Katniss watches in horror as the Head Peacekeeper whips Gale. Though the crowd whispers that she should move away, she yells, “No!” and runs through the crowd toward Gale. There, she blocks the Head Peacekeeper’s whip, receiving a bloody wound on her cheek and arm.
For all her caution and desire to run away from the government, in a crisis Katniss proves herself to be a brave young woman, enduring great pain to protect her friend.
Before Katniss can say anything further, a voice calls out, “Hold it!” It is Haymitch, walking through the crowd. Katniss notices Darius lying on the ground, and wonders if he tried to protect Gale before the Head Peacekeeper took over. Haymitch loudly complains that Katniss has a photo-shoot next week: the wound from the Peacekeeper’s whip will be hard to cover up. The Peacekeeper looks nervous, but he explains that Gale was poaching illegally. Together, Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch order the Peacekeeper to stop whipping Gale, threatening to use their influence against the Peacekeeper if he should continue.
Haymitch is able to manipulate the Peacekeeper in a way that neither Katniss nor Darius is capable of doing, perhaps because he’s more experienced than either of them in dealing with matters of politics and appearances. Haymitch pressures the Peacekeeper to “lay off” because Katniss’s fame is well-known, and the Peacekeeper is forced to relent. This reminds us that the society of Panem is highly superficial, and everyone has respect for celebrities. But it also suggests how Katniss’s celebrity might be something that could be used to combat Snow just as it is here used to beat back Snow’s Peacekeeper.
Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch untie Gale from his whipping post. He is unconscious from the pain. They carry Gale toward Katniss’s family’s house, followed by Bristel and Thorn, Gale’s crewmates. Bristel and Thorn explain that Gale had taken a wild turkey to the house of Cray, the usual peacekeeper. Instead of Cray, he found a new peacekeeper—a man named Romulus Thread. (Neither Thorn nor Bristel know what happened to Cray.) After Romulus confronted him, Gale was dragged to the whipping post, forced to plead guilty to his crime, and whipped. Darius tried to prevent Gale’s whipping, but when he intervened, Thread knocked him to the ground.
It’s unclear, based on this explanation, if Gale is being punished on Katniss’s behalf or not. Certainly, he committed a crime that wouldn’t ordinarily be punishable at all (Gale is friends with Cray), so this suggests that something has changed in the last few days, and all the evidence points to Katniss being the cause of this change. The government punishes someone close to Katniss as another method of intimidating her and warning her to “behave.”
The group has arrived at Katniss’s house in Victor’s Village. Katniss’s mother, a skilled nurse and healer, emerges from the house, and sees Gale. Immediately, she fetches medicines from her cabinets: herbs, hot water, cloths, tinctures, etc. Katniss is privately amazed that her mother is so calm in the face of such horrible injuries—it is only at these times, she thinks, that her mother truly comes alive. Haymitch notes that in the old days, when whippings were more common, everyone went to Katniss’s mother for care. He sends Bristel and Thorn home, bribing them to keep quiet about everything they’ve seen.
Katniss gains new respect for her mother in this moment of crisis. Much like Katniss herself, her mother is at her best in emergencies, but knowing her in her lethargic, depressed everyday life, one would never guess this side of her personality. Haymitch seems wise and mature here, and is more insightful about Katniss’s mother than Katniss herself is.
As Katniss watches her mother treat Gale, she notices that he’s regaining consciousness. Katniss remembers that her mother keeps powerful painkillers for serious accidents. Nevertheless, her mother insists on giving Gale a simple herbal brew, one which Katniss knows to be weak. She yells to her mother to give Gale something stronger, but her mother refuses. Katniss tries to find the stronger painkillers, and her mother tells Peeta and Haymitch to drag her from the room, which they do.
Katniss’s compassion is sincere and well-founded, but her mother clearly knows what she’s doing. Thus, Katniss’s actions seem immature and unwise: her sympathy for her friends is so great that she doesn’t want to see them experience any pain whatsoever, even when present pain is necessary for a better future.
Peeta and Haymitch drag Katniss to another room of her house, where they stay with her. Peeta tells Haymitch what Katniss told him about the uprising in District 8, and adds that Katniss wants to leave District 12 immediately. Haymitch remains silent.
Haymitch’s silence can be interpreted any number of ways. He’s such a complex character to begin with—both cynical and noble—that we cannot tell which direction he’s leaning in.
After a short time, Katniss’s mother leaves Gale and begins to treat Katniss’s face. She gives Katniss herbs and other simple treatments. As she works, she asks Haymitch if “it’s starting again,” in reference to the whippings. Then there’s a sudden knock at the door—afraid, everyone except Gale goes to answer it. It is Madge, carrying vials of strong medicine called Morphling, which she says her mother purchased from the Capitol. Katniss’s mother takes the vials to Gale, who is still in a huge amount of pain. It occurs to Katniss that Gale might have had “something going on” with Madge, a thought that irritates her. Katniss’s mother gives Gale the morphling, and he falls into a deep sleep.
The word “morphling” is meant to sound like “morphine.” Perhaps this suggests why Katniss’s mother is so reluctant to use painkillers—one could become a morphling addict, just as many people become morphine addicts after using it as a painkiller. Katniss’s jealousy over Gale doesn’t lead to any actual facts about their relationship—rather, it confirms that Katniss has feelings for Gale, even if she’s conflicted because of her feelings for Peeta, as well.
As Katniss watches Gale sleep, she imagines him as the boy she first met when she was a small child. She realizes, for the first time, that she couldn’t live in District 12 if Gale were to die. Katniss begins to think that she’s been cowardly for planning to leave District 12. Perhaps, she realizes, she has been rebelling against the government all along with knowing it—by threatening to kill herself with poisonous berries, by wearing a mockingjay pin, and by speaking out about Rue. She whispers to Gale that she’s sorry, and kisses him—to her surprise, Gale answers her. Katniss tells Gale that she’ll stay with him, even if it means putting herself in danger. Gale says that he’ll do the same, and falls asleep again.
Here, Katniss comes to understand that there is more than one way to oppose the government. One can run from it, thereby refusing to play by its rules, but this is ultimately a form of cowardice and instant gratification. Thus, Katniss has been planning to run away from the Capitol because she’s afraid—yet she disguised her fear as sympathy for her family and for Gale. Katniss is beginning to realize that more direct forms of confrontation are necessary. This suggests her growing maturity—and it’s no fluke that it coincides with the kiss she gives Gale.