light. Though Korra vanquished the Dark Avatar, Raava was torn from her, necessitating a reunion that did restore her Avatar spirit but severed her connection with the Avatars of the past. Moreover, Korra made the shocking decision to keep the spirit portals open. For the first time in millennia, the spirit world and the mortal one were connected, and the Avatar was no longer the sole bridge between them.

185 years AA: The Red Lotus strikes

With Vaatu defeated, Korra's attention turned once again to humanity and its many concerns. She'd known that keeping the spirit portals open would change the world forever — but no one could have understood how much. With the spiritual and the mortal more closely connected than ever before, non-benders found themselves suddenly able to bend air. Bumi, Aang and Katara's only child, became one of the show's most prominent examples, alongside Toph's granddaughter Opal, a young thief named Kai who would enter Korra's orbit, and most fearsomely of all, a long-imprisoned radical named Zaheer. Suddenly made an airbender, Zaheer escaped, reformed his anarchist cell, the Red Lotus, and set his sights on slaying the Avatar.

His path to Korra was bloody and world-changing. Seeking to return the world to a more chaotic and theoretically more just state, the Red Lotus assassinated the Earth Queen, destroyed the Northern Air Temple, and poisoned Korra with mercury, seeking to kill her while in the Avatar State, thus destroying the Avatar cycle forever. Though the Red Lotus were defeated, the world, and particularly the Earth Kingdom, were in shambles — and Korra was more deeply shaken by her experience than anything she'd ever undergone before.

188 years AA: Kuvira leads the Earth Empire

Three years passed after Korra's poisoning. Seeking to regain her confidence and skill, she returned home to the Southern Water Tribe where she worked with Katara, lived with her family, and otherwise recuperated. But there was still something missing — something she only regained upon re-entering the world, training with an elderly (yet still cantankerous) Toph, and learning to face her fears of powerlessness head-on. She needed her sense of self restored, and that would take years of bitter, necessary work.

Kuvira, a metalbender of prodigious skill, had formed an army while Korra was on the outs, and, after three years, she had much of the dissolute Earth Kingdom under her thumb. In her, Korra faced a woman of passion, stubbornness, and determination — in essence, herself. The battle between the two was brutal, culminating in the explosion of a weapon that ran on spirit energy. Korra bent the energy itself, establishing a new spirit portal in the heart of Republic City. The cosmopolitan heart of the most modern city around had been joined forever to the spiritual plane, and Korra's final act was to enter it, hand in hand with Asami, ready to enjoy a well-deserved vacation. As the dust settled, one thing was clear: this tale had truly been the legend of Korra, the Avatar who reshaped the world.