Sullys and Starks Stay Together

The best part of Avatar 2 borrows a trick from Game of Thrones

Tsuraks are the new direwolves.

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James Cameron promised that the Avatar franchise would become Disney’s version of The Sopranos, starting with the highly-anticipated sequel.

The director defended the three-hour runtime throughout Avatar 2’s press tour, noting that audiences needed a lot of time to get to know the Sullys, who have grown from two to six family members. Their story wouldn’t be a fairytale, but rather a dark and emotional family saga.

While splashes of Sopranos-levels of violence, “clan” conflicts, and gabagool were nowhere to be found in Avatar: The Way of Water, the film seems to have gleaned inspiration from another hit HBO family drama series, and we’re not talking Succession.

The Way of Water borrowed Game of Thrones’ most effective element: The beloved Stark family, who fans stuck by through dragonfire and walls of ice over eight seasons. Viewers could reliably root for the Starks, and become emotionally invested in them. Not every Stark made it out of Westeros unscathed, but each triumph and failure stirred intense feelings in the audience. Though the final season of Game of Thrones was easily its worst, seeing a Stark sit on the Iron Throne at the end at least provided a semblance of justice for the long-tortured family.

The Way of Water’s action scenes are impressively shot, but they look like a Disney Junior cartoon compared to any given episode of the bloodthirsty and brutal Game of Thrones. And while Avatar 2’s script exponentially surpasses its predecessor’s, Game of Thrones’ consistently quippy one-liners, life-or-death gossip, and potent speeches make Avatar 2’s dialogue sound like a bunch of jibber-jabber.

Despite that, the Sullys aren’t all that different from the Starks. There’s Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) and Jake’s (Sam Worthington) first son and eldest child, Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), their second son, Tuktirey (Trinity Bliss), their daughter and youngest child, and finally Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), their adopted daughter. The parallels aren’t entirely obvious — Tuktirey isn’t as capable as Arya Stark, and Kiri doesn’t have the same chip on her shoulder as Jon Snow — but they are there nonetheless.

Jake Sully is now a family man.

20th Century Studios

By the end of The Way of Water, it’s clear the Sullys are being hunted by a common enemy who will do whatever it takes to get the upper hand, but the family will do its best to survive and stick together. Though the Starks are rarely all present and accounted for throughout Game of Thrones’ run, they never lose sight of their common goal: To retain the North, defeat the Lannisters, and find their way back to each other. It’s this common goal that kept fans hooked, waiting on bated breath to see if a happy ending was even remotely possible for the family; with each Stark’s passing, the audience’s desperation grew more fervid.

Will audiences care about the Sullys as much as they cared for the Starks? With only one movie out featuring the entire family, it’s hard to say whether borrowing from Game of Thrones will pay off for the Avatar franchise. What is certain is that Cameron did at least partly deliver on his promise: The Sully saga will not be the stuff of Disney fairytales.

Avatar: The Way of Water is in theaters now.

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