Editors Note: The following contains spoilers for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes.
The Big Picture
- The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, includes references to the earlier films in the Hunger Games series, connecting the storylines and characters.
- Certain characters, such as Tigris, make appearances in both the prequel and the original films, while other families histories are extended.
- The prequel explores the origins of iconic elements from the original films, such as President Snow’s white roses and ‘The Hanging Tree’ song, adding depth to the overall franchise.
It’s no surprise that The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is connected to the earlier films in the series. Though the prequel is set decades before Katniss’ (Jennifer Lawrence) experience, it focuses on a significant character in that story: the future President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Though much younger, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes‘ Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) encounters many things that will become important later in his life. As the fifth movie in the Hunger Games franchise, this prequel contains many references to the earlier films, some glaringly obvious and others easy to miss. From characters the audience may not have recognized to parallels in the plot, this film is not so different from the others despite the 64-year gap.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes follows a young Coriolanus (Tom Blyth) — the last hope for the once-proud Snow family — who is reluctantly assigned to mentor Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), a tribute from the impoverished District 12 for the 10th Hunger Games. Snow sets out on a race against time to survive and reveal if he will become a songbird or a snake.
- Release Date
- November 17, 2023
- Francis Lawrence
- Rachel Zegler, Hunter Schafer, Viola Davis, Tom Blyth, Peter Dinklage, Jason Schwartzman, Burn Gorman, Fionnula Flanagan
- 165 minutes
- Sci-Fi, Drama, Thriller
- Michael Lesslie, Michael Arndt, Suzanne Collins
- Production Company
- Color Force, Good Universe, Lionsgate
Snow’s White Roses
President Snow is known to have a white rose with him constantly, and these flowers appear in the prequel as well. The pride of his Grandma’am’s (Fionnula Flanagan) garden, Coriolanus gives a white rose to his tribute, Lucy Gray (Rachel Zegler), upon their first meeting. This is not the only time he gifts a white rose to a girl from District twelve. In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Katniss is taunted by one left in her house after the bombing of 12. She also discovers these roses dropped over District 13, which Katniss takes as a message from Snow himself. Yet the gesture to Lucy Gray is more kindly meant if manipulative. The flowers are always present in Snow’s life, and the prequel continues this tradition.
‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ Isn’t Tigris’ First Appearance
Another important character shows up in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, though her part is less obvious. Tigris (Hunter Schafer), Coriolanus’ loving cousin, is the same woman who helps Katniss and her unit storm the Capitol in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. Though surgically enhanced, adult Tigris (Eugenie Bondurant) shares interests and sympathies with her younger self. Both work in fashion, though she had progressed far by the Second Rebellion. Tigris also shows sympathy for the tributes, specifically Lucy Gray, hinting at her eventual role in the Rebellion. Her final scene in the prequel shows a growing mistrust of her cousin, which will only continue until she willingly helps his would-be killers. Though a much smaller part than her cousin in both stories, Tigris’ appearance and mistrust of the Capitol are a significant connection to Katniss.
Lucy Gray Takes a Bow
Katniss’ sarcastic bow to the gamemakers after shooting an arrow at them in her demonstration is one of the most memorable moments of the original film. It shows off the character’s spunk and impulsivity. This moment is parallel in the prequel during Lucy Gray’s reaping. She performs a song and takes a bow before being taken to the Capitol. This moment connects her to Katniss at her introduction, though both being the tributes from District 12 certainly helps. It’s also interesting that both bows occur after the tributes show off their skills, Katniss’ archery and Lucy Gray’s voice. Though very different, both help them in the arena, as Katniss uses the weapon and Lucy Gray gains supporters in the Capitol. This parallel fits, especially since it’s after a performance, but it also clearly recalls Katniss’ iconic moment.
Lucy Gray’s Outfit Has a Hidden Reference
Lucy Gray continues to be connected to Katniss through more subtle methods. The two characters are very different, as Katniss shies away from the spotlight, and Lucy Gray embraces it. But they are both dedicated to their family, though Lucy Gray’s isn’t traditional. This connection is on full display at the reaping ceremony, when Lucy Gray not only wears her mother’s dress, like Katniss, but the dress is painted with two different flowers: katnisses and primroses. This event goes very differently for the main characters as Katniss volunteers out of love for her sister, and Lucy Gray’s name is called in a final betrayal. But it seems fitting for Katniss and Prim (Willow Shields) to be represented in this reaping as the first one on-screen marked an important moment for both sisters. The flowers that give the Everdeen sisters their names on Lucy Gray’s dress are hardly noticeable in all the action, but this ingenious touch gives the two characters one more connection to share.
Katniss’ Bow and Arrows in the Hunger Games
When Coriolanus enters the arena to save Sejanus (Josh Andrés Rivera), his anxious looks fall on one weapon that was left untouched: a bow and quiver of arrows. This unnerves him in the moment, but he does not yet know how much. As the weapon of choice for his enemy, bows and arrows will continue to haunt Snow throughout his life. This reference is easy to miss in the dark scene, but it is eerie knowing the significance of the weapon.
Family Names in the Capitol
Though only a few familiar characters appear, several families should be familiar. Coriolanus’ fellow students include Arachne Crane (Lilly Cooper) and Hilarius Heavensbee (Florian Burgkart), and, of course, no one can forget the first-ever host of the Hunger Games, weatherman, and amateur magician, Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman (Jason Schwartzman). These characters each share a name with someone from the first four films. Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) is the head gamemaker for Katniss’ Hunger Games and is the one to allow Katniss and Peeta to both survive, leading to his own execution. Plutarch Heavansbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the next head gamemaker who is actually working for the rebellion. And Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) follows in Lucky’s footsteps to host the Hunger Games. There is possibly a direct reference to Caesar when Lucky makes reservations for two and a baby. Though it’s not clear how each is related to the characters in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, the detail shows a deeper connection to the other films.
The Hunger Games Need A Victor
The 10th and 74th Hunger Games are very similar. Not only do they both have victors from District 12, but both games nearly had no victors at all. Katniss and Peeta’s (Josh Hutcherson) act of rebellion was taking nightlock berries, nearly killing themselves before the gamemakers chose to allow a double victory because there must be a victor. President Snow explains to Crane in The Hunger Games that the winner of the Hunger Games represents hope to the Districts, a hope the Capitol can control. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes shows the character formulating this worldview as he begins to understand the games themselves, but more importantly, one scene in particular references his opinions on victors. Dr. Gaul (Viola Davis) releases snakes into the arena, killing several tributes, but the last to survive is Lucy Gray. Yet the snakes threaten her, too, and Dr. Gaul is content to watch her die. Coriolanus begs the gamemaker to release her, saying the Hunger Games require a victor, a philosophy that stays with him years later. The events of these games are very different, but in both instances, the Capitol nearly lost its victor.
Snow Always Hated Mockingjays
As Coriolanus moves to District 12 as a peacekeeper, the new film references the origin of mockingjays. Born of the jabberjays created by the Capitol and mockingbirds, the species lives throughout District 12 and is uncontrollable. Mimicking the cries of executed prisoners or the songs of Lucy Gray and her friends, Coriolanus instantly dislikes these creatures, making Katniss’ eventual title even more fitting. In one of the ending scenes, Coriolanus attempts to shoot down as many as possible but fails to silence them, much like he cannot suppress Katniss and the rebellion she inspires. The mockingjays are an important element in the franchise, with two films named after them, so it’s not surprising that they show up in the prequel.
Katniss Shows Up in ‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’
The character Katniss may be several decades away from being born, but her name is used multiple times in the prequel, referencing her namesake. Katniss, better known as a swamp potato, is a plant that grows in the woods outside of District 12 and especially near the lake the Covey visit. As her family looks for the plants they can eat, Lucy Gray tells Coriolanus about them, noting that she is fond of the name “katniss” rather than its more common title. Lucy Gray mentions this plant again as her excuse to leave Coriolanus in the cabin when she doubts his dedication to their escape. With the lead character’s name dropped into the dialogue, this is a fairly noticeable easter egg, but it’s quickly brushed over for more important things.
Lucy Gray Writes ‘The Hanging Tree’ Song
Katniss is not a performer like Lucy Gray, but she does sing occasionally, and one song that becomes an anthem of the rebellion is “The Hanging Tree.” Katniss sings this in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 during her visit to District 12, but that isn’t the song’s origins. The song was written by Lucy Gray based on events that take place in the prequel, explaining the mysterious words of the song. This is one more connection between the two characters and another thing from Coriolanus’ past that Katniss unintentionally uses against him.
It’s The Things We Love Most That Destroy Us
As the prequel wraps up, a familiar voice can be heard saying, “It’s the things that we love the most that destroy us.” Donald Sutherland said these words to Katniss in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, and he repeats them to the audience of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. This quote may have been about Katniss and Peeta originally, but it fits Coriolanus and Lucy Gray as well. Though the familiar face of President Snow doesn’t appear, his voice is a nice touch as the character evolves into the ruthless man with whom fans are familiar. The origin story of Coriolanus Snow feels complete with this final reference to the earlier films as it comes full circle. The prequel may not show many characters who appeared in the earlier films, but Katniss’ story is far from forgotten as it is referenced at every opportunity.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes comes to theaters now. Click here for showtimes near you.