To craft a good villain is hard. To craft a villain who changes and develops into something else is even more difficult. Good character arcs draw in the audience and for a storyline centered around a villain like Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender, that is more than true.
Starting out as a foe for Team Avatar as they raced across the world, Zuko slowly, in one of the series’s best character arcs, evolved from a hated foe into a likable ally. This change came with many great deeds and acts of kindness that allowed Zuko to become a better character and a better person.
While it took Zuko’s true nature a little while for it to fully manifest, there were still traces of it early on in the series, especially in season one. Captured by Admiral Zhao, Aang found himself out of options until a mysterious man in a blue mask saved him.
After a fierce chase, the Blue Spirit is revealed to be Zuko, having saved Aang to spite Zhao. However, Aang notices that despite his seemingly selfish act, the prince has a spark of good inside him, one that needs more time.
After failing to recapture the Avatar, Zuko and Iroh are eventually replaced by Azula on the hunt for Aang and forced to go on the run. Eventually, this led to “Zuko Alone”, one of season two’s best episodes, where he came across a village under the thumb of a militia.
Befriending local farmers and a young boy named Lee, Zuko seems at peace. He teaches and bonds with Lee and appears to want to stay. However, this relationship is soured when Zuko’s real identity is unveiled, forcing him to keep moving.
Despite being exiled and hunted by his own people, Zuko still tried to find a way back into his father’s graces and capture the Avatar. That led Zuko to discover Appa imprisoned by Da-Li agents underneath Lake Lagoi and intended to use Appa as bait.
Yet, confronted by his uncle, Zuko instead frees Appa, allowing him to go save Aang rather than capture him, serving as the biggest seed to sow Zuko’s peaceful nature. Even when Zuko sides with Azula, the “damage” is still done and already working.