Avatar Kuruk in his various iterations | Agents of Fandom

Who Is the Waterbender Avatar Kuruk in ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’?

Kuruk’s tragedy is a burden he cannot solve.

One of the cooler aspects of Avatar: The Last Airbender is the past lives of the Avatar. Although each contains the same spirit, every Avatar is still unique in their personalities and stories. Aang is joyful and modest, while Kyoshi is stark, harsh, and ruthless. The mystifying nature of each Avatar is slowly explored through novels and extended lore.

In Netflix’s new live-action adaptation Avatar Kuruk (Meegwun Fairbrother) makes an appearance towards the end of the season. Not much is known about the previous Water Tribe Avatar in the original show, leaving some fans to wonder — who is Avatar Kuruk?

The little extended history we know of Avatar Kuruk comes from the Chronicles of the Avatar novels written by F.C. Yee. Kuruk’s story, like many Avatars before him, is wrapped in challenges put forth by his predecessors. He is forced to deal with Yangchen’s broken promises, eventually putting his life at risk. Due to this, his entire Avatarhood is caught up in trying to solve a single problem that results in his young death.

Avatar Kuruk Faced an Impossible Burden

Avatar Kuruk presents himself before Aang in Netflix's live-action adaptation | Agents of Fandom
Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender series provides greater context for Avatar Kuruk. Image Credit: Robert Falconer/Netflix.

Avatar Kuruk entered his Avatarhood in an era of peace, after Yangchen. In his young days, Kuruk held friendships with an airbender named Kelsang who later became Avatar Kyoshi‘s mentor and father figure. One day, when the two were traveling through the Spirit World, Kuruk discovered a spirit who wanted to destroy a small town. When Kuruk reemerged from the Spirit World, he went to fight the spirit. During the fight, Kuruk killed the spirit outright resulting in the loss of his life’s vitality.

Kuruk ended up becoming a bit of an alcoholic, losing some of his friends’ respect. He then went on to discover more spirits keen on hurting humans. In return, he would kill them before they had the chance. The result damaged his spirit with every blow. Kuruk became so obsessed with hunting down dark spirits, that he began to ignore his other duties as the Avatar and as a friend.

Kuruk’s Battles With Dark Spirits Instigate the Avatar’s Downward Spiral

Koh shows Aang the face of Ummi, the betrothed of Avatar Kuruk. | Agents of Fandom
Stealing Avatar Kuruk’s betrothed earns Koh the Face Stealer a spot on the Avatar’s all-time naughty list. Image Credit: Nickelodeon.

One day Kuruk learned that one of his close friends Hei-Ran, the mother of Kyoshi’s girlfriend Rangi, had her wedding and he missed the ceremony. Deep down, the Avatar had true romantic feelings for Hei-Ran and this sent him towards a downward spiral of depression. To distract himself from reality, Kuruk channeled all his focus into discovering how these dark spirits were making their way to the human world. The result ended up being Father Glowworm, an ancient spirit that can create tunnels to the physical world.

The two engaged in a massive battle; while Kuruk never killed Father Glowworm, the damage to both the Human and Spirit worlds was done. The Avatar and the spirit would never fully recover from the fight. Later, he would go on to meet and become engaged to a woman named Ummi. Unfortunately, the marriage never happened.

On the night of the marriage, Ummi was pulled into an oasis by a spirit — Koh the Face Stealer. In an act of revenge and punishment for his actions, Koh took the face of his betrothed and sent the Avatar into his final rage. Online comic and gaming experience, Escape the Spirit World, reveals that Kuruk attempted to save his fiancée every year on the day of their wedding until he eventually succumbed to his spiritual injuries, at the young age of 33.

Is Kuruk’s Early Death Avatar Yangchen’s Fault?

Aang and Gyatso stand before the shrine of Avatar Yangchen in Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender series | Agents of Fandom
The Air Nomads’ shrine to Yangchen celebrates an Avatar with a questionable history. Image Credit: Netflix.

In universe, Avatar Yangchen is one of the most revered Avatars in history to the humans of the world. She came to the defense of nearly every person against a spiritual threat, whether they deserved it or not. In the end, this resulted in Yangchen making deals between humans and spirits — even if she knew the humans would not hold up their end of the bargain.

The short-term gain of Avatar Yangchen’s actions kickstarted the spirits’ will to lash out at the humans. When she passed, Kuruk was born into a world where spirits loathed humans and resented the Avatar. Could Kuruk have approached the situation more diplomatically, without resorting to violence? It’s possible, but every Avatar is unique. Even though they share the same spirit, each reincarnation is their own person who handles their matters in a way that reflects the times.

It’s Common for Avatars To Leave Problems for Their Predecessors

Every Avatar before Korra is lined up in an epic sequence in Legends of Korra. | Agents of Fandom
Each Avatar carries their own burdens, often given to them by their predecessors. Image Credit: Nickelodeon.

Like many Avatars before him, Kuruk was burdened with a nearly impossible task caused by his predecessors. Yangchen was brought into a world where trade deals, assisted by the Avatar, led to corruption between territories. Kyoshi created a task force dedicated to stopping corruption that ultimately became the infamous Dai Li.

Aang was faced with the fallout of Roku’s indecisiveness, resulting in the loss of an entire race of benders. Most recently, Korra was left with the mess of Republic City — a dream “utopia” created by Aang and Zuko where benders and non-benders could live in harmony together.

All of these Avatars stem from Avatar Wan’s original sin of splitting Raava, the spirit of light, from Vaatu, the spirit of darkness. It is a reflection of the real world, in many ways. The younger generation deals with the repercussions caused by their predecessors. In return, that newer generation may accidentally create problems for their successors going forward. Much like the Avatar itself, it really is a never-ending cycle.

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