Who Is the Ruthless and Mighty Kyoshi in ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’?

There’s more to Avatar Kyoshi than the shows would have you believe.

Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender live-action adaptation brings forth many changes to the beloved animated series. While some are better adapted than others, one of the most exciting elements is the inclusion of extended Avatar lore. In Episode 2, “Warriors,” Aang (Gordon Cormier) enters the Spirit World on Kyoshi Island. There, he meets Avatar Kyoshi (Yvonne Chapman) — the predecessor to Avatar Roku. Longtime fans are familiar with the 7-foot-tall woman, but newcomers to the series may be curious — who is Avatar Kyoshi?

Fortunately, there is canon lore outside the original show. The Chronicles of the Avatar, written by F.C. Yee, is a brilliant series of YA novels in which Yee takes a deep dive into the lives of past Avatars — starting with Kyoshi. While she comes off as sharp, fierce, and intense, the purpose of these novels is to look beyond the Avatar’s initial layer, revealing a character behind the character the reader may not expect.

Kyoshi’s Humble Beginnings in Yokoya

Jianzhu and Kelsang search for the next Avatar, unaware she is directly in front of them | Agents of Fandom
Jianzhu and Kelsang miss out on their opportunity to identify the correct Avatar early on.
Image Credit: Avatar Generations.

Kyoshi began her life as an orphan in the Earth Kingdom city of Yokoya. There, an airbending master, Kelsang, and an Earth Sage, Jianzhu, brought young Kyoshi into their care. The two were searching for the next Avatar, who was to be born in the Earth Kingdom. Kyoshi had a chance to reveal herself as the Avatar during their relic-selection test. However, she grew suspicious of the situation and ran off before she could pick all the appropriate artifacts in front of her. Instead, the two bending masters ended up misidentifying the next Avatar as a boy named Yun.

Kyoshi lived with Yun and his firebending guard Rangi, as a servant at the Avatar’s mansion. Eventually, Kelsang grew suspicious of Yun being the Avatar and focused more on Kyoshi. She was invited to join Yun, Kelsang, and Jianzhu in a negotiation with pirates. Unfortunately, the negotiation was a trap to kill Yun that resulted in Kyoshi unsuspectingly using the Avatar State to save his life.

While Kelsang’s beliefs were seemingly confirmed, Jianzhu took matters into his own hands. He took Yun and Kyoshi to a Spirit, Father Glowworm, to decide who the real Avatar was. After Father Glowworm reveals Kyoshi as the true Avatar, Yun is left to perish. Jianzhu murders Kelsang to withhold the secret of the Avatar’s true identity from the rest of the world. From there, Kyoshi fled on Kelsang’s flying bison Pengpeng deep into the Earth Kingdom with her (at the time) close friend, Rangi.

A Life of Crime For Avatar Kyoshi

A painting of Kyoshi holding her fan | Agents of Fandom
A stunning painted image of Avatar Kyoshi on the cover of the first novel Rise of Kyoshi. Image Credit: Jung Shan Chang.

Kyoshi was hell-bent on revenge. During her travels, she meets a gang called The Flying Opera Company, and they find a teacher named Lao Ge to show her the ways of assassination. She grew closer to her firebending teacher Rangi as the weeks went on, and they eventually became romantic with each other. Kyoshi also gained the trust of the other members of the Flying Opera Company. Kirima gives her tips in waterbending, while Wong and Lek show her how to hone in on her earthbending skills. Lao Ge also reveals he has the key to immortality, a method that Kyoshi would use to live well over 200 years.

On their journeys, Kyoshi and the crew run into other gang heads. Kyoshi, as relentless as she is, eventually kills the leader of one of the gangs by triggering the Avatar State. Unfortunately, the biggest loss during the fallout of the battle is Lek, who dies at the hands of Jianzhu while he kidnaps Rangi. The Avatar then goes after Jianzhu one final time. Just when the battle between the two reaches its climax, Yun suddenly appears, slaughters the Earth Sage, and disappears.

The Return of False Avatar Yun

Yun, the false Avatar, depicted in official art for the first time in beautiful watercolors by Jung Shan Chang | Agents of Fandom
The first official depiction of Yun on the 2023 Avatar: The Last Airbender calendar. Image Credit: Jung Shan Chang.

Kyoshi then fled to the Southern Air Temple, eventually embracing her role as the Avatar. From there she attempted to help situations down in the Fire Nation Islands and reunited with Rangi. Unfortunately, matters became difficult when one of Kyoshi’s predecessors, Avatar Szeto, left an unstable Fire Nation and used Kyoshi as a pawn between two fighting leaders on an island.

Yun then suddenly returns, to make matters trickier and assassinates high-ranking officials like Lu Beifong and escapes. Eventually, Kyoshi and Rangi believe Yun is possessed by a spirit and seek the guidance of the previous Avatar for assistance — Avatar Kuruk. Kuruk reveals that he used to slaughter dark spirits, resulting in his early death, and concludes that Yun is not possessed by a spirit. Instead, Yun could be acting out in vengeance for the role of the Avatar that was “stolen from him.”

Eventually, the two meet in a battle where Kyoshi finally takes his life. The Avatar freezes Yun’s heart and lungs, putting an end to his terror.

Avatar Kyoshi Made Plenty of Mistakes

A stern Kyoshi takes over Aang's physical form, confessing to killing Chin the Conqueror hundreds of years prior. | Agents of Fandom
Avatar Kyoshi confesses to murdering Chin the Conqueror without any remorse. Image Credit: Nickelodeon.

There are no Avatars who are perfect. Even some of the greatest Avatars, like Aang, make mistakes in their lives that affect the next incarnation in the cycle. It all stems from Avatar Wan’s “original sin” of splitting the spirit of light and darkness from each other, eventually resulting in Wan becoming the first Avatar.

However, Kyoshi’s biggest mistake isn’t world-threatening. Instead, it begins as a good idea and then eventually grows into a much bigger problem. Ba Sing Se had been dealing with the Daofei, a gang causing issues in the lower ring of the city. In response, Kyoshi created the “Anti-Corruption Task Force” which pledged to fight this crime and protect the Earth King.

Unfortunately, the “Anti-Corruption Task Force” created the beginnings of what Avatar: The Last Airbender fans know as the corrupt conspiracy organization, the Dai Li (introduced in Season 2 of the original series). What was once used as a positive influence has been flipped and turned into the definition of corruption itself, after Kyoshi’s death.

Avatar Kyoshi’s Life and Legacy Lasted Over 200 Years

Yvonne Chapman featured as Avatar Kyoshi in Netflix's live action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender | Agents of Fandom
Yvonne Chapman brings her own blend of ferocity to the role of Kyoshi in Netflix’s live-action adaptation. Image Credit: Netflix.

Avatar Kyoshi is one of the best Avatars in history. Her legacy of creating Kyoshi Island, keeping the Earth Kingdom at peace, and dealing with the surprise death of Kuruk gave her plenty of challenges. She overcame human and spiritual conflict with the seasoned grace of a true Avatar.

Kyoshi will go down as one of the more ruthless Avatars, especially with how she is portrayed in Netflix’s live-action series. But there is, at least, a reason for it. A young girl, who was thrown to the street and doubted, clawed her way to her destiny. She also embraces her history, learning that her mother was an airbender, and adopts the fans as her go-to weapons. Kyoshi, like the earth beneath her feet, is nothing but resilient.

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