Welcome, welcome. Over a decade after the first Hunger Games novel hit shelves, a return to its brutal world of survival, betrayal, and Capitol folly is upon us, in the form of a prequel film called The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Considering the impact The Hunger Games had, it seems only natural that a prequel would focus on how the dystopian world of Panem—and the Games themselves—came to be. And indeed, Songbirds and Snakes—based on the 2020 novel by Suzanne Collins—is set decades before we ever meet Katniss Everdeen in the original Hunger Games trilogy. But rather than explaining the birth of the Hunger Games, its story follows a young Coriolanus Snow (the tyrannical president previously portrayed by Donald Sutherland) around the time of the 10th annual Hunger Games. (For context, the Games that Katniss volunteers for in the first novel and film are the 74th.)
Though the franchise’蝉 most beloved characters don’t make appearances in the book, Songbirds and Snakes introduces a sprawling cast filled with surprising characters—some of whom directly echo figures in the original Hunger Games stories. Ahead of the new movie’蝉 launch this fall, here’蝉 everything you need to know about it.
When will it be released?
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes will hit theaters on November 17, 2023. Francis Lawrence, who helmed Catching Fire and both Mockingjay installments, returned to direct.
What do I need to remember?
The short answer? Not much. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes takes place long before the original trilogy, too long for much crossover beyond the basic premise: some indeterminate time in the future, the North American nation of Panem is divided into 12 districts and a Capitol. As a consequence of a failed uprising, each district must offer up two children between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete and fight to the death every year. The lone survivor returns home with wealth, fame, and unimaginable trauma.
As this story is set only a decade after that uprising, Songbirds and Snakes reintroduces Panem as a struggling postwar nation. The Games are not yet the spectacle they will become; instead, they’re a militant punishment, a straightforward fight to the death between malnourished teenagers.
Who’蝉 in it?
Tom Blyth (Billy the Kid) portrays a young Coriolanus Snow, the unlikely protagonist of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. You know Snow as the insidious president who oversaw the Hunger Games and repeatedly threatened Katniss in his quest to quell rebellion, but in the prequel, his once wealthy family is living in near poverty. Coriolanus lives with his grandmother and cousin, Tigris, in a lavish Capitol apartment they can no longer afford.
As the film’蝉 anchor, Snow is torn between his ambition and morals as he struggles to navigate the Capitol’蝉 corrupt society. Here, he attends a prestigious Capitol high school and is granted a mentorship position in the upcoming Hunger Games. He is assigned District 12’蝉 female tribute, Lucy Gray Baird, and initially sees her victory as a way to ensure his own future success.
Beyond this, Songbirds and Snakes explores his relationship with mockingjays, Districts 12 and 13, and power. Is his cruelty a byproduct of nature or nurture? How is his rise to power tied to one of YA’蝉 most unforgettable dystopian worlds? As the story sets out to explore these questions, Snow’蝉 journey becomes less a mystery than a morality tale about how deadly self-victimization can be when deployed by the privileged.
Katniss wasn’t the first girl from District 12 to cause trouble for Coriolanus Snow. West Side Story’蝉 Rachel Zegler stars as Lucy Gray Baird, the young woman selected to compete as District 12’蝉 female tribute in the 10th Hunger Games. Her relationship with Snow casts a new light on his relationship, decades later, with the girl on fire.
Lucy Gray is a member of the Covey, a group that had, before the war, roved the country. When her name is called at the reaping, her reaction catches everyone by surprise—and incidentally convinces Snow that she’蝉 anything but a lost cause. Though she isn’t as prepared for the Games as Katniss was, she’蝉 more clever than most presume, and her and Snow’蝉 united showmanship changes the Games’ dynamics forever.
Tigris Snow, portrayed by Euphoria’蝉 Hunter Schafer, is one of the few characters to appear in both the main series and the prequel—though we wouldn’t fault you for forgetting her. In Mockingjay, Tigris is a Capitol ally who aids Katniss’蝉 squad on their quest to assassinate the president. In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, it’蝉 revealed that president is her cousin. Tigris acts as both a confidant and foil to Coriolanus for much of the novel, with her compassion at odds with his burgeoning ruthlessness.
Snow is, obviously, not the only mentor in the 10th Hunger Games. Josh Andrés Rivera (another West Side Story alum) portrays Sejanus Plinth, another foil to the future president. The Plinth family is not Capitol-born; rather, they are “new money,” having made their wealth during the war. Having been raised in District 2, Sejanus has a moral compass that most of his classmates lack. Despite that, he and Snow form a genuine, if not slightly contentious, friendship.
An ancestor of Stanley Tucci’蝉 charismatic host, Jason Schwartzman’蝉 Lucky Flickerman is given the task of presenting this iteration of the Hunger Games. As he inadvertently oversees the evolution of the Games, he injects the story with a dark humor and serves as a clear indication of what Capitol society will become.
Casca Highbottom is both dean of the Academy and the man credited with creating the Hunger Games. As such, he’蝉 involved in the mentorship program that Snow and his classmates partake in—though he’蝉 noticeably a shell of the man he once was. Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones, Cyrano) portrays him.
If Lucy Gray is the angel on Snow’蝉 shoulder, Dr. Volumnia Gaul is the devil on his other. Gaul, as played by Viola Davis, is the head Gamemaker and mastermind behind the Capitol’蝉 experimental weapons division. (Think Wes Bentley’蝉 Seneca Crane in The Hunger Games, or Philip Seymour Hoffman’蝉 Plutarch Heavensbee in Catching Fire—but with a much more imaginative mean streak.) Like Highbottom, Gaul is closely involved with the mentorship program.
What’蝉 going to happen?
Though The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a “return to the Games,” it isn’t necessarily a survival thriller in the vein of the original story. The Games depicted in the prequel are far from the futuristic, awe-inspiring spectacles we’ve already seen onscreen. In fact, they take place entirely in a condemned amphitheater. Still, it’蝉 a brutal tale, and tributes’, mentors’, and advisers’ lives are on the line. There are gnarly deaths (hey, Panem hasn’t changed that much) and plot twists likely to make your head spin. As the story of how the Games came to be, it centers on a cast of characters whose fates are anything but set in stone.
So, without giving too much away, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes starts before the reaping and continues after a victor is crowned. It takes us through the Capitol, into the arena, and, yes, back to District 12. It is a story of privilege, of exploitation, and of power. It is the story of Coriolanus Snow. And you already know the ending.