- When Azula attempts to lure Iroh and Zuko onto her ship by saying that Ozai regretted banishing Zuko and wanted him back. The utter happiness in Zuko's demeanor at being accepted and loved again is shattered when Azula's guard reveals Zuko was meant to be a prisoner the whole time. The look on his face is heartbreaking.
- This bit of dialogue between Iroh and Zuko the night before, which is yet another reminder that Zuko has thrown away three years of his life chasing after his father's love, and never once realized that what he wanted was right in front of him the whole time:Zuko: Did you listen to Azula? Father's realized how important family really is to him. He cares about me.
Iroh: I care about you!
- Katara trying to explain to Aang why she's afraid of him continuing to try to induce the state,Katara: I'm not saying that the Avatar State doesn't have incredible - and helpful - power. But you have to understand; for the people that love you? Seeing you in that much rage and pain is really scary.
Aang: I'm really glad you told me this. But I still need to do this.
Katara: I don't understand...
Aang: No, you don't. Every day, more and more people die. I'm already a hundred years late. Defeating the Fire Lord is the only way to stop the war. I have to try.
Katara: I can't watch you do this to yourself. I'm not coming tomorrow.
- And then Katara does come tomorrow, to stop General Fong from trying to hurt Aang. Which results in her getting buried alive by the general as a last-ditch effort to trigger Aang's Avatar State. Just watching her crying out in pain and fear as she slowly gets buried, and Aang bargaining desperately for her life tugs at the heartstrings.Aang: [desperately] Stop this! You have to let her go!
Fong: You could save her if you were in the Avatar State!
Aang: [starting to cry] I'm trying... I'm trying!
Katara: [terrified] Aang, I'm sinking!
Fong: I don't see glowing!
[Katara is buried neck deep now]
Katara: [desperate] Please!
Aang: [frantic] You don't need to do this!
Fong: Apparently, I do.
- And then Katara does come tomorrow, to stop General Fong from trying to hurt Aang. Which results in her getting buried alive by the general as a last-ditch effort to trigger Aang's Avatar State. Just watching her crying out in pain and fear as she slowly gets buried, and Aang bargaining desperately for her life tugs at the heartstrings.
The Cave of Two Lovers
- Zuko stealing Song's ostrich horse even after she showed him hospitality and revealed to him how the Fire Nation hurt her. She lets out a tear when she sees him leave.
Return to Omashu
- Azula cruelly forces Ty Lee to give up her life in the circus and join her in fighting the war with her.
- Her chipper attitude afterwards also establishes her status as a Stepford Smiler. She adapts so seamlessly and naturally to Azula's threats that it begs the question, how much did Azula's presence influence her personality?
- Tom-Tom's parents might be Fire Nation nationalist, but they are devastated when their son is missing.
- Katara sees what she thinks is her mother thanks to the Swamp's mysterious powers of illusion. Despite knowing her mother is gone, she clings to this Hope Spot, believing that her mother didn't really die... only to find a tree stump. Having this faint sliver of hope dashed, Katara breaks down crying.
- Sokka seeing Yue's "spirit". Even though he believes that the swamp isn't magical, he was wondering if he really was seeing Yue. To make it worse, "Yue" claims that he didn't protect her. Before he had a chance to counter her statement, she disappeared and you can tell that Sokka is very crestfallen. Even if Yue was a hallucination, it's pretty clear that Sokka blames himself for letting Yue die. He also off-handily mentions that's it's not surprising he saw Yue because he thinks about her all the time. Ow.
- Zuko parts ways with Iroh, after Iroh shows disappointment in him for stealing.
The Blind Bandit
- Toph's confrontation with her parents at the end of her debut episode. As the creators themselves put it, despite Toph's arrogance and toughness, it's kind of sad how she just grew up so lonely. And it's made more tearjerking if you realize that this confrontation is the only time in the entire episode that either of Toph's parents have even spoken to her directly. The glance that Aang, Sokka, and Katara trade with each other just sells it.Aang: I'm sorry, Toph.Toph: I'm sorry too. Goodbye, Aang.
- Pretty much all of it. Especially the Flashback, when you see a young Zuko, worried and panicked, asking where his mother is—to which his father doesn't make any on-screen reply. Just the look on Zuko's heartbroken face. And going back to the present day and seeing Zuko being driven out of town thanklessly after taking care of the thug problem, even by the kid he saved, is a true tearjerker.
- Ursa being forced to abandon Zuko, without Zuko even knowing why.Ursa: Zuko, please, my love, listen to me. Everything I've done, I've done to protect you. Remember this, Zuko. No matter how things may seem to change, never forget who you are.
- The scene with the death of Zuko's cousin, Lu Ten. When Zuko has a flashback to when his mother got the news and we see the look on Ursa's face... that quiet sorrow for a soldier lost in battle is heart breaking. Then Ursa has to tell her kids that their cousin has been killed. Poor Zuko looks shocked, and even Azula looks sad and stands with respect.
- It's a small thing, but when he uses his firebending to defeat the earthbending thug, the music playing is reminiscent of the Fire Nation army's theme, often played to indicate danger. Even if he tries to hide it, Zuko can't get away from his darker side.
- The worst part is when you realize why the villagers turn on him so fast; while they seem initially ungrateful, you then remember that these thugs are only here because the men of the village were off to the war, the war Zuko's own family started. And the family Zuko just saved? Likely lost their firstborn son to the war, and their father to follow. Zuko might have saved their lives this day, but it doesn't come anywhere close to making up for the lost lives and pain the war has caused them. It doesn't help that Zuko picked this moment to reaffirm his birthright as the fire nation prince; to the villagers this stranger is downright proud of the genocidal heritage he has (even though we know, from the flashbacks, that he has different reasons for reaffirming it).
- Zuko yelling at the Gaang to leave after Iroh is shot in the chest by Azula. It should be narm, it should be over the top, but it isn't.
- Just the look on Zuko's face when Iroh first gets hit. The only family member he has left who still loves and supports him, and for all he knew at that moment Iroh could have died, this right after Zuko had insisted on separating and traveling alone. Had Iroh died, he would never have even gotten to say goodbye.
- There's a short flashback with a younger Iroh playing with his son, only for a quick Mood Whiplash to Iroh mourning before his son's grave, in the rain. "My beloved Lu Ten. I will see you again."
- Zuko's Rage Against the Heavens at the end, flying right by what would be narm and into something genuinely heartbreaking. Even the heavens deny him.Zuko: You've always thrown everything you could at me! Well I can take it! And now I can give it back! Go On! Strike me! You've never held back before!
- "I'm sorry, Appa". Toph is forced to let Appa be kidnapped in order to hold up the Library. She was genuinely trying to save Appa while keeping the library up, but not even Toph, the self-proclaimed Greatest Earthbender in the World, could do both, and that about crushes her. It doesn't help that she's inexperienced as a sandbender and can barely see.
- Following the Drama Bomb of the previous episode, Aang absolutely rips into Toph for not saving Appa, even accusing her of wanting Appa to be kidnapped, completely ignoring the fact that, without her efforts, he, Katara, and Sokka would be trapped in the library. Toph - the one character who, canonically, doesn't take crap from ANYONE - just stands there looking hurt.
- This leads to some Fridge Brilliance: Toph revealed in the finale that she's been working on her sandbending. Why? Probably because she never wants to be helpless in the sand and let anything happen to her friends again.
- The last scene, when, after all the suffering he felt after Appa is kidnapped, Aang finds the kidnapper, freaks out and goes into the Avatar State. He seems ready to unleash hell on earth, until Katara calms him down by pulling him out of the air and putting him in a tight embrace. They both start crying.
- The look on Katara's face◊, behind Aang. She was so resigned, that she just instinctively reached out and hugged him. She kept the Gaang together through the desert, wild creatures, Aang's depression, Appa's disappearance, Toph's blindness in sand, Sokka's hallucinations, and they made it out alive, thanks to Katara. And now... this. She's so tired.
- Looking closely at the hug between Katara and Aang shows Aang crying while still being in the avatar state. The pain of losing Appa is so great it moves not only Aang but the 10,000-year-old spirit inside him.
- What makes this especially powerful is that this is the first time in the series Aang has any control over the Avatar State. "TELL ME WHERE APPA IS!" is him keeping control, and the only time he speaks in the Avatar State with his own voice before totally losing it.
- After Katara starts to calm Aang down, the scene cuts to Sokka and Toph. They go from bracing themselves against Aang's attack to giving looks of sad defeat, knowing that there's nothing they can do to help reduce their friend's pain.
The Serpent's Pass
- Sokka's protectiveness over Suki. It's Played for Laughs until Sokka admits he's still haunted by failing to save Yue and is terrified of losing Suki as well. Then when he and Suki almost kiss, he pulls away, seemingly scared of getting close to someone again or still feeling too guilty over Yue.
- Aang spending most of the episode in Heroic Safe Mode not only acting indifferent to cover up his depression over Appa's disappearance, but being emotionally distant towards his friends, even Katara, is quite disheartening, considering how happy-go-lucky and welcoming to others he normally is. It's still very easy to see how seriously affected by the ordeal he is, and seeing him go through such a state can even be enough to make you feel the same pain he's going through.
- Similarly, Katara continuously tries in vain to snap him out of it, and is unsuccessful every time. It peaks when she gives him the pep talk about being hopeful and the importance of caring, and even that gets turned down. Knowing Aang is in a state that not even Katara, the one who easily has the strongest and closest bond with him apart from Appa, can get him out of is definitely saying a lot, and it gets a lot more emotionally intense when you hear just how scared and worried for him Mae Whitman is making Katara sound.
The Tales of Ba Sing Se
- Iroh's story, period. It starts off as lighthearted (he plays with some children and gets a mugger to turn his life around), then hits you with Mood Whiplash when he makes a memorial to his deceased son's birthday, and bursts into tears while singing, ending with a dedication to Iroh's voice actor Mako, who died shortly before the episode aired.
- It's even more tearjerking because Iroh, the one who's usually able to stay cheerful no matter what, starts singing "Leaves from the Vine," the same song that he used to comfort the boy earlier in the episode, and starts sobbing about halfway through with his voice hitching and body shaking as he goes through the lyrics, and you realize that the song was for Iroh's son, who died in the very war Iroh's trying to stop (and in the same place, no less). And then the dedication to Mako... It's overwhelming.
- The three people he helps over the course of the day are basically the three stages of his son's life: A young child confused and sad, a group of rambunctious but harmless pre-teens/teenagers getting into trouble, and a young adult who is desperate and in need of someone to believe in him. All the help Iroh gave to them could either have been what he did for his son... or didn't... or couldn't...
- In his encounter with the earthbending kids, he tells them that "It is usually best to admit mistakes when they occur, and to seek to restore honor" when they break a window, but then tells them to just run when a big intimidating man threatens to beat them up, their honor not worth the danger they just incurred. One suspects that this was a harsh lesson Iroh had to learn himself, as if he had retreated from Ba Sing Se before the danger of the war outweighed the honor he wanted to bring to his family and his nation, his own son might not have perished.
- The writing on the top of Lu-ten's picture can be roughly translated as: "To General Iroh, see you after we win the war. Your loyal son Lu-ten."
- Iroh's been through a lot by this point: his ship was destroyed twice at the end of season one, and then he ran away from Azula at the beginning of season 2 with literally nothing but the clothes on his back. He's carried that picture with him through all of that, and he finally felt comfortable enough in Ba Sing Se to stick it in a frame. And then, it's probably destroyed or lost when he's imprisoned by Azula and Zuko at the end of Season 2.
- It's even more saddening since most of the other Tales of Ba Sing Se shorts (bar Momo's, mentioned below) are rather funny and/or cute, and then they hit us with Iroh's...
- "Leaves from the Vine". Listen to that song once and you will be bawling at the end.
- Also "The Tale of Momo", his absolute forlorn expression as he tries to search for Appa is just heartbreaking. Momo, the cute little comic relief pet, is shown having dreams, flashbacks, and compassion for other creatures, all within a few heartbreaking minutes. Possibly the most heart-breaking moment of all is when poor Momo curls up to try to sleep in a hole in the ground...And the camera pans out to show that said hole is in fact Appa's pawprint.
Appa's Lost Days
- The whole episode, where we see what poor Appa had to go through. Especially the dream sequence, when we get to see how Aang and Appa met. "I guess we'll always be together. Always..." Or the fact that when he sees Suki again, he is so scared of her that he won't let her approach him for some time.
- Appa is being captured by the Sandbenders, and over his shoulder he sees a giant mushroom cloud of sand. He knows that that's Aang flipping his shit trying to find him, but Appa can't get to him.
- The part where Appa, tired, hungry, still searching for Aang, battered and worn out from all the traveling, lands outside the little cave...and then a raging porcupine-boar comes running out of nowhere and attacks him. The look on Appa's face and the way he's snarling and roaring as he fights this enemy makes it quite clear that he is enraged and exhausted beyond belief. So much so that he spends several days just lying in the den, as though he had finally lost his will to find Aang and was just waiting for the next bad thing to come.
- The whole scene of Appa in the circus. It actually won a Genesis Award for its disturbingly accurate depiction of animal abuse in the circus. And while he's there, Appa sees a boy who reminds him of Aang who helps inspire him to escape. It's either cute, extra heartbreaking, or both.
- Jets flashback to watching his village being ransacked and burned to the ground as a young child. Seeing it makes it a little easier to sympathize with his radical anti-Fire Nation views.
- Jet's death was sad enough, but the way Toph says "he's lying" pushes it straight into tearjerker territory.Jet: Don't worry, Katara. I'll be fine.Toph: (whispers) He's lying.
- Just before the death itself, the line that snaps him out of it: "You're a FREEDOM fighter, Jet!" It's not the trauma of losing his village that pulls out of his brainwashing, but the memories of his friends and what they all believed in together.
- Smeller-Bee and Longshot staying behind to watch over Jet before he dies can also bring out a few tears. This is also the only time we hear Longshot speak when he tells the Gaang to go and adds that "He's our leader." You know something is truly dire when Longshot speaks. Once the Gaang does leave, Smeller-Bee cries over Jet's body as Longshot prepares an arrow in case the Dai Li return. Even until the very end, they were loyal to Jet.
- When Aang was finally reunited with Appa. All the pain that Aang had shown throughout Appa's absence made it so much more meaningful.
- Irohs speech to Zuko. While its all kinds of awesome for Iroh rightfully calling out his nephew for not thinking his plans through, its clear that Iroh fears losing Zuko. He recalls when Zuko captured Aang in the North Pole and was aimlessly wandering in the frozen tundra with no plan of escape. Iroh makes it clear that Zuko would have died if Aangs friends didnt find them; just two episodes ago Iroh was mourning his late sons birthday. He knows the pain of losing a child and he doesnt want to go through that again.
- When Aang opens his air chakra, and is then seen facing all the Air Nomads, who then vanish into smoke and ascend up, while Aang reaches out to them, all the while Guru Pathik is narrating.
- When Aang reaches the seventh, final, chakra: he is asked to give up his "worldly attachments" - that is, his love for Katara. He refuses to give up his love, even for the control he's been looking for the entire season. In the next episode, he goes back on his decision, temporarily leaving Katara to fight off Azula and Zuko alone in order to enter the Avatar State, which fails and results in Azula striking him with lightning.
- The last we see of the Guru, Aang takes off without even a goodbye. Not only does the Guru clearly look dismayed, but that is the last we ever see him.
The Crossroads of Destiny
- Zuko betraying Iroh.
- Even after betraying his uncle, Zuko still manages to retain a level of sympathy, seeming almost in complete shock at what he has just done.
- Aang being backshot with lightning by Azula, falling to the ground below and Katara cradling his dead body in her arms. Remains the single most shocking and sadistically cruel moment in the entire series.
- There is also the look of desolation on Katara's face◊ as she watches Aang fall.
- The last few scenes are heartbreaking: Katara holding Aang's limp body◊. The look of utter hopelessness and sense of failure on Sokka, Toph, and the Earth King's faces◊.The Earth King: The Earth Kingdom... has fallen.
- When Katara uses the spirit water on Aang, and nothing happens for a couple of seconds. Then he wakes up for just a moment, and she gasps and holds him close.