Ursa and her young son Zuko smile sitting together outside.

One of the Biggest Ongoing Mysteries in ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ Was Actually Answered Years Ago

One of the ongoing mysteries in Avatar: The Last Airbender is the fate of Prince Zuko’s mother, Ursa.

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The granddaughter of Avatar Roku, Ursa was forced to marry the then Prince Ozai by Fire Lord Azulon because of a prophecy that said uniting his bloodline with Roku’s would bring forth a powerful descendent. The marriage was a deeply unhappy one, ending with Ursa’s sudden and unexplained disappearance from the palace the night Fire Lord Azulon died.

Neither Zuko nor Azula had any idea where their mother was, why she had gone, or even whether or not she was alive by the end of the animated series, leaving the matter unresolved. However, a comic released in 2013 titled Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Search finally answered the question once and for all, and it’s just as heartrending yet hopeful as you’d expect from the ATLA franchise.

Fire Lord Ozai was never intended to inherit his position; it was his older brother, Zuko’s uncle Iroh, who was expected to become Fire Lord after their father. However, when Iroh’s son was killed during the siege of Ba Sing Se, and Iroh withdrew from the action in response, Ozai proposed to his father that he be the one to inherit instead. Iroh had no heir now, and his actions in withdrawing from the siege were dishonorable.

Fire Lord Azulon responded by ordering Ozai to kill Zuko so he would understand the pain of losing a firstborn son. Ozai, who had no attachment to Zuko anyway, planned on following through. Ursa, who loved both of her children deeply, made a counteroffer: She would provide Ozai with an undetectable poison and he could kill his father, taking the mantle of Fire Lord for himself instead. Ozai agreed but on the condition that Ursa go into exile, leaving their children with him as collateral, because if she was capable of producing such a poison there was nothing to stop her from using it on him and he was by then well aware of the fact that she hated him.

Ursa was able to see her children one last time. Azula, who was already asleep, received a kiss on the cheek as Ursa didn’t want to wake her. But Zuko, who was still awake, got to have one last conversation with his mother. Ursa was able to tell her son how much she loved him, that the things she had done had been to protect him, and to always remember who he was no matter what. With that, she left the palace, with no explanation ever offered to her children as to where, or why, their mother had gone.

After leaving the palace, Ursa made her way to her parents’ house in her hometown of Hira’a, only to discover that both her parents, with whom she had been allowed no contact while she was a member of the Fire Nation royal family, had since died. Realizing she had nowhere to go as there was now no family to take her in, Ursa headed to the last place that she’d been happy, the town’s theatre and the site of her former fiancé Ikem’s proposal as they rehearsed together on stage, just before the Fire Lord came and upended her life.

While there, a man named Norem found her as she sat weeping on the stage, and took her out for breakfast where he revealed he actually was Ikem, and that after she was forced to marry Ozai he had encountered a spirit called the Mother of Faces who had given him a new face and taken away his sadness. The two of them then departed for the spirit’s valley, where they lived together until the spirit appeared and Ursa was able to ask her for a new face. Sensing her sadness The Mother of Faces also offered to take away her memories of her previous life, and, unable to bear remembering her children without ever being able to see or speak to them again, Ursa agreed.

Now named Noriko and possessed of a new face and new memories, Ursa returned to the town with Ikem/Noren where they got married, on the same theatre stage where he had once proposed. While living together in Hira’a they went on to have a daughter, Kiya, and lived happily until Zuko, Azula, and team Avatar found them years after Zuko ascended to the role of Fire Lord. After ascertaining that she was indeed his mother, and that her new life in Hira’a was a happy one Zuko was prepared to leave her in peace only for Noren to persuade him to tell her the truth.

On learning of her past, Ursa decided to regain her memories, and her old face, and return to the capital with her son, along with her new family.

(featured image: Nickelodeon)


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Author
Siobhan Ball
Siobhan Ball (she/her) is a contributing writer covering news, queer stuff, politics and Star Wars. A former historian and archivist, she made her first forays into journalism by writing a number of queer history articles c. 2016 and things spiralled from there. When she's not working she's still writing, with several novels and a book on Irish myth on the go, as well as developing her skills as a jeweller.