Gale's suggestion to kill everyone in the Nut settles into the rebels' minds. Beetee comments that many of the defense workers are innocent District 2 citizens, but Gale stands firm - he reminds them how many innocent people have died at the hands of the Capitol. Boggs suggests leaving the train tunnel as an escape route, and President Coin supports this plan. Hours later, the rebels start firebombing the top of the Nut to start the avalanches - and the Capitol is powerless. The attack reminds Katniss of the day her father died in a mine accident. At night, it is clear that there are no survivors coming out of the Nut and that the rebels have won. Haymitch informs Katniss that she has to make a speech so that the Capitol will realize that they cannot win and it's time to stop fighting. Katniss stands in front of the Justice Building and starts to speak for camera, when two trains arrive in the station carrying the survivors from the Nut, some of whom are armed.
The rebels are prepared for this and return fire, starting the battle anew. Katniss, however, can't take it anymore. She commands the rebels to hold their fire and reaches down to assist a dying burn victim. However, the burn victim reaches up and holds his gun to her head. Katniss tells the man to shoot her because she is tired of being a "piece in [the Capitol's] Games" (215). He is perplexed, and Haymitch encourages Katniss to continue speaking. She tells the man that the rebels are not the enemy - he needs to join the fight against the Capitol, the REAL enemy. This whole scene is broadcast all over Panem, as is the moment when Katniss is shot.
Katniss awakens in the District 13 hospital, with several broken ribs, no spleen, and her mind heavy with morphling. Apparently it was another man from the crowd and not the burn victim who shot her in the back. The first person Katniss sees is Johanna Mason, who is only there to siphon off of Katniss's morphling drip. Johanna has not lost her hard edge, calling Katniss "unbearable." Gale comes to see Katniss later and worries that she thinks he is heartless, and they argue. Katniss's production team films her in her hospital bed to quell the rumors that she is dead.
District 2 is now in the rebels' hands, leaving the Capitol completely cut off from the rest of Panem and all of its resources (just as District 13 was after the Dark Days). Plutarch explains that unlike the citizens of District 13, though, the inhabitants of the Capitol are not used to hardship. He also tells Katniss that Finnick and Annie are about to be married in a grand televised event to raise the rebels' spirits. Ultimately, the wedding is a "smash hit" (226) and everyone is genuinely happy for Finnick and Annie. There is a big dance party in District 13 that night - even Katniss joins in, sharing a dance with Prim. When the wedding cake comes out, Katniss recognizes the intricate frosting decoration - only Peeta could have done it.
Haymitch takes Katniss aside and says that Peeta has gotten better and wants to see her. Peeta is calm when Katniss enters, although his words are particularly nasty. She knows that he has been hijacked, but cannot listen any more. Just as she's about to leave, though, Peeta tells Katniss that he remembers the day he gave her bread and saved her from starving, back in District 12. He asks her if they had been in love, and she says yes. He has seen the tapes of Katniss kissing him and kissing Gale and asks her if the two men were okay with Katniss's shifting affections. She leaves, upset because for the first time, Peeta can see her flaws. Now she's filled with hate.
Katniss throws a fit when Haymitch tells her she is not strong enough to join the rebel forces in battle against the Capitol. Katniss still wants to be the one to kill President Snow, so she promises to train in order to build up her strength. Her ribs aren't healing fast enough, though, so Katniss subjects herself to a painful treatment intended to speed up the process. Johanna, meanwhile, is in morphling withdrawal but agrees to train, too. They move into a compartment together, across the hall from Katniss's family. Johanna softens a little bit and Katniss starts to trust her more.
One day, Peeta arrives at the dining hall (monitored by doctors). He is cold and rude to Finnick and continues to pick on Katniss for her previous treatment of him. Katniss takes all of Peeta's insults personally, but Gale assures her that Peeta's barbs have no resemblance to the truth. Later, Plutarch tries to convince Katniss to pose with Peeta for the cameras as if they are back together, but she flat-out refuses. Eventually, Katniss and Johanna both qualify to be tested to fight in the Capitol. Katniss passes her test and is assigned to Squad 451 - a group of sharpshooters (including Finnick and Gale), led by Boggs. She is thrilled. Plutarch shows them a map of the Capitol and points out all of the "pods": obstacles that are designed to trap and kill enemies. Just like in the Hunger Games.
Haymitch brings Finnick and Katniss the news that during her test, Johanna had a flashback of the torture she faced in the Capitol and had to be sedated. When Katniss visits, Johanna makes Katniss promise that she will kill Snow. Later, Katniss starts training with her squad, which also includes the Leegs, Jackson, Mitchell, and Homes. Plutarch informs them of their special mission: They will be the on-screen faces of the invasion, meaning they will not be on the front lines of battle. Nobody is happy about this and Katniss silently decides to disobey. Then, it comes time to say goodbye. Katniss takes Peeta's pearl with her when she leaves. Upon arrival at the borders of the Capitol, the rebel army camps in open view. Boggs says they are safe because the Capitol has lost most of its air fleet. For the first few days, the members of Squad 451 become frustrated because they are not allowed to participate in battle, but then, Soldier Leeg 2 is killed by a wayward pod. Her replacement arrives soon thereafter: Peeta.
When questioned about her brutally realistic depiction of armed conflict in The Hunger Games books, Collins comments:
That would definitely go back to my childhood. My father was career Air Force. He was in the Air Force for 30-some years. He was also a Vietnam veteran. He was there the year I was six. Beyond that, though, he was a doctor of political science, a military specialist, and a historian; he was a very intelligent man. And he felt that it was part of his responsibility to teach us, his children, about history and war. When I think back, at the center of all this is the question of what makes a necessary war - at what point is it justifiable or unavoidable?
Throughout the Hunger Games trilogy, the dissent against the Capitol is constantly rumbling beneath the surface. In this section, though, the seemingly inevitable conflict between the rebellion and the Capitol finally erupts. Meanwhile, Collins increasingly blurs the lines between innocence and guilt. In her review of the book for the Chicago Sun-Times, critic Karen Cruze observes, "There's definitely some despotic tendencies among the rebels, and a 'meet the new boss, same as the old boss' vibe." Collins foreshadows the extent the rebels are willing to go when Gale suggests blowing up the Nut. At this point, Katniss certainly recognizes the need for force, but she must now come face-to-face with the reality of war and how much she is willing to acquiesce in terms of what she considers "justifiable."
Because the reader experiences the story through Katniss's eyes, we, too, develop an increasingly bleak outlook alongside her. When she first volunteered for the Hunger Games in Prim's place, Katniss's motivations were pure and simple - she wanted to keep her younger sister safe. Now, though, she is putting herself at risk for a rebellion that she does not entirely believe in, and the personal stakes are much higher. Not only does Katniss have to witness the rebels' destruction of the Nut, but she must stand in front of the battlefield and use the brutal images to incite the other districts to join the rebellion - even though she does not fully trust Coin's tactics. Katniss is successful in rallying District 2 to their side, but she still doesn't feel right about it. With "'that kind of thinking... you could turn it into an argument for killing anyone at any time. You could justify sending the kids into the Hunger Games to prevent the districts of getting out of line,'" she cautions Gale (222).
For most of Mockingjay, the battle between the Capitol and the rebellion is literally being fought on the airwaves. Beetee forces the District 13 propos into the homes of Capitol residents. This tactic is similar to the "yellow journalism" that has marked the American media coverage of wars since the early 20th Century. Instead of dryly reporting events, newspapers craft the most sensational narrative, packaged for public consumption. Without Katniss's spin on the District 2 bombing, the rebels would have appeared just as ruthless as the Capitol. Standing amidst the rubble, though, Katniss proclaims, "Why did I do it? District Twelve and District Two have no fight except the one the Capitol gave us!" (216). In this way, she shapes the viewers' perspectives, aligning them with the rebellion and continuing to demonize the Capitol.
Besides her realistic depiction of the brutality of war, Collins also makes sure not to romanticize the effect of violence - on winners and losers alike. Collins's heroes do not forget the lengths they have had to go to achieve victory, and Katniss is no exception. She is forever haunted by Snow and what he's done to District 12 - and her bloodlust propels her forward at every step. Her desire to kill snow blinds Katniss to the fact that the rebellion is using her in the same way that Snow did. In The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, President Snow manipulated Katniss's media presence to further his own ends. Katniss was forced to comply because she was afraid of what he would do to her loved ones. Now, Coin is using the Mockingjay for her own ends, but Katniss's lingering hate precludes her from seeing this - until she realizes that Coin wants her dead.