I haven’t actually seen the LOK list, so I don’t know if we’re gonna have the same definition of “heartbending”. But for me it means scenes with a clear romantic undertone that really pull at the heartstrings. ATLA has plenty of worthy moments…
#5 — I Love Zuko More Than I Fear You
Apathetic, aloof and acerbic. Words easily ascribed to Mai and rather integral to her character. Yet if there was ever one thing certain about her, it was her devotion to Zuko. This scene is so powerful not only because it is the first time we ever see someone truly stand up to Azula and challenge her world view, but also because Mai is willing to die here. She knows she can’t beat Azula in a one on one fight. Yet Mai is willing to sacrifice herself so that Zuko can fight for his destiny. This moment is so powerful and integral to the series precisely because you have apathetic, aloof and acerbic Mai pulling off one the most selfless acts you’ll ever witness.
#4 — You Saved Me
It’s beyond undeniable that Katara and Aang love each other as much as two people can. The pure relief and ecstasy on her face when she manages to pull him back to the physical world is palpable. Aang was shot by lightning because he tried to give up his love for Katara and perhaps in some strange way this was the universe telling him that it was not the right choice. What makes this moment even more heartbending is in hindsight Katara’s had to watch Aang die twice. Once in the catacombs beneath Ba Sing Se, and again when he was 66. At least this time Katara was able to bring him back.
#3 — Without You All My Plans Are Suddenly Possible
Personally, this is the moment that pulls at my heart strings every single time. There is just something so utterly tragic that Roku was betrayed by his best friend and someone that he showed mercy to not moments before. Roku dies full of regret, the only person by his side is his dragon Fang who refuses to let his master pass alone. They are together in death as they will be for the rest of the Avatar’s lifetimes, but his wife Ta Min looks on in the boat escaping the island not yet realizing that her husband will never come back.
#2 — You’re A Freedom Fighter
Jet had one of the best character arcs in the entire show and it was fitting how it came to an end. He dealt with his personal demons of the guilt and fear that he felt watching his parents die by Fire Nation soldiers. But in his moment of true bravery he’s fatally struck down by Long Feng. Jet makes peace with Katara and gives the Gaang his blessing to escape the catacombs. In his final moments Longshot and Smellerbee are there to comfort him. The family that he helped put together and fight for were with him right to the very end.
#1 — The Moon Spirit Gave Me Life, Maybe I Can Give It Back
Every season finale always needs a moment of pure emotional poignance that affects all events around it. Yue’s sacrifice in the S1 finale meets all those goals and goes far beyond. She shows remarkable composure and dignity in fulfilling her destiny. Her sacrifice saves not only her people but the balance of the entire world. But she is there every night for Sokka as a reminder of the love that he wasn’t able to save. Unlike Yue who had to let go to fulfill her path in life, Sokka would never have been able to truly move on. He makes sure her bravery is never forgotten though — Yue Bay in Republic City a perfect token of the world she helped make possible.
Sokka channelling his inner Kataang shipper.
Aang: Yeah, I’m mastering every element. How hard could manners be?
Rock, Paper, Scissors — Avatar style!