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The Saddest Episode In Avatar: The Last Airbender

Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko's creative work on "Avatar: The Last Airbender" should never be understated, but surely even they had no idea how ubiquitously popular their show would become. The 2005 Nickelodeon animated television series follows Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen), a young boy with more power and responsibility than a room crammed full of Spider-Men, and friends on their impossible quest to save the world from the tyrannical Fire Lord Ozai (Mark Hamill). For three seasons, "Avatar" delivered the perfect blend of comedy and drama, action and consequence, and paved the way for animation to tell deeper, more meaningful stories.

With that kind of quality, some story arcs are bound to be more emotional than others, and when "Avatar" wants to be heartbreaking, it goes all out, delivering charged content like Season 1's "The Storm" and Season 2's "Zuko Alone." Here's the saddest episode in "Avatar: The Last Airbender."

The Tales of Ba Sing Se is the saddest episode

In Season 2, Episode 15, "The Tales of Ba Sing Se," we're treated to a series of character-driven short segments, most of which are lighthearted. However, one of these segments, "The Tale of Iroh," in which we see Iroh (Mako) joyfully taking on what appears to be an average day in the outer ring of Ba Sing Se, is heartbreaking.

With a cheerful smile, Iroh actively chooses to brighten the lives of everyone he encounters. He shelters a shadow-thirsty flower, soothes a distressed toddler with song, advises a group of children to honestly confront their mistakes (until he sees that doing so would cause them harm, so then he advises them to run), and perfects the fighting form of a struggling mugger with such earnestness that the young man feels validated for the first time in his life. Then the segment, which has already primed us to be emotional, goes in for the kill by revealing that Iroh's mission for the day was to celebrate his deceased son's birthday.

On a quiet hilltop under a sprawling tree, Iroh sets up a memorial to honor his son, who died in a siege that Iroh himself helmed. The once bright old man crumples as he sings the same tune he sang to the crying toddler. At this moment, we realize just how deeply Iroh regrets his former life in the Fire Nation and exactly what following orders cost him.