Aang awakens to find himself gravely wounded on board a stolen Fire Nation ship with his friends. He is shocked and dismayed to discover that the world believes him to be dead. Zuko and Azula are welcomed home as heroes, where Fire Lord Ozai congratulates his son, having been told by Azula that Zuko struck Aang down. Zuko, however, secretly believes the Avatar had survived. After a great deal of persuasion, Aang agrees to keep his existence a secret.
Aang is lying on a bed in the room of a dimly lit ship, a multitude of bandages strapped around various parts of his body. He opens his eyes, and immediately groans in pain. Sitting up, he groans in pain once again, clutching his side as he does so. Disorientated, he shakes his head and wonders aloud what happened. Looking around him, he suddenly notices the Fire Nation tapestries hanging in his room, and begins to panic, believing that he has been captured. He flees his room, taking his airbending staff with him to help him walk, and runs into two guards in Fire Nation uniform. Aang airbends at the two guards to distract them and begins to stagger away, as the two guards chase after him, calling out to him to stop. He manages to make it to the upper deck, but his wounds are too severe, and he stumbles and falls. Looking up, he is surprised to see Momo, Bato, and Hakoda, the latter two clad in Fire Nation uniforms and cloaks. As Momo greets him affectionately, he discovers Toph and Katara there as well, and the two guards that were chasing him are revealed to be The Duke and Pipsqueak. Aang asks his friends whether he is dreaming, but Katara pulls him into a hug, before Sokka, fully clad in Fire Nation armor, greets him as well. Overwhelmed by the whole situation and weak from his wounds, Aang promptly faints.
The scene switches to Zuko watching the moon until he is approached by Mai. He reveals his conflicted feelings about his internal changes and his imminent return to the Fire Nation. She tells him not to worry and kisses him before leaving. Meanwhile, Katara informs Aang that he has hair now by complimenting him on it, to which the latter responds with much surprise. Aang begins to feel pain once more and returns to his room with Katara to undergo healing. While she is healing his back, Aang begins to recall the battle in Ba Sing Se, and he feels that he has failed everyone as the Avatar; at the same time, he suddenly realizes that he was more than merely hurt by Azula's lightning attack but that his spirit had actually been separated from his body – and that Katara had saved his life. Katara says that she used the spirit water on him, not knowing what exactly she did; Aang says she saved him.
They return outside again as daylight begins to break, where Sokka informs him about how they had returned to Chameleon Bay after he was injured. They had found his father and later captured a Fire Nation ship. Hakoda greets Aang and tells him that though the Fire Nation has captured Ba Sing Se, they would still go ahead with the plan to invade the Fire Nation Capital on the Day of Black Sun. In an angered tone, Katara corrects him that it is Sokka's plan. Sokka explains that the Earth King and his bear, Bosco, had decided to travel the world in disguise. He mentions that they had recently gotten through the Serpent's Pass. According to Sokka, although their forces are greatly outnumbered for the invasion, they have one clear advantage – the world believes the Avatar to be dead, and thus the Fire Nation will not be hunting for him any longer. However, Aang does not take this revelation well, because this marks the second "death" of the Avatar. He believes he has failed.
On the balcony of the Royal Plaza in the Fire Nation, Lo and Li announce the capture of Ba Sing Se, as well as the return of Prince Zuko and the death of the Avatar to the assembled armies below. They explain how Azula instructed the Dai Li to bring down a small section of the wall to allow the Fire Nation Army to enter unopposed. Afterward, soldiers are seen marching through the streets, and platoons of tundra tanks roll toward the Earth Kingdom Royal Palace. Among the Earth Kingdom citizens shown near Pao's teahouse are Iroh and Zuko's former employer Pao, Jin, and Ying and Tahn with their baby, Hope crying, scared from the events. In the Fire Nation, both Azula and Zuko appear before the crowd, welcomed by rising cheers from the assembled armies.
Meanwhile, Aang and the others run into an actual Fire Nation ship. While the others hide, Hakoda and Bato try to talk their way out, but the crew eventually finds holes in their story. The captain decides to let them think they got away, but sink the ship as soon as they are clear. Toph overhears the order, however, and swiftly drops the captain and his guards into the water by way of metalbending. Katara puts space between the two ships with a huge waterbending attack that nearly capsizes the enemy ship, and they try to escape. Despite the tremendous efforts of Katara and Toph, the ship takes heavy damage from the pursuing Fire Nation ship. Out of sheer bad luck, the serpent of Serpent's Pass appears, but is struck by a stray fireball. The heroes get the chance to escape as the enraged serpent attacks the Fire Nation ship.
The scene changes to Zuko at the palace, feeding turtle ducks like he once did with his mother, until Azula steps in to ask him why he looks so depressed, scaring the ducks away in the process. Zuko tells her that he does not want to see his father yet because he did not capture the Avatar. Azula reassures him that the Fire Lord should not care because the Avatar is supposed to be dead. She asks him suspiciously if he thinks the Avatar is still alive. Zuko warily recalls the Spirit Oasis water that Katara had showed him, along with its special healing abilities, but he tells his sister that the Avatar could not have survived. Azula gives him a suspicious look, but eventually walks away. Later on, Fire Lord Ozai congratulates his son on a job well done and even mentions that he feels especially proud that Zuko showed ferocity in how he killed the Avatar. Zuko asks him what he heard about this, and his father responds that Azula told him that Zuko had slain the Avatar. Later that night, Zuko confronts his sister pointedly as to why she said he killed the Avatar instead of telling the truth. She answers that she wanted to make him feel better and to let him have some of the glory so Zuko would have nothing to worry about. However, she also implies that, should the Avatar be found alive, whoever was responsible for not killing him, would face Ozai's wrath. In essence, Zuko is her scapegoat.
Docking at a port, Aang confesses to Katara he feels ashamed that everyone thinks he is dead and that he failed to stop the infiltration at Ba Sing Se. After giving into a burst of rage, he asks Katara to leave him alone. She reluctantly leaves him to gather supplies in port. While his friends are away, he flees the ship in the hopes of infiltrating the Fire Nation alone. He makes it far, even passing a blockade of Fire Nation ships, before a storm picks up. He uses a piece of driftwood in the water combined with his glider to make a sail-surfer. Katara returns to Aang's room with some food for him, only to find it vacant; she immediately realizes what has happened and rushes out of the room. She runs to her father telling him, in tears, that Aang has run away to fight alone. While he believes this is Aang's way of being brave, Katara counters, saying it is selfish and stupid and wonders why he thinks he is the only one who can save the world and leaves them behind in the process. Hakoda soon finds out that she may be talking about him as well. Katara begins to pour her heart out to her father about the entire situation of the War and how she has missed him. Hakoda comforts Katara, telling her that he had missed her and Sokka every day since he left, and not a day went by that he did not think of them. He says that he would sit awake at night thinking about them so much that it ached.
Meanwhile, the storm becomes even more intense, with Aang ultimately losing his glider. Aang feels like a failure, thinking that he will not make it out of the storm, but Avatar Roku appears to him in a vision, apologizing for not doing anything to stop the War before it began and encouraging Aang not to give up. PrincessYue also appears in a beam of moonlight, calming the ocean, offering her encouragement as well. With Yue's help, Aang stands on the driftwood, makes a huge tidal wave and heads off by using waterbending to power himself forward, eventually washing up on Crescent Island, where the Fire Temple once stood.
His friends find him lying on the shoreline, having split up with the Water Tribe warriors until the invasion. They tell him that they intend to travel with him, as they still need to help him continue his earthbending training. Toph finds his broken glider floating in the water and returns it to him. Aang decides that if he is to maintain the element of surprise, the world will have to think he is dead for the time being. He impales the glider into the molten rock, leaving it to burn to flames.
The family from "The Serpent's Pass" appears while Lo and Li give a speech describing what happened in Ba Sing Se. Hope, the baby, is crying as Fire Nation soldiers march through the city to claim it.
Jin appears in the tea shop during the Fire Nation invasion.
At one point Sokka says they had crossed into the Serpent's Pass a few days earlier; later the Fire Nation ship is attacked by the same sea serpent.
There is a scene in which Zuko is feeding the turtle ducks in the Fire Nation palace courtyard, and when Azula arrives, they flee. During one flashback in the episode "Zuko Alone", it is shown that Zuko and his mother used to feed the turtle ducks together and that Azula threw the food at them rather violently, which is why they swam away when they saw her.
After Aang awakens and makes his way to the top-level of the ship, Aang passes out and Appa is seen with a new saddle. When the camera pans out to view the whole ship, Appa is seen without the saddle.
When Katara pulls the healing water out of Aang's scar, he has a flashback. One of them is where he is lying stretched out on Appa. You can see a hole over his right leg on his trousers, but when Aang is on the captured Fire Nation ship, the hole is not there.
When The Duke is helping Toph deflect attacks from the Fire Nation ship, he is not touching her shoulders for the first few frames, so Toph should not have known where to deflect the fireballs in mid-flight. She encountered a similar problem against airborne attacks in "The Desert".
When Zuko and Azula finish discussing the latter's motives for crediting Zuko with slaying the Avatar, Azula plops down onto her bed, lying on top of the covers. In the next frame, however, she has the covers on.
When Aang plunges his staff into the side of the volcano, he is standing on hot rock and his feet should have been burned.
The non-canon chibi short "Bending Battle" originally aired just prior to this episode.
At exactly the same moment Zuko thinks he has regained his honor, Aang loses it.
This is the last time Earth King Kuei appears in the series.
This is the first episode in which Ozai's face is seen fully.
This is the last episode in which Aang's original glider is shown.
Aang's usage of a piece of driftwood to surf a large wave he created is identical to Kuruk's flashback where he is shown surfing.
This is the first episode in which Ember Island is mentioned. The first instance in which the island appears is "The Beach".
In the two weeks that Aang was sleeping, he is seen for the first time with hair. Also, this is the first time Sokka is seen with a full head of hair.
This is the last time the audience sees or hears Princess Yue. Despite this, she is mentioned at least twice in the following episodes.
In the credits for this episode, Ozai was credited as "Firelord". This would be rectified in future episodes, as "Fire Lord Ozai".
The episode is simply known as "Awakening" in the Complete Book Three Collection's episode guide.
This is the first of two episodes wherein Azula appears without make-up.