Part III: “The Assassin”
Katniss would like to rest for a few moments in the “classy” apartment. The survivors peer through the blinds to see crowds of Capitol citizens going about their business. Snow’s mansion is only a few blocks away, but they are in no shape to mount an attack, so they raid the closets for clothing, wigs, and wraps. Food and first aid supplies stuffed in their pockets, with Peeta focusing on the pain in his cuffed wrists to stay sane, they slip into the crowd. Soon Peacekeepers appear and the crowd becomes agitated, but Cressida leads them to a back street where less affluent Capitol citizens buy secondhand items. They enter a shop that sells cheap fur-lined underwear, a place Plutarch has identified as safe for rebels. The proprietor is Tigris, “an extreme example” of the surgical changes some citizens undergo. Her skin is tattooed with tiger stripes, her nose flattened to look feline. She growls at Cressida but opens a wall panel to reveal a hiding place.
Katniss hesitates, unsure of Tigris’s motivations. Katniss tells Tigris that she plans to kill Snow, and Tigris smiles, so Katniss decides to trust her. The hiding place is a cellar where old furs are stored. Gale lies on the furs while Katniss stitches his wound as best she can. While he sleeps, she treats the abrasions on Peeta’s wrists, and he asks whether she really risked her life to get him medicine in the arena. “Real . . . you were the reason I was alive to do it,” she assures him. Her answer confuses him, and she cuffs him to the stairs so that he can sleep without fear. Exhaustion and resignation overcome Katniss; she decides to trust Tigris rather than posting a watch.
Katniss wakes with a tortured conscience. Eight people died in a single day on her account—nine if she includes the woman she killed in the apartment—all because she wants to assassinate Snow. After they wake, Katniss confesses to her lie about being on a mission for Coin, but Gale and Cressida assure her that they all knew about her plan, since it as a condition of her being the Mockingjay. Gale adds that, far from being a “disaster,” as Katniss says, the mission has so far been “highly successful.” Cressida concurs, and Pollux nods his agreement; only Peeta is silent, so Katniss asks his opinion. “I think,” he says, “you still have no idea. The effect you can have on people.” The squad and crew followed her because they believed that she can indeed kill Snow. Katniss grasps that she can repay their trust only by assassinating Snow, as she said she would. They get out the maps of the city and plot, but Snow has been in hiding ever since Finnick’s revelations. Only one thing might draw him out—Katniss’s capture and public execution.
Tigris closes shop and calls them to come up and eat. She had no way to contact Plutarch, but he will assume that they are in a safe house. Tigris has only stale bread, moldy cheese, and mustard to offer. They watch the Capitol news coverage. Bounties have been posted for the survivors, and the murdered woman is lamented. No rebel broadcasts break in, and Katniss suspects that Coin is shocked to learn that they are alive.
The survivors decide that they will split up, the next morning, and mingle with the crowds streaming toward the city center. Katniss is secretly glad, because now no one can stop her if she decides to give herself up. They sleep in the cellar, but Katniss wakes and overhears Gale and Peeta laughing about how Tigris is correct—no one knows what to do with Katniss. Each boy claims that she loves the other, but both know that she loves her family most. Gale says that they’ll all likely be dead soon, but if they live, choosing between Gale and Peeta will be Katniss’s problem—and that she will choose “whoever she thinks she can’t survive without.”
Tigris admires Katniss (and gives her a gift of fur-lined leggings). Cressida and Pollux believe in her, Gale deems her impromptu “mission” a success, and her presence has confounded Coin and put the Capitol in an uproar. Because she’s the novel’s first-person narrator, readers must hear what others say about her to understand why, as Peeta says, she has such an effect on people and why no one knows what to do with her. But for her, both the admiration and the critique are painful, and Gale’s prediction, which she overhears, will likely renew the sting she felt in District 13 when Peeta called her a “piece of work.” She’s already conflicted about her motivations and her love.
Angry to hear herself described as “cold and calculating,” Katniss thinks she could do without either Gale or Peeta. Does Gale really believe that she will “just conduct an unfeeling assessment of what my potential mates can offer”? But in the morning, she has no time to think about these things as they eat and watch the Capitol news. The destruction caused by the black wave gave the rebels the idea to send unmanned cars down city streets to deploy pods, and now the rebels are “carving” three paths toward the city center. The Capitol has adapted quickly and is turning pods off till rebels are near and then detonating them. In addition, evacuations are underway, driving residents toward the city center and forcing affluent citizens to open their homes to shelter them. Katniss peers out at sleepy citizens, many roused from their beds and still in robes, stumbling through the streets. The winter weather turns the frightened children’s bare feet blue.
Tigris goes out to reconnoiter, but Katniss is restless and wants to enter the crowd of evacuees and move toward Snow’s mansion. The rebels may need weeks to secure the Capitol, and Katniss knows that Coin would send her back to District 13. Katniss thinks of her losses and decides that she won’t “turn myself over to that woman.” Tigris returns in the evening with hot food and helpful information. People living in the “choice” apartments near the presidential mansion tried to bolt their doors against evacuees, but Peacekeepers are smashing the locks to “assign houseguests.” The City Circle is packed with cold, hungry families, and the mansion is purportedly being prepared to house them.
The Head Peacekeeper comes on to say that in an “unfortunate incident,” a young man resembling Peeta was beaten to death by a panicked crowd. Some of the rebels are now only about four blocks away. Their hand forced, the survivors agree that in the morning they will leave, first Cressida and Pollux, who know the way, then Gale and Katniss, and finally Peeta, who may be able to create a diversion if necessary. They will mingle with the evacuees and head for the mansion. Gale gives Peeta a nightlock pill, since he will be on his own. Gale can detonate an arrow if he needs to avoid capture and torture and if Katniss can’t kill him, as he has agreed to do for her as well.
After a poor night’s sleep, they offer a “meager thanks” to Tigris—a can of salmon, which moves her. She dresses them and makes them up. Katniss hugs Cressida and Pollux before they leave and then removes Peeta’s handcuffs, feeling “a kind of rising desperation” as they embrace. She kisses Tigris’s scarred cheek, and she and Gale go out into gray, snowy day to mix with the scared citizens and crying children. She hears gunfire and sees Peacekeepers directing people into shops; they have left Tigris’s just in time. She can see Cressida and Pollux ahead but not Peeta. A small girl in a yellow coat looks too closely at Katniss, so she slows to let people come between them. Gunfire bursts out, and she and Gale immediately take cover behind a shop display. Citizens fall; Katniss sees the girl in the yellow coast “screeching and trying to rouse” her mother before she herself is shot. Katniss becomes momentarily speechless at the sight of “her tiny crumpled form.” Rebels are firing from the rooftops, ostensibly at the Peacekeepers. Gale and Katniss take weapons from fallen Peacekeepers and press on through the panicked citizens, many wounded now from the crossfire. Katniss and Gale step over corpses and through blood. On the third block, they hear a loud crack, and the street splits into two long hinges that began to swing down, dropping the people into a pit from which “a vile stench . . . like rotted corpses” rises. She scrambles on the slick ice to grab a lamppost, calling for Gale regardless of who might hear and watching the “black forms” in the pit that await anyone who survives the fall. Gale is hanging on to the grating in front of a house, kicking at the door; she shoots the lock so that he can scramble inside. But Peacekeepers are there to grab him as he mouths something at her and then yells, “Go!” As she flees, she realizes that he was asking her to shoot him; now he is a prisoner, and she has lost track of Cressida, Pollux, and Peeta. Devastated, she feels that she has failed to keep the “unspoken promise” she and Gale made and decides that the only way to save him is to force the Capitol to surrender. Snow must die—that day.
Katniss moves with the surviving evacuees to the circle around the presidential mansion. Inside a pen of concrete barriers about four feet high, children, from toddlers to teens, are huddled in the cold, guarded by Peacekeepers. She realizes that they are Snow’s human shield. Cries go up that the rebels are nearly there, and Katniss climbs a flagpole to escape the crush of the crowd and to see better. The rebels are driving citizens back into the streets as a hovercraft appears over the children and releases silver parachutes. The children have watched the Games and know that the parachutes mean “Food. Medicine.Gifts.” They scoop them up as the hovercraft vanishes. Then a few dozen of the “gifts” explode. The blood-stained snow is “littered with undersized body parts.” Shocked Peacekeepers haul away the barriers, and rebel medics “swarm” the injured children. Katniss sees Prim’s blond braid, her untucked shirt tail, and pushes through the crowd, calling her name. Prim sees her, calls back, and then “the rest of the parachutes go off.”
Throughout the trilogy, readers become aware of Katniss’s empathetic nature.She has an ability to take others’ perspective. In the arena, though she knows that the other tributes are her enemies, she nevertheless hates to have to kill them. Her pity for Cato, as the mutts tear at him, is a case in point. Readers can trace other examples in the trilogy as well; one striking example is her objection to the entombment of everyone in the Nut. In this chapter, the sight of panicked Capitol citizens in their nightclothes, pulling along sleepy children through streets that become increasingly dangerous, rouses her sympathy. She is stunned at Snow’s use of the naïve Capitol children as his shield. Katniss misunderstands Gale’s comments about whom and how she loves. She is not “cold and calculating” but rather so empathetic that her qualms about each violent action threaten her mission.