If I thought the first two seasons of ATLA were fantastic, then I wasn’t ready for the absolutely mind-blowing experience that was Season 3. The showrunners provided the perfect finale to this epic saga, and I felt like a giddy kid again watching Aang and the Gaang go from triumph to triumph.
In terms of animated TV, I don’t think anything will top Season 3 – or the whole ATLA Series for that matter. It was a ground-breaking piece of children’s television at the time, and its profound impact and powerful storytelling is still felt all these years later. There are some excellent episodes here to close out the story, so how would I rank them all?
You can check out the other 2 Season rankings for ATLA, as well as some other random TV rankings I’ve done below:
16 – The Painted Lady
Season 3 is an amazing piece of television, but it isn’t flawless. There’s a bit of a lull in the story at the start, and it does feel a bit like filler at times.
If I had to pick a least favourite, I’d probably go with “The Painted Lady”, although it was still a good episode. The fight to save the town is a fun one to watch unfold, and I’ll admit I was slightly surprised by the Painted Lady’s reveal (I should probably have seen it coming though).
15 – The Headband
Was I expecting to get an “Aang inspires his rebellious classmates to go against their oppressive and kill-joy overseers and come together for a night of whimsical fun and dance” episode? No … not really, to be perfectly honest.
It’s still a fun episode, but the actual episode concept is a bit too out there for this to rank any higher.
14 – Nightmares and Daydreams
This episode comes right before the epic two-parter “The Day of Black Sun”, and I love how it delves into Aang’s character and how he’s afraid of responsibility and the challenges he has to face. The dream sequences are also very funny, so that’s a bonus.
The only gripe I would have is that it kills the pace of the season – the audience is desperate to know what happens in the upcoming battle, but we have to sit through Aang’s fever dreams first. Still, there’s lots of fun to be had here.
13 – The Runaway
A.K.A the one where the world was introduced to Sparky Sparky Boom Man in all his glory.
I like the flash forward teaser / cold-open, and how it has a fake-out twist betrayal (you don’t get many teasers like that in cartoons, so I thought it was pretty neat). Other than the villain and the fun swindling scenes, there isn’t much else to shout about.
12 – Sokka’s Master
Sokka doesn’t get too much development across most of the series – the story mostly focuses on Aang’s (and Katara’s) mastery of bending, so as far as the action was concerned, Sokka was very much a side character.
It was great to have a Sokka-centric adventure, and we get a valuable insight into his thought process and fighting skills. His surprising intellect and unconventional fighting prowess set him apart from any other warrior, and this episode was his chance to shine.
11 – The Beach
A.K.A The one where ATLA goes anime, also A.K.A the one where everyone gawps over Azula and Ty Lee (calm down, guys, they’re still teenagers after all).
Serving more as a character deep-dive than anything else, this episode provides and nice breather in between the hectic adventures of the rest of the season.
10 – The Western Air Temple
A pretty great episode, but the “Hello, Zuko here!” line made it legendary.
The rest of the episode doesn’t slack off either, and the general conflict within the group upon Zuko’s arrival provides some great tension, and this building mistrust is shattered on the sudden arrival of Sparky Sparky Boom Man. The final battle is lots of fun, and the choice to add Zuko to the group made for a fun dynamic moving onwards.
9 – The Awakening
After the bombshell finale of Season 2, I was desperate to know what would happen next. I was pretty certain Aang was going to survive (I mean, he is the main character after all), but would the rest of the world even know if he had lived?
As it turns out, my suspicions were correct – there’s a big time jump from Season 2, and the whole world now believes the Avatar to be dead, and the kingdom is thrust into despair as the Fire Nation grows in power.
This was a fantastic Season opener that continued the story brilliantly, and I was eager to see where this masterful tale would go.
8 – The Southern Raiders
One of the awesome things about ATLA is watching these characters grow, both as people and as benders / warriors. Katara had one of the most dramatic turnarounds, and after a couple of seasons she had gone from timid Water Tribe inhabitant to fully-fledged Waterbending badass.
That’s why it was so shocking to see her succumb to the corruption of her power, using it for nefarious and immoral purposes. With her newfound Bloodbending, she becomes a truly terrifying anti-hero for this episode. It shows the devastating consequences of the events of “The Puppetmaster”, and how even the best of us can make bad decisions under pressure.
7 – The Firebending Masters
For two and a half seasons, Zuko was hot on Aang’s trail. He was there at every turn, desperate to reclaim his lost honour and prove his worth to his father. After Uncle Iroh starts to talk some sense into him, we finally got an episode where Zuko was forced to cooperate with Aang – and you can see a new friendship blossoming right before your eyes.
It was the bromance I never knew I needed, and the final act with the Dragon Dance displayed some of the greatest visuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing in an animated show.
6 – The Puppetmaster
This episode starts off innocently enough – the Gaang are taken in by a pleasant (albeit, a little creepy) old lady, who warns them of the dangers of the nearby forest. Of course, the Gaang try to save those in danger, but they weren’t prepared for the consequences.
Hama (the old lady) might just be the creepiest antagonist in the entire show – her backstory is both tragic and perverted, and the excuses she weaves for herself are hardly enough to justify the horrors of Bloodbending.
The saddest thing, however, is the effect that this episode has on Katara – the thought of Bloodbending had been implanted into her brain, and she was never going to be the same again.
5 – The Ember Island Players
I’m a sucker for meta humour, and this episode has it in spades. Other than being a concise recap of the events up until this point, this also served up the laughs in unexpected ways.
Bonus points for making “The Great Divide” worth the watch in retrospect.
4 – The Boiling Rock Pt.1 / 2
Only 4th place? Wow, that’s rough buddy.
Strangely enough, this is the only episode I remember watching on TV as a kid, and I can see why it stuck with me over all these years – I’m a sucker for a prison escape, and having the tension and drama spread out over a two-parter was an inspired choice.
There are so many stand-out moments in this one, from the tense imposter guard scenes to the climactic escape. Also, Mai disobeying Azula at the end might be what turns Azula to madness later on, and it’s interesting to see that plot point begin to play out here.
3 – The Avatar and the Fire Lord
The backstory I didn’t realise I needed, it blew my mind how much care and effort went into the lore and worldbuilding of this series – and nowhere is that more apparent than in “The Avatar and the Fire Lord”.
Seeing the life of the previous Avatar, Roku, and how he used to be best friends with Sozin (the man who started this terrible war) had me on the edge of my seat the entire time, and Zuko’s realisation that he was the descendant to both of these men was an awesome plot twist.
2 – The Day of Black Sun Pt. 1 / 2
Was I the only one that was pleasantly surprised by this mid-season epic?
We knew there was a huge fight coming – they had made it pretty clear that it was all leading up to this (even though it was only halfway through the season, but we’ll ignore that), but since it wasn’t the finale I just assumed it was going to be a decent, solid fight scene and nothing more.
What we got was a full-scale war to rival the finale, with so many amazing character moments and battles. My favourite part has to be Zuko’s confrontation with his father, Ozai, and the lightning redirect scene might even be a top 3 moment in the series. One of my favourite episodes, but there was only one other that could top it.
1 – Sozin’s Comet Pt. 1 / 2 / 3 / 4
It’s rare to get a four-parter in any show, let alone a children’s animated show; what’s even rarer is for each of the four parts to be brilliant in their own right, and the final episode is absolutely sensational.
The Sokka airship sequence is fantastic, and the Zuko / Azula Agni Kai might contain some of my favourite visuals in the entire show, but it’s the epic showdown between Aang and Ozai that will stand the test of time and go down as one of the greatest TV fights ever.
I couldn’t have asked for a more fitting and satisfying conclusion, and “Sozin’s Comet” cemented ATLA as one of my favourite TV shows of all time.
Season Rating: A
If Season 2 was the show firing on all fronts, then Season 3 had ATLA dropping bombshell after bombshell, and the creators managed to construct one of the most masterful and beloved seasons of any show ever.
Ratings for this Season:
- 5 A (31%)
- 11 B (69%)
Very solid stuff, and there weren’t any episodes that just fit the bill – each and every story had its place, and all of them were at least good.
- 15 A (28%)
- 31 B (57%)
- 7 C (13%)
- 1 D (2%)
There you have it, I’ve finally rated all of the ATLA episodes. These were some really fun lists to make, and if anything this has made me love this show even more than I already did.
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