I just binged “The Legend of Korra” on Netflix, which was my first viewing the show since it first aired, and I must say, watching the show back-to-back has given me a much different perspective on it (it also helps that I’m watching it as a 25-year-old as opposed to being a teenager).
With that being said, here are my top 6 “Legend of Korra” villains.
The embodiment of darkness and chaos, Vaatu is evil because he is. He’s my least favorite villain only because he has no clear motivation other than he wants to destroy everything and tip the world out of balance so that chaos rules. We know little about his backstory, other than the fact that he essentially is a god in the Avatar universe.
Still, he is “the biggest, meanest, scariest kite that ever flew”.
I liked Season 4 of “Korra,” but I must admit it last season felt like it was missing a few scenes, particularly with Earth Empire Dictator Kuvira’s backstory and Earth Prince Prince Wu’s transformation into a real leader. For Wu, he seemingly picks up what it means to be a leader in the face of Kuvira’s invasion of Republic City, going so far as to recruit badger moles out of nowhere to evacuate citizens (how they listened to him is still a mystery, and I do think him getting them would have been a powerful transformational scene in which he weighs running away and saving the citizens), and unlike Unulaq, Tarrlok, Amon and Zaheer, we never learn her backstory beyond the fact that she was an orphan and wanted order int he world.
She had a cameo in Season 3, and while we didn’t know much about her then, it is clear that uniting the Earth Kingdom changed her, and it would have made her a more compelling character if we got a few scenes showing what it did to her. It’s clear that coercion and threats of force were the only thing that worked in her three-year uniting tour, and one does not become a ruthless dictator overnight.
True, we do get a flashback scene in which she leaves Su Bifong and Zaofu, but that didn’t necessarily make her the way that she is in Season 4. Three years of war, however, will change anyone.
Tarrlok is one of Season 1’s tragic antagonists, and he rises to power in Republic City as a means to help himself and others, but his past catches up with him when his brother, Noatak, threatens the city under the guise of Amon, leader of the Equalist movement. Tarrlok is only this far down on the list because he isn’t a villain for the entire season he’s in; in fact, for most of Season 1, he’s more of an antihero.
Still, as a villain, Tarrlok is cunning, though he wields the government like a criminal, using it to oppress non-benders and unintentionally giving fuel to Amon’s movement. In the end, Tarrlok hurts himself more than anyone, and ends up ruining his career by pursuing his own brand of justice. Like his brother, Tarrlok’s story has nowhere to go after Season 1, which is why it ends.
I used to really hate Unulaq when his season premiered, but rewatching it, I don’t dislike him as a villain. Unulaq follows a sort of theocracy, wishing to unite the physical world with the spirit world, and indeed, he does have some points, as having spirits be completely sealed off did throw the world into imbalance. His greatest weakness I think is believing in Vaatu, the dark spirit of the Avatar universe, who very clearly just wants to destroy everything.
But aside from his very ambiguous endgame, Unulaq is a very competent villain, staging a coup of the Southern Water Tribe under the guise of helping them get the spirits under control, who have turned violent at the beginning of Season 2.
His coup is so successful that it’s pretty much complete by the time our heroes even know it’s happening. He does make one fatal flaw: He shut down Southern Water Tribe ports important to powerful billionaire entrepreneur Varrick who would later enable Team Avatar by supplying them with key resources they need to escape and fight back. Had Unulaq not interfered with Varrick’s business, it’s possible that Team Avatar would have never gotten out of Southern Water Tribe territory, and his plans would have gone uninterrupted.
Unulaq is cunning, clever, and he almost won. For a brief time, he was the Dark Avatar, having fused with Vaatu, which is probably the most power an Avatar villain has ever possessed, and even though he was stopped, he left an unmistakable mark on the world.
Amon, or Noatak, was a powerful bloodbender who could take away people’s bending and was the head of the Equalist movement in Season 1. Cunning, clever and brutal, he could go toe to toe with almost any bending opponent, and he was always one step ahead of our heroes, until the very end.
Amon has perhaps the most legitimate case for his cause of any Avatar villain: Nonbenders are second class citizens in this world, as they are often at the mercy of benders not only when things get dangerous, but they’re also not as employable and don’t have the same opportunities.
Amon sought to level the playing field by taking away everyone’s bending, but to practically enact this, he needed to invest in technology and special electrical weapons. He even gets billionaire Hiroshi Sato to develop platinum mecha suits that give them an edge over benders. And he wins, a lot.
Had he not been put into direct conflict with his brother, Tarrlok, he might have won, though I think his Equalist movement was not sustainable. While Amon was a brilliant orator and organizer of his underground movement, it is unclear how effective he would govern (I suspect he would be no better than Tarrlok).
Presiding behind a mask for most of his season, Amon was a terrifying villain whose plans often only became apparent when they were close to completion.
Varrick: A minor villain in Season 2 turned into one of the main protagonists for the rest of the show, Varrick is one of the best comic relief characters in the series.
Desna and Eska: Unulaq’s twin children, Desna and Eska were like the equivalent of mini-bosses in Season 2. While Eska’s romance with Bolin has its moments in Season 2, I feel like the showrunners just didn’t know what to do with them once Unualaq was out of the picture.
Lieutenant aka “Mustache Guy”: A minor villain in Season 1, Mustache Guy was a formidable lieutenant in Amon’s movement, and ultimately turns on him when he realizes Amon had been lying to him the whole time.
Hiroshi Sato: A billionaire industrialist, he bankrolls the Equalist movement in Season 1, goes to prison, and then nobly sacrifices himself in Season 4. Hiroshi hates benders and has strong prejudices against them, but it erodes his relationship with his daughter, Asami. His arc is akin to a racist going to prison and learning how harmful those ideas are, and deeply regretting them.
Season 3 of “Korra” is arguably the best one, as it deals with not only the return of Airbenders (random people start to get Airbending after Season 2’s Harmonic Convergence), but also the emergence of the Red Lotus, a criminal offshoot of the White Lotus that wanted to kill all world leaders — including the Avatar — and throw the world into chaos. Their leader, Zaheer, believes that chaos is the natural order of things, and gains Airbending abilities from the convergence, and eventually learns the rare ability of flight.
Zaheer is interesting not only because he almost won, but he managed to cripple Korra for three years. The ironic consequences of his action is that after he killed the Earth Queen in Season 3 and put Korra out of commision, he created the exact conditions that allowed Kuvira to become a brutal dictator in Season 4 — the exact thing he is against.
It is unclear why Zaheer believes anarchy is preferable to order, but I think it is arguable that he regrets his actions in Season 3, given how his actions led to the complete opposite of what he wanted. Zaheer is wise enough to be able to separate himself from his earthly attachments and learn the ability of flight, and the irony of being locked up in a cage after his pursuit of ultimate freedom is probably not lost on him.
Still, he can never be trusted, and we never fully understand why he is the way he is. It’s very clear he could just be a manipulative psychopath who, like Vaatu, wants to create as much chaos as possible, but he’s not stupid. He routinely goes into the spirit world, and is very competent as a bender and leader, and is a master of deception. His most sinister lie is to Korra, when he tells her the Red Lotus wished to train her as a kid when they tried to abduct her years ago when in fact they wanted to kill her in a way that ended the Avatar cycle forever.
Some might interpret this as, back then, the Red Lotus wanted to train her, and things changed when she was an adult. But given the specific preparation of the poison that was supposed to kill her and the lengths the Red Lotus went to restrain her, I think they were planning to do that all along for a very long time, which makes Zaheer one of the most despicable villains in the franchise. He’s so poisoned by his own ideology that he’s willing to kill a child, and there’s also the matter of what they were planning to do with the members of the Air Nation they captured.
Perhaps it was for insurance. Or perhaps he planned on killing them after Korra. What’s frightening about Zaheer is that there’s no way of knowing for sure.
Who are your favorite “Legend of Korra” villains? Feel free to comment them below.