Part I: “The Ashes”
The hovercraft descends quickly and stays just long enough to allow the crew to exit. Gale, Boggs, and two other soldiers make up Katniss’s bodyguard. The television crew includes “a pair of burly Capitol cameramen with heavy mobile cameras encasing their bodies like insect shells,” director Cressida and her assistant, the heavily pierced Messalla. They move to a row of warehouses as another hovercraft drops in to deliver medical supplies and six medics.Katniss sees people bringing in the wounded to a warehouse with H painted over the doorway. She feels anxious and doubts that she will be of any help, but Boggs reassures her.
Katniss sees a woman in her early thirties, wounded and tired but working hard to direct patients and medics—Commander Paylor, who is surprised and almost suspicious to see Katniss. Word had it that the Mockingjay was alive, but rebels hadn’t seen her in so long that doubt had sprung up. Gale anxiously asks Paylor whether it’s wise to have all the wounded in one place. “I think it’s slightly better than leaving them to die,” Paylor says.
Katniss, supported by Boggs and Gale and trailed by the crew, passes rows of corpses. Then the smells “of soiled linen, putrefying flesh, and vomit” assault Katniss as she walks toward “row upon row of wounded, in cots, on pallets, on the floor.” She hears the wounded moan and those who love them cry and thinks about how, in District 12, there is no hospital and people prefer to die at home. But these people have lost their homes, she realizes.
Katniss is sweaty and faint, but she knows that Paylor is watching her “to see what I am made of.” She steels herself and walks among the wounded, who call her name and reach out to touch her. Severely wounded people brighten with joy when they see that Katniss is alive; she hides her surprise and tries to offer comforting words. Katniss moves among the people, touching them where they are whole, trying to grasp that “Boggs is right.” One man holds her face in his hands, and she silently thanks Dalton for telling her to wash off the make-up: “How ridiculous, how perverse I would feel presenting that painted Capitol mask to these people.” She is one of them because she, too, has suffered.
Many people tell her that they know Peeta is loyal; others express sympathy over the miscarriage. One woman cries so about the baby that Katniss wishes she could tell her the truth, but that would not help Peeta or the rebellion. Katniss gradually realizes that, all along, “thousands upon thousands of people from the districts” have been supporting her. She feels her power—the power Snow knew she had when she gave Peeta some of the berries and that Coin sees as a threat. She can make a difference.
Outside the makeshift hospital, she drinks water. Her team is pleased—she’d forgotten they were filming. Gale tells her that her mother will be proud when she sees the propo, but Katniss imagines her distress over the wounded. “Is it like this in every district?” she asks. Boggs says that it is—but stops, interrupted by Haymitch’s voice in his ear urging them to get to the airstrip because another wave of bombers is coming. They run, but the bombing begins before they reach the hovercraft. An explosion flings Katniss down in pain, and Boggs shields her body with his. They huddle against a wall, as waves of bombers drop their payloads, till Plutarch directs them to a warehouse equipped with a bunker where they can hidetill the bombers leave. Before they can reach the bunker, they realize that they are not the target of the raid: The hospital is. Plutarch and Haymitch order them to shelter in the bunker, and Gale has to kick Boggs away, but Katniss defiantly takes her earpiece out and climbs a ladder to the roof of a warehouse. Paylor and other soldiers man machine guns nests. Paylor explains that they expect three more waves and that the bombers drop their shields before they fire. Their first attempts are less than successful, but then they bring down a bomber, then another. The bombers leave, and the soldiers scramble to the ground and dash toward the hospital, where the roof has collapsed, trapping many wounded inside.
Gale tries to lead Katniss to the airstrip, but she stands there, stunned that the Capitol would attack a hospital. Why not? Gale argues. The wounded were, to Snow, expendable. “If the Capitol wins, what will it do with a bunch of damaged slaves?” Katniss thinks of their conversations in the woods, before the arena, when Gale raged against the Capitol and she half-listened. He was already preparing, she now sees, to face this enemy. Cressida tells Katniss that Snow directed the Capitol to broadcast live footage of the bombing and then made a statement “that this was his way of sending a message to the rebels.” She asks if Katniss has a countermessage for Snow: “I want to tell the rebels that I am alive,” she begins. She describes the ruin of the hospital and says that no one should think that the Capitol would respect a cease-fire because “you know who they are and what they do.” Then she addresses Snow directly, directing the camera to one of the downed Capitol bombers and declaring, “Fire is catching! . . . And if we burn, you burn with us.”
Until this chapter, the rebellion—the war, more properly—goes on outside District 13. Katniss (and readers) is rather detached from it; it’s an abstraction to her, not a reality. Her comprehension of the Capitol’s violence is still limited to the treatment of the tributes in the arena, the psychological torment of life in the districts, and the limited crackdowns in a few districts. Her ambivalence about becoming the Mockingjay is tied to her lack of specific knowledge about the war; in essence, she does not know what is at stake. The events of this chapter provide a brutal, sudden education in this painful subject; and it is clear, by the end of the chapter, that Katniss is no longer playing the role of Mockingjay. She is now Soldier Everdeen, the Mockingjay, face of the rebellion and Snow’s openly avowed nemesis.
As Katniss sees the hospital collapse, “all the fight goes out” of her. Boggs guides her toward the landing strip and then carries her. A cargo craft flies them to District 13 as Boggs administers first aid. Katniss passes out, waking later in the hospital, her mother at her side. Mrs. Everdeen is angry because Katniss left without letting her know. Katniss, feeling guilty, realizes how much her mother has endured and says that, in future, the propos team will “clear” excursions with her. “Katniss,” her mother says bitterly, “no one clears anything with me.”
The doctors removed shrapnel from Katniss’s leg and are worried about concussions from the explosion, but Katniss feels clear-headed. She’s wanted in the Command room and arrives in a wheelchair, worried about the repercussions of the decision she and Gale made to fire at the bombers. Cressida, Messalla, and the cameramen are already there, smiling. Katniss likes this crew—they “take pride” in what they do, and they stuck with her through the bombing in District 8 to get the footage. She realizes that she’d want them as allies in the arena. She learns the cameramen’s names—Castor and Pollux, twin brothers, and guesses from the way Pollux swallows that he is an Avox.
As the others arrive, Katniss notes that Gale and Coin seem “chummy”; Gale bristles at Katniss’s suspicions and says that at least one of them should be “accessible.” Coin reports the successful launch of the Airtime Assault in all districts and says that Beetee is still working on hacking the Capitol’s communications. They watch the finished District 8 propo, impressive for its flames, immediacy, and threat to the Capitol: IF WE BURN / YOU BURN WITH US.” The team has co-opted the voice of Claudius Templesmith, announcer of the Hunger Games, intoning, “Katniss Everdeen, the girl who was on fire, burns on.” Katniss tries to imagine how she would feel, seeing it in one of the districts, since there has “never been anything like it on television.” Everyone applauds for Cressida, but Fulvia seems a bit put out because Cressida’s field footage worked while her studio footage didn’t. Coin also expresses displeasure—about the risks the team took and the decision to take Katniss into combat. Katniss realizes that Coin does not know that she and Gale disobeyed orders. The team agrees that the risks were worth it.
Cressida reports that Messalla is already cutting together film of the people Katniss greeted in the hospital, and, she says, “Fulvia came up with a really brilliant idea”—to make a series of propos called We Remember and featuring fallen tributes such as Rue and Mags. Katniss notes Cressida’s subtle diplomacy in praising Fulvia and restoring her good mood. She also notes that Plutarch doesn’t seem to need or want credit for anything. As former Head Gamemaker, what he wants is success.
Gale wheels Katniss back to the hospital. They wonder why no one turned them in. Gale leaves to work with Beetee, and Katniss sleeps and wakes to find Haymitch waiting by the bed, dangling her earbuds over her face. He threatens to put her in locking head gear or even to have a chip implanted in her head if she ever pulls her earbuds out again when he’s giving her orders. When she throws the “head shackle,” as she calls the locking hear gear, at him, he catches it before leaving. Katniss tries to sleep again but can’t stop thinking of what happened in District 8.
Finnick brings his tray at dinner, and they watch the new propo, which is terrible to see. Suddenly a Capitol broadcast breaks in, another of Caesar Flickerman’s interviews with Peeta, who is heavily made up to conceal his deteriorating physical state. Katniss is shocked out how quickly Peeta has changed till she realizes that the first interview with Peeta was likely filmed just after she blew up the Quarter Quell arena and held for weeks before it aired. Since that time, Snow could have his people do “whatever they wanted to do to him.” Caesar asks whether Peeta has heard “rumors” that Katniss is helping the rebels make propos, but he’s convinced that the rebels are using her and that she has little knowledge of the war or of “[w]hat’s at stake.” He addresses her directly, urging her to think for herself and not to trust the rebels. He pleads with her to stop the war. Then the screen goes black and Panem’s seal appears.
Finnick shuts off the screen, knowing that any minute, the team will arrive “to do damage control on Peeta’s condition” and his speech. Katniss will have to “repudiate” what he said, yet his words resonate with her because she does not, in fact, trust “the rebels or Plutarch or Coin” to be honest with her. Finnick grabs her arm and says, “We didn’t see it.” They’ll lie and say that the new District 8 propo was so disturbing that they turned the set off. By the time Plutarch and Fulvia arrive, Katniss has composed herself, and she and Finnick are eating dinner and talking about Gale’s performance.
This chapter presents subtly shifting alliances. Since the opening of The Hunger Games, Katniss and Gale have been close—nearly in love, in her case, and certainly in love, in his. In addition, they’ve been partners and have protected each other’s family. They both believe in the cause of the rebellion. Yet Katniss has become aware that Gale is committed in a way that she is not, and that this disappoints him. He questions her willingness to protect and care for her prep team. He was somewhat impatient that it took her so long to agree to play the role of the Mockingjay; the choice was obvious to him. And he seems to trust Coin and to relish being someone she relies on. Fissures in their close bond are appearing, while conversely, Katniss and Finnick are discovering what it means to share the experiences of the arena and the fear for the people they love and who are in the Capitol’s control. They also, by the end of this chapter, share a willingness to deceive Plutarch and Coin, who, they suspect, would as willingly let Peeta and Annie die as help them escape, if it benefited the cause to do so. At the beginning of the chapter, Katniss realizes that Cressida, Messalla, Pollux, and Castor are people she would want as allies in the arena. She seems to be gradually realizing that Gale may no longer be among the people she would choose, in full trust, to stand with her in her final moments.