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The Hunger Games:
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Foto: Lionsgate

"Snow lands on top" - Everything you need to know about The Hunger Games prequel

13.12.2023, Author: Sarina Dünnenberger

Finally! Today is the day the long-awaited prequel to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy hits Swiss theatres. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes uncovers the life of an adolescent Coriolanus Snow, portrayed by British actor Tom Blyth, and provides insight into how he became the ruthless president of Panem we loath so much.
But it has been a while since Mockingjay Part 2 concluded the epic tale of Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire, in 2015. So, in case you are not familiar with the lore of Panem or want to refresh your memory, here are some things you should know before heading to the cinema:

What is The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes?

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a novel published by Collins in May of 2020 and serves as a prequel to the dystopian phenomenon that is The Hunger Games trilogy. When she announced the book back in 2019, it sparked controversy on the internet, as the protagonist of the story is no other than a young Coriolanus Snow, who would eventually become president of Panem and Katniss’ archnemesis in the original instalments. In other words, Collin’s latest work is a villain origin story at its finest.

The prequel takes place 64 years before The Hunger Games and brings us straight into the heart of the Capitol, where Coriolanus is a top-performing student at the prestigious Academy. This is a major shift from the original trilogy. So far, we have witnessed the world of Panem through the eyes of Katniss, a girl from District 12. However, now, we find ourselves on the other side of the spectrum.

Why were the Hunger Games established?

For three years, a civil war known as The First Rebellion raged between the Capitol of Panem and a rebel coalition of districts, led by District 13. As we already know from the original trilogy, the districts lost said war and as punishment, the Capitol established the Hunger Games. The concept is familiar to us: Each year a boy and a girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen are chosen from the remaining twelve districts to compete in a fight until death. The victor is promised a lifetime of wealth and security. In the trilogy, we learn the history of Panem and especially of the uprising through someone who originates from one of the rebelling districts. Also, when Katniss fights as a tribute in her first Hunger Games, it has been 74 years since the Capitol crushed the rebellion.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, however, provides us with a different perspective on the matter. It is crucial to keep in mind that in the prequel, the war ended merely a decade ago and that despite being on the winning side, the Capitol is still licking its wounds. For the first time, we get a recollection of the war through the eyes of someone who is Capitol-born. Coriolanus has a vivid memory of the bomb attacks on the Capitol and the food shortages he witnessed as a child. In the novel, Coriolanus and other students are given the opportunity to mentor one tribute each in the 10th Hunger Games. It is a new strategy the Capitol implemented to increase viewership of the games. Coriolanus is assigned the girl from District 12, Lucy Gray Baird, portrayed by American actress Rachel Zegler.

Know your birds – Mockingbirds, Jabberjays, and Mockingjays:

In Collin’s original work, Katniss Everdeen becomes the Mockingjay, the figurehead of the rebellion. But what are mockingjays exactly? They are a type of bird that stems from the unintended mating of mockingbirds and jabberjays. Whereas mockingbirds do exist in our real world, jabberjays are a creation of Collin herself. However, they are not normal birds. Jabberjays are an exclusively male mutation fabricated by the Capitol during the First Rebellion. They have the skill to memorize and repeat entire conversations and were thus used by the Capitol to spy on the rebels in the districts during the war. The rebels, however, were quick to catch on the Capitol’s schemes and started to feed the birds wrong intel, rendering them useless. As a result, their handlers in the Capitol set them free, hoping that the birds would die eventually. Unlike their fathers, mockingjays do not have the ability to enunciate words but they can memorise and repeat human tones. For instance, they are capable of whistling the melody of songs. We witness this during Katniss’ first Hunger Games, when she and her ally Rue use mockingjays to signal to each other that they are alright through the four-note tune that is now world renowned.

President Snow’s fondness for poison:

In The Mockingjay, the 65th Hunger Games victor Finnick Odair exposes what is arguably Snow’s biggest secret. Namely, that the President of Panem uses poison to get rid of his allies and foes alike. Finnick calls it: “The perfect weapon for a snake”. Keep this in the back of your mind when watching the movie. After all, it is called The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes for a reason.

Naturally, this article cannot cover the entire The Hunger Games lore and if you wanted to catch every single easter egg in the prequel, I would recommend doing a rewatch of all the original movies or even better, reread the trilogy. Nevertheless, this article should set you up quite well for an unforgettable cinema experience. And with that, I welcome you to the 10th annual Hunger Games. May the odds be ever in your favour.