Boggs commands the members of Squad 451 to guard Peeta in around-the-clock shifts. With Peeta's arrival, Katniss realizes that President Coin wants her dead. Boggs corroborates her suspicions - Coin tolerated Katniss when she was vital to unifying the rebellion across the districts. However, now that the rebels are close to winning, Katniss is a threat to Coin's desire to lead Panem. Meanwhile, Peeta's arrival makes Katniss visibly uncomfortable. Haymitch, though, accuses Katniss of blaming Peeta for things that are out of his control. He reminds her that Peeta would never treat her like this if their positions were reversed. That night, at Finnick's urging, Peeta starts to ask everyone questions about his life so he can figure out what is real and what is not. The next day, the Star Squad must perform in a technically complex fake battle sequence because the footage of them so far has been uninspiring. During the staged battle, however, Mitchell steps on a very real bomb.
Messalla is nearly killed in the explosion, while Mitchell loses both his legs and Boggs loses his left calf. As Boggs lies in a pool of his own blood, he transfers his Holo security clearance to Katniss. The healthy squad members help the injured escape. Peeta snaps during the escape and tries to kill Katniss. Mitchell manages to stop Peeta, but then hits another pod that kills Mitchell with a net of barbed wire and unleashes a wave of toxic black gel. The squad takes refuge in a Capitol apartment. Jackson handcuffs Peeta and locks him in the closet. As Boggs dies, he tells Katniss, "don't trust them. Don't go back. Kill Peeta. Do what you came to do" (280). Jackson, the second-in-command, cannot understand why Boggs transferred the Holo to Katniss. Katniss lies, explaining that President Coin has assigned her a special mission - to assassinate President Snow. The rest of the squad votes to follow Katniss instead of Jackson.
Outside, the streets are coated with the black gel. The wave has set off several other hidden pods, as well. They find safety inside a hastily-evacuated house, where they are able to view the television broadcast of themselves being attacked by the pods. A reporter pronounces all the members of Squad 451 dead, including the Mockingjay. The squad regroups and tries to figure out their next move. Peeta is disturbed after watching the television footage himself going mad, trying to kill Katniss, and pushing Mitchell into the pod that killed him. Peeta turns to Gale and says that the squad's next move "is to kill me" (289). He is tortured by the realization that Snow has turned him into a monster. Gale promises Peeta that he'll kill him before letting Snow get his hands on Peeta again.
Messalla helps the squad members find food in the house because he once lived in a Capitol home just like it. The television comes on again and President Snow congratulates the Peacekeepers for taking out the Mockingjay. The Capitol's feed cuts out and President Coin appears onscreen and reads Katniss's eulogy, professing, "Dead or alive, Katniss Everdeen will remain the face of this rebellion" (294). Katniss realizes that Squad 451 must move along before the Capitol realizes they are alive. Katniss (with Jackson's help) reads the Holo and sees that they are surrounded by pods and they will have to move underground to advance. Peeta, however, is still convinced that he should die and sits down, refusing to budge. Only Katniss can talk him out of it, and takes possession of the key to his handcuffs. They crawl into the maintenance shafts that will lead them to the passages underneath the Capitol.
The Capitol uses tunnels (also known as the Transfer) to move goods around the city, so the pods are deactivated during the day (but they are dangerous at night). Pollux once worked down there, so he proves to be an extremely valuable navigator. At night, the squad sleeps in a control room below the Transfer. Katniss and Peeta share a tender moment when he realizes that she has been protecting him. A few hours later, everyone awakens to a sound floating through the tunnels. It's a pack of mutts calling Katniss's name - Snow must know that she is alive. Peeta springs awake and tells Katniss that she has to leave - now. The members of the squad gather their various arms and charge ahead, led by Katniss and Pollux. Katniss can smell the scent of roses getting stronger as they ascend into the Transfer. Messalla is caught in a pod that traps him and melts off his skin.
Katniss manages to take out several Peacekeepers before a group of white reptilian mutts take over, attacking the Peacekeepers and charging towards the Star Squad. Katniss tries to hold them off by activating the Meat Grinder pod. They lose Leeg 1 and Jackson on the way to the surface, but Homes tells Katniss that it's too late. Gale and Katniss launch arrows at the mutts, but they are numerous and seemingly immortal. Gale presses Katniss to keep moving forward even after the mutts take Finnick. She unleashes the Holo's "nightlock" setting and throws the bomb into the sewer, while Pollux manages to cover the hole. Only Pollux, Gale, Cressida, Peeta, and Katniss remain alive. Gale is injured. Peeta is huddled against a wall, going mad. He tells Katniss that he will become like the mutts. She realizes that she has to kill him - but then abandons the thought and kisses him instead. "Don't let him take you from me," she says. Katniss drags Peeta with the others back to the surface and kills the Capitol woman whose house they climb into.
They are in an apartment in the busy section of the Capitol. The remaining squad members dress up in the Capitol woman's clothes and makeup in order to slip outside undetected. Cressida helps Katniss navigate through the streets (because her Holo is gone). She guides the squad into a grimy store that sells fur underwear, run by Tigris (a former Hunger Games stylist and friend of Plutarch's). Tigris shows Katniss and the rest of the squad members into a hidden chamber in her shop. Underground, Katniss sews up Gale's wound and disinfects Peeta's bloodied wrists. After everyone is asleep, Katniss feels the weight of her guilt for all the deaths that day. That morning, she confesses that she made up the fact that Coin was sending her on a secret mission to kill Snow. But her squad already knew - they have followed Katniss because they believe in the Mockingjay.
Tigris offers the refugees some food, and they watch the news with her aboveground. There are huge bounties on their heads. At night, they talk about plans to infiltrate Snow's mansion, and mull over Katniss's offer to turn herself into bait to lure Snow into public. At night, Katniss overhears Gale and Peeta discussing which one of them she loves. They both go to sleep after agreeing that all three of them will not survive the war, and that Katniss will end up with whomever she cannot survive without.
As the conflict between the Capitol and the rebels comes to a head, Katniss has to consider the future for the first time since the Hunger Games. Boggs reminds Katniss that after President Snow is vanquished, a new leader will be elected to rule Panem - and Coin would not look kindly on any dissenters. Boggs also points out that because Katniss is "the face of the rebellion, [she] may have more influence than any other single person" when it comes to determining the future of Panem in the post-Capitol era. Katniss suddenly realizes that Coin has been thinking about the future all along. If the Mockingjay were to die during this last raid, it would give the people of Panem a "martyr to fight for" (266) and silence any future rebellion. This is where Katniss draws the line; she will not choose the rebellion over her life and her loved ones (especially Peeta, whose presence has become a liability). Over the course of this section, Collins's "twin themes of celebrity-fueled propaganda and struggling to survive in adversity" collide as Katniss is forced to fulfill her role as a leader while simultaneously following her innate survivalist instincts.
Katniss, Gale, and Boggs are supposed to be part of the rebellion's "Star Squad," meaning that they serve as the media representation of the rebellion - another Hunger Games-esque media tactic. At first, though, Plutarch and Coin are dissatisfied with the footage of the Star Squad, calling it "very dull. Very uninspiring" (273). However, the unpredictability of war makes the Star Squad's participation very real - and inspiration soon comes with a body count. While attempting to film some more exciting footage in full costume and makeup, the Star Squad encounters an un-documented pod that detonates a bomb, fatally injuring Boggs. Meanwhile, the rebel leaders are watching from their control room and only focusing on the big picture. To them, the experience of this war is akin to another, larger-scale Hunger Games. "Plutarch doesn't care who dies," Katniss comments, "Not as long as his Games are a success" (324). Despite her influence, Katniss feels the loss of every human life. Just like in the Hunger Games, it's the people on the ground who pay the price - no matter which side they are on.
With the realization that her life no longer carries any significance for the rebellion, Katniss finally becomes the leader everyone knows she can be - completing her transition from survivor to hero. She faces the responsibility of keeping her squad alive while still trying to fulfill her goal to kill Snow - and this time, she has to operate under the rebellion's radar, too. The similarities between District 13 and the Capitol become increasingly apparent as Katniss leads the Star Squad underground. Just like District 13, the Capitol also has an underbelly. Cressida and Pollux help Katniss get closer to Snow's mansion by moving through the Transfer - an underground network of tunnels, shafts, and drainage tubes. On land, the Capitol is shiny and clean, made up of comfortable apartments with food-filled fridges, but that is only because all of its dirt and grime is hidden underneath the surface.
In the beginning of the trilogy, the citizens of the Capitol were personified by Effie Trinket - overdressed, over-nourished, spoiled, and physically delicate. They could play out all of their basest desires by watching the Hunger Games. However, the Capitol citizens are now involved in the war on a physical level. A manifestation of this reality is Katniss and the squad barging into a Capitol woman's house and killing her on sight. We can assume that this woman was once an active Hunger Games viewer, just like most of the Capitol. She certainly never expected to become a victim of these televised assassins - but now the Hunger Games is at her doorstep. Concurrently, Tigris is another version of a Hunger Games victim. She was once a stylist but has since fallen out of vogue, and now sells fur underwear in a dusty back alley. Tigris is like a fading movie star - a picture of rotting beauty.
Anders writes, "There's a running motif... where people play a game called 'real or not real,' in which they double-check their own memories, because they're trying to hold onto the truth about their own lives." While helping Peeta to reconstruct his past, Katniss is forced to face some of her most painful past decisions. She tries to quell his paranoia, stating, "'I never wanted to kill you. Except when I thought you were helping the Careers kill me. After that, I always thought of you as... an ally'" (270). Because most of Peeta's hijacked memories have to do with Katniss, she is the one who has the most information to fill in the blanks. However, he asks Katniss questions that she hasn't yet answered for herself. "Friend. Lover. Victor. Enemy. Fiancee. Target. Mutt. Neighbor. Hunter. Tribute. Ally. I'll add it to the list of words I use to try to figure you out" (270), Peeta remarks. And yet - his jumbled memories of his and Katniss's relationship aren't too far off from her own unaltered feelings.