It’s the night after Peeta’s interview with Flickerman, and Katniss finds it impossible to sleep in her hospital bed. The next morning she’s released from the hospital. That same day, she’s given permission to walk into the woods with Finnick. They take the opportunity to discuss Peeta’s broadcast without being observed. Neither Finnick nor Katniss is sure what to make of the interview, but they’re more surprised that the rebel leaders haven’t brought it up to her.
This isn’t the first time in the Hunger Games trilogy that Katniss has had trouble sleeping. Evidently, she continues to struggle with the pain and trauma she’s experienced, like the destruction of District 12. It’s notable that the rebel leaders don’t bring up Peeta to Katniss, as the political games and deceptions continue.
After talking with Finnick, Katniss returns to her housing and eats dinner with Gale. He doesn’t mention Peeta at all. Katniss worries that her actions as the Mockingjay have made President Snow even less likely to trust Peeta—he may even be torturing Peeta for information in between interviews.
Katniss feels an acute sense of guilt—by now a familiar feeling for her—when she realizes that her actions have caused great harm to others. A major part of Katniss’s growing maturity stems from her realization that her actions have consequences—not only for herself, but for her friends.
The next morning, Katniss encounters Gale during “Production,” the time when Katniss is supposed to be working on propaganda videos with her TV crew. Katniss realizes that she’s furious with Gale for not mentioning Peeta’s interview to her—she knows that he’s seen it, and is trying to hide it from her. Angrily, Katniss confronts Gale about this, and he reluctantly admits that he saw Peeta’s interview, and adds that he was wrong not to tell Katniss. As Katniss and Gale argue about Peeta, Boggs and Cressida walk in. Boggs informs them that they’ll be filmed traveling to the remains of District 12 and discussing the Capitol’s brutality.
The love triangle between Katniss, Gale, and Peeta takes on another variation here, as Gale conceals information about Peeta from Katniss—restricting Katniss’s knowledge about a person she cares for. Were he being perfectly honest with himself, Gale would have realized that Katniss deserved to have as much information about Peeta about possible. Instead, spurred on by jealousy (and perhaps rebel politics as well), Gale conceals the information.
Katniss and Gale travel to District 12 by hovercraft, surrounded by their team. As they land in the Meadow, Katniss notices that Haymitch isn’t present, and Plutarch informs her that Haymitch has been struggling with his alcoholism once again.
Haymitch has struggled with drinking at many points in the novel. Here, it becomes clear that his weakness for alcohol also affects his political position with the rebels—he’s not taken as seriously or given as much responsibility because of it.
Katniss walks through District 12, lost for words. Gale is similarly disgusted and shocked by what he sees: dead bodies, decaying buildings, and more. At lunch, the group notices a group of mockingjays—singing birds. Obeying the TV crew’s promptings, Katniss begins to sing with the birds. First, she sings the four notes sung by Rue, a contestant in Katniss’s first Hunger Games whom she failed to protect from harm. Suddenly, she switches songs. Katniss sings “The Hanging Tree,” which the government has banned for its “subversive” lyrics.
It’s not clear if these actions of Katniss’s are totally improvised, totally scripted, or somewhere in between. Her decision to sing about Rue seems perfectly sincere, at least, as we’ve seen Katniss struggle with memories of Rue throughout the first two novels. The song “The Hanging Tree” is a symbol of defiance simply because the government has banned it, and yet it also calls to mind (whether Collins intended it or not) real-world instances of institutionalized oppression like those Collins portrays in Panem—in this case, the lynching of black Americans in the Jim Crow South.
“The Hanging Tree” is about a man who kills three people and is then hanged for his crimes. The man calls out from the grave for his love, begging her to “swing” beside him on the tree. Though at first the man seems to be telling his love to “flee” to safety, it becomes clear that he’s referring to the safety of death. As Katniss sings this song for the mockingjays, she thinks about learning it as a child, when her father was still alive. As a child, she thought the song was “creepy,” but now she has a hard time judging the man in the song, who asks his lover to die alongside him. As Katniss finishes her singing, the TV crew yells, “Cut!” and the group claps.
Now that Katniss has less clear notions of good, evil, right, and wrong, the song doesn’t seem creepy so much as an accurate recreation of her own state of mind. Katniss is afraid of death, but in a sense, she welcomes it as a relief from her responsibility, pain, and trauma. There is something disgusting about the way the TV crew yells “Cut!” as soon as Katniss has finished her song—the public nature of television disrupts the quiet, highly intimate scene in which Katniss is singing—and yet she is clearly singing for the cameras as well as for herself.
The group proceeds through the ruins of District 12. As they move on, Katniss worries that she’s losing her bond of trust and affection with Gale—by failing to mention Peeta, he broke her trust. Nevertheless, Katniss resolves to continue being friends with Gale, as she can’t afford to lose someone so important to her at such a crucial time.
Katniss’s relationship with Gale has changed considerably in recent months. Though they’ve known each other for their entire lives, they’re now growing apart—both because of Gale’s new harshness, and because of Katniss’s many traumatic experiences that she shares only with Peeta.
Katniss and Gale walk to Katniss’s former house. Inside, Gale points to the kitchen, and notes that Katniss once kissed him there. Katniss is surprised that Gale, who was under heavy painkillers at the time, remembers this. Gale begins to cry, saying that, like the man in the song, he’s still waiting for “an answer” from Katniss. In response, Katniss kisses him. Gale tells Katniss that the only way to make her love him is for him to be in pain. With this, he leaves the house.
Katniss’s behavior toward Gale is highly conflicted—on one hand, she loves him and always has, but on the other, she’s angry with him for betraying her trust. In a sense, the kiss between Gale and Katniss is both the culmination and the end of their romantic relationship. Gale recognizes that Katniss’s feelings for him often stem from sympathy, not genuine love.
The remainder of the group’s mission to District 12 proceeds uneventfully. When they return to District 13, Katniss goes to her room. Just as she’s preparing to relax, Boggs calls to tell her to come to Command—there is a meeting. In Command, Katniss finds the rebel leaders watching another interview with Peeta. Peeta is standing with President Snow, explaining to a huge crowd that a cease-fire between the two sides of the war is imperative. Suddenly, the interview switches to footage of Katniss in District 12—Beetee has hacked the Capitol networks once again. The footage then changes to an interview with Finnick, in which he talks about Rue’s death. The rebel leaders watch all this, delighted that their own propaganda is interfering with the government’s propaganda.
In response to every piece of government propaganda—that is, fictional storytelling designed to inspire a particular political point of view—the rebels air propaganda of their own. Indeed, “fighting fire with fire” could be the motto of the rebel alliance. President Coin seems to believe that everything she does—torturing, killing, imprisoning, etc.—is justified on the grounds that the Capitol is doing the same things. The problem with this reasoning, though, is that the rebels lose any sense of a moral high ground in the war—the Capital is evil and corrupt, but the rebels now offer an alternative that is no better.
The television switches back to Peeta, who’s still standing with Snow. Peeta is asked if he has any words for Katniss. In response, Peeta tells Katniss that “this will end” in death and destruction. Then he says that all those living in District 13 will be “dead by morning.” Katniss sees Peeta’s face contorting with pain as he speaks these words. Suddenly, on live television, Snow cries, “End it!” Peacekeepers rush up to Peeta and hit him on the head. Katniss—and everyone else in Panem watching television—sees Peeta’s blood “splattering” on the ground.
It seems that here Peeta has “broken through” his torture—instead of sticking to the script, he yells out that the Capitol is going to bomb District 13 in the morning. Much like Katniss, Peeta struggles with being manipulated as a propaganda piece—he’s told to “behave,” but he manages to break away from his instructions at the crucial time. This cements the relationship between Peeta and Katniss: they’re dealing with the same challenges, and in much the same way.