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Recap / Avatar: The Last Airbender "The Great Divide"

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The Gan Jin are on the left, and the Zhang are on the right.

"Harsh words won't solve problems; action will."

The next destination that the gang stumbles into is the Great Divide, the world's largest canyon. Sokka and Katara start bickering, so Aang decides to put his Avatar skills to the test. He successfully solves their minor disputes, but finds his next test to be a tougher one, when the Gan Jin and the Zhang, who have been in a feud for 100 years, need to cross the canyon together. Aang sends Appa across with the sick and elderly of the two tribes. With the help of the earthbender guide of the canyon, he escorts the rest across the vast, dry landscape. The group's incapacity to get along forces Aang to separate it, with Katara leading the Gan Jin and Sokka leading the Zhang. That night, Katara learns that Jin Wei of the Zhang stole a sacred orb from Wei Jin of the Gan Jin as he was carrying it during a ritual, while Sokka is told that Wei Jin was only trying to help and was betrayed by Jin Wei who said that he was trying to steal it. After the group makes it across the Divide, Aang is able to end the feud by telling the tribes that he knew their heroes and that it's all a misunderstanding over a game. The two tribes travel together to the capital city of Ba Sing Se. Only after they're gone does he admit to Katara and Sokka that he lied about the legends.

Tropes in this episode include:

  • Accidental Aesop: In-Universe, the Gan Jin and the Zhang tribes interpret what Aang says as a good reason to Duel to the Death. Aang experiences a Hope Spot, when it seems the two tribes will try to work out their differences and get along, before they try to kill each other. Aang then immediately flip-flops, and says, "I take it back; harsh words aren't so bad."
  • An Aesop: Several; the main one is the page quote, which becomes Arc Words for the episode. Also, if the trained wilderness survival expert and your guide through dangerous terrain tells you not to bring food along because it will attract dangerous predators, listen to him! Another good one is that sometimes it's best to let go of past grudges and move on. The final aesop at the end of the episode is that it is ok, sometimes even good, to lie, if the lie is done with the intention of stopping a destructive conflict. Aang happily admits to lying to the Zhang and Gan Jin about knowing Jin Wei and Wei Jin. Katara approves, while Sokka is shocked and disappointed.
  • Art Shift: The flashbacks seen in the episode differ in art style from one another while keeping the Animesque aesthetic. The flashback told by Gan Jin tribe doesn't differ significantly from the show's usual art style. The backstory of the Zhang tribe meanwhile is animated in a style reminiscent of Dead Leaves (from which it was inspired according to director Giancarlo Volpe). The "backstory" told by Aang at the end is animated in a Super-Deformed style.
  • Barbarian Tribe: The Zhang, what with wearing animal furs and eating food with their hands. This is one of the reasons the Gan Jin tribe hates them so much.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Throughout the episode, Aang is trying to bring peace to the feuding tribes. Due to their constant squabbling, he gets steadily more frustrated with them, to the point where he yells at all of them once he learns that both tribes broke the "no food" rule, which endangered all of them and resulted in their guide getting injured.
  • Big Eater: The Zhang tribe eat voraciously when the food comes out.
  • Big, Stupid Doodoo-Head: To quote Sokka and Katara...
    Sokka: Why don't you ask Ms Know-It-All, Queen of the Twigs?
    Katara: Oh yeah?! Well you're Mr Lazy-Bum, King of the... Tents!
  • Bilingual Bonus: Zhang means dirty in Mandarin, while gan jin means "clean".
  • Bindle Stick: How Aang gets the Canyon Crawler horde to climb the group out of the canyon.
  • Brawn Hilda: The leader of the Zhang tribe is a rough and muscled-looking woman who carries around a BFS.
  • Breather Episode: The tone is fairly humorous, the stakes are rather low, and neither Zuko nor Zhao are around to threaten the heroes. This is especially noticeable as the episode is set between the dark "Jet" and the whammy "The Storm."
  • Contrived Coincidence: Subverted. It would have been a stretch if Aang had been there to witness the real event 100 years ago that led to the myth. Turns out he just made it up.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Aang lying about knowing Jin Wei and Wei Jin. Just because he was alive back when they were, doesn't mean that he actually met them.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The Great Divide refers to both the canyon and the conflict between the tribes.
  • Enemy Mine: During the climax, the Zhang and the Gan Jin bond over fighting a common enemy, the Canyon Crawlers.
  • Filler: To the point where you can skip this episode without having the impression that you have missed one. This is lampshaded in "The Ember Island Players" which has the actors note the Great Divide itself and then move on immediately. This only happens once more in the show, with "The Painted Lady".
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The Zhang and Gan Jin tribes initially start off hating each other, but after working together to get out of the canyon and a good fabricated lie from Aang, they both decide to drop their petty squabbles and move forward as one.
  • Flashback Effects: The Zhang's story is shown in a sketchy, stylized style as opposed to the more dramatic style of the Gan Jin, reflecting their respective natures. Aang's story begins with half of the screen in each style, briefly shows Jin Wei and Wei Jin in the standard Avatar style, then abruptly shifts to a Super-Deformed style with the line, "And they were eight [years old]."
  • Good Samaritan: The Zhang's version of the story tells Wei Jin as being compassionate to Jin Wei, who was supposedly injured before Wei Jin arrived and tried to help him.
  • Hypocrite: Both tribes blame each other for bringing food into the canyon when they also snuck food in.
  • I Know You Know I Know: The Zhang's reasoning for bringing in food, despite being warned that it would attract predators, is that they predict the Gan Jin will bring in food on the suspicion that the Zhang will bring in food. They are correct, and it's implied that the others did the same thing, for the same reason. Essentially, both tribes figured that the other tribe would bring food, and did not want to be the tribe that starved while their rivals ate.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The Canyon Crawlers are a mix between spiders and crocodiles.
  • Motivational Lie: Aang uses his one-hundred year old knowledge to reveal the source of the conflict between the two tribes to get them to make up. Katara and Sokka are impressed that Aang was lucky to have lived that far back, only to be floored when he responds:
    Aang: You could call it luck... or you could call it lying.
    Sokka: What?
    Aang: I made the whole thing up.
    Katara: [amused] You did not. That is so wrong.
  • Motivation on a Stick: Aang's trick to get the crawlers to carry the group out of the valley.
  • No Antagonist: Even the crawlers are more a situational menace than an active force against the heroes.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: The leader of the Zhang notes at the end that they are not so different from the Gan Jin.
  • Old Soldier: The leader of the Gan Jin is visibly old and grey-aired, but he's surprisingly athletic and strong-postured for his age and fully capable of fighting equally in a sword duel with the younger and more visibly bulked Zhang leader.
  • Pelts of the Barbarian: The Zhang dresses in rough animal skins, reflecting their brutish nature compared to the genteel Gan Jin.
  • Plot Parallel: Between Sokka and Katara regarding their stance on the tribes and their war.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: Both the tribes have different reasons for why they have been feuding for so long. The Gan Jin claim that the forefather of their tribe, Jin Wei, was attacked while transporting a sacred orb during their redemption ritual by a thief, Wei Jin, from the Zhang. The Zhang claim that their ancestor, Wei Jin, saw Jin Wei passed out on the ground and was returning the sacred orb to Jin Wei's tribe when they wrongfully imprisoned him for twenty years. Aang goes on to claim that Jin Wei and Wei Jin were actually two twin brothers playing a game, when Wei Jin got a penalty and spent two minutes in the box. In the end, Aang admits that he made his version up to stop the dispute.
  • Riddle for the Ages: There are two different stories as to what caused the divide between the tribes. We're never told what actually occurred, or if either tribe was misinformed. Plus, the story that Aang tells at the end is just him lying, so... The Rise of Kyoshi throws even more fuel on this particular fire, as the Big Bad of that book is a member of the Gan Jin tribe, and when one of his political rivals enlists a member of the Zhang tribe to try and unbalance him, his internal narration notes that a Zhang would never miss a chance to one-up a Ganjinese, despite that story taking place some two or three hundred years before the incident that this episode cites, indicating that the origin of the two tribes' feud really has been lost to time, or that their own record-keeping has been compromised.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Subverted. Aang appeals to this trope when coming up with his Motivational Lie by saying that the two tribes confused a child's game with a redemption ritual.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: The Zhang as the slobs, and the Gan Jin as the snobs. Their names actually reflect this, as zhang means "dirty" in Mandarin, and gan jin means "clean".
  • Take This Job and Shove It: The Canyon Guide quits at the end of the episode. Ironically, there aren't any supervisors that he can say this to, it's coupled with Screw This, I'm Outta Here.
  • Tempting Fate: The guide's proclamation, "We'll be safe now," is followed by his getting attacked by a canyon crawler.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: The Zhang and the Gan Jin don't have much to do with the arching plot of the season.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Aang goes ballistic upon discovering that both tribes were hiding food all along.
  • The World's Expert (on Getting Killed): Downplayed. The skilled earthbending guide is the first to get attacked and injured by the Canyon Crawlers. In fairness, he wasn't paying attention, they came at him from behind in a dust cloud, and they would have never shown up in the first place if the tribes had followed his orders to eat or dispose of all their food.