The relationship between Zuko and Iroh is not an uncommon one. But how it blossoms into what it finally became is one that can be termed as fascinating. It’s not unheard of for an uncle to take a great liking to his nephew, but the affection between these two grew exponentially over time. Iroh acted as a father figure, knowingly or unknowingly, to Zuko in all the ways Ozai failed to. So it was a no-brainer for Zuko to feel the fatherly affection he would be known to feel towards Iroh.
Iroh’s Travels with Zuko
Iroh always cared for Zuko. Having witnessed what the boy Zuko went through as a child, he must have felt an even more urgent need to be there for him. This feeling became even more intense after Lu Ten’s death. Iroh began to think of Zuko as his own son and cared for him like a father.
It may have been the delusions of a lonely older man at first. It was not that he didn’t originally love Zuko, but it could have also been his way of coping with Lu Ten’s death. Iroh supported him in every way he could and was a constant mentor to the troubled boy throughout his banishment. He and Zuko had quite the adventure all through their travels, hunting the Avatar.
It originally became an obsession of Zuko to capture the Avatar and regain his honor in his father’s eyes and the nation’s eyes. A self-imposed task of a misguided teenager who felt the only way to win back his father’s love was to capture the Avatar. This was a feat that several others had tried and failed, like Fire Lord Azulon himself, Sozin.
Among the things they did on their travels, asides from Music night on the ship and occasional Pai Sho was Fire bending practice. Iroh became Zuko’s fire-bending teacher by default. He was a general named the Dragon of the West. Of course, it went without saying that he was more than qualified to be the boy’s teacher.
Iroh offered him advice on how to defeat Zhao when the two faced off in an Agni Kai. At the end of the fight, Iroh stopped Zhao from harming Zuko from behind. He declared that his nephew had more honor than the commander despite being in exile.
Iroh made his affection for Zuko known when they traveled toward the Northern Water Tribe. He showed great sadness when he thought Zuko had died. However, he also doted over him like a father would, asking him to be careful and stay hidden. Iroh later confessed his fatherly nature to Zuko by telling him he thought of Zuko.
Despite Zuko’s claims that he would be fine on his quest to capture the Avatar, Iroh still looked genuinely worried. However, Zuko later tells Iroh that he will be fine in a more relaxed voice compared to the impatient one he had earlier in the conversation.
When Zuko and Iroh traveled throughout the Earth Kingdom, they came to rely on each other even more as time went on. Even though Iroh and the young prince had to leave each other for a while, the love between them did not die or dwindle in the slightest. Finally, however, Zuko left him for a short time when he claimed that they no longer had anything to gain by traveling together. So much Iroh’s sadness as his nephew suggested this, he let him go.
As we would later see, when Toph gave Iroh some advice as well, she suggested that Iroh tell Zuko that he also needs him too. This was one of the scenes that suggested that Iroh also needed the relationship between them.
Iroh’s later encounter and talk with Toph helped us realize this. Iroh, during this meeting, according to Toph, Iroh would not stop talking about Zuko. Before he and Zuko reunited, Toph suggested that Iroh tell Zuko that he needed him. This caused Iroh to reflect for a few seconds.
Resuming Zuko’s Fire Bending Lessons
Iroh resumed Zuko’s Fire bending training and taught him how to redirect lightning but would not shoot at Zuko due to the risks. Zuko, infuriated by this and wanting to master this new skill as soon as possible, decided to go to the highest peak he could find and hope lightning would strike him. He screamed at the sky, yelling that it’d always thrown everything it had at him.
Life in Ba Sing Se
Iroh later decided that he and Zuko would be safe from Azula’s reach if they fled to Ba Sing Se as refugees. They contemplated the pros and cons and decided that being refugees or criminals in the Earth Kingdom wasn’t bad.
During their stay in Ba Sing Se, Iroh and Zuko worked together in a tea shop in the city’s Lower Ring, and they lived together in an apartment. Despite Zuko’s obvious disdain for his life as a refugee, Iroh remained patient and constantly encouraged Zuko to look at the positives. For example, he went so far as to encourage Zuko to find a nice “lady friend” and prompted Zuko to go on his date with Jin.
When Zuko learned that Aang was in the city looking for his bison, Iroh encouraged Zuko not to go looking for trouble. He explained that they finally had a life and something good there. The words of a tired older man who wanted to stop running and live in peace, but Zuko would not have it.
When Zuko tried to capture Appa, Iroh stopped him and insisted that he stop letting others control his destiny. He shouted at him, asking if this was a destiny he wanted or one that was chosen for him. Of course, this was him referring to his father. This encouraged Zuko to free Appa instead and abandon his identity as the Blue Spirit, whom he was dressed as during the capture.
The two returned to their apartment after Zuko had freed Appa, but almost immediately after arriving, Zuko collapsed to the floor with a terrible fever. Through his sickness, Iroh was by Zuko’s side day and night to comfort him and care for him, knowing that his spirit would be cleansed due to his better decisions. Zuko started taking on a more positive attitude after he regained his health, and the two were happy to work in their new tea shop in the Upper Ring.
Zuko and Iroh’s relationship was jeopardized during the events that eventually occurred. Azula captured Zuko and asked him to help her conquer the city, which would earn Zuko his father’s respect and possibly restore his honor.
Iroh vehemently insisted that Zuko must do what his heart told him and not give in to another’s demands. This failed when Zuko helped Azula defeat Aang and Katara and conquer Ba Sing Se. Iroh was later captured and was clearly ashamed of Zuko’s actions. Zuko regretted his actions almost immediately.
Zuko visits Iroh in Prison
During his time in the Capital City Prison, Iroh initially refused to speak to Zuko, who called him a crazy old man. Then, in an attempt to calm Zuko’s inner turmoil, he revealed to Zuko his relationship with Avatar Roku and that he could help restore balance to the world.
He explained why good and evil were always in conflict inside of him. Zuko eventually realized this destiny and joined Aang in his fight against the Fire Nation but was too late to reconcile with Iroh, who had fled from prison during the solar eclipse. He originally went to the prison to help him escape but was too late.
Iroh and Zuko finally reunited before the arrival of Sozin’s Comet, with a repentant Zuko begging Iroh for forgiveness. Iroh quickly forgave his nephew, stating that he was never angry with him but was sad that Zuko had lost his way.
Zuko affirmed this but said Iroh helped him find it. Iroh later encouraged Zuko to take his place as Fire Lord, as he was the more suitable heir due to his reputation and what he had learned from his mistakes. He prompted Zuko to ask for help defeating Azula since she would not give up the throne easily. Zuko asked Katara, who accepted the request.
Iroh’s guidance to his nephew gave Zuko the strength needed to defeat Azula and to claim his rightful place as Fire Lord and the desire to restore peace and unity to the divided world.
Iroh and Zuko after the War
Zuko and Iroh were on much better terms when the Hundred Year War was over, and the two were happy to be serving their friend’s tea together in Ba Sing Se after the city’s liberation.
Zuko found himself teetering towards Iroh’s wisdom during the crises he faced during his tenure as Fire Lord. He, however, respected his uncle’s retirement wishes and left him undisturbed. However, Iroh was happy to see Zuko again and helped him recover after the events outside Yu Dao.
Iroh reminded Zuko that despite being Fire Lord, he was still a stubborn boy and needed to remember that he always would have a home with him. Iroh was displeased by Zuko and Aang’s poor reactions toward his innovative tea, considering himself a man ahead of his time.
Iroh continued to help his nephew, including serving as interim Fire Lord and expressed his wish that Zuko would find greater peace by finding his mother. This was when the team and Azula again embarked on another journey to find Zuko and Azula’s mother, Ursa.
Iroh continued to fill this role while Zuko stayed with his mother upon returning to the Fire Nation Capital, taking the Fire Lord’s place at Yu Dao to commemorate the transition of government. In addition, Iroh was again happy to help his nephew during the insurrection of the New Ozai Society, putting himself in personal danger as a decoy.
Iroh and Zuko remained close for the rest of their lives, with Iroh eventually passing from the material world. However, Zuko still showed his love and respect for Iroh, eagerly questioning Korra about speaking with Iroh in the Spirit World. After learning about his uncle’s fate, Zuko reunited with Iroh for the first time in decades. The relationship between them is admirable.