In the days following her meal with Peeta, Katniss devotes herself to training for her mission to the Capitol. She learns military tactics, and practices operating various weapons, including guns and futuristic cannons. The TV crew films her training.
Even at her most personal, Katniss is always on television. She’s become so used to being filmed that she’s started to forget that there’s a difference between her TV personality and her “real” self.
At the end of her training, Katniss must face an obstacle course that is designed, she’s informed, to target her own weaknesses. The course involves Katniss “shooting” Peacekeepers, and culminates with her receiving an order to hold her fire immediately. The rebel leaders believe that Katniss’s biggest weakness is her inability to follow orders. In this case, however, Katniss follows the order, passing her test.
There’s a marked conflict between Katniss’s ability to follow orders and her propensity to disobey them. This conflict is particularly troublesome to the rebels, because they recognize that Katniss is at her best when she is, in fact, disobeying others. Katniss is a difficult person to control, either for the rebels or for the government.
Katniss, Finnick, and Gale are summoned to Command, where Plutarch shows them what they’ll face in the Capitol. Surrounding the Peacekeepers’ barracks, there is a complicated maze of booby traps and elaborate challenges designed to kill or trap anyone who tries to make his way through. Before leaving the Capitol, Plutarch stole a holograph of the plans for this area, meaning that he’ll be able to direct Katniss through it. Katniss realizes that she’ll be participating in another version of the Hunger Games: an elaborate series of challenges. She’s eager to participate this time, however, because President Snow will, in essence, be a competitor along with her.
Each of the three novels in the trilogy concerns a Hunger Games competition of some kind. In this, the final book of the series, the competition is more abstract: there is a kind of deadly obstacle course in which Katniss must participate along with her fellow tributes, but it is not an official “Hunger Games.” The stakes are higher now, however, as Snow is as much at risk of losing his life as is Katniss herself. There is a pleasurable balance to this plot construction.
Katniss is assigned her position in the upcoming mission to the Capitol. She will be paired with Boggs, whom she likes. Finnick, whom she’ll be working with closely as well, tells her that Johanna will not be coming on the mission. In the obstacle course, Johanna’s challenge was to survive a course flooded with water—a gruesome reference to the water torture she endured at the Capitol. Instead of continuing to work her way through the obstacle course, Johanna cowered from the water and began to scream. Knowing that Johanna had experienced too much trauma to be an asset to the team, Boggs cut her from the mission. With the young victors prepared to fight, Haymitch and Beetee—who will manage their progress from District 13—wish them good luck. Katniss and Finnick admit to each other that they haven’t told their families what they’ll be doing on their mission—they’ve only said that they’re “going away” for a while.
We’re reminded, once again, of the marked similarity between the methods of the Capitol and those of the rebel alliance. Just as the Hunger Games consisted of a series of elaborate, sadistic obstacles, so the rebels’ training challenge consists of a sadistic obstacle that the soldier must fight. Johanna’s failure to brave the obstacle course isn’t so much an indication of her weakness as it is a verification that the rebels and the Capitol aren’t as different as they’d like to pretend.
The mission leaves District 13 and heads for the Capitol. Outside the Capitol, there is a huge field of “pods”—essentially mines, which may or may not contain elaborate booby traps. Katniss and other soldiers shoot as many pods as they can, disabling them. Instead of exclusively aiming for the pods they know to be booby-trapped, the soldiers aim for many different pods. If they only targeted the pods they know to be dangerous, the Capitol would realize that Plutarch has the holographic plans to the area. One soldier shoots at a pod that releases a hail of metal darts, one of which kills her instantly.
Even in the midst of battle, the soldiers of the rebel alliance recognize that they’re being watched, and that they must project a certain “image.” Thus, they’re aware that they must not appear to know which pods are “duds” and which are dangerous, since this will confirm that Plutarch has stolen the plans to the Capitol. Collins also uses this opportunity to illustrate the stakes of the soldiers’ mission: even though the soldiers know which pods are dangerous, this knowledge by itself isn’t always enough to save lives.
As the days go on, Katniss feels bored—she has very little to do. She begins planning to break off from the rest of her group. There is a device called the Holo—a complicated electronic map of the Capitol, including details about the “pods” that are located in the different areas of the city. Boggs controls the Holo, and if anyone in his squad, including Katniss, repeats the word “nightlock” three times, the Holo will explode. Katniss decides to find a way to steal the Holo from Boggs, break off from his group, and go into the city in search of President Snow.
It’s a little amusing that Katniss feels bored in the midst of so much danger—it’s as if she’s been through so much that she’s measuring everything against the Hunger Games. There’s also a serious point here, though: Katniss has come of age in the Hunger Games, and so the Games are an essential part of her personality and her worldview.
As Katniss plans to steal the Holo, she’s surprised to find that Peeta has arrived outside the Capitol, sent by President Coin herself. Katniss wonders why Coin would send Peeta into battle when he’s clearly not ready yet. Katniss wonders if Coin wants her dead.
Katniss isn’t afraid of recognizing the harsh truth: she sees right away that Coin doesn’t have any reason to keep her alive, and thus might have sent Peeta to kill her.