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So I recently found an interview conducted with the creators of A:TLA, Bryan and Mike. In said interview a question arose on the topic of “Zutara” wherein the creators both stated there was never any intention of putting the two together and “Kataang” was always the preferred idea.
This begs the question, where exactly does this idea of Zuko and Katara getting together come from? Since often the creators are stated as being the original source of the idea. This interview flips that around and makes it false. Other than that, specific scenes within the series are often said to hint “Zutara” and yet after rewatching A:TLA many... many times over, no matter how hard I try to see something happening that even hints them having some sort of spark, I just can't see it happening.
Lets look at the two major scenes within the series that are supposedly the source of “Zutara”:
The catacombs scene – The scene starts with a direct reinforcement of her personal hatred for Zuko, not just the Fire Nation, Zuko himself. Now that's the complete opposite of a hint for “Zutara.” She's distinctly stating she hates him because of who he is. Despite her hatred towards him she softens up on the mention that they have something in common: The Fire Nation took both their mothers away. This is where Katara's “motherly”, caring nature comes in. If you watched the entire series and took note of her personality this is a direct reflection of it. Despite her hatred, she can still show sympathy to someone who's had a loss. She's not completely heartless (as we should know, it's been done with Jet). Then she offers to heal his scar. This is again her caring nature coming into play. Her entire attitude in the series is based upon helping people. She's seen to help people countless times (I won't list the episodes she is seen helping people, it should be obvious), why would it be any different with Zuko? Ok, quite possibly the second “biggest” “Zutara” moment in the series. The touching of the scar. Why did Zuko let her touch it? While Song wasn't allowed? Isn't it obvious? Song wasn't offering to remove the scar. The scar has been nothing but a reminder of his past, then finally someone, who he thought to be nothing more than an enemy, offers to remove it. That's something Zuko wanted for years, why would he decline the offer?
Now, does this show any hint of “Zutara”? No. Had Aang and Iroh not arrived at that moment, likely what would have happened would have been that she did attempt (I say attempt, there's no confirmation that it'd work) to heal his scar and no matter the outcome, he's likely to still betray her and Aang after. Some people would argue that the removal of the scar (or possibly the act of kindness in the failed attempt) would have changed Zuko's attitude and he would have helped the gang. This would not be the case as Azula alone is very manipulative. Not to mention, Zuko still has that inter struggle to work through. The situation would have been the same, except Aang wouldn't have been revived, despite Katara's efforts (since no spirit water). And here's my reasoning: Zuko would likely have still felt the burden of the scar within. The physical scar is just a representation of his emotional scar within. The act of kindness had already happened, Katara was more than willing to heal the scar, shown by his acceptance of letting her touch his scar. The emotional scar would have remained long after the physical mark had been removed, changing absolutely nothing for the outcome. It was just extremely lucky the Iroh and Aang arrived when they did, otherwise we'd have probably had the end of the series there.
The Southern Raiders – Ok this entire episode is seen as a “Zutara” episode. First off I'd like to pose the question: If this is “Zutara,” is Boiling Rock a “Sokku”/“Zukka” episode? Is the scene in Sozin's Comet when Aang goes missing a “Toku”/“Zukoph”? No, they aren't.
The entire journey isn't about romance. It's about something far from it, revenge (Ok, revenge can come from romance, but in this case it's Katara's love for her mother that drives her).
Ok, so where's the “Zutara”? The fact that it's Zuko going with Katara, not Aang (or Sokka or Toph)? Well, who triggered the action? Zuko did. He wanted Katara to finally accept him into the group, since everyone else had. Zuko himself did not see Katara as a romantic interest anywhere here. He's simply after her acceptance so that he can better fit in with the group. Remember, it would have taken a lot of strength and willpower to turn on his father, leave his girlfriend, leave his entire nation behind and his seat on the throne (at that point, since his return, he's become the heir to the fire lord). Not only that, he's leaving to join a group of people who are against all those things (yep, including his girlfriend. Though… maybe not his right to the throne).
Back to TSR. As I said, he wants nothing more than acceptance in the group. What's the best way to do that? How about he helps her get over a major source of pain: her mother's murder. I don't see how any of this is “Zutara”. It's clear he's doing this to try and get him to accept him in to the group, not to get her to think of him as a romantic interest. He still likes Mai, remember (Don't say people can like more than one person at once. While true, he has no interest in Katara that way, never did, never will).
So why did Katara go with him? Because she just wanted revenge on Yon Rha, nothing to do with it being him going with her. Likely she realized he was the only one of the group who would understand her feelings about the killer. This later proved to be true, given Aang and Sokka's reactions to the situation. From the very moment Zuko says he knows her mother's killer, she adopts a whole different attitude. She now wants nothing but revenge on Yon Rha because of the pain that he caused her. I won't really go in to the details, pretty obvious what affect of her mother's death had on her. So she wants revenge, something she realises that Aang wouldn't understand, given his nature. She even went so far as to insult her own brother during this time, something she would never have done (despite their sibling spats, when have either physically or emotional hurt each other? Never). This shows she's not thinking clearly. The fact that Zuko went with her was not a decision that crossed her mind, it was just because he could help her find the killer.
So the actual journey itself, there's little between the two. The only thing I can think of is the moment Katara bloodbends. This shocked Zuko, but nothing during the entire journey even hints of something between them. Katara is intently focused on getting revenge.
The final scene, the hug. This has probably become the biggest “Zutara” moment in the series. To the people who see it as this, I ask, how? Throughout the entire episode, what has Zuko been after? Her acceptance in the group. Nothing more, nothing less. He's trying to change his ways and to do this he is helping out Aang. How can he do that effectively if one of the group members wants nothing to do with him? Finally, after the long journey they took together to find her mother's killer, she does accept him. She hugs him. But again, this is one of many, many hugs in the series. Are we to assume that anytime someone hugs another person, it's now a couple? No, it was one hug, and a friend hug at that. The hug lasts about 2-3 seconds. Pretty standard for friends, right? If the hug lasted longer, then I'd see it as, maybe, a possible hint at... something. But it doesn't and there was no kiss either, even if on the cheek (Aang's been receiving kisses on the cheek since early in the season). Actually, the biggest thing to point away from “Zutara” is that she walks away immediately after. Right after the hug, she walks back to Appa (likely to talk to Sokka). This shows that absolutely nothing more is between them besides being friends. And remember, who actually gets through to her? Aang. The creators themselves confirmed that what Aang said to her remained with her as she was about to exact revenge. So it wasn't Zuko who helped her, it was Aang; reinforcing their relationship, and further separating any sort of "relationship" between Zuko and Katara.
Actually, lets look at it from Katara's perspective. She realised that he's not all that bad, and is willing to forgive him for his past mistakes, because he's willing to change (and clearly showed that). Katara took her time to trust him again, considering what happened in the catacombs. She felt hurt and betrayed because she thought he'd changed, even offered to heal his scar. But then he turns around and instantly goes back on what he was saying and helps his sister. As soon as he asks to join she's clearly still angry at him and thinks he's just trying to trick her and the others again. Now, over time she comes to accept him, since he was going to be there anyway. Remember, the only reason she agreed to let him join was because of Aang. She completely trusts Aang and so she comes to accept Zuko's going to be there in the group, even if she doesn't like it. The threat she makes, almost immediately after he joins, only reinforces this.
Now, it's been a few days or so after this took place, so she's more accepting of it, even if she still doesn't like it. The fact that she let's Aang and Zuko go off together is actually more of trusting with Aang, not trusting Zuko. Besides, Aang is an extremely capable fighter, not to mention he's with Appa (is Appa likely to let anything happen to Aang? No). The same can be said with Sokka and the Boiling Rock. While she herself had no knowledge of them leaving until after the two left, she expressed no visible concern. This is likely her starting to some what trust Zuko, given he did nothing toward Aang during their time together on their journey. And also, why exactly would Zuko want to kill Sokka? Killing the brother of an extremely powerful waterbender is not going to be a good idea (especially since it's been established that Azula > Zuko in terms of power and Azula was losing to Katara at one point in the catabombs, until Zuko saved her).
The fact that Zuko actually helped Katara reunite with her father was bound to help his case, but clearly, it's not enough just to hear it second hand. Likely, had Katara gone with them, she'd have forgiven Zuko there, maybe not as much as hugging him, but it would have at least moved the progress forward a fair ways.
That pretty much sums it up. Throughout their interactions there is not one inkling of “Zutara” so I fail to see where people get this from.
While this may seem like an attack on “Zutarians”, I hope they don't take it this way. I have absolutely no problem with what you ship. Ship whoever you want with whoever you want. But the fact still remains, there was never any “Zutara” within the series and never was there meant to be, as stated by the creators themselves. I tried to avoid mentioning Aang, but it's not really possible. At the time Zuko joins the group, Aang is clearly in love with Katara. Katara herself is falling in love with Aang, if not actually there already and just doesn't want to accept it, given the situation (i.e. war).
If people read this, let me know what you think. So far as I can tell, “Zutara” appeared from misconceptions and false evidence. Comments should be kept civil, I hope no one takes offense to this, as it's only explaining scenes as they are, and I have no issue with peoples shipping choice.