- This article is about the character in The Last Airbender. For the character in Avatar: The Last Airbender, see Zhao.
|"Do not worry about the moon's power, General Iroh. Because your brother, Fire Lord Ozai, and I have decided it is in our best interests to kill the Moon Spirit."|
|— Zhao to Iroh in The Last Airbender.|
Zhao was a commander of the Fire Nation, and the right-hand-man of Fire Lord Ozai. His goal was to capture the Avatar before Prince Zuko. He led an attack on the Northern Water Tribe and attempted to kill the Moon Spirit, which had guided the waterbenders. The animated Zhao from the original series was decomposed into two separate characters: the main antagonist aspect (Admiral Zhao) was combined with film Ozai, while this film Zhao personifies the younger Zhao who served as a junior Lieutenant under General Shu, and found the hidden library. The film Zhao retained some roles of the animated Zhao, in some cases, jointly shared with the film Ozai, particularly the plan to eliminate the Ocean and Moon Spirits in the Siege of the North.
Commander Zhao spotted Zuko on his ship out in the sea and offered him lunch on his own flagship. When Zuko and Iroh sat with Zhao at the main table, he made a toast that seemingly mocked Zuko in front of his soldiers in the mess hall. Zhao reminded them how Ozai banished his son Zuko and the prince cannot return until he finds the Avatar. Zuko confronted Zhao and told him once his father takes him back, Zhao will bow before him. Zuko stormed out of the mess hall and Iroh followed him.
Later, at the Fire Nation palace, Zhao met with Fire Lord Ozai and delivered the good news regarding the recent raid of 'The Great Library', which most people believed did not exist. Scrolls were found in the library, which were being deciphered as they may contain information about the location of the Moon and Ocean spirits. This information could be used to bring down the Northern Water Tribe. The commander also discussed with the Fire Lord the rumors of the Avatar's return, informing him that his spies reported a boy claiming to be the Avatar. Zhao suggested they set a trap for the Avatar, using the Earth Kingdom people under their control and soldiers hidden in certain location. Fire Lord Ozai noted to Zhao that if Zuko captured the Avatar first, Zuko would effectively become Zhao's superior.
Encounter with the Blue Spirit
When Aang went to Northern Air Temple to contact the Dragon Spirit, he was caught by Fire Nation soldiers that Zhao had hidden in the temple. Aang was hung with chains in a prayer room where he managed to meditate into Spirit World. Aang was subsequently pulled from the Spirit World, being woken up by Zhao. Zhao introduced himself and revealed that he set the trap for the Avatar. Zhao assured Aang that he would not kill him as he would simply be reborn again and the search would continue. Zhao noted that when Aang freed the towns, he only used airbending.
Later that night, Zhao was addressing his soldiers in the temple courtyard, when a blue-masked figure slipped pass his soldiers and freed Aang. Zhao was heading back to the prayer room when he discovered downed soldiers. The soldier who accompanied him quickly ran back to alert the others that the Avatar had escaped and to close the inner gates. Aang entered the temple courtyard with the blue-masked figure, referred by the soldiers as the Blue Spirit, where they engaged many Fire Nation soldiers in combat. When Zhao ordered his soldiers not to kill the Avatar, the Blue Spirit quickly grabbed Aang and threateningly held his sword to the boy's throat. Zhao, with no choice but to let them go, ordered his soldiers to stand down and remain in the courtyard while the Blue Spirit led Aang across the bridge. At the end of the bridge, Zhao ordered an archer to fire and the soldier shot down the Blue Spirit with single arrow. The soldiers quickly rushed across the bridge to capture them but Aang used his airbending to pull in the fog and mask their getaway.
A few days later, Zhao arrived at the Fire Nation palace and was summoned into the throne room. Ozai demanded to know how the Avatar escaped. Zhao blamed Zuko for the incident, accusing him of being incompetent and a traitor, although Zhao had no proof. Skeptical, Ozai asked if Zhao thought Zuko was the person the soldiers were calling the Blue Spirit. After a long pause, Zhao gave an affirmative yes. However, Ozai instructed Zuko not to be harmed and left in his isolation. Despite these orders, Zhao covertly had Zuko's ship booby-trapped. As for the Avatar, Zhao confirmed he was traveling north to master waterbending in the Northern Water Tribe, as he was believed to only have mastery of his birth element, air.
Siege of the North
Weeks passed and Aang had arrived at the North with his friends and had been training with a master. At the Fire Nation palace, Ozai asked Zhao for any news of Zuko's whereabouts but Zhao had none to offer. Ozai noted that the Northern Water Tribe was given their strength by the Moon and Ocean Spirits. In order to defeat them, the commander explained that the spirits needed to be dealt with and informed Ozai that the location of the spirits had been deciphered from the scrolls stolen. Ozai ordered Zhao to eliminate the spirits, take the city, and destroy the Avatar in the process.
On the Fire Nation flagship that was leading the invasion of the Northern Water Tribe fleet, Iroh met with Zhao on the upper deck. Zhao thanked him for accepting his invitation to join him on the historic event. Zhao acknowledged Iroh as a gifted military strategist, though noted his failure in the 100-day siege of Ba Sing Se, where Iroh's son also died. Iroh thanked Zhao for expressing his condolence for Zuko's death in the terrible "accident". Later, Iroh met Zhao in the flagship's war room and advised Zhao that waterbenders get their power from the Moon, so they would get stronger as the day grew to its end. Zhao revealed that during the raid of The Great Library, he found a scroll that revealed the location of the Moon and Ocean spirits. Iroh said he would be honored to meet them, to which Zhao hoped he could provide the honor.
The Fire Nation soldiers were able to penetrate into the courtyard of the besieged city while, back on the flagship, Iroh advised Zhao to pull his men back, or they would be trapped in the city once the Moon empowers the waterbenders. Zhao assured Iroh not to worry as he and Ozai had decided to kill the Moon spirit before that became an issue, much to Iroh's horror. The two later entered the Water Tribe stronghold through a breach, flanked by Fire Nation soldiers. Zhao used the scroll from the Great Library to lead his men and Iroh to where they needed to go.
Zhao and Iroh ended up at the Spirit Oasis, a spiritual place for the Northern Water Tribe. Zhao introduced Iroh to the Moon and Ocean spirits, two glowing fish swimming together in the pond. Zhao scooped the Moon Spirit into his pouch, preparing to kill its vulnerable form. Iroh pleaded with Zhao not to tamper with the Spirit World. At that moment, Katara, Sokka, and Yue burst into the oasis. Iroh warned Zhao to stop as the world would go out of balance with the Moon spirit dead. Declaring the Fire Nation as gods, Zhao overcame his hesitation and stabbed the fish with his dagger. Princess Yue collapsed onto the grass, as if she was the one who was struck. Outside, the moon slowly turned red, casting a sickly crimson glow over the Northern city. The waterbenders also lost the Moon enhanced powers. In a fit of rage, Iroh created large flames from his hands out of nothing, the ability of only the most skilled firebenders, which terrified Zhao and his men, who subsequently retreated.
A death to be remembered
Yue later sacrificed her life force to revive the Moon. Having fallen back, Zhao found himself on a bridge, and he witnessed the Moon revert to its natural glow. He was seemingly in despair of his failure of killing the Moon, when Zuko stepped out from the mist. Zhao, believing the prince to have died in his trap, was in disbelief. Zuko prepared to duel Zhao when Iroh appeared and told him to walk away, explaining that with the Fire Nation soldiers having overrun the city, there was no way Zuko could take the Avatar now, adding that fighting Zhao would only lead to the prince being captured instead, allowing Zhao a scapegoat should the siege fail. As Zuko turned away, an enraged Zhao bent a large double-spiral fire attack at the pair. Iroh harmlessly redirected the flames to the sides, shielding himself and Zuko, and the two left Zhao standing alone on the bridge.
Unfortunately for the commander, the flames had attracted the attention of four waterbenders, who now blocked Zhao's path off the bridge. Outnumbered,and with no way of escaping or chance of defeating them, especially with the return of the Moon's power, Zhao, Refusing to surrender, provoked the waterbenders by launching a fireball that barely skimmed the group. He subsequently took off his cloak and waited to be finished off, with his attackers launching four large streams of water from the river below, engulfing him in a water sphere and drowning him.
The characterization for the animated Zhao is more closely depicted with the film Ozai than with this film Zhao, e.g., cocky and ambitious, rather than sinister and devious. The film contains many scenes between him and Fire Lord Ozai, a relationship not illustrated in the cartoon. Most notably, Ozai and Zhao both decided it was in their best interest to kill the Ocean and Moon Spirits, rather than forming the plan independently. While the animated Zhao relished his supposed destiny to kill spirits, Ozai acknowledged their shared destiny to have found the information on the Ocean and Moon, and ordered Zhao to eliminate them. Zhao also showed more hesitation and conflict when he was about to kill the Moon, making him a slightly more sympathetic character while transferring his more villainous characteristics to Ozai.
The film Zhao is played by Aasif Mandvi in The Last Airbender. When Mandvi was cast as Zhao, he referred to Shyamalan saying, "I don't want Zhao to just be this sort of caricature of an evil villain that [you see] in a lot of movies. I want the guy to have a real intelligence and a real point of view, that you may fundamentally disagree with.", especially since the casting received lots of flak because Mandvi is more of a comedic actor.
- Unlike the animated Zhao, the film Zhao has no sideburns. However, the film Ozai had more prominent sideburns, which animated Ozai also does not have. The film Zhao also does not have a topknot like any Fire Nation member in the movie.
- In the animated show, the library was found by the animated Zhao years before the siege, when he was a junior Lieutenant serving under General Shu in the Earth Kingdom. In the movie, it was found months before the siege by this younger film Zhao, who presented his findings to the film Ozai. The animated Zhao also was never shown to speak to Fire Lord Ozai on any matter, though Fire Lord Ozai did in fact personally send a letter to Zhao to promote him to Admiral in the animated series.
- While the animated Zhao considered the elimination of the Ocean and Moon Spirits as his destiny, the film Ozai considered it as a shared destiny with this film Zhao: "It is destiny that we have found this information, Zhao".
- During the Siege of the North in the film, Zhao told Iroh not to worry about the Moon Spirit's power because "Your brother, Fire Lord Ozai, and I have decided it's in our best interest to kill the Moon Spirit." This may be a nod to the animated Zhao character being split, as it may be more accurate to say "Fire Lord Ozai ordered me to kill the Moon Spirit."
- Zhao did not possess the sinister and power-hungry personality like in the animated series, but his intentions of capturing the Avatar before Zuko and killing the Moon Spirit remains the same. With the film Ozai already personifying a "menacing" villain aspect of animated Admiral Zhao, to have this film Zhao with a similar personification just "young and cocky" may be result in a "Zhao-clone" or a Mini-Me. As such, turning this film Zhao into an "irritating" villain may serve to contrast (or foil) the two characters.
- Although he was a master firebender in the cartoon, the movie version only displays his firebending only right before his eventual demise.
- Zhao is part of Wave 2 in Avatar: The Last Airbender Toyline. Zhao's title seen on toy boxes is General Zhao even though he is a Commander (he was not promoted to Admiral in the movie).
- Zhao was never promoted to Admiral like in the animated series, as his Commander rank in the movie is the highest he could possibly attain in the navy. The film Ozai was very much involved in military affairs, with Naval Commanders and Army Generals reporting directly to him, bypassing the need for Naval Admirals or Army Marshals.
- Aasif Mandvi made arrangements with Jon Stewart to be a villain in this film, while maintaining his role as a comedian and regular correspondent to The Daily Show.
- Kaufman, Dan (2010-06-02). Mandvi on Fire — An Exclusive Interview with Aasif Mandvi from M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender. It's All Geek To Me. Retrieved on May 5, 2012.
- Todd Gilchrist (2011-11-02). Aasif Mandvi talks about acting, comedy and Middle Eastern Corresponding. IFC. Retrieved on November 2, 2011.