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This article is about the conflict between the Northern and Southern Water Tribes. For other similar uses, see Civil war (disambiguation).

The Water Tribe Civil War, known alternatively as the War of the Water Tribes, was a conflict fought in 171 AG to determine the survival of the Union of the Water Tribes. The conflict began as insurgency of separatist Southern Water Tribe rebels, supported by Varrick Global Industries, rose against the central government which was in turn supported by the Northern Water Tribe and a loyalist Southern minority.[3][4] Even though the support for independence had a long history at the Southern Water Tribe,[4] it was the attempt of Chief Unalaq to forcibly remove the South's autonomy that caused existing tensions to escalate into civil war.[3] The early and mid stages of the conflict were determined by the absolute military superiority of the North's forces, leading to the expulsion of most rebels into the South Pole's hinterland,[5] while the Northern military controlled the South's ports, cities, and spirit portal.[6]

In course of the civil war, support for the Southern separatists grew both at the South Pole and internationally: Tonraq was consequently elected rival chief, while Team Avatar and Future Industries declared open assistance in the fight against the North.[5][6] Despite this, the rebels were eventually defeated by Unalaq's human and dark spirit forces.[7] Afterward, Unalaq succeeded in releasing Vaatu from his imprisonment in the Tree of Time and fused with him to become the Dark Avatar, attempting to bring humanity and spirits together under his leadership.[2] In the end, he was defeated and killed by his niece, Avatar Korra, who subsequently declared the civil war over and the Southern Water Tribe independent.[8]


The Era of the Avatar

After the Harmonic Convergence in 9,829 BG, the first Avatar, Wan, sent all the spirits thriving in the mortal realm back to the Spirit World. He closed the portals and assumed the role as the bridge between the two worlds. Over time, humanity became divided into four nations: The Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads.[9]

The two Water Tribes

Initially, the Water Tribe solely existed in the North Pole. Due to civil unrest, a group of Northerners headed to the South Pole and engendered a new tribe. Despite the separation, the tribes maintained a civil relationship, temporarily convening in events such as the New Moon Celebration and the Glacier Spirits Festival.[10] Eventually, the Southern Water Tribe reaccepted the authority of the Northern chiefs, becoming an autonomous self-governing federation under Northern jurisdiction.[4] Despite the political reapproachment, the relationship between the North and South remained unequal. The Northern Water Tribe prospered and became rich as well as powerful. In contrast, the Southern Water Tribe's economy stagnated and its division into numerous autonomous communities prevented it from becoming a significant international actor. By the 3rd century BG, the South was weak and impoverished in comparison to its sister tribe.[11]

The events of the Hundred Year War severed the connection between the Water Tribes and further worsened the South's situation. The North continued to flourish as the war raged on, while the South lost all of its waterbending population because of the constant Southern Water Tribe raids, along with most of its culture and spirituality.[12]

After the Siege of the North in 100 AG, a number of Northern citizens led by Pakku traveled to the South to help them rebuild.[4] Even though the Northern support greatly improved the Southern Water Tribe's situation, many Southerners gradually became wary of the North's intentions. Some feared that the North intended to transform the South into a mere colony. Eventually, a militant Southern faction led by Gilak launched an anti-foreigner uprising. The rebellion was defeated, but revealed that representatives of the Northern Water Tribe had actually planned to subjugate the South Pole in order to exploit recently discovered natural resources, most importantly a great oil field. This led to a surge of anti-Northern sentiment among the Southerners.[13][14]

Despite these tensions, the tribes reconnected in the following decades.[4] Just as the Southern nationalists had feared,[14] the Southern Water Tribe was actually subjugated under the North's leadership.[4] While the North mostly did not meddle with Southern issues unless absolutely necessary, it began to impose taxes after the South had grown prosperous. These demands aroused more tensions between the South and the North, as the Southerners were less than willing to share what they believed was rightfully theirs.[3][4]

Unalaq's true agenda

Unalaq had such a great connection with the spirits that he wanted to have a world where humans and spirits could coexist. This belief was strengthened when Unalaq joined the Red Lotus. Under supervision of the secret society, he came to believe that Avatar Wan was wrong when he separated humans and spirits into two separate worlds. In order to work toward a new world order, Unalaq decided that he had to take over the Water Tribe. He planned to frame his older brother Tonraq, and steal his birthright as heir-apparent to the Water Tribe chiefdom to seize control of the still-closed spirit portals.[2][15]

Tonraq was banished from the North, making Unalaq's scheme a success.

In 151 AG, in the Northern Water Tribe, Unalaq exploited his brother's lack of spirituality and brashness by hiring a band of barbarians to attack the Northern Water Tribe and flee to a sacred forest thereafter. Unalaq did this knowing his hot-headed brother would follow and continue to attack, destroying the forest and unleashing dark spirits upon the tribe. This resulted in the tribe's near destruction, Tonraq's banishment, and Unalaq becoming the ruler of the Water Tribes. After his banishment, Tonraq moved to the Southern Water Tribe, where he was highly respected to a degree where he was considered to be the tribe's unofficial chief. There, he met his eventual wife, Senna, and in 153 AG, they became parents of the next Avatar, Korra.[1][6]

Upon learning that his niece was the Avatar, Unalaq traveled to the South, under the guise of seeking Tonraq's permission to train Korra spiritually, but his brother rejected his offers. In truth, Unalaq was attempting to gain Korra's favor so she would open the portals for him.[16] When this attempt failed, the chief and the Red Lotus devised a more radical plan: They would kidnap Korra to serve the Red Lotus' goals. Unalaq did not directly participate in the kidnapping attempt, however, and when it failed, he betrayed the Red Lotus while covering up his own involvement. Instead, he began to pursue his own goals, namely, to free Vaatu and become the Dark Avatar, enabling him to unite humans and spirits under his banner.[15][17] Unalaq began putting his plans into action during the Glacier Spirits Festival in 171 AG, where dark spirits attacked. After repelling the spirits in ways others could not, Unalaq successfully gained Korra's favor, led her niece to veer away from her father and airbending mentor and eventually open the southern portal for him.[18]

Civil war

Occupation of the South

When the occupation of the Southern Water Tribe began, Unalaq's navy formed a blockade, while his troops froze Wolf Cove's harbor.

In 171 AG, Unalaq brought his troops to occupy the South, claiming this was to prevent the South from falling into any further spiritual decay. He proceeded to expel the Council of Elders and the local tribal chieftains, who traditionally governed the South, from power and commandeered the royal palace in Wolf Cove for his exclusive use. Even though Unalaq still had supporters in the South,[4] most Southerners felt that the North was invading, and held a meeting at Tonraq and Senna's house. Tonraq tried to dissuade the members of his tribe from doing anything particularly violent, but Varrick managed to persuade the men otherwise.[3]

A first battle almost began after Southern children threw snowballs at Northern soldiers from the rooftops, to which the soldiers retaliated by waterbending them off the roof. Angered that adults would attack children, several Southern waterbenders threatened to attack the soldiers. However, the fight was interrupted by Avatar Korra, who attempted to create peace between the two groups. Korra was unsuccessful in her efforts, however, as her fellow countrymen accused her of siding with the North. Before the confrontation could get worse, Tonraq arrived and dissuaded the Southern people from attacking, as he felt it would not be worth their time.[3]


See also: Attempted kidnapping of Chief Unalaq

Varrick's rebels attempted to kidnap Chief Unalaq.

Later, rebels attempted to kidnap Unalaq at night, but were stopped by Korra. She later discovered that they had been acting on directions from Varrick and conveyed the information to Unalaq, who arrested them, as well as his brother and Senna, while ordering that Varrick be hunted down.[3] A trial presided by Judge Hotah was held for these people, where all were found guilty except Senna. All of the rebels and Tonraq were forced to serve their lives in prison, excluding Varrick, who had gone into hiding.

Korra attempted to rescue her father from prison. Later, she chased after Hotah, and after she threatened to end his life, she discovered that it had been her uncle who had orchestrated her father's banishment. She relayed this information to her friends and Varrick, and they decided to break Tonraq and the rebels out of prison. Upon breaking them out, Korra told her father about the truth behind his banishment. Upset that his brother would do such a thing, Tonraq agreed that war was inevitable and he instructed Korra, Varrick, and the rest of Team Avatar to go to the United Republic of Nations to attempt to persuade President Raiko to get the United Forces on their side, so they may have a chance of winning the war.[6]

Tonraq and the rebels went into hiding in the hills outside Wolf Cove, though Unalaq chose not to deal with them, ordering his forces to protect the spirit portal. He subsequently sent his twin children Desna and Eska to capture Korra, as he required her to open the Northern spirit portal. At the same time, Northern forces began to build an encampment at the South Pole in order to protect the spirit portal.[5]

Civil unrest in Republic City

See also: Bombing of the Southern Water Tribe Cultural Center

The bombing of the Southern Water Tribe Cultural Center led to massive tensions between United Republic citizens of Northern and Southern heritage.

By the time Team Avatar arrived in Republic City, news of the civil war had already spread, causing tensions between the Northern and Southern residents of the city. Later that night, a peace march was held by Southerners, supported by the Avatar, while the event was being deplored by the Northerners. During that time, the Agni Kai Triad bombed the Southern Water Tribe Cultural Center, though Korra assumed the Northerners to be responsible.

The next morning, Varrick had arranged a meeting with Raiko to discuss military aid to the South. This meeting did not go in Korra's favor, as Raiko refused to deploy the United Forces to aid the Southern Water Tribe. He instead preferred a more diplomatic approach in resolving the conflict. Therefore, Varrick suggested that Korra go behind Raiko's back and appeal directly to General Iroh. In the meantime, Varrick would focus on trying to profit from the civil war and gaining United Republic support his own way, by filming highly doctored propaganda directed against the Northern Water Tribe. Initially, the general was more than willing to help the Avatar, and even planned on using a routine training session in the South as an excuse to engage the Northern forces with his fleet. The plan quickly fell apart, as Bolin told Mako, who was forced to confess Korra's intentions to Raiko at his order. Raiko warned the general that if he were to leave with his fleet or the country itself, he would be court-martialed. With his hands tied, Iroh suggested Korra to go to the Fire Nation and appeal to his mother, Fire Lord Izumi, for aid. Korra departed Republic City on a speedboat, and headed toward the Fire Nation, only to be intercepted by her cousins. After a brief battle, Korra was attacked and consumed by a massive dark spirit.[5]

Varrick's machinations

See also: Attempted kidnapping of President Raiko

Varrick's attempt to kidnap President Raiko and to force the United Republic into war was ultimately unsuccessful.

Despite his alliance with Team Avatar and being from the Southern Water Tribe, Varrick seized the opportunity to profit from the brewing conflict. He purposely sabotaged his own shipments carrying Future Industries weaponry bound for the South, masquerading gangsters as Northern soldiers, who hijacked the shipments in Republic City's jurisdiction to blame the thefts on the Northern Water Tribe. While the Metalbending Police Force fell for the ruse, Mako suspected the Northerners were not responsible when a ship captain testified that the attackers used remotely-detonated explosives. But due to the lack of police support and his own position as a junior officer, Mako was forced to act on his own. With Asami, he hired the Triple Threat Triad to guard a decoy shipment, unaware that Varrick had paid off the triad to keep the two busy while he stole Future Industries' entire line of machines. Having not been able to make a sale since the Anti-bending Revolution, Asami feared her company was falling into bankruptcy, until Varrick bought a controlling interest in Future Industries. Mako realized Varrick's culpability upon learning that his company was the sole producer of the same type of remote detonators in his mover series, The Adventures of Nuktuk: Hero of the South and sought to find more proof to implicate him.[19] Varrick managed to eliminate Mako as a threat by having the Triple Threat Triad claim to the police that Mako was involved in robbing Future Industries, and planted explosives and yuans in his apartment for them to find, resulting in Mako's arrest.[20]

On the night of the Nuktuk finale, Varrick plotted to have Raiko kidnapped and blame it on the Northerners, thereby forcing Republic City to go to war in support of the South. Four waterbenders disguised as Northern soldiers infiltrated the Pro-bending Arena and nearly succeeded in their scheme before it was foiled by Bolin, who managed to get a confession out of one of the kidnappers of Varrick's being the mastermind behind the attempt. Varrick was subsequently arrested by the police and Mako's name was cleared.[7]

The Avatar returns

The same night, Avatar Korra returned to Republic City to warn Raiko of Unalaq's plans to release Vaatu and destroy the world and attempted once more to request military support. Despite this, Raiko still refused to aid her, believing it best to hold the United Forces to defend his country. Team Avatar proceeded to visit Varrick in prison, who provided them with his battleship, the Zhu Li, which possessed all of Future Industries' stolen weaponry, to return to the South to stop Unalaq.[7]

Battle for the South

Main article: Battle of the Southern Water Tribe

The healing hut at the Southern Water Tribe compound was filled to capacity with dozens of injured Southern Water Tribe rebels.

When it became clear that Korra had failed to persuade President Raiko to send the United Forces as reinforcements, the Southern rebels, led by Tonraq, attacked Wolf Cove in an attempt to expel the Northern invaders. Though their initial attack was successful, Unalaq led a counterattack with the aid of Desna, Eska, and a large number of dark spirits. The rebels were quickly defeated, sustaining heavy injuries in the process, and only Tonraq remained able to fight. A fierce battle began between the two brothers, and though Tonraq got within striking distance of Unalaq, the tribal chief managed to evade his attack. Trapping Tonraq in ice, Unalaq dealt a devastating blow which left his brother defeated, and he was subsequently imprisoned in a Northern encampment at the South Pole.[7]


Main article: Unalaq Crisis

Team Avatar attacked the Northern military's encampment.

Soon after the rebels' defeat, Team Avatar and their allies arrived at the Southern Water Tribe, determined to halt Unalaq's attempt to free Vaatu. They attacked the Northern encampment via biplane and sky bison, causing much damage to its fortifications. When Desna and Eska intervened, the Northern troops and their dark spirit allies were able to turn the tides of battle. The army forces shot down the Avatar and her friends, capturing them in the process. The former United Forces Commander, Bumi, eluded them, however, and infiltrated the encampment. Eventually, he managed to single-handedly destroy the whole camp before rescuing Korra and the other prisoners. After the destruction of their encampment, the Northern military was not able to further interfere in the battle.

Despite his military's defeat, Unalaq freed Vaatu during Harmonic Convergence and merged with him to become the Dark Avatar, intent on unifying the mortal and Spirit World.[2][21] Korra defeated him and used Unalaq's purification technique to dissipate the Dark Avatar Spirit. However, due to being fused with the spirit, Unalaq lost his life in this process. With Unalaq dead, Korra declared the civil war over and the Southern Water Tribe independent with Tonraq as their first chief. She emphasized, however, that the Water Tribes would always be allies.[8]


  1. Even though most Southerners wanted independence,[3] there were some that were loyal to Unalaq's regime.[4] As a result, Southern independence meant defeat for the Southern loyalists.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Hamilton, Joshua (writer) & Graham, Ian (director). (September 13, 2013). "The Southern Lights". The Legend of Korra. Book Two: Spirits. Episode 2. Nickelodeon.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Hedrick, Tim (writer) & Graham, Ian (director). (November 15, 2013). "Harmonic Convergence". The Legend of Korra. Book Two: Spirits. Episode 12. Nickelodeon.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 DiMartino, Michael Dante (writer) & Heck, Colin (director). (September 20, 2013). "Civil Wars, Part 1". The Legend of Korra. Book Two: Spirits. Episode 3. Nickelodeon.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 The Legend of Korra—The Art of the Animated Series, Book Two: Spirits, page 23.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Hedrick, Tim (writer) & Heck, Colin (director). (October 4, 2013). "Peacekeepers". The Legend of Korra. Book Two: Spirits. Episode 5. Nickelodeon.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 DiMartino, Michael Dante (writer) & Graham, Ian (director). (September 27, 2013). "Civil Wars, Part 2". The Legend of Korra. Book Two: Spirits. Episode 4. Nickelodeon.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Hamilton, Joshua (writer) & Heck, Colin (director). "Night of a Thousand Stars". The Legend of Korra. Book Two: Spirits. Episode 11. Nickelodeon.
  8. 8.0 8.1 DiMartino, Michael Dante (writer) & Graham, Ian (director). (November 22, 2013). "Light in the Dark". The Legend of Korra. Book Two: Spirits. Episode 14. Nickelodeon.
  9. Hedrick, Tim (writer) & Graham, Ian (director). (October 18, 2013). "Beginnings, Part 2". The Legend of Korra. Book Two: Spirits. Episode 8. Nickelodeon.
  10. Escape from the Spirit World: Avatar Kuruk Online Comic Book
  11. Yee, F. C. (author), DiMartino, Michael Dante (author). (July 16, 2019). Chapter Seventeen, "Obligations". The Rise of Kyoshi. Amulet Books.
  12. Ehasz, Elizabeth Welch (writer) & Dos Santos, Joaquim (director). (July 17, 2008). "The Southern Raiders". Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 3. Episode 16. Nickelodeon.
  13. DiMartino, Michael Dante; Konietzko, Bryan; Yang, Gene Luen (writer), Sasaki of Gurihiru (penciling, inking), Kawano of Gurihiru (colorist), Heisler, Michael; Comicraft (letterer). North and South Part Two (January 25, 2017), Dark Horse Comics.
  14. 14.0 14.1 DiMartino, Michael Dante; Konietzko, Bryan; Yang, Gene Luen (writer), Sasaki of Gurihiru (penciling, inking), Kawano of Gurihiru (colorist), Heisler, Michael; Comicraft (letterer). North and South Part Three (April 26, 2017), Dark Horse Comics.
  15. 15.0 15.1 DiMartino, Michael Dante (writer) & Graham, Ian (director). (August 1, 2014). "The Stakeout". The Legend of Korra. Book Three: Change. Episode 9. Nick.com.
  16. Legend of Korra - mobile trivia game (September 10, 2013). Retrieved on September 10, 2013.
  17. Hedrick, Tim (writer) & Graham, Ian. (June 27, 2014). "The Earth Queen". The Legend of Korra. Book Three: Change. Episode 3. Nickelodeon.
  18. Hedrick, Tim (writer) & Heck, Colin (director). (September 13, 2013). "Rebel Spirit". The Legend of Korra. Book Two: Spirits. Episode 1. Nickelodeon.
  19. Hamilton, Joshua (writer) & Graham, Ian (director). (October 11, 2013). "The Sting". The Legend of Korra. Book Two: Spirits. Episode 6. Nickelodeon.
  20. Hamilton, Joshua (writer) & Heck, Colin (director). (November 1, 2013). "The Guide". The Legend of Korra. Book Two: Spirits. Episode 9. Nickelodeon.
  21. Hamilton, Joshua (writer) & Heck, Colin (director). (November 22, 2013). "Darkness Falls". The Legend of Korra. Book Two: Spirits. Episode 13. Nickelodeon.