Following the dramatic televised attack against Peeta, Katniss is frozen in shock. Meanwhile, Haymitch convinces President Coin that they should take Peeta's warning seriously and prepare District 13 for an attack. Coin agrees and initiates a district-wide underground lockdown. After Katniss has settled in her family's bunker, Plutarch encourages her to set a brave example for the others. The inhabitants of District 13 soon realize that this is no longer a drill - Peeta was right. The Capitol's bombs start to drop and the power goes out. Katniss and Prim huddle together in their bunker while their mother works at the hospital. Prim tries to comfort Katniss by reminding her that Peeta is Snow's only weapon against her, so he will likely remain alive. However, Snow is willing to do whatever it takes to break Katniss, which does not bode well for the baker's son.
The residents of District 13 spend the next three days in hiding while the Capitol drops firebombs sporadically. It appears as though the Capitol's strategy is to keep the rebels in hiding - they won't go so far as to destroy 13 because it is still too valuable to them. Underground, everyone has started to go a little bit stir crazy. Katniss has been obsessing over the idea that Snow is torturing Peeta for the sole purpose of "incapacitating" her, which keeps her up at night. The only person who can understand Katniss's predicament is Finnick Odair, because the Capitol has tried to use Annie Cresta against him in the same way. Finnick regrets not warning Katniss about Snow's tactics earlier, and admits that he initially misjudged her. He now knows that her affection for Peeta is real.
When the lockdown ends, Coin instructs Katniss and her production team that they must immediately start filming the damage to District 13 to show that their military unit is still functional and that the Mockingjay is still alive. They go up to the surface, which is now dotted with craters. Thanks to Peeta's warning, however, there have been no casualties. Cressida suggests filming Katniss in front of the District 13 Justice Building. As they approach the site, Katniss screams because the ground is covered in pink and red roses. This is one of President Snow's tactics - designed to "unhinge" Katniss, and it works. With the knowledge that Peeta is suffering because of her, Katniss breaks down in tears on camera. Haymitch tries to comfort her, but Katniss's hysteria becomes so intense that she has to be sedated.
When Katniss awakens, Haymitch is at her bedside with the news that the rebels are going to mount a mission to save Peeta and Annie. Seven volunteers are getting ready to take on the capitol - and Katniss guesses correctly that Gale is among them. She demands to be part of the rescue mission, but Haymitch and the rebels feel that the best way for Katniss and Finnick to help is by recording some new post-bombing footage. Beetee will air the new propos as the rescue is about to happen in order to distract the Capitol. On camera, Katniss says she is "free" from fear and proclaims that she will do whatever it takes to defeat the Capitol. Finnick also finds a reservoir of courage and speaks to the camera candidly. He admits that President Snow used to sell his body in exchange for keeping Finnick's loved ones safe. However, during these trysts, Finnick collected secrets, some of them quite dangerous. Finnick reveals a lot of information about the Capitol's most visible citizens, including President Snow; most damning, that Snow gained power by poisoning all his allies lest they become enemies.
That night, Beetee successfully airs the new footage all over the Capitol, just as planned - but nobody in District 13 has heard any news about the rescue team's fate. At midnight, Haymitch comes to tell Katniss that the team has returned - and the mission was successful. The first person Katniss sees is an unconscious Johanna Mason. In addition, both Gale and Annie are alive. Peeta is safe, too. Haymitch and Katniss joyfully run to see him - but Peeta greets Katniss by wrapping his fingers around her throat. Thankfully, Katniss's injuries from Peeta's attack are minor. She recalls that Boggs pulled Peeta off her, and if he hadn't - Peeta would have killed her. Plutarch explains that Peeta has been "hijacked"- meaning the Capitol has used tracker jacker venom to distort his memories. Peeta Mellark has been programmed to think Katniss Everdeen is his mortal enemy.
While Plutarch assures Katniss and Prim that they will try to rehabilitate Peeta, there is no guarantee he'll ever be the same. Katniss falls apart upon hearing that Effie Trinket is missing and Peeta's prep team was executed on live television - and she has to be sedated again. When she is well enough, Katniss goes to find Gale, who is in a research room with Beetee. They have been modifying Gale's hunting trap designs to make weaponry to use against the Capitol. Katniss is disturbed by the deadliness of these weapons - bombs that would kill the innocent and the guilty in the same blast. Beetee and Gale certainly do not share Katniss's humanistic views - but they don't have time to fight. Haymitch summons her to see Peeta.
Peeta's recovery team is planning to send Delly Cartwright, an eternally sunny girl from District 12, to see if she can jog some of Peeta's more innocuous childhood memories. Katniss, Haymitch, and Plutarch watch the interaction from the observation room. Peeta remembers Delly and for a moment, he recalls memories from District 12. But then he remembers the fire and... Katniss. He starts screaming that Katniss is responsible for the war, she's a killer, and believes she is a mechanical "mutt" the Capitol created as a covert weapon against the rebels. Katniss can't bear watching Peeta lash out anymore and asks Plutarch to send her to District Two - it's time for her to hunt down Snow and kill him.
Katniss arrives in District 2, which the Capitol originally intended for mines and quarries. After losing District 13 in the Dark Days, the Capitol rebuilt their military base under the largest mountain in District 2 (nicknamed "The Nut"). District 2 children (like Cato and Clove) are "trained young and hard for combat" (193) and many end up working as Peacekeepers. By now, all the other districts have fallen under the rebels' control - except for District 2. There is an uprising here, but the resistance has not yet penetrated the Nut. While Katniss is in District 2, she is not allowed to participate in hand-to-hand combat, though. Instead, she meets with members of the resistance and wounded rebels, but cannot stop obsessing over her mission to kill President Snow.
Gale and Beetee are among the rebels who arrive in District 2 with new plans to crack the Nut. Gale and Katniss spend some downtime together and Gale tells her that Peeta is not improving. He admits feeling jealous. He knows that while Peeta is in this condition, Katniss will feel too guilty to become romantically involved with anyone else. Regardless, Katniss succumbs to Gale's kisses that night - out of loneliness and the sad realization that Peeta might be gone for good. Gale notices that Katniss is not fully present, though, and stops kissing her. The next day, the rebels meet with District 2 rebels to consolidate their strategies for taking down the Nut. The conference seems endlessly frustrating until Gale has a brainstorm: the rebels should create avalanche to block the Nut's entrances. Boggs points out that this would mean certain death for anyone trapped inside the mountain (guilty or innocent) - but Gale is not moved by this possibility. After all, this is war.
In her blog post for NPR, journalist Linda Holmes praises Suzanne Collins for writing the Katniss-Peeta relationship in a way that challenges traditional gender roles (especially in young adult fiction). Holmes argues that Peeta fits into a traditionally feminine role, while Katniss aligns more with male comic book tropes. She writes, "Peeta is Pepper Potts [Iron Man's secretary and eventual love interest] and Gwen Stacy [Spiderman's first love whose death is a motivating factor for the hero], helping and helping and helping until the very end, when it's time for the stakes, and the stakes are: NEEDS RESCUE." Katniss acknowledges Peeta's relative helplessness when she considers the real meaning of the "Hanging Tree" lyrics. She wonders if the song's male protagonist wants his lover to die alongside him because he thinks, "the place where he is leaving [his lover] is worse than death." She then compares that situation to herself and Peeta, but casting herself as the man: "Didn't I want to kill Peeta with that syringe to save him from the Capitol?" (126).
Gender aside, Peeta's moral compass is much stronger than Katniss's. In fact, his loyalty and devotion highlight the positive aspects of Katniss's personality, and she likes the way she looks through Peeta's loving eyes. On the other hand, Katniss's feelings for Peeta tend to dither. Despite Katniss's uncertainty, though, Peeta always acts out of compassion. He does what is best for Katniss, even in the direst circumstances. This is not to say that Peeta is weak - in fact, his selfless mission means that he does not fear death. For example, Peeta warns Katniss and the rest of District 13 about the Capitol's imminent attack while facing armed Peacekeepers who immediately brutalize him for his insolence. Peeta's announcement ultimately saves hundreds of lives in District 13. His determination to keep Katniss alive is more powerful than any resentment he might feel towards Coin and the other rebellion leaders, who have been happy to let him rot in the Capitol once he has served his strategic purpose.
Meanwhile, Katniss does not find refuge in love. Her pain translates to hate and anger. She repeatedly chooses to do what is best for the rebellion, even when it means hurting Peeta. After witnessing the bombings in District 8, Katniss publicly defies Peeta's calls for a cease-fire and declares, "President Snow... can torture us and burn our districts to the ground...And if we burn, you burn with us!" (106). She knows full well that President Snow will torture Peeta as long as the rebellion continues to flare, but Katniss acts on her passion, "carried forward by [her] rage" (99). Additionally, she makes this proclamation while knowing that District 13 will prevent any retaliation against her, but Peeta has no such luxury.
While Katniss does unquestionably care about Peeta, her motivations are much more complicated than his blind loyalty. Thus the crucial difference between them: Peeta does not possess the fire to lead innocent people into a deadly battle, and because of this, he would never have been able to serve as the Mockingjay. The only reason Peeta even warrants a rescue mission is because Katniss cannot fulfill her Mockingjay duties without him. By the time he is rescued, Peeta simply serves as a device to keep Katniss's guilt at bay.
Unlike Gale, Katniss holds onto some unrealistic ideals about the cost of war - she wants to act without consequences. She denounces Snow knowing that the bloodthirsty Capitol leader will take out her rebellion on Peeta, but cannot forgive herself when she witnesses the attack. In fact, she never even considers that Peeta might question her actions. When Katniss hears the wonderful news that he has been rescued, she wonders, "What will I say? Oh, who cares what I say? Peeta will be ecstatic no matter what I do" (176).
Katniss is soon forced to face the harsh reality that the Capitol has hijacked Peeta - and he now sees Katniss as his enemy. While many of Peeta's hijacked memories are planted or exaggerated, some of his questions are valid. "Twelve burned down, didn't it ... Because of Katniss!" Hijacked Peeta shouts (190). Peeta suddenly vocalizes the same fear that Katniss herself expressed when she visited the remains of District 12. Suddenly, instead of blindly focusing on Katniss's positive traits and loyally assuaging her guilt, Peeta makes Katniss feel worse by forcing her to face her flaws. Hijacked Peeta is no longer the damsel in distress, grateful just to be rescued and waiting with his arms open whenever Katniss needs him. While Sane Peeta loved Katniss no matter what, Hijacked Peeta challenges her - and she does not like it one bit.
Throughout Mockingjay, Gale undergoes his own transformation. While Peeta acts only out of love for Katniss (until he is Hijacked), Gale's hate fuels his increasingly vengeful intentions. Like Peeta, Gale does not fear death, but he wants to give his life up for a greater good rather than for the one he loves. Katniss bristles when she sees Gale and Beetee's double-exploding bombs, commenting sarcastically, '"I guess there isn't a rule book for what might be unacceptable to do to another human being." Gale doesn't miss a beat, replying, "Beetee and I have been following the same rule book President Snow used when he hijacked Peeta'" (186). His ruthlessness is cemented by his plans to attack the Nut, and seal in potential innocents. Gale has become a tactical warrior able to act in shades of grey, while Katniss struggles to compromise. Gale fights fire with fire; Peeta doesn't want to fight; Katniss is always struggling to figure out where she stands.