Katniss runs out of her house and heads for the woods but, of course, there is no escape. She winds up curled up in the cellar of one of the empty homes in Victors' Village. She screams into her shirt until her voice is gone. She laments her situation, but is thankful she won just a short time ago so she is not friends with the people she will soon have to kill. A second later she realizes that of course, either Peeta or Haymitch will be the male from District 12 who will be joining her in the arena. Katniss stumbles to Haymitch's house. He assumes she's come to ask him to volunteer if Peeta's name is drawn, but she can't do that even if it's what she truly wants. Instead, they drink and formulate a plan. Since they know Peeta will volunteer in order to protect Katniss, she and Haymitch will do everything in their power to keep him alive.
Katniss takes the bottle of booze back to her house but Gale intercepts her. He says it's not too late for them to run. But Katniss knows she has to stay in order to protect Peeta and her family. Gale takes her up to her room and she passes out. The next morning, ill from her night of drinking, Katniss breaks down in front her mother and Prim. Her mother gives her two mugs of broth and she delivers one to Haymitch. Peeta is already there, clearing the house of alcohol. He is determined that two of them will be returning to District 12 - one mentor and one victor.
Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch begin training like Careers - strengthening exercises, knife-throwing, hand-to-hand combat. They watch recordings of Games won by the living victors, sent to them by Effie Trinket. Gale teaches them how to set snares. Despite his jealousy, he can't help but like Peeta. Katniss agrees; if she hated Peeta then she could have killed him in the arena and things would have been different. Gale wonders what would have happened between the two of them if Peeta had died. Though she chose Gale by not running away, Katniss knows it's futile to think what might have been.
The day of the reaping comes and Katniss and Haymitch are selected from District 12. As expected, Peeta volunteers to take Haymitch's place. The pair are escorted into the Justice Building, where Romulus Thread pushes them into a car which takes them directly to the train. They have no opportunity to say goodbye.
Despite her sadness, Katniss maintains the mission - keep Peeta alive. At dinner, Peeta compliments Effie's hair, which she had dyed gold to match Katniss's pin. She suggests they each get gold bracelets as tokens of their team. Clearly Effie is unaware of the mockingjay's revolutionary significance in the Districts. They watch a recap of the reapings and Peeta notes the other victors chosen, including Cashmere and Gloss, siblings from District 1, volunteer Brutus from 2, handsome Finnick Odair and 80-year-old volunteer Mags from 4, the sole living female victor of 7, Johanna Mason, mother-of-three Cecelia from 8, and Chaff from 11, who is one of Haymitch's friends.
Unable to sleep, Katniss orders warm milk and finds Peeta in the television room. Katniss goes straight into his open arms and they hold each other. A sad attendant brings the warm milk. Peeta suggests the people of the Capitol will be unhappy that their beloved victors are returning to the arena. They decide to watch footage of the second Quarter Quell, the Games Haymitch refused to watch. Katniss and Peeta watch District 12's reaping. She sees her mother on the tape. She holds the hand of a weeping friend - who is the twin of tribute Maysilee Donner. The crying sister looks just like Madge. Katniss realizes that this is the cause of Madge's mother's headaches. She also figures out that her mockingjay pin once belonged to Maysilee.
In his interview from the Quell, Haymitch appears just as snarky as he is now. The tape cuts to the Games and the arena is the most beautiful place either Katniss or Peeta have ever seen - azure skies, puffy white clouds, a lush flowering meadow and woods and a snowcapped mountain in the distance. At the gong, Haymitch grabs weapons and a backpack of supplies and heads directly for the woods. 18 tributes die in the opening minutes. The ones that live figure out that everything beautiful in the arena is poisonous except for the rainwater and food provided at the Cornucopia. Haymitch discovers that the squirrels in the woods are carnivorous but he successfully fights them off. Resourceful Maysilee uses the natural poisons around her to fill her blowgun. Four days into the Games, the mountain erupts in a volcano. 12 players die. The remaining 13 are confined to the woods.
Haymitch kills two Careers and is saved from a third by one of Maysilee's darts. They team up. Haymitch leads the Maysilee further into the woods, looking for the edge of the arena. Eventually, they find it - a flat expanse of land that leads to a cliff with jagged rocks below. Haymitch decides to stay there but Maysilee returns to the woods; now there are only five tributes left. Haymitch dislodges a pebble from the cliffside and it falls into the abyss. A minute later, however, it bounces back to his side. He throws a rock over and it comes back to him. He hears Maysilee scream and he finds her pecked to near-death by birds. He hold her hand as she dies.
After a few more deaths, only Haymitch and the girl from District 1 remain. They bloody one another badly and he leads her to the edge of the arena. She throws her axe at his head but he collapses to the ground. The axe sails into the abyss. The girl hopes she can outlast dying Haymitch, but the axe comes back and buries itself in her head. Haymitch is the victor.
Katniss assesses Haymitch's performance. He used the force field as a weapon against the girl from 1 but also against the Capitol. She doubts they anticipated his finding the edge and relying on their design to win. She realizes this must have been cut from the broadcast. Katniss understands Haymitch now, and thinks, "Aurely, two people who have caused the Capitol so much trouble can think of a way to get Peeta home alive" (203).
Octavia, Venia and Flavius can't help but burst into tears when working on Katniss before the opening ceremony. When Cinna arrives, Katniss orders him not to cry. He comforts her and promises to comfort his team. After lunch, Cinna sends the others away so he can attend to Katniss alone. He dresses her in a deceptively simple black jumpsuit and half crown. He presses a button on the wrist of the costume and it glows like an ember. Katniss looks red-hot, still the girl on fire.
At the Remake Center, Katniss meets a few of the other tributes. Finnick Odair flirts with her shamelessly. He is gorgeous and young. Only nine years ago he won the Games at are 14 by expertly using a trident gifted by his sponsors. District 4 is a fishing district, so the gifted weapon essentially guaranteed a win. He is one of the most popular victors ever and he has romanced dozens of people in the Capitol, gathering their secrets. He Katniss if she has any secrets to share. Katniss declines to converse further, as she finds Finnick too pretty and too forward.
Peeta and Katniss climb into their chariot and act as if they are above it all, as instructed by Portia. Without being asked to, they hold hands, going into the Games as one. They don't pander to the audience or accept their affections but still, all eyes are on them, even some of the tributes', like the morphling addict tributes of District 6. After the parade, Katniss and Peeta see Haymitch with the victors from District 11, Chaff and Seeder. Thirty years ago, Chaff lost one of his hands in the Games but refused a prosthetic. Seeder is about 60 years old and still strong. She embraces Katniss. Katniss assumes this is because of her connection to Rue and Thresh, and she immediately asks Seeder about their families. They are alive. Chaff throws his good arm around Katniss and kisses her. She is startled.
Johanna Mason from District 7 appears in a leafy headdress signifying her district's industries - lumber and paper. She chats with Katniss about fashion before discarding her entire outfit. Along with the victors from 11, Katniss and Peeta ride in the elevator with the now-nude Johanna. When they are alone, Peeta teases Katniss. The other victors want to get a rise out of her because she is so pure. Katniss doesn't like being laughed at, especially by Peeta.
On their floor, Katniss and Peeta are joined by Haymitch and Effie, who seem pleased with their performance. Haymitch, however, freezes. Katniss sees what he sees - in addition to the girl who waited on her last year, there is another red-headed Avox (a slave whose tongue has been cut out in punishment). It is Darius.
To Katniss’s surprise, Haymitch goes along with Peeta’s plan to train and wean himself off of alcohol. Despite this, Katniss and Haymitch make a deal to keep Peeta alive at all costs. They know his sense of honor will lead Peeta to volunteer for Haymitch, but both agree they owe it to him to figure out a way to ensure his safety. Katniss figures that Snow will figure out a way to kill her no matter what, so between the two of them, only Peeta truly has a chance at a good life.
It would also be enormously difficult for Haymitch to face the prospect of killing off his friends in the arena. The Games is insidious not just because of the violence it forces on the tributes, but the component of psychological torture. Though he says it would be difficult in any permutation, clearly Haymitch is neither physically nor emotionally prepared to return to the arena. Katniss and Peeta watch tapes of old Hunger Games in order to research their competitors. They learn how Haymitch was able to win the second Quarter Quell, by allying with fellow District 12 tribute Maysilee Donner for a short while and using the arena itself as a weapon.
Maysilee Donner, the sister of Madge Undersee’s mother and a friend of Katniss’s mother, outlasted many tributes but was killed by razor-beaked birds. Haymitch held her hand while she died in a moment similar to Katniss’s comforting Rue in her final moments. Like Rue, Maysilee’s death was widely felt throughout her District. Haymitch had trouble coping with returning to 12 alone, Katniss’s mother lost a close friend, and Maysilee’s twin has been ill ever since. Katniss learns that her mockingjay pin initially belonged to Maysilee. The symbol gains another layer, as it is now also a tribute to the fallen girl and a reminder of the lives her death ruined.
In the 2nd Quarter Quell, Haymitch proved to be a thorn in the side of the Capitol. The footage of his exploration of the edge of the arena and discovery of the forcefield was edited from the original broadcast, leading Katniss (and the readers) to believe that Haymitch is a lot more politically aware than he lets on. Of course we learn later that Haymitch is part of the resistance and has a larger agenda at play, but this rebellious streak reveals a previously unknown depth to his character.
Deception is the greatest asset the tributes have at their disposal and they use their cunning both in and out of the arena. Katniss and Peeta maintain the charade of their epic romance to provoke the sympathy of the crowd. In these chapters we meet many of the other victors who will play an important role in the rest of the novel's narrative. This includes Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason, two victors who are no strangers to performance. Finnick comes on strong to Katniss, playing up his persona as a harmless lothario. She is disgusted by him and by Johanna, who won her Games by “pretending she was a weakling” (192). In the training center, Johanna uses her body and brashness to rattle Katniss, whom the other victors perceive as “pure” and affectless. As we will see later, these roles distract the tributes from their true purpose – which is to bring down the Capitol.
This section ends with a brutal discovery. Darius, the friendly Peacekeeper from District 12, has been turned into an Avox. Avoxes are slaves whose tongues are removed before being forced into servitude in the Capitol. Katniss knows that Darius has been strategically placed as a message to her that more people she cares about will get hurt if she does not play along with Snow’s agenda.