‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’: Katara’s Sad Backstory Wasn’t the Original Plan for Her Character

Avatar: The Last Airbender is not your average kids’ show.

While many series of this nature cater to a younger audience by bypassing any heavy allegories and mature themes, Avatar doubled down by making it accessible to even the youngest fans. As such, the series remains a fan favorite as its target audience enters adulthood. Still, despite being off the air for 13 years, new information comes out every day about how creators arrived on dark storylines like Katara’s. 

‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’: Who is Katara? 

According to her page on Fandom, Katara is a waterbender from the Southern Water Tribe. Her mother died when she was young, and her father left to go to battle, so Katara was raised by her grandmother in their stead. With her brother, Sokka, by her side, Katara learned to fend for herself as her grandmother did her best in raising her. 

One day, while Katara was out exploring with Sokka, they stumbled upon Aang, the titular Avatar who had been frozen inside an iceberg with his pet bison Appa. Quickly realizing him to be the Avatar, Sokka and Katara followed Aang throughout his journey. The pair grew close, and while Katara was never as powerful as Aang, their love was stronger than either could imagine. 

The pair forged a romantic relationship and eventually had children. Later, when Aang passed away., Katara met another young waterbender named Korra, whose journey was profiled in the sequel series The Legend of Korra. This bookended an event that started from her early days when Katara didn’t have a waterbender to look up to. 

The reasoning behind this, however, is not what one expects. 

Katara’s tragedy

Mae Whitman
Mae Whitman | Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Mental Floss notes that while Katara’s heartbreaking story of losing her parents while coming into her powers hits all the story beats that made the show famous, it was not always meant to be that way. Initially, Katara was supposed to be as powerful as Aang was at airbending. However, after creators realized that only one could be that powerful, they wanted a logical explanation about why Katara was different. 

As such, her parents, who were not bender but may have steered her toward the right people, were written off. This helps explain why she is ahead of most in her bending skills but not quite at the level of her future husband. Creators Mike Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko spoke about this fluid nature of the Avatar universe.

Taking a page from Star Wars, which introduced the bloodborne midichlorians not long before Avatar, bending was meant to be something that people could be taught. Not something inherent to a select few. 

The creators speak out

DiMartino notes that even if Katara’s parents were there, they knew about the potential that a person like Katara could wield. After all, bending seemed to have an aura of chaos around it. He and Konietzko talked about this for AvatarSpirit.net

“Katara’s mom and dad weren’t benders. Maybe it’s a recessive gene. I’ve always seen it as more spiritual connections, though. A little bit mysterious,” he told his co-creator. 

However, Konietzko spoke about how sometimes, the instincts about creating the story let these rules play out, even when the creators may not fully get where they are headed. 

“Sometimes we might not know…it’s more of what we don’t want it to be. We didn’t want it to be like there is a lineage…a royal family or something…and these people can bend, and then there’s everyone else as non-bending, people who never will—some sort of caste system. Mike and I are more attracted to more of the flux-type universe. The only constant is change, variation, that sorta thing. I’m sure it’s a bunch of factors,” he told his friend. 

This constant state of flux that goes through the writers’ room explains the same rules applying to the universe they created. After all, it’s not about connecting every loose end but making each new power fit within the mythos of the universe. This explains Avatar’s powerand tells other creators the correct way to go about creating such a popular universe. 

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