Aang and Korra had crazy adventures throughout Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, but the stage for the world they lived in was set long before their own adventures. Avatar has a deep history with multiple players set in motion, leading up to the cataclysmic events of the Hundred Years War, conflict in the Spirit World, and many other problems that Aang and Korra had to deal with many years later.
Before Aang was born, countless other Avatars molded the shape of the world, especially the most recent Avatars before Aang - Roku, Kyoshi, Kuruk, and Yangchen - as well as the first Avatar, Wan. Their accomplishments are often obscure, but no less important in the grand scheme of the world, often leaving a legacy that continued to affect Aang and Korra. The Avatar was not the only one influenced by a crazy past, however. The course of Zuko's entire life was influenced by previous Fire Lords like Sozin and Azulon, the scheming of his father Ozai, and the tragic story of his mother Ursa. Iroh, too, had a winding and illustrious past that often influenced Zuko's path. Aang and his friends met various other masters along the way, all of whom had a wild history long before Aang came across them.
With that said, here are the 20 Wildest Things That Happened Before Avatar: The Last Airbender.
20 Fire Lord Sozin used Sozin's comet to wipe out the Air Nomads
The entire Avatar: The Last Airbender series deals with the tragic consequences wrought by the actions of Fire Lord Sozin. At a time when the Fire Nation was wealthy and prosperous, he decided the bounds of his nation were not enough. He wanted the Fire Nation to run the rest of the world. Although he framed his conquest in benevolent terms, the true nature of his plans unfolded under Sozin's Comet.
With his firebending army at its strongest due to the comet, he launched an attack upon the Air Nomads and wiped out almost the entire population. After that devastating first attack, Sozin began the Hundred Years War in earnest by launching attacks on all nations and hunting down the last of the airbenders in hopes of destroying the Avatar for good.
19 Avatar Kyoshi created Kyoshi Island during her battle with Chin the Conqueror
Avatar Kyoshi was a force to be reckoned with. She was one of the most ruthless Avatars, lacking the mercy and trepidation of Aang, and her commitment to justice made her a formidable foe when Chin the Conqueror tried to take over her peninsula.
The warlord Chin had already taken over a large swath of the Earth Kingdom before he came to Kyoshi's land. Chin brought his army before Kyoshi and demanded her surrender, but Kyoshi told him she would not back down. When Chin continued, she separated her peninsula from the Earth Kingdom where Chin stood, creating Kyoshi Island. The separation of land caused the earth to crumble under Chin's feet, but he stubbornly remained on the cliff until he fell to his demise in the sea.
18 Iroh abandoned the Siege of Ba Sing Se
Before he was the wise, kind-hearted mentor everyone knows and loves, Iroh was the Dragon of the West, a famous general of the Fire Nation. At the height of his military career, he decided to fulfill an old vision of capturing the great Earth Kingdom capital Ba Sing Se. He attacked Ba Sing Se for six hundred days and even broke through the Outer Wall.
However, before he could complete the siege, he received word that his son Lu Ten lost his life on the front lines. With Lu Ten gone, Iroh lost all desire to capture Ba Sing Se and abandoned his siege. Though the tragedy made Iroh into the lovable figure he later came to be, it also made him a dishonored outcast in the Fire Nation, especially in the eyes of his brother Ozai.
17 Hama created bloodbending in a Fire Nation prison
Hama was a horrifying waterbender whose dark arts were brought on by persecution at the hands of the Fire Nation. When Hama was a young girl, the Fire Nation raided the Southern Water Tribe again and again until she was the only waterbender left. Hama did not last much longer, as she was forced to surrender and taken to a Fire Nation prison.
The prison was designed to keep waterbenders at bay, giving them no chance to use their powers to strike out against their captors. In the absence of other water, Hama realized she could bend the water inside a person's body. When her power peaked during the full moon, she practiced this ability until she became the first master of bloodbending and used it to escape prison and exact her revenge upon the Fire Nation.
16 Koh stole the face of Avatar Kuruk's fiancée
The most memorable figure of Avatar: The Last Airbender's Spirit World was Koh, the face stealer, a creature who haunted the nightmares of many young fans for years. If a person betrays their emotions in the presence of Koh, he steals their face and keeps it for himself.
Long before Aang encountered him, he had dealings with the previous waterbender Avatar, Kuruk. Koh wanted to punish Kuruk for his arrogance, so his abducted Kuruk's fiancée, Ummi, during their wedding. Kuruk traveled to the Spirit World every year to try to save Ummi, but to no avail, as Koh had stolen her face and trapped her in his domain forever. Kuruk could not destroy Koh without also destroying Ummi.
15 Zhao found the Spirit Library
Admiral Zhao was one of Aang's early cataclysmic threats. He destroyed the Moon Spirit and nearly destroyed the Northern Water Tribe, but he figured out his plan to wipe out the waterbenders long before he put his plan into action.
He first found out about the Moon Spirit when he stumbled upon Wan Shi Tong's Spirit Library in the Earth Kingdom, and he searched until he discovered where he could find the Moon and Ocean Spirits in the Northern Water Tribe. Realizing how useful the information in the Spirit Library could be, he burned all information about the Fire Nation in the library, ensuring that Aang would have little information to consult when he found the library years later.
14 Jeong Jeong deserted the Fire Nation army
Jeong Jeong was Aang's first firebending teacher, albeit a reluctant teacher who had seen too much destruction wrought by firebending. Jeong Jeong once taught firebending to Fire Nation soldiers, among them the future Admiral Zhao. Zhao was uninterested in learning how to practice firebending in a disciplined, cautious way and focused only on destroying his enemies. Zhao, along with other soldiers who used his teaching to wage the Hundred Years War, disillusioned Jeong Jeong with the Fire Nation military.
He deserted the Fire Nation and vowed never to teach firebending again. His desertion forced him to wander without a home, constantly pursued by the Fire Nation. He was the first person to defect from the Fire Nation military and survive.
13 Azulon arranged a marriage between Ozai and Avatar Roku's granddaughter
Zuko's mysterious mother finally received a backstory in the graphic novel The Search. Ursa became Fire Nation royalty because of her family, as she was the granddaughter of Avatar Roku. The Fire Sages had told of a powerful line of rulers who would result from uniting the lines of Sozin and Roku, so Fire Lord Azulon set out to make the match between Ursa and his son Ozai.
Ursa had already accepted the proposal of long-time boyfriend Ikem, but she had no choice in her fate once the Fire Lord got involved. She married Ozai and became a princess of the Fire Nation. After their marriage, Ozai informed her that she could never have any connection with her former life, forcing her to say goodbye to her own family and commit to her life as a princess.
12 Wan was banished to the Spirit Wilds
In the time before the Avatar, the future Avatar Wan was a poor thief thrown into the middle of a spiritual conflict by his own bad luck and poor planning. The fire lion turtle had granted him firebending so he could join a hunt in the Spirit Wilds and protect himself from the spirits. He was supposed to return his firebending ability when he failed to complete the hunt, but instead he kept it and used it to raid the palace of the wealthy Chou family in disguise.
However, Wan was caught and his identity was revealed. As his punishment, he was banished to the Spirit Wilds, though the lion turtle allowed him to keep his firebending at his request. Wan wandered the Wilds, meeting danger at every turn, until he managed to befriend the spirits.
11 Aang and Kuzon foiled dragon egg poachers
Before he got trapped in an iceberg for a hundred years, Aang had a life among the Air Nomads and his friends from other nations. At the time, one of his closest friends was a firebender named Kuzon. While the show revealed little about Kuzon except for his existence, Nickelodeon comics described one of Aang's early adventures with Kuzon.
Kuzon took Aang on a search for a dragon. When they finally spotted one, they found the dragon's nest was being raises by dragon egg poachers. To save her egg from the poachers, Kuzon and Aang combined their firebending and airbending to create a flame that looked like dragon's breath, scaring the poachers enough for Aang to save the dragon's egg.
10 Ozai stole the Fire Nation throne from Iroh
It's easy to forget that Iroh, not Ozai, was supposed to become Fire Lord, which would have drastically changed the course of history. Ozai stole the throne from the true crown prince after Iroh abandoned the Siege of Ba Sing Se. Ozai took Iroh's presumed failure and the demise of Iroh's son as his chance to rearrange the line of succession.
He requested his father Azulon revoke Iroh's birthright and install him as heir to the throne, as Iroh no longer had an heir to continue the royal line while Ozai had two children. Azulon refused, but then passed away in mysterious circumstances. Ozai ensured that he was declared Fire Lord, supposedly following Azulon's last wishes. After his tragedy, Iroh had lost any desire for power and let Ozai have the throne without a fight.
9 Avatar Yangchen battled General Old Iron
Avatar Yangchen was a background figure in Avatar: The Last Airbender, with little know about her life or accomplishments beyond the fact that she was the previous airbender Avatar. Only in the graphic novel The Rift did we see Avatar Yangchen in action.
Early in her life as the Avatar, just after she mastered all four elements, she found herself at a shore city where the angry spirit General Old Iroh emerged from the sea, intending to destroy the city. Yangchen battled him and finally learned that he wanted revenge for the demise of Lady Tienhai, a spirit who chose to give up immortality to live among humans. Yangchen promised him she would protect the land where Tienahi lived and preserve Lady Tienhai's memory in exchange for the safety of humanity.
8 Guru Laghima discovered weightlessness and airbender flight
Although Guru Laghima himself never appeared in either series, his accomplishments had far-reaching effects on Avatar Korra's life. Guru Laghima was an ancient airbender who discovered the power of weightlessness, allowing an airbender to fly unaided if they relinquished their earthly attachments.
According to legend, he lived his last forty years without touching the ground. His writing survive for thousands of years, but almost no one believed he had really found the secret to flight. However, the anarchist and newfound airbender Zaheer believed the legend and sought the ability of flight himself. He finally achieved it after the demise of P'Li, his last earthly attachment. Laghima's legacy was powerful enough to live on and cause trouble for Korra millenia after he was gone.
7 Iroh lied about slaying the last of the dragons
Iroh may have been the feared Dragon of the West early in his life, but even then he showed wisdom and mercy uncharacteristic of a Fire Nation general. Fire Lord Sozin had started the tradition of dragon hunting, giving any firebender who could successfully hunt a dragon the honor of being called Dragon.
Iroh sought out the last of the dragons, Ran and Shaw, who lived among the Sun Warriors. Iroh proved himself worthy to the dragons, and they showed him the secrets of firebending. To ensure no one would try to hunt down the last of the dragons, Iroh spread word that he had slayed the last dragons, earning his title Dragon of the West. Iroh single-handedly preserved the dragons and allowed Zuko and Aang to learn from them years later.
6 Oma became one of the first earthbenders and founded Omashu
Occasionally, Avatar gave us a glimpse into the ancient history of the world, such as the origins of Omashu. Long before Aang found the Cave of Two Lovers, Oma and Shu fell in love with each other despite belonging to warring tribes. They were forbidden to see each other, but they found a way to continue meeting in secret.
They learned earthbending from the badgermoles that lived under the mountain. They used their earthbending to create a tunnel under the mountain where they could meet, but then Shu lost his life in the war. Oma unleashed her earthbending upon the villages and declared the war over. She brought the villages together to create a new city, Omashu, in honor of her love for Shu.
5 Ursa made a deal with Ozai to poison Azulon
When Ozai tried to gain the throne for himself, he put Ursa in an impossible situation. When Ozai declared Iroh should not be Fire Lord because he no longer had an heir, Azulon wanted to punish him. He ordered Ozai to take the life of his own son so he would know how Iroh felt.
When Ursa found out, she begged Ozai for Zuko's life, but Ozai intended to go through with it rather than refuse the Fire Lord's order. To spare Zuko's life, Ursa made a deal with Ozai to get Fire Lord Azulon out of the way. She would poison Azulon and ensure Ozai got the throne, but in return she had to leave the palace forever so she could not poison Ozai as well. She disappeared from the palace and from her children's lives.
4 Iroh joined the Order of the White Lotus
At some point in his life, Iroh joined the ancient and secret Order of the White Lotus. The Order of the White Lotus brought together people of every nation, but little is known of its history. It began as a place where masters could come together and challenge each other at Iroh's favorite game, Pai Sho.
Even in Iroh's time, Pai Sho was used as a way to identify who was a member of the order. Iroh ascended to the position of Grand Lotus, evidently a leadership position within the order. At the time the White Lotus was revealed to the world, membership included Iroh, King Bumi of Omashu, Jeong Jeong, Master Pakku of the Northern Water Tribe, and master swordsman Piandao.
3 Kyoshi refused to stop an Earth Kingdom peasant uprising and created the Dai Li
In Kyoshi's time, the Earth King had become a hated figure. His rule prompted a peasant uprising in the Earth Kingdom which threatened to overthrow the Earth King. The peasant destroyed monuments of the rule of the Earth Kings, leading the Earth King to claim they were destroying the heritage and cultural history of the kingdom. The Earth King asked Kyoshi to intervene and stop the uprising, but she refused.
The Earth King tried to arrest Kyoshi for her refusal, but she defeated the king's men easily and threatened the Earth King himself. Under Kyoshi's threat, the Earth King agreed to make concessions to the peasants. In return, Kyoshi trained a special earthbender squad, the Dai Li, to protect the heritage of the Earth Kingdom from destruction.
2 Ursa and Ikem were granted new faces by the Mother of Faces
When Ursa fled the Fire Nation palace, she had nowhere to go. After discovering her parents were gone, she wandered her old town in tears until she encountered a man named Noren who invited her for breakfast. She soon realized Noren knew her identity as the princess and prepared to leave, but Noren revealed he was actually Ikem, Ursa's former fiancée.
As he fled from Ozai's assassins, he met the spirit Mother of Faces, who granted him a new face. Noren suggested Ursa could ask for a new face, as well, so they could finally be together. Ursa agreed and sought out the Mother of Faces. The spirit offered her a face plainer than her own to test how much she wanted a new face. Ursa accepted and lived as Noriko until Zuko discovered her true identity.
1 Wan permanently fused with Raava to create the Avatar
Though many characters brought about dramatic, world-altering events, it was Wan who changed the way the world worked forever after. Wan freed Vaatu from Raava's hold, unleashing his evil upon the world where Raava had previously been able to restrain him. Wan offered to help Raava defeat Vaatu to make up for his mistake. Raava helped Wan gain mastery of all four elements so he could be ready for the Harmonic Convergence, when she would have to face Vaatu again.
When Vaatu tried to face Raava again, Wan stepped in to defend her while she was in a weakened state. Wan realized the only way he could defeat Vaatu was to merge with Raava. In the course of his fight, the merge became permanent, creating the Avatar Spirit that continued for thousands of years.
Are there any other things that happened before Avatar: The Last Airbender? Let us know in the comments!