Katniss recognizes the strange creatures chasing Cato as muttations, hybrid animals engineered by the Capitol. These muttations look like giant wolves but can walk upright like humans. Cato runs to the Cornucopia and Katniss follows, but she realizes Peeta can't keep up because of his injured leg. Unable to help him from the ground, she climbs to the top of the Cornucopia and fires arrows at the approaching muttations, allowing Peeta to climb up just in time to escape them. When one muttation jumps to reach them, Katniss realizes it’s Glimmer. The dead tributes have been turned into these creatures. One jumps high enough to grab Peeta, and Katniss just gets hold of him before he's pulled over the side. He gets free, but when Katniss thinks he's safe, Cato begins strangling him in a headlock. Cato threatens that if Katniss shoots him, Peeta will go over the side too. Peeta reaches to the gash the muttation left in his leg and draws an "X" in blood on Cato's hand. Cato realizes what he's doing just as Katniss shoots him, and when he lets go Peeta shoves him to the ground below.
Cato, in his body armor, fights the muttations off for an hour before he is dragged into the Cornucopia. Night falls, and still no cannon announces his death. They can hear Cato moaning as the muttations work away at him, but Katniss knows they won't kill him. The Gamemakers want to prolong the gruesome spectacle for the viewers. Peeta, meanwhile, is bleeding heavily from the wound in his leg, which Katniss has tied with a tourniquet. When morning comes, Katniss realizes Peeta won't survive much longer. She climbs down over the ledge and sees Cato, mutilated but alive. Out of pity as much as to win, she kills him. The cannon sounds and the muttations leave, but still the Games don’t end. Katniss and Peeta climb down but just as Katniss thinks they've won, Claudius Templesmith announces that the previous rule change has been revoked: There can now be only one winner again. Peeta says he isn't surprised, and as he draws his knife Katniss takes aim at him. Peeta tells her to shoot, but she can't. Then, realizing the Gamemakers won't allow both of them to die, she has an idea. She takes the poisonous berries from her pouch. As Katniss and Peeta pop the berries into their mouths, Claudius Templesmith shouts for them to stop and announces that they are the winners of the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games.
They spit out the berries, and shortly after they’re lifted into a hovercraft. Doctors go to work on Peeta immediately and Katniss is dragged to a separate room where she's given a glass of orange juice. She catches her reflection in the room’s glass door and hardly recognizes the feral, crazed-looking person she's become. After a time they land back at the Training Center. Katniss has a violent fit when she sees them taking Peeta away, until a needle jabs her and she falls unconscious. She wakes in a different room and finds herself clean and healed. She can even hear out of her left ear again. The redheaded Avox comes in to feed her, and when Katniss asks if Peeta made it, she nods that he did. Katniss is kept restrained to her bed in this room for an indeterminate amount of time, possibly days.
Eventually she wakes up and finds her restraint gone. An outfit, the same one the tributes wore into the arena, is set out for her at the end of her bed. In the hall, she sees Effie, Haymitch, and Cinna. She runs first to Haymitch, who hugs her and tells her she did a good job, then Cinna embraces her. Her reunion with Peeta will be at the closing ceremony, and they take her to be prepped and dressed. Cinna puts her in a simple dress that recalls candlelight and makes her look young and innocent. He says Peeta will like it, but Katniss knows Cinna has some other reason that has to do with the Capitol. She is taken to a waiting area under the stage where she meets Haymitch. He says she looks good enough and asks for a hug, but when Katniss hugs him he doesn't let her go. He tells her she's in danger. The Capitol is furious at her showing them up in the arena. Her only defense can be that she was madly in love with Peeta. As she prepares to be raised up to the stage for her interview, she feels terrified that she, Peeta, and even their families may be in danger.
After the District 12 team, including Effie, the stylists, and Haymitch, is introduced, Katniss is raised up to the stage. When she sees Peeta she runs to him, knocking him slightly off balance, and she realizes he has a cane. They embrace for a long time before they're seated together on a love seat. Katniss, taking a cue from Haymitch, puts her head on Peeta's shoulder. They watch a reel of highlights from the Games, and after it ends President Snow places a crown on Peeta and another on Katniss. Though President Snow is smiling, Katniss can see he’s unhappy with her. When the event is over they go to the president's mansion for the Victory Banquet, then back to the Training Center. Katniss wants to talk to Peeta privately, but Haymitch won't let her. That night, she sneaks out of her room and looks for Peeta but can't find him. She returns to her room, and when she decides to go straight to his room, she finds her door has been locked from the outside.
The next day she and Peeta are interviewed by Caesar Flickerman. Katniss is nervous because she has to be very careful what she says. She stumbles over her words when Caesar Flickerman asks when she realized she was in love with Peeta, until Caesar suggests it was when she called out Peeta's name to find him. Katniss shrewdly replies that prior to that she didn't want to have feelings for him, but that's when she knew she could keep him. Caesar asks Peeta how his new leg is, and Katniss learns that Peeta now has a prosthetic leg. Finally, Caesar asks Katniss what was going through her mind when she pulled out the berries. Katniss realizes this moment is critical: she can frame the decision as a rebellion against the Capitol or as an act of desperation at the thought of losing Peeta, and she says she couldn't bear the thought of losing Peeta. Haymitch tells her later that she was perfect.
On the train back to District 12, Katniss thinks of her family and Gale. During a refueling stop, Haymitch tells Katniss to keep it up in the district until the cameras are gone. Peeta doesn't know what Haymitch is talking about, and Katniss explains that the Capitol is unhappy about the stunt with the berries and that Haymitch has been coaching her. Peeta angrily asks if Katniss has been acting the whole time. She says not everything has been an act, but the closer they get to home the more confused she becomes. As Peeta walks off she wants to explain that she can't fully love him or anyone else after what they've been through, but she doesn't. The train arrives in District 12, where crowd of cameras awaits on the platform. Peeta takes her hand, saying they'll pretend one more time, and Katniss fears the moment when she'll finally have to let go.
The theme of suffering as entertainment reaches its greatest extreme in Cato’s slow death at the Cornucopia. The real-life suffering of the tributes is essentially what makes the Hunger Games entertaining to watch, much like the real deaths of the gladiators made the gladiatorial Games entertaining to the Roman populace. The finale of the Games, being ideally the most dramatic and entertaining part, should therefore entail the most suffering. Katniss comments on this fact as she and Peeta wait for Cato to die after he is knocked off the Cornucopia. She realizes the Gamemakers won’t simply have the muttations kill Cato because prolonging his agony increases the drama of the finale. When Katniss climbs over the ledge and sees him, she describes him as looking like a “raw hunk of meat,” indicating that he has been savagely mauled and undoubtedly in intense pain. By this point, Cato no longer has any chance of surviving, and it’s clear that the Gamemakers haven’t ended the competition because of the entertainment value of the grotesque spectacle.
The muttations play a central role in making the finale grotesque and dramatic, as being turned into savage hybrid animals is the ultimate form of dehumanization for the tributes. Throughout the Games, the Capitol has treated the tributes as commodities whose purpose is foremost to entertain the viewers at home. In other words, the Capitol turns them into objects and dismisses their humanity and individuality. Here, the Capitol literally dehumanizes the dead tributes, turning them into vicious wolf-like creatures. These tribute muttations are vicious, strong, and fast, but they’re most horrifying to Katniss, and presumably fascinating to the viewers at home, because they retain some of the physical characteristics of their human selves, allowing them to be recognized. Their former personalities, however, are completely stripped away and replaced by a single-minded drive to kill Katniss, Peeta, and Cato. In this way they’ve become the perfect tool for the Capitol: they are both a new danger for the living tributes to overcome and they are in themselves a spectacle to amuse the viewers at home.
The Gamemakers try to make the finale yet more “entertaining” by announcing that there can only be one winner again. Katniss realizes the Gamemakers never intended to let both her and Peeta survive, suggesting they wanted to manufacture a dramatic fight to the death between the two. The scenario would, of course, be exceedingly awful for two tributes who are supposed to be in love, but ostensibly it would be great entertainment for the viewers. This intent is thwarted, however, by Katniss’s idea for her and Peeta to eat the berries. The book never makes it entirely clear why their suicide would be more objectionable to the viewers than having them fight each other to the death. But it suggests that, had Katniss and Peeta actually carried out their suicides, the Games would have been deeply upsetting to the viewers at home. The suffering that was supposed to provide entertainment would have become too emotionally charged as a result, turning the Games from amusement to a real-life tragedy.
Katniss performs the novel’s greatest act of rebellion against the Capitol when she has the idea for her and Peeta to eat the poisonous berries. As Katniss explains, the Hunger Games are the Capitol’s weapon against the districts, but they are also a popular form of entertainment. But having the two finalists, who are supposedly madly in love, commit suicide would be extremely unpopular among the viewers, and therefore potentially troublesome for the Capitol. Thus Katniss’s idea with the berries essentially turns the Capitol’s weapon back on itself. The Capitol’s concession of allowing two Hunger Games winners after declaring there would only be one makes the Capitol look weak, however. More specifically, it makes them look as if they’ve lost control. Since the Capitol needs to keep strict control over its populace to maintain the status quo, this defeat, the story suggests, could ultimately cause problems, though it’s never stated exactly what these problems might be. Katniss, as a result of her rebellion and the problems it may cause, becomes a target of the Capitol.
Because of Katniss’s defiance of the Capitol, appearances become perhaps more important than ever in the novel. The Capitol is furious with Katniss for her stunt with the berries, which was essentially an outright rebellion against the Capitol’s declaration that there would be one winner of the Hunger Games. The only defense that will allow Katniss to avoid the Capitol’s retribution is that she was so in love with Peeta she couldn’t bear to be without him. In other words, she needs to make her defiance look like an act of love and not rebellion. This need to frame her behavior as love motivates essentially everything she says and does, notably laying her head on Peeta, in her interview with Caesar Flickerman after the Games. Cinna is aware of this need as well, and knowing that Katniss’s physical appearance will affect how the audience and the Capitol feel about her, he designs a dress for her that makes her appear young and innocent. Ultimately, every public appearance Katniss makes after the Games requires her to maintain the fiction that she’s completely in love with Peeta. Failing to do so could put her and her family, as well as Peeta and even his family, in danger.
The contrast between Katniss and the pristine conditions she encounters in the hovercraft after being taken from the arena, and later back in the Training Center, highlight how brutal the Hunger Games have been on her. When Katniss is given the glass of orange juice after being dragged to a room in the hovercraft, she immediately notices the incongruity between the clean, crystal glass, filled with cold juice and a straw with a “frilly” collar, and her filthy, bloody hand. The cold orange juice, obtained so easily here, stands in stark contrast with Katniss’s experience of the past weeks, during which she has had to work for all her food and fight just to stay alive. In the arena she left moments earlier, orange juice would have been a luxury (it would also be considered a luxury in District 12). The frilly collar on the straw specifically suggests a particularly extravagant and indeed needless luxury. Katniss’s appearance, meanwhile, represents all the hardships she has endured during the Games. She is unwashed, bloody from the injuries she’s sustained, and as she notices in the Training Center, extremely thin from lack of food coupled with hard exertion. This same contrast persists as Katniss rehabilitates in the comfort of the Training Center, and throughout the section it essentially symbolizes the power of the Capitol, with its ability to reduce Katniss to her present condition or grant her luxuries however it chooses.
As the book draws to a close, Katniss still feels ambivalent about Peeta. While she cares for Peeta and doesn’t want to lose him, she doesn’t love him in the way that he loves her. Though she has developed a romantic interest in him, her feelings toward him have always been tentative, even after she realized that his feelings for her were genuine. Moreover, Katniss still feels torn between her interest in Peeta and her interest in Gale. She feels more comfortable with Gale than she does with anyone else, and as she returns home to District 12, she wonders whether her relationship with Gale could turn from friendship to romance. Finally, in the aftermath of the Hunger Games, given the horrible experiences she’s endured she’s not certain she can love anyone fully enough to marry and start a family with them. (Perhaps it’s a premature concern given that Katniss is just sixteen, but it’s a concern for her nonetheless). The dramatic tension in the book’s final line centers on Katniss’s ambivalence toward Peeta. Though she may not feel for him as he does for her, she acknowledges that she still fears the moment she’ll have to let him go.