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Could it be that Zhao enters the spirit world and is to suffer the punishment of meeting Koh, the face stealer for killing the moon spirit? (look at the wiki and we know that one of Koh's faces is a Fire nation "soldier") I believe that Zhao's punishment is that, not only does his encounter with Koh goes unexpectantly wrong (for him anyway), but that Zhao is to wander through the spirit world "faceless", helplessly; until one day he meets Wan Shi Tong, the owl from "The Library" (ATLAB 2.10). The owl, realizing that the former Admiral spent time in his precious library, sees multiple opportunities for himself to escape the spirit world and exact revenge on the Avatar. I also think that the owl wishes to repay Zhao for "borrowing" some of the knowledge on the moon spirit (Tui and Lu). Since the owl has no love for humans and has an infinite amount of knowledge from his library, he knows how to manipulate humans for his own personal gain. Can't you see the whimpering Zhao pleading to be relieved for his punishment and would give anything to be free from it? The owl, wrapping his wing around Zhao, promising him that everything will be ok, if he does exactly what the owl instructs him to do. Usurping Zhao's will is easy and the owl with his entire knowledge of his library, can assume the body of a human. (no matter how disgusting that may be to him) He knows that humans reincarnate. He also knows that masks scare humans and act as a escape route as well in times of trouble. Walking among the humans will be easy as a blind masked man. He has a cover story, a Firebender took his face...
Zhao now needs a new name since he is now fully human and he does, Amon. The cover story, the loss of his family and his face, evoke sympathy among the humans. It's easy to manipulate them; play on their emotions. With his knowledge from his library, he knows how and when to manipulate as well. What do men crave based on their own vices that eleviates suffering? Equality. By feeding man's envy and greed, he is able to connect to the non-bender as one of them...he was wronged too. He develops a following, kingdom wide. Divide and conquer. Today the non-benders, tomorrow the benders and finally the show down with the Avatar. He knows all the forms of bending. (remember the owl telling Katara, he knows all forms of water bending) And just as importantly, chi blocking, chakas,lightning, and yes, the origin of energy bending. But books can only get you so far.
Like the Avatar, Amon sets out to find his own "masters" to train with and teach. The "blind bandit" was a teacher, why can't he be a student? Even if it's just for a while...He has his followers who he trains and equips. He has his own eyes and ears, even if they are not physically on his face. He'll bide his time. Knowledge is power, you know. The knowledge that the Avatar is training in Republic City but has not mastered Air bending is disruptive, but he is in command. This means no patience. He can goad the hot-headed girl into whatever situation that gives him the advantage. Moreover, he knows that without Air bending, she hasn't entered the spirit world...all the better, she'll never find out who he really is....
Finally, I know I've made two "leaps of faith" without justifications. One, I don't think there isn't an instance of "shape shifting" (a la the smoke monster from ABC TV's "Lost") in ATLAB. Two, reincarnation is only discussed in the Avatar, not in every human in the prior series.
I know I took the full plunge, what do you think?