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Katniss, drugged and recovering in District 13, dreams of Peeta. She wakes to find Johanna Mason stealing Katniss’s morphling drip. Katniss had been spared serious injury thanks to Cinna’s armored Mockingjay costume. Johanna and Katniss have a frank exchange about the events following the Quarter Quell, and Johanna flirts with Gale when he comes to check on Katniss. Plutarch walks with Katniss as she recovers, and he explains the Roman origins of the Hunger Games: panem et circes. Katniss understands how the Capitol has used the districts for food and entertainment, but that has all been on hold during the rebellion. Plutarch plans to meet the need for entertainment by giving Panem a wedding celebration to enjoy. Katniss fears that Plutarch means for her and Peeta to be the happy couple, but he has Annie and Finnick in mind.
The wedding day is full of joy, and Katniss revels in the thought that Snow is watching her dance with Prim. She marvels at the wedding cake, and Haymitch explains that it was made by Peeta, who is doing better. Peeta requested to see Katniss, so she visits him. Their initial exchange is snappy, and Katniss turns to leave, but she stops when Peeta tells her he remembers the first time they met. Katniss was a child digging in the bakery trash bins for bread. Peeta asks Katniss if she loved him, or if she had faked her affection for him during their first Hunger Games. Katniss admits that sometimes she liked kissing him, and Peeta asks if she liked kissing Gale. The exchange ends coldly, and Katniss hates that Peeta no longer sees her as he once did.
Katniss bursts into Command, furious with Coin that she has not assigned Katniss to fight in the Capitol. Katniss is envious that Gale will be going, but she is chastened when Coin reminds her that Katniss skipped the tactical training Gale has been attending. Coin relents, but insists that Katniss train for the next three weeks. Johanna decides to join Katniss, and the two make good progress after the first week. Katniss notices changes in Finnick and Annie, too, and she sees that a general good mood has spread throughout the citizens of District 13. She is shocked when Peeta, shackled and guarded, joins them for dinner.
There is tension among the victors, and Peeta asks if Gale and Katniss are together. Gale marvels at Peeta’s coldness, then escorts Katniss to her room. Before Gale leaves, he reassures Katniss that Peeta is not reacting to her true self. Johanna barges in later, to tell Katniss that after she left, Peeta had a breakdown and had to be carried away. Katniss questions Johanna about her and Peeta’s ordeal in the Capitol. Johanna tells her they would scream for hours. Katniss has nightmares again that night.
Cressida films propos of the rebels preparing for battle, and Katniss expresses concern at seeing Peeta training with a weapon. She and Johanna are at the top of their training class, and it is time for their final examination. Katniss struggles, realizing that her biggest weakness is an unwillingness to take orders, but she passes. She is assigned to Boggs’s squad, along with Gale and Finnick. They are briefed on the situation in the Capitol. Peacekeepers have rigged the city with pods. Plutarch explains that each pod contains one of many obstacles designed by the Gamemakers to trap or kill. The rebels secured a Hologram map of the locations of the pods, but the “Holo” is a few months old. Finnick and Katniss jokingly welcome them all to the 76th Hunger Games.
As Finnick and Katniss discuss what they just learned, Haymitch interrupts with news that Johanna is back in the hospital. Johanna was triggered when they flooded the street during her training exam. Katniss goes aboveground and gathers pine needles into a bundle. She brings them to Johanna, a gift to remind District 7’s young victor of her home. Johanna makes Katniss swear on her family’s lives that she will kill President Snow.
Katniss trains with her new squad, and they soon learn that their mission will not involve true combat. The “Star Squad” will be accompanied by a camera crew, far behind the front line. They deploy the next morning, and Katniss shares a tearful goodbye with her mother and sister. The first few days bring mostly boredom, and Katniss builds her own plan to steal the Hologram pod map. When one member of the squad is killed after detonating a pod, Coin shocks everyone by sending in Peeta as a replacement. Katniss concludes that as far as Coin is concerned, the Mockingjay would be more useful dead than alive.
Bread symbolizes both life and hope, which is further broken down in the description of the history of Panem. Plutarch explains to Katniss as she recovers that the Hunger Games originated from a Roman saying: panem et circes, which is a metonymic phrase translating to “bread and circuses.” In Panem, the districts have been utilized to supply food and entertainment for the Capitol. Now, the people of Panem rebel against the systemic oppression because they no longer wish to be fodder for the Capitol’s entertainment.
Collins balances the high stakes of death and war with joy and small victories. When Plutarch must think of a way to entertain Panem and win over people from the Capitol, he decides to broadcast Finnick and Annie’s wedding. Before, the main entertainment was the Hunger Games, which featured death and murder; in contrast, a wedding is indicative of joy, and of life going on. It provides hope to Panem because, despite the war, people still fall in love and move forward. Life is shown to be more than just living and dying.
Ironically, Katniss again feels a certain lack of control in her own life due to her inability to go to the Capitol to kill President Snow, even though this was a consequence of her choice to refuse tactical training. When Katniss arrived in District 13, she felt helpless. When she was supposed to receive tactical training, she exercised her right to choose and therefore opted not to participate. Now, she cannot go the Capitol because of that choice. In controlling what she can, she’s forced to give up control in other areas.
The parallel between Coin and President Snow underlies the depravity of humanity, rendering the conflict more than just good versus evil. True to Coin’s devious nature, the squad finds out they are the “Star Squad” meant to be filmed and kept well behind the front lines. In a scene reminiscent of Katniss leaving for the Hunger Games, she tells her mother and sister goodbye. She also realizes that Coin would benefit more from Katniss being martyred on the front lines than succeeding and killing President Snow, so she knows she needs to fight for her life once more. Her joke with Finnick about entering the 76th annual Hunger Games brings the narrative full-circle, in a way, as she’s no more safe now than she was then.