Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender is beloved by fans around the world. It’s the use of Eastern design and fantasy storytelling that resulted in a new world that captured the imagination of many. It is unlike any other franchise because of this, but its characters are just as engaging as the world.
No matter the episode, compelling characterization is always the priority. One character, in particular, is remembered for his nuanced narrative and pathos. Uncle Iroh is certainly a fan favorite, but even the most hardcore fans don’t know everything about him. Here are ten of the most crucial facts about Uncle Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Update May 22nd, 2020 by Louis Kemner: With Avatar: The Last Airbender back on Netflix, this series can attract many new viewers, and they are bound to love Iroh in particular. He is one of the most significant members of the cast, being Zuko’s mentor and guide to a personal transformation, and he is a fierce fighter, too. A lot of thought went into Iroh’s personality, abilities, and quotes, and now is the time to add a few interesting facts about the one and only uncle Iroh.
15 He’s A Miniature Avatar
Iroh is not really the avatar; there can only be one at a time, and the last Fire Nation avatar was Roku (and time will tell who the next one will be). But Iroh does embody the avatar in other ways.
He has an affinity for spirits, like the avatar does, and he understands that the four elements are closely connected and can borrow from each other. Iroh isn’t single-minded about fire; he studied waterbending to learn how to redirect lightning.
14 He’s A Typical Uncle
This franchise has a number of uncles in it, from Bumi (Tenzin’s brother) to Unalaq, and some of them are funnier than others. Iroh and Bumi both fit the mold of a quirky but loving uncle.
Media loves these characters, typically childless men who instead dote on their nieces and nephews and have all kinds of fun with them. Funny uncles are also prone to cheesy jokes and being a child at heart, for all the right reasons.
13 He Was Once Strict
In early designs for Avatar: The Last Airbender, Iroh wasn’t going to be the “funny uncle” type everyone knows and loves. He was going to be a strict and firm-handed figure, not unlike his brother Ozai.
But that certainly changed, and Iroh is only stern when the stakes are high. He raised his voice, for example, when Zuko struggled to choose a side during the final episode of season 2.
12 His Mysterious Backstory
Interestingly, while Iroh gets a lot of screen time during the events of this show, relatively little is known about his backstory. It is known that he led the siege of Ba Sing Se (when Lu Ten died), and he was raised alongside Ozai to take the throne.
But what else? His personality, appearance, and other minor details from his younger days are all unknown, and exploring his backstory tends to just raise more questions instead. It is clear that Iroh’s current life is much more significant than whatever he did as a younger man.
11 He’s Easily Moved
Iroh is many things, but he’s not stoic. In battle, he can get serious like anyone else and stare down the likes of Azula and Long Feng. But otherwise, he tends to wear his emotions on his sleeve.
He quickly gets upset if his tea is served cold, or worse, if someone (Zuko) knocks it out of his hands. He’s also quick to burst out laughing and pay people compliments, and he’s not afraid to show his sadness, either. Iroh is quite extroverted that way.
10 His Voice Actors
Unlike most of the characters on Avatar, Iroh had more than one voice actor portray him. The first iteration of his character can be attributed to the work of the late actor Mako Iwamatsu. Mako passed away in 2006 due to Esophageal cancer. Fan’s may know his other work as Aku in Samurai Jack or as Splinter in TMNT. In the beloved episode The Tales of Ba Sing Se, Mako was memorialized in Iroh’s segment, and the character of Mako in The Legend of Korra was named after him.
After Mako’s death, his longtime understudy Greg Baldwin took the role. Baldwin had worked under Mako on the series for a long time, completed re-recording and additional dialogue when Mako was unavailable. Baldwin fully took the role in the final season of The Last Airbender.
9 His Real World Origins
The character of uncle Iroh has multiple parallels throughout film, tv, and literature. Iroh plays many archetypal roles including a bumbling fool, fierce warrior, and wise mentor. His type of character is not alien to audiences whatsoever. Unknown though are his specific inspirations to both Chinese myth and the personal lives of the show’s creators.
Iroh has a lot in common with a figure in Chinese mythology: Royal Uncle Cao. One of the eight immortals in Taoist myth, Cao also had an abusive brother like Ozai and was also connected with the arts. In real life, Iroh also inspired by one of the Avatar writer’s step-father. In a Reddit thread, writer Aaron Ehasz revealed that he deliberately modeled mich of Iroh’s personality after his late-stepfather.
8 He Was A Renaissance Man
The character of Iroh, as stated before, is a multifaceted one. Obviously, he is a skilled fighter, general and bender, but he is far more than just a man of violence and war. So much of Iroh’s character is defined by his wide-spanning interests in history, art, music, food, and of course, tea.
Iroh is obsessed with the spiritual side of his world as well as the myths, legends, and historical foibles surrounding them. This allows him to greater understand both his allies and enemies. Musically speaking, Iroh is shown to play a number of instruments in the series. Whether it is a string or horn instrument, Iroh will take a crack at it. No matter what though, tea seems to be his greatest pleasure.
7 His Role In The Order Of The White Lotus
In connection to his many interests, Iroh’s affiliation with the Order of the White Lotus embodies his entire philosophy. This secret society was based in the belief that knowledge and a love of it is not bound by the boundaries of nations. It was made up entirely of benders, warriors, and scholars from around the four nations. Their other mission was also to protect and serve the avatar whenever possible.
Iroh, King Bumi, Jeong Jeong, Pakku, and Piandao were all members of this organization. In the climactic battle of the Hundred Year War, these five battle against the forces of Firelord Ozai in order to overthrow his fascist reign. Their combined knowledge and strength made them a powerful ally for Team Avatar.
6 How He Got His Title
Uncle Iroh held quite the reputation around the fire nation, let alone the world as a whole. His stature as a military leader and bender was his primary claim to fame. Anyone who came across Iroh knew him from quite the impressive title: The Dragon of The West. The story behind this title is even more fascinating than then name itself.
Many claimed that Iroh was named The Dragon of the West for his unique ability to literally breathe fire. This bending technique is impressive, but not the real story. Iroh claimed that he gained the title from slaying the last living dragon. In reality, he studied under them. These dragons, named Ran and Shaw were considered the first fire benders. In return for their secrecy, they taught Iroh their secrets.
5 The Siege of Ba Sing Se
For all of his peacefulness, Iroh was still a renowned general and imperial strategist. Coming from a long line of military minds, Iroh’s prowess was unmatched. Surprisingly, Iroh’s greatest achievement was also his biggest failure: The Siege of Ba Sing Se.
As a boy, Iroh witnessed a vision of himself conquering the city. His siege of the capital lasted over six hundred days, and in such time he penetrated the outer wall. This was a feat never before accomplished. Sadly, due to a personal tragedy, Iroh fell to grief and failed in fully conquering the Earth Kingdom city.
4 The Loss of Lu Ten
The Siege of Ba Sing Se was to be Iroh’s greatest achievement, second only to being the father to his son Lu Ten. Sadly, neither would last, as Lu Ten fell on the front lines of the siege. This tragedy decimated Iroh, and eventually lead to the defeat and failure of the siege. Iroh fell back in grief and came out far less concerned with honor and glory and more concerned with his place in this world ( and the next).
This loss of a son also heavily influenced his relationship with Prince Zuko. With Zuko’s less than stellar relationship with his own father, Iroh became a surrogate parent. Through loss, the two’s bond became incredibly close.
3 He Was Interim Fire Lord
Iroh was never one to seek the title of fire-lord. The idea of Iroh being an imperial ruler never really fit his peaceful image. That being said, come the end of the Hundred Year War, Iroh momentarily held the title of Firelord and ruled over the fire nation (with anything but an iron fist).
The main reason behind this was due to Zuko searching for his lost mother. Iroh took on the mantle to allow his nephew to go on this search. During his reign, Iroh instituted a national holiday in recognition for his true love: Tea.
2 His Journey To The Spirit World
The spirit world is the most fantastical aspect of the entire Avatar mythos. This parallel world is where magic and spirits reside. In Avatar, Aang travels here often, meeting strange and frightening characters. One of the most knowledgeable about the spirit world is Iroh. It was he who learned under the last dragons and warned about the power of the spirits at the North pole.
Few knew as much about this otherworldly place as Iroh. As such, near the end of his life, Iroh transferred his soul to the spirit world, to reside there for the rest of his days. This was revealed in the sequel series Avatar: The Legend of Korra.
1 He Assisted Avatar Korra
In The Legend of Korra, the new avatar traveled into the spirit world and was reversed back into the form of her childhood self. When lost in the woods, she came across an old friend of her previous incarnation: Uncle Iroh. From this point on, and in later visits, Iroh would remain a constant advisor for Korra in the Spirit World.
Without him, she would have gotten lost, triggered a dangerous reaction from the spirits, or lost control of her powerful emotions which come to life in the Spirit World. Through this connection, he was also able to notify his nephew Zuko that he is still alive and well, even if he’s not in the real world.