Katniss leaves Snow’s cell and walks out of the jail, thinking about everything she’s just learned. It’s possible that Snow was lying, and the Capitol bombed its own citizens to distract the rebels. It’s also possible that the rebels bombed the Capitol, pretending to be Capitol soldiers. Whichever version of this story is the truth, Katniss realizes, Snow was right about one thing: Coin has manipulated Snow and the districts into warring with one another, allowing District 13 to seize power quickly and easily at the proper time.
Katniss isn’t foolish enough to believe Snow without any evidence: the problem is that she has just enough evidence to see that Snow must be telling the truth. The darker implication of Snow’s argument is that Coin wanted the other districts to be as weak as possible: this is part of the reason that District 13 has been laying dormant for so many years. By letting the districts do Coin’s dirty work for her, Coin was able to swoop in and claim power without any further fighting.
Katniss remembers that Coin sent Peeta to accompany Katniss into battle, knowing that this decision would endanger Katniss. She also must have sent Prim to fight, though Prim was only 13 years old. Too many of Katniss’s friends have died, she thinks to herself: Finnick, Boggs, Prim, Cinna, etc. She wonders where Gale is now—the last time she saw him, he was being dragged away by Capitol guards.
Katniss realizes that Coin has murdered as many of her friends as has Snow—they really are alike. It’s important that Katniss’s mind jumps to Gale for the first time, it would seem, since they became separated. Katniss has been too busy thinking about revenge against Snow—revenge that now doesn’t seem so satisfying and clear-cut.
A few days pass, and it’s announced that Snow is to be publicly executed. Katniss’s old prep team, including Octavia, Flavius, and Venia, arrive at Katniss’s new Capitol home to dress her for the execution. Effie Trinket, an old Hunger Games organizer, is also present. Venia whispers that Haymitch and Plutarch had to fight with Coin to keep her alive. Gale arrives at Katniss’s house, and shows her a single arrow, with which she’s supposed to kill Snow and end the war. Katniss asks Gale about the bomb that killed her sister. Gale quietly says that nothing he says will make Katniss feel better. With this, he leaves.
The single arrow that Katniss holds symbolizes her greatest strength and her greatest weakness. She’s a strong, resourceful young woman, but she’s also a pawn and a weapon, whether for the Capitol or for the rebels. This is confirmed by the presence of Effie Trinket, previously an organizer for the Hunger Games—it would seem that nothing has changed under the new regime. Gale’s apparent indifference to Prim’s death signals the principle difference between him and Peeta, now that the trilogy draws to a close—Gale is fundamentally a callous person who is willing to commit evil acts “for the greater good,” while Peeta is a sensitive, empathetic person who doesn’t believe that the ends justify the means.
The execution ceremony begins. Katniss is present, along with the surviving Hunger Games participants: Enobaria, Johanna, Beetee, Annie, Haymitch, and Peeta. Beetee explains that the Hunger Games competitors were, for the most part, killed off: all those the rebels suspected of being loyal to the Capitol were murdered, while the Capitol had already killed those suspected of being rebels.
There’s great pathos in the fact that the Hunger Games tributes were the most heavily devastated demographic of Panem: they’ve been forced to fight with one another against their wills, but then they’re blamed for the conflict above all other citizens. They are, above all, victims of their own prestige—their fame makes it impossible for them to escape some kind of punishment, whether by the rebels or the government.
Coin arrives at the ceremony. She mentions to Katniss that many rebels are calling for the murder of all Capitol citizens, a proposal that Coin has rejected on the grounds that they need people for repopulation. Coin suggests to Katniss and her fellow Hunger Games competitors that they punish the Capitol by forcing their children to compete in a final Hunger Games. Peeta angrily opposes this idea, calling it cruel. Annie agrees with Peeta, as does Beetee. Johanna and Enobaria vote for the Games, reasoning that it will give the Capitol “a taste of its own medicine.” The vote comes down to Haymitch and Katniss. Katniss votes for the Hunger Games, “for Prim,” and Haymitch agrees with her. Thus, the vote passes, and Coin announces that the Hunger Games will be carried out soon.
Coin is cold and rational, much like Gale—she wants Capitol officials dead, but also wants to repopulate Panem. This is also Collins’s way of showing us that very little will change in Panem under President Coin. There will still be cruel, corrupt people in power who place little value on human lives. In many ways, Peeta was right when Flickerman interviewed him—the only real change that will come of the war between the rebels and the government is the loss of many lives in combat. Tyranny itself will not go away, only change its name from “Snow” to “Coin.”
The execution ceremony proceeds, with President Coin presiding. Katniss goes through the ceremony as if she’s sleepwalking. At the end of the ceremony, she is meant to fire an arrow at Snow. Just before she’s about to shoot him, she realizes that he was telling the truth. Snow coughs, and Katniss notices that he coughs up blood. Suddenly, she turns and fires her arrow at President Coin. Coin collapses and falls—Katniss has killed the rebel leader.
Collins runs through the ceremony quickly, preventing us from savoring any details of a fundamentally bloodthirsty, sensationalist event. This is entirely intentional, as Collins wants us to see such ceremonies for what they really are: a glamorization of murder, whether the murder of Hunger Games tributes or of corrupt politicians. The death of President Coin comes as a surprise—Collins’ great “twist” of the trilogy’s finale—and is a final act of agency on Katniss’s part. She has been a pawn for both Snow and Coin, but part of her power as a symbol is her danger, as represented by the arrow she wields. In this moment Katniss the symbol again becomes Katniss the person, a warrior fighting independently for what she thinks is right.