Of the many tales in Avatar: The Last Airbender, none is as heart-wrenching as Iroh’s son, Lu Ten.
Prince Lu Ten was the son of General Iroh, the nephew of Ozai and Ursa; the cousin of Zuko and Azula, the grandson of Azulon, the great-grandson of Sozin; and second in line to the Fire Nation throne. While serving his nation in combat as a soldier in the Fire Army, he was killed during his father’s famous six-hundred-day Siege of Ba Sing Se.
The death of Iroh’s Son had a traumatic impact upon his father, causing him to abandon the siege, ultimately providing an opportunity for Ozai to usurp the birthright of Fire Lord from his brother.
History of Iroh’s Son: Lu Ten
The Dragon of The West and Iroh’s Son had a strong relationship during Lu Ten’s childhood, which remained during adulthood. Lu Ten also enjoyed visiting Ember Island with the rest of the royal family.
At some point, Iroh’s Son became a soldier in the Fire Nation military, serving under his father’s command. Despite this, they remained jovial and informal in each other’s presence even when on duty.
Lu Ten lost his life in combat against the Earth Kingdom, just five years before the end of the Hundred Year War during the Siege of Ba Sing Se. He was mortally wounded around the same time that Iroh breached the city’s Outer Wall, although his father only later learned of his son’s situation. By the time he was informed, Lu Ten was dead.
Legacy Of Iroh’s Son
Iroh was so heartbroken by his son’s death that he abandoned the city’s siege, claiming that he and his men were exhausted from the extensive time away from home. However, when his brother, Prince Ozai, learned of Lu Ten’s death and Iroh’s subsequent actions, he petitioned their father; Fire Lord Azulon; to appoint him as heir to the throne; claiming that Lu Ten’s death meant that the royal bloodline would end with Iroh; since he had no other heir.
Azulon was enraged at such a request and saw fit to have Ozai’s firstborn, Prince Zuko, killed as punishment, but because of his mysterious death soon after, Ozai was able to take the throne. Although Iroh was the elder brother, he did not challenge Ozai’s claim, as he was too devastated by the death of both Lu Ten and Azulon. Moreover, he had lost his desire for power.
Iroh eventually managed to access the Spirit World, where he searched for Lu Ten, to no avail. Overall, the loss of his son and the experiences during his travels had a profound effect upon Iroh, whose personality shifted more toward a calm acceptance of life rather than continuing to participate in the Fire Nation’s war efforts.
The Death of Iroh’s Son Was Pivotal To The Story In The Last Airbender
The course of history in Avatar: The Last Airbender might have been different; if it wasn’t for the death of Uncle Iroh’s son, Prince Lu Ten. Throughout the series, Iroh acted as a wise and calming father figure to the angry exiled Prince Zuko, providing the positive influence that eventually led Zuko down a path of redemption. But Iroh wasn’t always the kindly older man that fans know from the series.
The Avatar season 2 episode “Zuko Alone” was key in revealing the story of how Iroh lost his son, and in turn, lost all interest in ruling as Fire Lord. Known as “The Dragon of the West,” Iroh led the famous 600-day Siege of Ba Sing Se, the Earth Kingdom’s nigh-impenetrable walled city.
During the siege, Iroh cultivated a great deal of admiration for Ba Sing Se; and later returned there under more peaceful circumstances. However, Ba Sing Se isn’t just important to Iroh because of its impressive defenses. It’s also the place where he lost his only son.
Prince Lu Ten was a soldier in the Fire Nation army and died in the Hundred Year War; during the Siege of Ba Sing Se – though not necessarily in that particular campaign. A letter from Lu Ten to his father reads, “See you after we win the war,” implying that Lu Ten may actually have died fighting elsewhere in the Earth Kingdom, far away from his father. Unlike Ozai and Zuko, Iroh and Lu Ten were extremely close, and Iroh loved his son very deeply.
The death of Lu Ten killed Iroh’s appetite for war. He ended the siege and returned home to the Fire Nation with his exhausted army. Iroh’s father, Fire Lord Azulon, had also been killed, secretly poisoned by Zuko’s mother, Ursa, in a bargain for Zuko’s life.
Despite being the younger of the two brothers, Ozai had ascended to the throne of the Fire Nation, claiming that it had been Azulon’s final wish. Under other circumstances, Iroh might have challenged this claim; but in the wake of Lu Ten’s death, he had no interest in ruling.
How Things Would Have Been If Lu Ten Did Not Die
Had Iroh’s Son lived, things would have played out very differently in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Though Iroh was more enthusiastic about war before he lost his son; (in a letter to his family, he joked that they might not be able to see Ba Sing Se; if he burned it to the ground); he wasn’t anywhere close to being as evil as his brother.
In a flashback, a young Azula disgustedly refers to her uncle as “his royal tea-loving kooky-ness,”; and other snapshots from the past show Uncle Iroh being affectionate; towards his son and sending gifts to his niece and nephew. It’s hard to picture Fire Lord Iroh carrying out Ozai’s plan of using Sozin’s Comet to destroy the Earth Kingdom.
Though it happened years before the series begins, the death of Iroh’s Son is one of the great tragedies of Avatar: The Last Airbender. In the season 2 episode “Tales of Ba Sing Se,”; Iroh offers help, comfort, and guidance to several boys and young men around the city; before arriving at his son’s grave to celebrate Lu Ten’s birthday.
The lullaby he sings, “Leaves from the Vine,” is particularly heartbreaking; because it reveals that from a young age, Iroh referred to his son as “little soldier boy,”; unwittingly setting him down the path that would eventually lead to his death.
Lu Ten’s Death Was A Bittersweet Event
Still, if the death of Iroh’s Son was a dark turning point for the Fire Nation, it was also the tragedy that made Iroh a better man – and Zuko as well. Before his nephew went hunting down the Avatar during the Siege of the North, Iroh told him that he had thought of Zuko as his own ever since Lu Ten’s death. And thanks to Iroh’s tempering influence, Zuko eventually became a far wiser and more noble Fire Lord than his father ever was.
Trivia on Iroh’s Son
- Iroh’s Son was first mentioned during the Siege of the North; when Iroh informed Zuko that after Lu Ten’s death, he began treating Zuko like his own son.
- He was mentioned by name for the first time by Ursa in a flashback during “Zuko Alone”.
- A younger Lu Ten was seen in “Bitter Work”; and a picture of an older Lu Ten was displayed at Iroh’s altar for him; during “Tales of Ba Sing Se”.
- Zuko had a flashback showing himself, Iroh, and a young Iroh’s Son during “The Beach”. He is pictured as an adult soldier in Avatar: The Last Airbender: Legacy of the Fire Nation.
- The Avatar Extras bonus commentary for “The Tales of Ba Sing Se” misspelled Lu Ten’s name; spelling it as Lu Tin.
- The words in the top left of Lu Ten’s portrait can be roughly translated as; “General Iroh, I will see you again when victory is obtained. Your loyal son, Lu Ten”