What happened to Payakan before ‘Avatar: The Way of Water?’

Britain Dalton as Lo'ak in Avatar: The Way of Water
Image via 20th Century Studios

Warning: the following article contains spoilers for Avatar: The Way of Water.

Avatar: The Water of Water premiered in U.S. theaters on Dec. 16 to the joy of many fans who patiently waited for more than a decade for the continuation of James Cameron’s story. Unfortunately, the film did not live up to expectations at the box office, but it nonetheless made a splash in the audience’s hearts.

The Avatar sequel takes viewers back into the world of Pandora, diving deeper into its lore by exploring the planet’s crystal-clear bodies of water. Along with new scenery and clans, The Way of Water introduces a plethora of new characters, most of them Na’vi, but not only. This way, James Cameron brings a breath of fresh air to the franchise, setting the movie sequel apart from its predecessor.

Warning: spoilers to follow.

One of the new species making its debut in the movie franchise are the tulkun, marine creatures native to the Pandoran oceans, in many ways similar to the whales found on Earth. These beings are incredibly intelligent and deeply emotional, having their own established culture and moral codes, something we can’t quite imagine regular whales doing.

Among the tulkun we see on film, Payakan stands out, primarily for the bond it creates with Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), the second son of Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña). The two first meet when Lo’ak is being pursued by an akula, which makes Payakan leap into action. After the creature saves him, Lo’ak notices a harpoon stuck on Payakan’s fin and returns the favor by removing it. From then on, the pair grow closer while swimming together, and all is well until they reach the Metkayina village, where Rotxo and Tsireya warn Lo’ak about Payakan’s supposedly violent history.

As it turns out, the marine animal is an outcast, having been shunned by the Metkayina clan, and exiled by his own species. Curious about what led to Payakan’s current situation, Lo’ak confronts the creature about it, who offers to bond with the Na’vi by the connection of neural queues, allowing him a glimpse into Payakan’s memories.

Why was Payakan exiled?

Britain Dalton as Lo'ak in Avatar: The Way of Water
Image via 20th Century Studios

Long before the events of Avatar: The Way of Water, when Payakan was just a child, its mother was murdered by whalers of the Resources Development Administration, a human organization in Pandora. Grieving the death, Payakan brought together a group of tulkun, along with their Na’vi spirit brothers, and launched an attack on the whalers to ensure revenge. Unfortunately, most of the Na’vi and tulkun who participated ended up dying during the ordeal, and Payakan was blamed for it.

With their blood on its fins, Payakan was then exiled, as any and all forms of killing are utterly forbidden in the tulkun moral code. From then on, the animal was labeled a killer and gained a reputation among the Metkayina clan, living as an outcast ever since — or, more accurately, until it met Lo’ak.

Avatar: The Way of Water is currently available in theaters all over the world.