Avatar: The Last Airbender's Unaired Pilot Was Surprisingly Dark

Is this the face of a killer?
Is this the face of a killer?
Image: Nickelodeon

Avatar: The Last Airbender is known for exploring complex morals and emotional situations. However, Nickelodeon has released an unaired pilot that shows a few key differences from the animated series we know and love, and they are pretty dark!

The network held an Avatar: The Last Airbender live stream session on Sunday (as reported by Entertainment Weekly), telling the story of how ATLA came to be. It was narrated by creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, who recently left Netflix’s live-action adaptation due to creative differences with the streaming platform. Included in the live stream (which you can watch here) was the original, unaired pilot—it was previously included on DVDs but hadn’t been made available online.


The animation style and character designs are pretty similar between the unaired pilot and the actual show, but it’s clear some changes were made before it debuted on Nickelodeon. Most of the voice cast is the same—with the exception of its star, Aang, who was originally voiced by Mitchel Musso (Hannah Montana) but got replaced by Zach Tyler Eisen. In addition, Katara’s character was less confident, coming across as more dependent on Aang than she needed to be. She was also called Kya at first but the name was changed to Katara, possibly because of issues connected to the 2003 video game Kya: Dark Lineage.

The unaired pilot also skips all the events of the first episode where Katara and Sokka discover Aang, instead putting them in the middle of their adventure on the run from Dante Basco’s Zuko (though it’s never explained what they’re actually doing). Some creatures and storylines from later episodes make an appearance, including Momo and the serpent from the season two episode, “The Serpent’s Pass.” That’s where Zuko comes in.

During a chase across a vast ocean, Aang and the others manage to escape the attacking serpent but Zuko and his ship end up face-to-face with the creature. We see Zuko prepare to strike, and the next thing you know this happens.

What the hell, dude?
What the hell, dude?
Screenshot: Nickelodeon

You’re not imagining things: That’s the decapitated head of the serpent being carried into the Fire Nation’s camp, tongue flapping, marked with burn marks from Zuko’s fatal attack. Sure, benders can do a hell of a lot of shit and it’s safe to assume there’s collateral damage, but it’s all handled offscreen. Not even Jet’s presumed death was shown because this is a show for kids. I’m guessing test audiences took one look at that flapping tongue and said, “no thank you,” and the show was altered to make any deaths incidental instead of right there in front of your decapitated face. Zuko, how could you?

Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra are currently available to watch on Netflix.


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Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.

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...Not even Jet’s death was shown because this is a show for kids...

Not to be that guy but... this is not a just a show for kids. At the time most shows on TV would use the implied violence trick to show violence but not get flagged by censors or rejected by the network.

Avatar’s themes of trauma, child abuse, warfare, loss, as well as propaganda and indoctrination, are hardly “kid-friendly” themes.

We easily forget that into today’s streaming content world, there is very little censorship of violence in fantasy shows... but in a 2005-2008 America, you would be hard pressed to find a show or movie that wasn’t nc-17 or rated R, and that didn’t use the implied violence trick.