Zuko is a fictional character in Nickelodeon's animated television series Avatar: The Last Airbender. The character was voiced by Dante Basco and portrayed by Dev Patel in the live-action film adaptation. He has changed from antagonist (Book 1), to anti-hero (Book 2) to protagonist (Book 3) respectively over the course of the series.
In the show, Zuko is the elder child of Fire Lord Ozai and Ursa. Zuko is a skilled Firebender and the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation, a race of people in which some have the ability to create and manipulate fire & lightning. Before the events of the series, he is exiled from the Fire Nation by his father Fire Lord Ozai and sent to capture the Avatar in order to restore his honor and right to the throne. Zuko is accompanied and advised in his search by his uncle, Iroh.
Six years prior to the start of the series, Prince Ozai, Zuko's father, makes a bid for the throne over his elder brother Iroh, due to the latter's having recently lost both his only son and his campaign against the city of Ba Sing Se. Fire Lord Azulon, Iroh and Ozai's father, is furious that Ozai would try to cheat Iroh at such a low point in his life, and orders Ozai to kill his eldest son in order for him to realize the severity of his action. Ozai, considering Zuko a disappointment, was willing to kill Zuko to appease his father. However, in an effort to protect him, Ursa, Zuko's mother, does "terrible, treasonous and treacherous things" that result in Azulon's death, Ozai's ascension to the throne, and her own banishment.
A few years after, Zuko objects to a plan of attack that would have sacrificed many soldiers as bait, whereupon Ozai challenges his son to an Agni Kai for disrespecting him in his own war chamber. Unwilling to fight his father, Zuko begs forgiveness, only to be savagely burned across the left side of his face. Ozai banishes Zuko from the Fire Nation, ordering him not to return until he finds the Avatar, which was thought an impossible quest. After two years of searching on Zuko's part, Aang emerges from suspended animation, and Zuko begins the chase immediately. They encounter each other multiple times throughout the first season, but Zuko fails to capture Aang or Aang escapes. During Zuko's pursuit, another Fire Nation leader named Admiral Zhao also takes up chasing the Avatar. Zhao views Zuko as a failure and a traitor, and ultimately attempts to have him murdered by pirates. Zuko escapes this attempt on his life and stows away on Zhao's ship during his invasion of the Northern Water Tribe, where Aang is learning Waterbending. At the North Pole, Zuko is still unable to capture the avatar while Zhao dies after being seized by an ocean spirit.
The second season opens with Zuko and Iroh still chasing the Avatar, only to be confronted by Azula, Zuko's younger sister. They escape and realize they have been branded traitors to the Fire Nation. Now on the run from Azula, Iroh and Zuko travel the Earth Kingdom like ordinary refugees, much to Zuko's frustration. Eventually Zuko splits away from Iroh, feeling he could no longer learn from his uncle. However, Iroh follows Zuko out of concern, and the two reconnect after Azula injures Iroh. Zuko begins his transformation, no longer driven by hunting the Avatar, and is allowed to begin to establish an identity free of pursuit. Their travels take them to Ba Sing Se, where Zuko follows his uncle's advice and tries to make a new life for himself. Both prosper; but when Azula launches her plan to capture Ba Sing Se, Zuko is faced with the opportunity to return home and chooses to side with his sister. After being betrayed by Zuko, Iroh is thrown in jail, and his nephew begins regretting his choice.
The final season begins with Zuko and Azula's return to the Fire Nation after conquering Ba Sing Se. Both are praised as heroes by the Fire Nation for capturing Ba Sing Se and for killing the Avatar. However, Zuko suspects Aang is still alive, which Azula comes to suspect as well. Zuko begins to visit his uncle often in prison, who evetually tells him that he is the descent of Avatar Roku and it is his destiny to bring balance to the world. Knowing that his father's love is worthless he takes his uncle's advice and begins to plan to train the Avatar firebending. Later at a war meeting, he unintentionally helps Ozai invent a plan by which to burn the Earth Kingdom to ash. After this meeting, he fully resolves to help Aang defeat his father. He confronts his father, places himself firmly on the Avatar's side, and leaves, later to discover that Iroh has escaped from prison. Zuko then finds Aang and his friends and expresses his desire to join their team and teach Aang firebending. Although the team rejects him at first, Aang and company gradually come to accept Zuko, and eventually befriend him. When Zuko's lack of a motive (his previous motive being anger and his need to capture the Avatar) weakens his firebending power, he and Aang travel to discover the long-forgotten source of firebending, ultimately to learn it from their world's last two dragons. Later, Zuko helps Sokka free Suki and Sokka's father, Hakoda, from the Fire Nation's maximum security prison, the Boiling Rock. He also helps Katara find her mother's killer in order to make amends for his betrayal of her in Ba Sing Se.
During the finale, Aang disappears shortly before Sozin's Comet arrives and Zuko is put in charge of finding him. When Zuko is unable to find Aang, he instead finds Iroh, who immediately forgives him for his betrayal. Iroh then tells Zuko that he must face Azula for the crown and that Katara must assist. At the Fire Nation capital, Azula challenges Zuko to single combat. During the duel, Zuko clearly has the advantage due to his remaining calm and Azula's deteriorating sanity. In a desperate attempt, Azula attempts to strike Katara down with lightning. Zuko jumps in front of the lightning, and because of his instinctive move is unable to redirect the energy, and is badly injured. Katara then defeats Azula and heals Zuko. Afterwards, Zuko is crowned Fire Lord. The last time Zuko is seen is in the Jasmine Dragon, in which he is finally happy and at peace with himself. An ending clip shows Zuko asking the wearabouts of his mother which brings into question whether or not his mother is still alive.
As Zuko is a teenager who matures, both mentally and physically, throughout the series, his appearance also changes over time. Zuko is around 17 years old at the beginning of the series. His most prominent feature is a dark red scar over his left eye that extends over his ear, inflicted by his father, Ozai, when Zuko refused to duel him. The scar unintentionally causes people to pity him, as they take it for a war scar inflicted by the Fire Nation. At the end of the series, he has a scar on his lower chest received from a lightning strike. His hair is black, and put up in a traditional Fire Nation hairstyle for royalty at the beginning of the series. However, as the series progresses and Zuko matures, he cuts his hair (a symbol of exile) and grows it out. He has also changed his clothing from his Fire Nation soldier uniform to a more simple red and gold outfit to make himself less conspicuous.
While initially the series' primary antagonist, over time, Zuko has shown that he is a complex young man, motivated to restore his honor and dignity, and not an evil character; he eventually forsakes his past goals and becomes a hero. Zuko's sole motivation for many years was catching Aang, so he could return home with honor as his father had proclaimed. Although, as his quest continues, he begins to doubt whether his father will ever welcome him home. However, his mistakes and struggles lead him to realize his destiny was to oppose his father and join the Avatar to help defeat the Fire Lord.
Zuko's bitterness and his personal circumstances make him believe himself victimized. However, he also believes that his struggles have made him a wiser and stronger human being. He is frequently impatient and arrogant. Both of these qualities vanish after his change of alliance. However, even before this change, the episode "Zuko Alone" shows a softer side of him. After his banishment, his experiences with those less fortunate change his mind, making him a kinder and more tolerant person.
His past mistakes still haunt him. Perhaps due to this, he is very intolerant of his own mistakes, expecting the best of himself and others. He also becomes extremely sad when he does not meet his own expectations or when he feels he has jeopardized his honor (something that he claims is the only thing he has left.) However, after he restores his honor by joining the Avatar, he becomes much happier. Although, he does claim in the Boiling Rock he is "never happy", but he might be joking. His Uncle Iroh felt that Zuko was destined to restore the honor of the Fire Nation as its new Fire Lord, something Zuko took to mean his father would accept him back as crown prince. However, he eventually realizes his father's true character and turns against him to help the Avatar. This shows a desire for peace and for each nation to rule itself, putting him at odds with many members of the Fire Nation. Having earned the trust and friendship of Avatar Aang, Zuko is determined to help lead the Fire Nation and the world into an era of peace and kindness.
He is also shown as loving deeply and honestly (he is a very honest person in general, and as such is often oblivious to the duplicity of others) to certain individuals who earn his trust. These include Iroh, his girlfriend Mai, his mother, and to a slightly less obvious extent, Katara, Aang, Toph, Sokka and Suki. He is deeply protective of those he loves. Although he rarely shows his feelings, he is unusually good at helping and dealing with the issues and problems of others, making him the group's "agony aunt" when he is in a relaxed state of mind.
In “Tales of Ba Sing Se”, Zuko's name was written as 蘇科.
Firebending and special skills
Despite his youth, Zuko is highly skilled in both Firebending and dao broadswords. He is capable of holding his own against fighters and benders more experienced than himself due to his adaptability. Through determination, an ability to adapt, and strength, Zuko refuses to give up during a fight. He has also shown great agility and strength (pushing a grown man backwards with a slight push from his palm, breaking a metal chain with his foot, etc.)
Originally, though powerful, he relies on large brute force attacks that drain him and leave him open to counter-attacks. However, he is usually able to defeat opponents using his superior strength and agility to tire them out. Later, as he gets more confident and efficient due to training from his uncle, he is shown to use more refinement and economy of energy, out-thinking his opponent instead of out-shooting them. For example, in the Season 2 finale, he is proved evenly matched in a duel with Katara, who had long since been a waterbending master. This stalemate only ended when they switched opponents.
Although skilled, whenever Zuko faces his sister Azula in the earlier series, she proves to be the more skilled fighter. She has the ability to generate lightning, a skill very few firebenders are capable of learning. Zuko attempts to learn this skill from his Uncle Iroh, but is unable to generate lightning because of his own inner turmoil. However, Iroh does teach him how to redirect lightning, a technique he created from watching Waterbenders. However, Zuko cannot test this skill as Iroh refuses to throw lightning at his nephew due to the immense risk involved. Zuko does successfully redirect lightning when his own father, Fire Lord Ozai, shoots lightning at him months later.
Zuko later grows from pupil to Master by joining Aang and teaching him how to firebend. Zuko initially has trouble doing so due to losing his drive and motivation (as for years, his sole motivation was hunting the Avatar). After he and Aang go on a quest to discover the true source of firebending, the two encounter the last two known dragons in existence and learn that firebending is more about life and harmony than destruction and rage. Learning the secret of Firebending, Aang and Zuko both display incredible skill, though Zuko is more proficient with more experience.
When Zuko finally faces Azula again in "The Boiling Rock", the two are shown to be evenly matched. During the Agni Kai in the series finale, Zuko is able to hold his own during the entire duel, showing a mastery of offensive and defensive firebending, while Azula slips deeper into madness and fatigue. Zuko gains the upper hand in the intense battle and taunts his sister to use her lightning so that he can redirect it. Azula charges up but at the last second sends the lightning in Katara's direction. Zuko jumps in the way to save her, but isn't able to properly redirect the lightning, and thus sustains a large burn on his chest. He is able to survive the injury, as Katara heals him after the battle.
Zuko has also shown to be highly skilled in the use of the double broadswords, a talent he refined during his time at sea. In "The Blue Spirit" and "Zuko Alone", Zuko succeeds against a number of adversaries with nothing but his sword skill.
Zuko has demonstrated an ability in stealth on multiple occasions, in which he uses his alter-ego, the "Blue Spirit". He was able to infiltrate a Fire Nation fortress, the Northern Water Tribe's city and the Dai Li's base at Lake Laogai without detection. His proficiency at stealth was also utilized during the 3rd-season episode, "The Southern Raiders", in which he and Katara snuck into and out of a Fire Nation command outpost, onto a Fire Nation ship, and then stalked and cornered the former commander of the Southern Raiders in his home village without revealing themselves.
According to Entertainment Weekly, pop singer Jesse McCartney was negotiating to play against type in the role of the Prince Zuko. On February 1, 2009, McCartney was replaced by actor Dev Patel amidst surrounding controversy over casting roles and schedule conflicts.