Along with two feuding tribes, the trio crosses the titular landmark.
Last time on Avatar: The Gaang encountered Jet and his freedom fighters.
Division of Labor
The episode opens with a sibling squabble. Sokka has set up the tent but plans to use the tarp for a blanket as it’s unlikely to rain. When Katara protests, he argues back that she didn’t exactly collect a lot of firewood. They’re both upset by the time Aang returns with some foraged food for dinner. He mediates by having them switch jobs, leading him to be pleased with himself.
Momo can’t get Appa to share a melon. The lemur is still upset when Aang seemingly unfairly splits it, but the boy points out that Appa has “five stomachs”. Not said is the simple fact that Appa requires more food than Momo due to the size difference.
The group arrives at the titular landmark, which is “the largest canyon in the entire world”. Katara is awed but Sokka is not. A well-dressed guy from the Gan Jin tribe shows up. His displaced tribe is journeying towards the Earth Kingdom capital of Ba Sing Sae.
The scruffy Zhang tribe shows up. The two tribes have been feuding for a century. Next the canyon guide shows up. The Zhangs want to show up but then the rest of the Gan Jins show up. Both groups are refugees from the Fire Nation. The Gan Jins have “old people” while the Zhangs have “sick people”; each tribe takes a jab at the other over their group.
Katara nudges an uncertain Aang into mediating. The preteen suggests they share the canyon guide and travel the canyon at the same time. When they squabble, Aang stands firm and suggests that the old and sick can be flown across on Appa. Sokka and Aang have doubts about the plan but Katara points out that creating and keeping peace is one of Aang’s duties as the Avatar.
“His job’s going to make us cross this whole thing on foot, isn’t it?” despairs Sokka.
Down into the Divide
The canyon guide warns them that food isn’t allowed down in the Great Divide since it’ll attract “dangerous predators”. Gan Jins eat tidily while Zhangs chow down. Appa takes off after Appa assures the two groups on board the flying bison. As stated, all the elders from the Gan Jin tribe are on Appa’s back, but there’s just one child in the Zhang group- everyone else is elderly. That’s a subtle clue the two tribes truly aren’t as different as they like to think.
Then it’s time for the trio and the bulk of the two tribes to head down into the Great Divide, escorted by the canyon guide who uses his earth-bending to create safe passages. He suggests that angry “earth spirits” carved out the canyon. Sokka and Katara are dubious, but then the guide has to avert a rockslide away from the group.
Once down in the canyon, the guide creates a bunch of dust to help hide their passage from the Fire Nation. A huge crocodile spider or “canyon crawler” attacks him. Sokka gets the guide free only to get chased himself. Katara and Aang fight the creature and send it fleeing. Both of the guide’s arms are broken so he can’t bend, leaving the group trapped.
Both groups accuse the other of bringing food down into the canyon and the canyon guide is freaking out. As the tribal leaders keep fighting, Aang commands them to travel in two separate lines since they can’t coexist peacefully. Furthermore, he sends a sibling with each tribe in hopes of getting them to learn why “they hate each other so much”.
That night, the Zhangs set up the tents in a matter Sokka approves of. The Gan Jins opt to set up tarps just in case, earning Katara’s admiration. She’s less enthused when it’s revealed they did sneak in bread since Zhangs would as well.
“Well, I guess it’s okay if everyone’s doing it,” Katara decides and takes some bread. Whenever that line of thought is used, you know something bad is going to happen. As she eats, she gets the Gan Jin leader to tell her the source of the feud.
In summary, the Gan Jin founder Jin Wei’s sacred orb was stolen by a Zhang named Wei Jin. It’s never explained why their names are so similar.
Over in the Zhangs’ camp, they brought down meat to live down to the other tribe’s expectations of them. According to their head-woman, Wei Jin at request of the injured Jin Wei took the sacred orb back to the Gan Jin village for safe-keeping but ended up in jail for twenty years instead.
Aang and Momo are miserable and hungry up on a cliff. Momo catches a bug and offers some but Aang kindly declines as he’s not that hungry. The canyon guide comes over to be sympathetic about Aang doing his best to be impartial and not like everyone else. He points out to the boy that their two problems of getting the tribes to get along and getting out of the canyon might be related.
The next day the group approaches the other side of the canyon. Katara and Sokka are at odds as they each believe one of the tribe’s versions of the tale. Aang insists on everybody gathering at the base of the canyon wall as he hopes they’ll work together long enough to get out of the canyon.
When the leaders keep fighting, Aang snaps that action is more effective than harsh words. Taking it the wrong way, the two leaders end up having a sword fight. Upset, Aang gets between them and separates them via powerful gusts. It’s officially revealed that both tribes brought down food. Although angry, Aang is also “so hungry” when he spots an egg custard tart.
A swarm of canyon crawlers emerges. Katara and Sokka make up while Aang tries to send the canyon crawlers into retreat. Inspired, Aang has himself and the others muzzle the canyon crawlers. Often in the two-person teams it’s a Gan Jin and a Zhang working together. Using a bag of food as bait, they ride the canyon crawlers up the wall. Aang throws the bait back into the canyon so the creatures will go after it.
The leaders acknowledge they’re not so different but insist that their tribal history matters more than the present. Aang claims to have known the people in question and that they were actually twin eight-year-old brothers playing a ball game and one of them got put in the penalty box for two minutes. Aang continues that while very different, they respected each other enough to accept said differences.
Thus the tribal leaders decide to stop clinging to the past now that it’s irrelevant and instead “look to the future”. Aang and Appa reunite happily. The Gan Jin leader thanks Aang but is grossed by the boy being covered in flying bison slobber.
The two tribes depart together for Ba Sing Sae, with the canyon guide deciding to come along as well. Once they’re gone Aang reveals to the siblings that he made up that story. Katara is grudgingly impressed while Sokka is wide-eyed. Aang just wants “that custard tart from earlier”.
While I’ll agree this is probably the heaviest-handed episode of the series, “The Great Divide” is still far better than most episodes on a lot of other kids’ cartoons. It’s hinted that both tribes are hypocritical and being petty. Only when told the ‘truth’ about the feud’s origin do the leaders opt to put aside the past and then they make it seem noble.
The crocodile spiders are indeed creepy and the art book credits Ethan Spaulding and Jerry Langford for designing them. The lower half of the page is devoted to sketches of them while the upper half has an impressive black and white sketch of the Great Divide. And yes, I’m aware of the double meaning of the episode title.
The Zhang leader is played by Roberta Farkas while the Gan Jin leader is played by Rene Auberjonois. The latter appeared in person in the SG-1 episode “The Other Side” but is best known as Odo from Deep Space Nine. The canyon guide was played by Leonard Stone.
It doesn’t look anybody in either tribe is an earth-bender. I have to wonder whether it’s a matter of bending being a rare ability or if the Fire Nation took away the benders from both tribes as they’ve done elsewhere in the Earth Kingdom. Because I’m sure there are other metal rig prisons out at sea like the one in “Imprisoned”.
Next time on Avatar: The backstories of both Aang and Zuko are revealed during a storm.