Part III: “The Assassin”
Boggs returns from speaking with Coin in a rare angry mood and orders two guards to watch Peeta around the clock. He takes Katniss aside to inform her that Coin has always disliked Katniss and wanted to pull Peeta, not Katniss, out of the arena. Coin is angry that Katniss forced her to agree to immunity for the victors but set aside these grievances because Katniss agreed to be the Mockingjay. But now that victory is in sight, Coin knows that Panem will need a new leader and that many people will follow whoever the Mockingjay supports. Since it’s clear that Katniss at most has “tolerated” Coin, Coin sees her as a threat. Only one action could matter now, Coin thinks: Katniss could die and become a martyr for the rebels, memorialized and honored (but out of Coin’s way). Boggs intends to prevent this from happening because Katniss has earned her place as a soldier. Now, Katniss thinks, if she tries to steal the Holo and set off on her own to find Snow, she’ll have to do so with Boggs’s loyalty weighing on her.
When Jackson doesn’t assign a watch to Katniss out of concern that Katniss can’t bring herself to shoot Peeta, Katniss says loudly that she will “shoot another one of the Capitol’s mutts” if she must. Boggs orders Jackson to add her to the rotation. At dinner, Gale offers to kill Peeta, but Katniss says she can handle him. Gale knows that Katniss has been studying maps and planning to leave the squad; he insists on going with her.
Other squad members shoot “unfriendly looks” her way at dinner, and when Katniss talks to Haymitch later, he defends them. Peeta “doesn’t understand what’s happened to him,” yet Katniss is “punishing him over and over for things that are out of his control.” Of course Katniss should protect herself, but she should also know that Peeta isn’t privy to Coin’s plans. Haymitch advises Katniss to “flip this little scenario”: If she’d been hijacked, what wouldn’t Peeta do to help get her back? Haymitch reminds her of the deal they made after the Quarter Quell arena—to protect Peeta.
Katniss thinks about Haymitch’s lecture. Getting Peeta back should matter more to her, and compared to that challenge, killing Snow is “like child’s play.” She goes at midnight to take her hours of watch with Jackson. Peeta is in his sleeping bag but awake, working on knots, as Finnick has taught him to do, as he taught Katniss to do. She wants to say something but can’t think what, but about an hour into the watch, Peeta remarks that she must be tired after two years of trying to decide whether to kill him. She bites back a retort and says that she’d always thought of him as an “ally.” Peeta tries out that word and others—“Friend. Lover. Enemy . . .”—but says that he can no longer tell reality from false memories. Katniss is aware that soldiers around them are listening. Finnicksuggests from the darkness, “Then you should ask, Peeta. That’s what Annie does.” Jackson says that Peeta can ask the members of his squad, who haven’t forgotten the lives he saved in 13 with his timely warning about the bombing. Katniss wonders quietly what it would be like not to know real from unreal; she feels “worthless” to help Peeta.
In the morning, Gale, Finnick, and Katniss work on propos and then return to camp to find that Jackson has invented a game: Real or Not Real? Peeta asks questions, and they answer and explain. Yes, District 12 did burn, and most residents dies, but no, the fire was not his fault—and on and on. Jackson adjusts the guard rotation so that someone who knows Peeta is always on hand to answer his questions. He puzzles over details large and small, and piecing together his memory of Katniss is, she sees, “excruciating.” She’s glad she can help a little.
The next day, a city block is set aside for a propo so that Plutarch can get more interesting footage. As the squad moves out, Peeta realizes that Pollux is an Avox and says that two Avoxes were with him in prison: Darius and Lavinia. Because both served in the Training Center while Katniss and Peeta were there, they were arrested and tortured. Peeta says that Lavinia was “lucky” because her tormentors used too much voltage and stopped her heart. Darius suffered for days, beaten and cut as his tormentors asked him questions he could not physically answer. Darius could only make “horrible animal sounds” as Peeta was forced to watch and listen. The squad is stunned, and Peeta asks, “Real or not real?” Boggs thinks that this memory probably is real, and Peeta agrees.
Gale comforts Katniss for a moment. Now they know the name of the girl they saw years ago in the woods as she tried to escape the Capitol. They know her fate and that of Darius, the red-headed District 12 Peacekeeper who was punished for trying to save Gale from flogging. Gale’s expression “promises death,” and Katniss adds Darius and Lavinia to the “personal list of kills” for which she feels responsible.
They reach the block they are to clear and begin to detonate pods as Cressida, Castor, and Pollux film. Cressida stops the squad to get close ups and to reenact certain moments, and the work seems almost like a game. They laugh at each other’s attempts to act until Boggs orders, “Pull it together.” He checks the Holo, steps back, and triggers a bomb that is not in the Holo’s data. It tears off his legs.
Part III is titled “The Assassin,” leading readers to ask: Who is the assassin? Who is the target? Before the surprising appearance of Peeta in the last lines of Part II, most readers would answer “Katniss” and “Snow.” Now, a valid answer might be that Coin has sent the hijacked Peeta to murder Katniss when his Capitol programming overtakes his reason. This development is a clear sign that Katniss now must contend with two enemies: the intimidating, deadly Snow and cool, manipulative Coin. But these adversaries are still far away. For the moment, Peeta’s struggles are the more present problem, and the squad enjoys a few days of unity as they work together to help him. The hopeful mood is marred by Peeta’s memories of torture and then, of course, shattered by Boggs’s traumatic injury. At this point, the novel’s tone darkens, setting up the dramatic battles that take place in the Capitol.
Another explosion makes Katniss’s ears ring. Homes administers first aid to Boggs, who asks for the Holo. Finnick helps Messalla, who was thrown into a wall and knocked out. Jackson radios for medics, but Katniss knows it’s too late. Boggs rallies enough to transfer command of the Holo—not to Jackson, his second in command, but to Katniss. They need to retreat from the street, but a “geyser” of something black begins to fill the street. It’s sure to be deadly. Gale and Leeg 1 shoot at the pavement to set off other pods, and Katniss and Homes drag Boggs, in agony, away as a wave of black rolls toward them. The chaos has triggered Peeta’s programming, and Mitchell has to keep him from smashing his gun’s butt against Katniss’s head. Peeta flings Mitchell away, and Katniss hears “a loud snap” as a pod triggers, a barbed-wire net that “encases” Mitchell, lacerating his body. Gale and Leeg 1 shoot the lock from a door and try to shoot down the cables from which the terrible net is suspending as other soldiers restrain Peeta and Katniss and Homes pull Boss into the home’s kitchen. Jackson handcuffs Peeta, who is so wild and mad that she must lock him in a closet, and Finnick carries Messalla in as Leeg 1 and Cressida stagger behind him. Castor and Pollux stuff cloth around the kitchen door to keep the fumes out as Gale vomits into the sink.Mitchell could not be saved from the black wave.
Boggs pushes the Holo into Katniss’s hands before he dies. There is no time to mourn or even react; the activated pods mean that the Capitol knows where the squad is; already, they’ve cut off radio contact. Jackson asks for the Holo and is dismayed to learn that Boggs put it in Katniss’s control, and Katniss puzzles over Boggs’s order not to trust “them.” Whom? The squad, the rebels, Coin and her team? For now, she decides to follow his last order, lying to the squad that Coin sent her on a special mission to assassinate Snow “before the loss of life from this war makes our population unsustainable.” Half the squad takes aim at Katniss and half at Jackson, who does not believe the lie. Then, to Katniss’s surprise, Cressida backs her up. Plutarch thinks that if they can film the Mockingjay killing Snow, the war will end. Plutarch sent Peeta because he knows the way to Snow’s quarters in the presidential mansion.
Katniss has no idea why Cressida is lying for her, but everyone knows that they must flee. Katniss asks Jackson to read the Holo and lead them forward. They put on their masks as a caution and hope that the black residue has coated the ubiquitous cameras. Finnick supports Peeta, now spent, and Cressida and Leeg 1 prop up Messalla to follow Katniss out of the house. The street glistens with the black residue, and a “large teardrop hangs over the street”—Mitchell caught in the net. They slog through the thick black gel, relieved that the wave seems to have triggered the pods on several blocks. On the fifth block, the wave’s effect ends, so Katniss chooses an apartment where they can take shelter. Gel coats the windows, but the air is safe, and the squad collapses on sofas and chairs. Katniss wonders what to do with Peeta, handcuffed and unconscious, and with the squad. She’d rather go on with only Finnick and Gale, and she’s tempted to “come clean” about her fake mission, but her thoughts are interrupted by the sound of explosions, likely from the block where they left Boggs. The Capitol-controlled television turns itself on, and they watch a report that identifies Boggs, Cressida, Katniss, Finnick, Peeta, and Gale and asserts that they are dead. This is “a bit of luck,” Homes says—it buys them some time. But Katniss thinks of everyone in 13 watching. A montage of the Mockingjay’s “rise to rebel power,” which the Capitol must have made earlier, plays, as the Capitol rejoices in her downfall. Since no rebel propo breaks in, the people in 13 must believe that Squad 451 is destroyed. Gale asks—what now? Peeta, who is alert again, says that the next decision is “obvious”: They must kill him.
When Katniss and Finnick became aware, during Plutarch’s briefing, of the pods that guard the Capitol’s streets, they immediately understood that the Gamemakers had treated their city as if it were an arena. This chapter gives ample evidence that the Capitol’s citizens are living, perhaps without their knowledge, in nests of traps. In addition to the barbed net, bombs, and the black wave, the squad encounters tracker jacker nests, collapsed buildings, and other hazards. The Capitol has been presented thus far as a golden city, almost a paradise. Beautiful, modern, colorful, sparkling, and populated by happy consumers who try to be as shiny and decorative as their city, the Capitol has been, apparently, at peace. Yet hints of discontent precede this chapter. In The Hunger Games, Katniss becomes aware that some Capitol residents try to rebel or escape and are punished by being made Avoxes or killed. The destruction of the Quarter Quell arena happened because an underground resistance movement had been at work for years. Now, however, the true nature of the Capitol’s power, over everyone in Panem, becomes clear. Violence, deprivation, and the creative, merciless devices of the Gamemakers underlie, figuratively and literally, Snow’s power.