Everything You Need to Know Before Seeing The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (2023)

Madison McMahon ‘27 / Emertainment Monthly Head TV Section Editor

Suzanne Collins’ 2020 novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is releasing its film adaptation on November 17, 2023. Already a well-acclaimed prequel to the original The Hunger Games trilogy, the film will be even more distinguished with stars such as Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird, Hunter Schaefer as Tigris Snow, and Peter Dinklage as Casca Highbottom—to name only a few. Following a teenage—future president—Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), Collins masterfully infuses elements of events to come in the main trilogy with fresh world and character building. The story is set in a place we have been before, but never this intimately: The Capitol.

Here are some facts you should know before stepping into this new ostentatious arena:

  1. The Hunger Games Only Takes Up About a Third of the Story

Collins is aware of how little we know about her mysteriously sinister villain of the original trilogy: President Coriolanus Snow. She takes care to establish Snow’s unexpected status in a Capitol that is just recovering from the war, and the role a primitive Hunger Games has played in Panem thus far. The training process of the Games is expounded upon as we are able to access the mentors’ (Snow and his classmates) preparation methods and tricks. Even after the 10th annual Hunger Games concludes, Collins is not finished with Snow and Baird. After all, how could Snow be a well-rounded president if he never visited the Districts?


   2.  Get Ready for a New Level of Violence. Who Knew There Could be More than Child Murder? 

Since the original trilogy is set mostly in the Games or the Capitol themselves, we receive only a glimpse into the horrors the District citizens endure in their everyday lives. In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Collins weaves Snow’s experiences as a young boy during the war with the present narrative of a recovering Capitol. Both depict the lengths humans will push to survive or thrive. As we learn that all the Capitol citizens were practically impoverished during the war, their egregious methods used to keep thriving are a reaction to resist returning to their wartime status. Collins subverts our assumptions of the average, pompous and proper Capitol citizen, oblivious to the atrocities they are supporting. On the contrary, the Capitol citizens are a part of their own, unofficial Hunger Games. However, they do not simply view their opponents as foes…but as food. In the case of those trying to survive, this is literal. For those clinging to superiority, such as Dr. Volumnia Gaul—played by the acclaimed Viola Davis—simply consuming organisms would be a waste. Everyone can be of use as a research assistant, or experiment.  



  3.  Songs Are Still as Important as in the Original Trilogy, If Not Moreso

The famous four-note whistle and the song “The Hanging Tree” are important unifying melodies for the Districts. The introduction of Lucy Gray Baird, a performer in a nomad group called the Covey, presents us with a multitude of new songs that evolve in their explicit subversiveness. While Katniss Everdeen is a fighter forced to perform, Baird is a performer forced to fight. Everdeen haunts us with her solemn demeanor as she sings the harrowing “The Hanging Tree”, but Baird beguiles her audience with her charm, concealing the true call to action behind the lyrics. Resist the temptation to ignore the meaning in favor of Zegler’s enchanting voice or you will be just as blindsided as Snow.



  4.  Katniss Everdeen is Related to Someone Here, But It’s Not Lucy Gray

Although both Everdeen and Baird are naturally talented singers, and reside in District Twelve, Everdeen has a more likely relative: Maude Ivory, played by Vaughan Reilly in the film adaptation. Collins includes a very specific detail in describing Maude Ivory that is identical to Everdeen; Maude Ivory is able to memorize any song by only hearing it once. In the final novel of the original The Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, Everdeen reveals she learned “The Hanging Tree” from her father when Prim was just a toddler. She goes on to say that she could “memorize almost anything set to music after a round or two”. The theory that Maude Ivory is Everdeen’s paternal grandmother aligns even in the timeline. Collins makes a point to state Maude Ivory’s age, saying she is only about eight or nine, making it more than realistic for Maude Ivory to give birth to Everdeen’s father during the 30th annual Hunger Games, and for him to have Everdeen by the 58th annual Hunger Games. This places Everdeen at her canonical age of sixteen during the 74th annual Hunger Games. These are actually only a few of the arguments to support this theory—see if you can spot the rest in the prequel. Hint: keep an eye out for the mockingjays. 


  5.  Actually, We Don’t Know Who is the Songbird and Who is the Snake

With Baird’s description and Snow’s foreboding future, we instantly assume who is the songbird and who is the snake. Once again, Collins plays with what is metaphorical and literal. While we have met mockingjays before, we are introduced to Dr. Gaul’s mutant rainbow snakes for the first time. But she is not the first person we see with an actual snake in this prequel—Baird is. Songbirds, like the mockingjays, are most commonly associated with the rebel cause because they are the Capitol’s experiments turned against them. But. isn’t a songbird just a being that repeats, no matter what it’s saying? The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes follows Snow as he is indoctrinated into the ruthless ideologies of the Capitol elite. Despite despising mockingjays, is Snow not one himself?  


  6.  And, Thank God…The Film Adaptation is Directed by Francis Lawrence (the Director of Three of the other The Hunger Games Movies) 

The Hunger Games films have been praised for their faithful adaptations of the beloved novels. Francis Lawrence served as the director for all the movies except the first (directed by Gary Ross, who left the franchise due to scheduling). While the first Hunger Games novel by Suzanne Collins is argued to be the best of the books, Catching Fire is agreed upon to be the best of the films, and is subsequently Lawrence’s first entry into the series. Rich with visual symbolism, captivating performances, and a revised, but novel-accurate script, the film dares to outshine its source material. Readers agree that the flow of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is near perfect, rife with details they can not bear to see left out of the film. However, it is a 517 page book, so there are bound to be cuts made. Fortunately, loyal fans of the series do not have to worry if they will be wasting their money on November 17th, 2023. Lawrence is clearly a director who has mastered adapting Collins’ intricate political critique. The only question is: how quickly will you pick up the novel of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes after seeing the movie? 

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