Part III: “The Assassin”
After Coin falls from the balcony, the silence is broken by one sound: an “awful gurgling cackling” that is Snow laughing as he vomits blood, dying. Guards head for Katniss, who refuses to face torture and her mother’s grief. She bites at the pocket where the nightlock pill is secured, but Peeta’s hand blocks her access, and the pill is crushed under a guard’s boot. The guards carry her away as she screams for Gale, but just as she failed him on the streets of the Capitol, he fails her now. She peels off the Mockingjay costume, taking with it tender skin that is now shredded and bleeding, and lies down on the bare mattress to die. “No such luck”—she wakes, showers under a gentle stream, and hunches on the shower floor wondering why she is not dead. When she returns to her room, she finds that her Mockingjay outfit has been removed; a paper robe is there, along with medicine and food. As she eats, she plans “the manner of my suicide.” The force field keeps her from jumping to her death, nothing in the room can serve as a noose, and she’s likely on suicide watch. Her only choice is to refuse food and water or to succumb to the agony of morphling withdrawal.
But a few days into her plan, something odd happens. Katniss begins to sing. Even in her sleep, she sings every song she knows. Weeks pass, she sings, no one comes to her room—she wonders why not. Katniss eats very littleand becomes aware that they are weaning her off the medicines. She fears that they have found a “new way to remake, train, and use” her, but she won’t let them, preferring death.
For two days she lies on the mattress, taking in no food, water, or morphling. Then Haymitch comes to tell her that her trial is over and that they are going home. She is too weak to rise, but people carry her to the hovercraft. Plutarch catches her up on Panem news. With both Coin and Snow dead, at first “Pandemonium” ruled, but emergency elections were held, and Commander Paylor become president. Plutarch is secretary of communications and defended Katniss at her trial, as did Dr. Aurelius, who offered an insanity defense. Now Katniss is restricted to District 12, at least, Plutarch jokes, until she’s needed for another war—a not unlikely situation since, he says, humans are “fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.”
Plutarch disembarks in District 3, where he and Beetee are working, and when they’re airborne again, Katniss asks Haymitch why he is going back to 12. Her mother’s work, she realizes, is no longer in 12, so she assumes that Haymitch, still her mentor, has been assigned to keep an eye on her. He has a letter in Mrs. Everdeen’s “delicate, perfectly formed writing”; she’s in District 4 helping to start a hospital. In truth, Katniss thinks, “between my father and Prim and the ashes,” her mother can no longer bear District 12. Yet Katniss must. In Victor’s Village the lights are on in half the houses, but not Peeta’s. Someone built a fire in Katniss’s kitchen, so she sits in a rocking chair, looking at the fire and holding her mother’s letter.
In the morning, Greasy Sae arrives with her granddaughter to cook breakfast and coax Katniss to eat. Every day, morning and evening, they come; Katniss eats, sits, and thinks. The phone rings—it’s likely Dr. Aurelius, since Katniss is required to continue her sessions with him—and she ignores it. She doesn’t change clothes or shower. Finally, one day, Greasy Sae comments that spring has come and that Katniss should hunt. She tells Katniss to “check down the hall,” and after some time, Katniss drafts herself to the study to find a sturdy box holding her father’s hunting jacket, the plant book, the wedding photo, the spile, and two bows with arrows that Gale saved when District 12 was bombed. She puts on the jacket and sleeps on the sofa, dreaming that she is in a grave. When she wakes, it’s morning. Not quite awake and prepared to “scream at the dead,” Katniss runs outside to find Peeta planting “five scraggly bushes” under her house’s windows. Dr. Aurelius finally discharged him, he explains, and told him to tell Katniss to answer the phone. Peeta looks thin but better, and Katniss suddenly realizes that she’s filthy, unbathed and with matted hair.
Peeta explains that he dug the bushes up in the woods and is transplanting them—“For her.” Katniss realizes that they are rosebushes and is about to yell “vicious things” when the full name of the flower comes to her: primroses. She nods and retreats into the house, but “the evil thing is inside, not out.” Katniss climbs the stairs to her room, where the hideously perfect white rose is still there, in the dead bouquet. She carries the flowers to the fire and burns them. Then she smashes the vase. She opens windows and scrubs herself pink. She burns the clothes that came from the Capitol, all in an effort to destroy the last of the smell of the rose and exorcise the house of Snow’s presence.
When Greasy Sae comes to make breakfast, Katniss asks after Gale. He’s in District 2, working “some fancy job.” Katniss expects to feel “anger, hatred, longing” but feels “only relief.” She decides to hunt. On her way to the meadow, she sees people with horses and carts clearing debris and gather remains—a “reaping of the dead.” Gale’s former crewmate Thom tells her that they found the remains of Madge and her family. Katniss thinks about Madge: “Quiet and kind and brave.” She hopes that Madge won’t be part of the “cast” of the dead in her nightmares. When Katniss reaches the Meadow, she sees people digging a mass grave for the remains.
Katniss wants to hike to the lake but is too weak. In this setting, she misses Gale terribly, and she becomes “so sick and dizzy” that Thom has to take her home “in the dead people’s cart” and help her inside. As she sits by the fire again, she hears an impossible sound: Buttercup’s hiss. He’s been wounded by some predator and is lame and thin, but he made it back from District 13.
The grief and anger that Katniss has kept silent for so long erupts as she yells at the cat that Prim is “never coming back here again!” She keens her sorrow, and Buttercup wails along with her. That night, when she wakes from broken sleep, Buttercup is by her. In the morning, Katniss accepts that he won’t leave and cleans his cuts. He bears this “stoically” but cries like a kitten when she digs the torn from his paw. She cries, too, but afterward, she feels strong enough to call her mother at last. They weep together, long distance. Peeta arrives with fresh bread, and Greasy Sae cooks for them all, cat included.
Katniss’s recovery is slow, but she goes “through the motions,” as Dr. Aurelius advises. She tells Dr. Aurelius an idea she has for a book, and he sends her a box of parchment. Inspired by her family’s plant book, Katniss wants to record the dead. Each page has a photo of the person, or Peeta paints and draws the person if no photo exists. Then Katniss writes “all the details it would be a crime to forget.” They seal each page with salt water and pledge to live their best in honor of the dead. Even Haymitch participates. As time passes, they make little additions as memories surface or something new happens.
Meanwhile, they get back to life as best they can. “Peeta bakes. I hunt. Haymitch drinks . . . .” People return to the district to grow crops, and a factory for producing medicines in built. Peeta and Katniss, too, “grow back together” though he still has hijacked flashbacks and she still wakes “screaming from nightmares.” Gradually, too, Katniss comes to love Peeta sexually. She realizes that all along she had enough fire of her own and didn’t need Gale’s fire, “kindled with rage and hatred.” She needed the “dandelion in spring,” the hope of rebirth that Peeta intuitively has. When he asks her, “You love me. Real or not real?” she knows that the answer is “Real.”
The novel ends with the overthrow of the Capitol, the election of Paylor, who will be a fair and competent leader, and the return home of Katniss, Haymitch, and Peeta. It might be easy to say that, as is often the case in fiction, good triumphs over evil. But the end of the trilogy is not facile or in any way white-washed. Happily ever after is not a given, perhaps not even a possibility, and the final chapter keeps the evidence of this fact in front of readers. The ashes must be sifted for bones and the bones buried. Only a few hundred residents remain to start the long work of rebuilding. Haymitch, his enemy defeated, does not suddenly toss away the liquor and become whole, and readers sense that he never will be able to do so. Peeta is overcome by flashbacks; he “clutches the back of a chair and hangs on” till they pass, and he still relies on the “Real or not real?” game. The lost children are still lost, Cinna and Portia and other allies are dead, the injuriesto mind and body can’t even be counted. The trilogy’s end is bittersweet and in keeping with the aftermath of war.
Fifteen or so years have passed, and a dark-haired, blue-eyed girl plays in the Meadow with her blond, gray-eyed little brother. It took Peeta years to persuade Katniss to have children.
The arenas, once tourist attractions for Capitol citizens, have been destroyed, and memorials have been built. The Hunger Games are part of history now, and soon Peeta and Katniss’s children will study them in class. Peeta and Katniss will have to decide what to tell their children about their roles in the Games. For now, though, the children play in the Meadow, unaware that it holds the bones of many dead. Peeta reassures Katniss—they’ll use the book they made, and she’ll explain how she copes with the past by making “a list in my head of every act of goodness I’ve seen someone do. It’s like a game. Repetitive” and somewhat tedious, she says, but “there are worse games to play.”