Part III: “The Assassin”
A ball of flame engulfs Katniss. She is now a “fire mutt” who finds relief from agony only when unconscious. Katniss feels that she is floating in a morphling foam, but in fact she is lying in real, medicinal foam to treat her severe burns. She feels “sandpaper” in her throat and flees the sound of her mother’s voice. She resigns herself to the facts: She is a “badly burned girl with no wings. With no fire.And no sister.” She hears the doctors call her “lucky” as they drape grafts of new skin over her and treat her lungs. Visitors dead and alive come—“Haymitch, yellow and unsmiling. Cinna, stitching a new wedding dress.Delly, prattling on” about how nice people are, and Katniss’s father, singing “The Hanging Tree.”
Finally, Katniss is required to move and to feed herself. Coin comes to tell her not to worry. Yet Katniss cannot, or does not, speak. Dr. Aurelius, a “head doctor,” decides that she has become a “mental . . . Avox” and recommends letting her alone to heal. Katniss learns the facts of the terrible day she was burned: The parachutes went off, and the Capitol fell. Coin is now president of Panem, and Snow is her prisoner. Cressida and Pollux are covering the “wreckage of the war” in the districts, and Gale, though wounded in an escape attempt, survived and is “mopping up” in District 2. Peeta, also a fire mutt now, is still in the burn unit, and Mrs. Everdeen “buries her grief in her work.”
Katniss wanders the mansion, sleeping in odd spots as she once did in District 13. Haymitch makes her eat and take her medications. To stay sane, she recites the facts she knows about herself. When she bathes, she must confront her fire-mutt body with its “bizarre patchwork of skin.” Dr. Aurelius keeps his appointments with her but mostly lets her be while he naps. And time passes till Snow’s trial and guilty verdict. Katniss’s Mockingjay outfit appears in her room along with her bow, but no arrows. She feels that she ought to be “preparing for the event in some way” but can’t think how.
One day during her wanderings she comes to a wing of the mansion that she’s never explored. It’s quiet, and she likes it till she catches the smell of roses, which causes her to hide, trembling, behind a tapestry till she convinces herself that the smell comes from real roses, not mutts. She walks toward the smell and encounters a door guarded by two troops who refuse to let Soldier Everdeen pass. Katniss, still silent, can’t tell them that she needs a rose to put in Snow’s lapel before she kills them, but Commander Paylor arrives and tells the guards that Katniss “has a right to anything behind that door.”
Katniss enters a greenhouse full of many kinds and colors of roses and finds a white bud, just about to open. She is about to cut it carefully (it might be poisoned) when she hears Snow say, “That’s a nice one.” He’s sitting on a stool, impeccably dressed as always, but “weighted down with manacles, ankle shackles, tracking devices.” He’s clearly ill but his “snake eyes” are still “bright and cold.” He’s glad she came to find him in his prison and erstwhile quarters. Katniss expected him to be in “the deepest dungeon” available and wonders if Coin is setting a precedent for how ousted presidents are to be treated.
Delicately coughing blood into his handkerchief, Snow laments that he has many things to say to her but little time. He expresses condolences on Prim’s death, and she thinks that there are “no limits to his cruelty.” In fact, he thinks Prim’s death was “so wasteful, so unnecessary.” He was about to order the surrender when “they” dropped the parachutes, he says, watching her reaction carefully. He points out that, had he had a working hovercraft, he’d have used it to escape and that, while he is certainly willing to kill children, he’s “not wasteful. I take life for very specific reasons.” Snow had no use for the children’s deaths—but the attack helped Coin. It was a “masterful move” that ended any remaining loyalty citizens may have had. Plutarch, of course, made sure it aired live, and surely the parachutes were his idea, the “sort of thinking that you look for in a Head Gamemaker.” Snow is sure, however, that Plutarch was not “gunning for” Prim.
Katniss thinks of the Special Weaponry lab in 13, of hearing Beetee and Gale discussing traps baited with “human sympathies” and plans taken out of Snow’s rule book. Snow goes on, admiring how well Coin played him and Katniss against each other while she carried out her plans. He should have seen her goal, but “I was watching you, Mockingjay. And you were watching me.” Katniss speaks—for the first time since Prim died—to doubt Snow’s words, but he replies, “Oh, my dear Miss Everdeen. I thought we had agreed not to lie to each other.”
After the desperate, tragic events of the preceding chapters, this chapter is striking in its quietness. Katniss dreams in a morphling haze and wakes to find her voice dead. She hides in places “dim and quiet and impossible to find,” curled up and trying to “disappear entirely.” And she waits—this is a chapter of waiting—for the trial, for her last act as Mockingjay, which hardly means anything to her now. She makes her way to the chapter’s final revelation across “thick carpets” in a hall where “heavy tapestries soa[k] up the sound” and even the colors and lighting are “muted.” All seems to be suspended; all activity goes on elsewhere. This suspenseful quiet is partly why Snow’s accusations are jarringly unexpected.
Outside the greenhouse, Paylor asks Katniss if she found what she wanted. Katniss silently holds up the white rose bud and then flees to her room, where she puts it in water. She evaluates Snow’s account of the attack on the children against the rebel narrative. Would the rebels kill children, so precious in 13? Was the trap Beetee’s and Gale’s design? Wasn’t victory already in Coin’s grasp? The attack, Katniss decides, was overkill. Coin did have what she wanted already, except for Katniss’s support. Katniss recalls Boggs’s warning that unless the Mockingjay openly approved of Coin, Coin would perceive her as a threat. It occurs to Katniss suddenly to wonder why Prim, only thirteen years old, was on the front lines during the assault on the Capitol. Someone “very high up” had to have approved that assignment. And because the attack aired live, Katniss likely would have seen it had she not reached the mansion. Was Coin trying to push Katniss “completely over the ledge” or secure her loyalty? Did Plutarch know of the plan, if plan it was?
Katniss has no one to trust. Cinna, Boggs, Finnick, and Prim are dead; Gale is in District 2, and Peeta is still hospitalized and likely mentally unstable. Only Haymitchmight help her; but when she enters his filthy room, she has to pour water on him to wake him up. He asks rudely, “More boy trouble?” She flees as he realizes that his sneer went too far, but he is too drunk to stand and follow her. Katniss finds a wardrobe and burrows into the silk garments, fighting hysteria. She sleeps and dreams of suffocation and of “trying to shed my ruined body and unlock the secret to growing flawless wings.” Eventually, guards find her wrapped in the silks, screaming at her nightmares, and take her back to her room.
Haymitch is there with food, meds, and a deep bath drawn. She tries to calm down in the water, but the smell of the rose bud torments her, and she is about to “smother” the flower with a towel when her prep team arrives to prepare her for the execution. They are shocked by her patchwork skin and weep, nearly afraid to touch her. Effie is there, too, and she reverts immediately to her former role, telling Katniss that they have “another big, big, big day ahead,” and leaves to check arrangements. Venia reports that Plutarch and Haymitch had to fight to keep Effie alive, and Katniss remarks that “it’s a good thing Plutarch kidnapped you three after all.” Venia concurs; they are the only prep team that survived after the Quarter Quell; all the stylists are dead, too. Venia “doesn’t say who specifically killed them,” and Katniss wonders whether it matters. The team dresses her and makes her up; Cinna’s Mockingjay costume hides most of her scars so that outwardly she looks “normal.”
Gale arrives, and the prep team leaves. He and Katniss regard each other’s reflections, unable to meet each other’s eyes, and she wonders how they can be the same boy and girl who, five years ago, became hunting partners. If she had not taken Prim’s place, perhaps they could have escaped and lived together, but perhaps “the dark, twisted sadness” between them would have happened anyway. Gale has brought a single arrow for her to fire.
Katniss asks finally, “Was it your bomb?” Gale doesn’t know; neither does Beetee. But he does know that she will “always be thinking about it.” She knows, too. She will “never be able to separate” Prim’s death from her feelings about Gale. The only thing that had bound them, they realize, was their efforts to protect their families. “Shoot straight, okay?” he says as he leaves.
Effie arrives to escort Katniss to a pre-ceremony meeting, and she sees her prep team sitting “hunched and defeated.” Katniss expects a production meeting with Plutarch presiding but finds instead the six other victors, wearing 13’s uniform, seated at a table and looking unhappy. Katniss is surprised that only she, Beetee, Haymitch, Johanna, Annie, Enobaria, and Peeta remain, but Beetee explains that the victors were “targeted from both sides.” The Capitol killed victors who might sympathize with the rebels, and the rebels killed those they thought were on the Capitol’s side.
Coin enters and gets to the point. Snow will be executed later in the day, and many others await execution as well. As Coin talks, Katniss looks at Peeta for the first time since the bombing and sees that he, too is a fire mutt, covered in scars and grafts. Coin puts before the group an alternative that they must vote on: “a final Hunger Games, using the children directly related to those who held the most power.” If the majority votes yes, the Games will be held, and Panem will know that the victors approved, as a group, but not how each victor voted, for reasons of security. This is her idea, not Plutarch’s, she clarifies: “It seemed to balance the need for vengeance with the least loss of life.”
Dissent, disbelief, anger, and approval burst out. Peeta is emphatically against the idea, while Johanna thinks with pleasure that Snow has a granddaughter. Enobaria supports the idea “indifferently”; Annie votes no, as Finnick would if he were alive. Beetee is against setting “a bad precedent” and argues that “unity is essential for our survival.” Two victors for the Games, and three against—Katniss and Haymitch have yet to speak. She wonders, “Was it like this then? Seventy-five years or so ago?” The case for the Games was made, people spoke for and against it, and perhaps someone made “a case for mercy that was beaten down by the calls for the deaths of the district’s children.” She breathes in despair with the scent of the rose she cut: “All those people I loved, dead” and yet “[n]othing has changed.”
Katniss thinks carefully and then votes yes, “for Prim.” Haymitch’s vote will decide the matter, and he casts his for vote “with the Mockingjay.” “Excellent,” Coins says and then dismisses the meeting so that the execution ceremony can begin. She agrees to place the rosebud in Snow’s lapel. Plutarch directs as people touch up Katniss’s makeup. She hears the crowd cheer as Coin takes her place on the balcony, and Effie guides her to her position. Snow is led out and shackled to a post only ten yards from Katniss, though he’s clearly too sick and weak to try to run, if there were anywhere to run. Katniss places the single arrow on the string of the purring bow and sees Snow cough blood. She looks in his eyes for any remorse but sees only “the same look of amusement” he displayed in the greenhouse when he reminded her that they promised not to lie to each other. “He’s right,” Katniss thinks. “We did.” She assassinates Coin, whose body falls over the balcony.
This complicated chapter marks several ends. Katniss’s friendship with Gale, and the possibility of their love, ends when they realize that Prim’s death will forever be between them. Her odd and sad relationship with her prep team and Effie ends as they make her up for one last audience. Her long quest to kill Snow ends in a surprise when she uses her only arrow to kill Coin, now an enemy of the people, in Katniss’s eyes. And, she assumes, her life will end soon, since she has just assassinated Panem’s president, which suggests that she has already ended, in her own mind, her relationship with Peeta, against whom she voted. However, the unspoken alliance with Haymitch hints at a less obvious interpretation of Katniss’s vote for the last Games. Haymitch understands why Katniss voted yes—that is was a test that Coin failed with her immediate and clearly pleased response to his vote: “Excellent.” She wants the Games; they are her idea; she is thirsty for vengeance and willing to kill children to get it. Her reaction is damning evidence that leads Katniss to kill her. “Nothing has changed,” Katniss thinks in despair before she votes. “Nothing will ever change now”—if Coin is in power. Katniss must stop her, and Haymitch must let her do it by voting not with Katniss but with the Mockingjay, the symbolic alter ego that arose in the arena where children were forced to kill each other.