The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a very different sort of story than the previous Hunger Games movies, focusing on a mentor as the main character rather than one of the participants in the annual battle royale. But it’s not just any mentor in the spotlight–this prequel is all about young Coriolanus Snow, who will grow up to become the evil President Snow. This is the story of how and why he ended up on that path toward being an oppressive dictator.
Warning: This article contains numerous spoilers for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, including a detailed discussion of its ending.
These games are nothing like those that Katniss and Peeta would fight in decades later–here, we’re seeing the 10th edition of the Hunger Games, many years before the powers-that-be in Panem had turned it into a huge spectacle. The tributes are treated like garbage, brought into the Capitol in rusty train cars, and then dumped in an empty pen at the zoo with no food except what the mentors provide.
The games are a competition for the mentors as well as the tributes. The mentor whose tribute is the most popular–the one who gets the most sponsors–will be awarded a huge amount of money, and the once-noble Snow family could use it to regain their status as one of Panem’s great houses.
Along the way, though, Snow forms a deep connection with his tribute, a girl from District 12 named Lucy Gray Baird. This connection gives him even greater motivation to help Lucy Gray win–a victory would mean that Lucy Gray lives, and likely also that he won his money. It’s the theoretical best of both worlds.
So Snow goes a little above and beyond to help, breaking the rules by smuggling to Lucy Gray a makeup compact filled with rat poison that she ends up using twice to kill other tributes, and then also by dropping a handkerchief with Lucy Gray’s scent in the snake vat so they wouldn’t attack her in the arena. Lucy Gray wins, but Snow doesn’t get away with his shenanigans–Hunger Games creator Casca Highbottom knows, and he has Snow exiled to peacekeeper duty for 20 years. Snow uses the last of his money to bribe an officer to send him to District 12 instead of the one he was assigned to.
Snow tries to keep things low-key with Lucy Gray at first, but without the possibility of helping his family back home, Snow stays focused on spending time with Lucy Gray and staying out of trouble. Unfortunately, his friend Sejanus is making that difficult.
Sejanus Plinth was another mentor in the games, and his family had recently immigrated from District 2 to the Capitol, and it was Sejanus’s father who was providing that fortune that the mentors had been competing for. Sejanus feels the weight of the Capitol’s oppression against the district, and he’s plotting to leave Panem entirely with a group of other folks in District 12. Snow tries to talk him out of it, but Sejanus has made up his mind.
Eventually, Snow gets entwined with this plot as well, when he’s forced to kill one of the plotters. It was the mayor’s daughter, who had convinced her father to pick Lucy Gray for the Hunger Games out of spite–and now, she was going to report this plot despite being a part of it herself. So Snow shot her and, out of fear for the consequences, decided to try even harder not to make any more waves. And he’s even presented with an out: His commanding officer wants to cut short his term of service and reassign him to a more relaxed district for officer training. Once again, Snow sees a way to help his family, and himself.
But Sejanus refused to give up on the plan. So Snow, ever the company man, decides to report Sejanus’s actions to the Capitol in a clandestine manner. Snow figured that Sejanus’s father would just forcibly drag Sejanus home like a spoiled rich kid to keep him out of trouble, but he was very wrong. Sejanus is instead arrested and executed, along with another of his conspirators.
At this point, everybody who knew what Sejanus was up to is dead or gone, but the gun Snow used to shoot the mayor’s daughter is missing and would implicate Snow if found. And now that Snow has a better sense of the stakes, he’s pretty worried about keeping his head. He decides to flee Panem with Lucy Gray.
Before they even make it out of the district, they take shelter in a remote cabin in the woods during a rainstorm. This cabin belongs to one of the dead conspirators, and they find the missing gun that Snow used to kill the mayor’s daughter there. Snow makes a comment about this being the very last “loose end,” and it takes about five seconds for the always-canny Lucy Gray to appreciate his choice of words–this gun was the only thing that was really preventing Snow from going back to his old life.
So Lucy Gray says she’s going to scavenge for some edible plants and runs off, and Snow quickly realizes what’s going on and gives chase. He finds Lucy Gray’s coat, but when he picks it up he’s bitten by a snake. Thinking he’s been poisoned, he sees Lucy Gray running through the woods and tries to shoot her with his previous murder weapon, but he’s not able to find any evidence that she’d been shot. Presumably, Lucy Gray got away. And the snake wasn’t poisonous, so Snow is fine. Physically, anyway.
Snow returns to civilization and is recalled home by the creepy Dr. Volumnia Gaul, who decides after all his sneaky maneuvers to make Snow her protege. And he has one last conversation with Casca Highbottom, who reveals that he came up with the idea for the Hunger Games as a joke–and it was Snow’s own father who took that idea and gave it to Gaul against Highbottom’s wishes. This was why Highbottom treated Snow so poorly the whole film. He saw too much of his father in him.
Snow gets the last laugh, though, poisoning Highbottom’s vial of morphling and killing him. This moment shows us that Coriolanus is now irrevocably on the path toward becoming the tyrant we know and hate, President Snow. This was the path that Snow was on when the film began, and Lucy Gray was the only person or thing who could pull him off of it–his fate was in the balance as long as she was around. But once he gave her a very good reason to leave, he sealed his own fate.
Does The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes have a post-credits scene?
Once the credits start on The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, the film is completely over–there aren’t any bonus scenes during or after the credits. This isn’t all that surprising, since the franchise is over for now. There are no future movies to tease or anything like that. So if you’re in a hurry and need to bail when the credits start, you can do so without having to worry about missing any extra content.
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