Sam Betrays Frodo: A Mockingjay Review

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SPOILER ALERT for Mockingjay (The Hunger Games) and Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings).

Just Say No

Image by Marc Falardeau

After finishing the Hunger Games trilogy, I was torn between:

  1. Wanting to learn the author’s techniques so I could make my readers feel as strongly for my characters as I did for the Hunger Games characters
  2. Never wanting to put anyone through what I went through reading Hunger Games

I’m not a depressed person, nor particularly moody. A poorly-ended book will leave me angry and disappointed, but not devastated. Mockingjay, however, left me in a turmoil of tears late into the night and gave me a sick feeling every time I thought about it afterwards – which was often, since I finished it mere weeks before the first movie came out, and there were reminders everywhere, from a stray Catching Fire book jacket in a coworker’s car to Hunger Games recipes on the Yahoo! homepage.

As I lay awake that first night, trying to pinpoint what bothered me so much, I realized it all boiled down to one scene. One word, really.

First, the writing is brilliant (aside from heavy exposition in book two). The author asks moral questions without ever preaching. The prose is so clean, you forget you’re reading—you just get sucked straight into Katniss’s head. And Katniss is a complex character, flawed in ways I can relate to, yet heroic in ways I hope to be. I was afraid when she was afraid, I fell in love when she fell in love, and I grieved when she lost everything she cared about. As the story progressed, and more of my favorite people were murdered, I felt more and more beaten down, just as I saw Katniss beaten down. But one thing carried me through, which began in the very first chapter: I could always depend on Katniss to defend the weak.

Despite all her flaws, when she saw an innocent person threatened, Katniss was filled with righteous anger, and fought for them even against her better judgment. That’s what made her the Mockingjay.

The author brought Katniss down to her lowest point, which so many writers are squeamish of doing, but which is necessary for a great story. You must bring your hero to the edge of death; physically, emotionally or both. In that moment, your hero must make the ultimate decision. The exact decision varies with every story, but at its core it is always the same: right or wrong.

At this point, no one would blame him for making the wrong decision. But if he makes the right decision, even if the villain kills him afterwards, even if the whole world gets blown up or he doesn’t get the girl after all or whatever, your hero has won. Because no matter what the villain can do, he cannot break your hero’s spirit.

So I can forgive Ms. Collins for killing several of my favorite characters—even Prim, though that felt enough like the betrayal of the story. I can forgive her for estranging Katniss from her mother and best friend. I even think Katniss ended up with the right guy.

But I can’t forgive Ms. Collins for one thing. When the surviving tributes voted on whether or not to hold one last Hunger Games to punish the innocent children of the guilty Capitol officials, Katniss said Yes. For Primrose.

In that moment, Katniss died.

At her lowest point, she made the wrong decision—something I can’t blame her for in the least, but something that makes Katniss’s battle for innocence and goodness and decency all for nothing. The rebels may have defeated the Capitol, but Katniss, the person we were really rooting for, lost. Not just people she cared about, but her very self. The villains succeeded. They destroyed her.

We’re left feeling betrayed—and worse: hopeless.

As I drafted this post, I stopped to wonder why Lord of the Rings didn’t devastate me like Hunger Games did. After all, we fight through three books just to see Frodo decide to keep the ring at the end. But then I realized: Frodo isn’t Katniss. Frodo is hijacked Peeta. Samwise is Katniss. It was his friendship that carried us through the story, not Frodo’s strength. So when Frodo broke, we were sad. But Sam was still true, so there was victory. Imagine if instead, Frodo had destroyed the ring, but Sam had turned on him at the last moment. Not even the victory over Sauron would have redeemed that wrong.

So when you have brought your hero to his knees and he is about to make his choice, stop and think. What is this story’s Samwise? What promise do you need to keep to your readers?

And Ms. Collins, if by some slim chance you are reading this, I beg you: get them to change just one word in the Mockingjay screenplay.

Let Katniss say No. For Primrose.

-

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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23 Comments

  1. “Imagine if instead, Frodo had destroyed the ring, but Sam had turned on him at the last moment.”

    The thought chills be to the core.

  2. Thanks for your sharing…I have not had the desire to deal with the Hunger Games trilogy…my daughter and granddaughter enjoyed the movie.
    Interesting to read about what people think even tho reading or seeing this doesn’t appeal to me.
    Peace,
    Siggi in Downeast Maine

    • Yeah, sadly, I wouldn’t recommend the trilogy. I wish I could, because it was very well done and I felt like I learned something from it, but I just can’t bring myself to tell someone else to go through what I went through.

  3. Reviews of the Hunger Games books are rampant on the internet at the moment, but I don’t think I’ve ever read one as interesting and “true” as this one. Wonderfully put. :)

  4. it is sad…but I almost wonder if she said that to trick them….since she turns around and shoots that lady in the end….Katniss at least changes her mind…that made me feel better about the situation. :) Good review by the way

  5. I’ve only read the first of the trilogy, Hunger Games. Maybe this summer I’ll make time to read the rest. I agree with you. Saying yes sounds like a copout after reading your review.

    • Be warned, if you do finish the trilogy. Some tragedies I can enjoy, but this one was beyond enjoying. I have a few friends who enjoyed them, though, so you may feel differently.

  6. Great post! I think because I am older and read this series as an adult and not a young adult the power behind the stories struck me to the core. I did not focus on the love story or even the relationships amongst the characters as much as the ghastly idea behind the novels and the feeling of desperation as I read them.

  7. Great review – as yet hadn’t read Hunger Games but how you write about it plus LOTR analogy re ending added to the inspiration.

  8. This verbalized what I have been struggling to express fully since I read the book a year and a half ago. Thanks.

  9. i havnt read the hunger games, nor do I know much about it but this review really struck a chord with me. May come in handy for a good conversation starter.

  10. I thought the point of the story was lost when Prim died. After all, keeping her safe was what led to the story in the first place!
    And, I was completely devastated when Katniss said yes.
    As for the person she ended up with, I rooted for Peeta all along. At times I was mad at the author for Katniss was starting to sound like Bella from the twilight series. It was heart breaking when she told Peeta it was all an act in the first book and Gale seemed more like a brotherly/fatherly figure to me!
    And, the names sounded a bit absurd to me. Other than that, the book was brilliant. Brutal but brilliant.
    Ps: I love your review and your comparison with lotr. If sam had turned against Frodo, I think the book might have been more sinister and evil. Just my taste ;)

    • Yes! I haven’t seen any “Team Peeta” or “Team Gale” shirts, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I did. Though I suspect fighting over the boys is less of a big deal with Hunger Games than with Twilight because Katniss had such a strong character, whereas Bella has been described as a “lego brick.”

      Prim’s death was the second most devastating thing to me. As you point out, Katniss saving her was what launched the whole darn story – it seemed unnecessarily cruel that she should then burn to death at the very end while Katniss watched. But, to me, if Katniss had said “No. For Primrose,” Prim would still kind of be alive, because everything she stood for and everything she symbolized would still be alive inside Katniss.

  11. While I understand the point you made so well in your post, I also have to say that the world is far from perfect and characters cannot be perfect if they are to have any semblance of reality. Yes, saving Prim was the beginning of the story…but vengeance is very real and more plausible than the “perfect” choice of Katniss saying “no.”

    That decision is part of what made Katniss real…what ultimately brought her alive from the page…the fact that she was, in fact, human.

    • I certainly agree that what made Katniss real was her humanity, her imperfections. In fact, I mention that in the post above. I didn’t ask for her to be perfect. Note also, I didn’t ask for a perfect ending in a perfect world. I only asked that in this one instance, which I felt was the true climax of the story, she overcome her very understandable flaws and claim a victory for herself and for Prim. Because what it ultimately comes down to is a choice. Katniss was fiercely loyal and grieving, so of course she had it in her character to say Yes. But she was also, throughout the story, a staunch defender of the helpless, so she also had it in her character to say No. Therefore Ms. Collins would not have damaged the integrity of the story by writing No – but she would have driven home a message of hope. That in the end, we have a choice, and no matter what we’ve been through, we can summon the strength to do the right thing.

      What the author left us with instead, after however many hundreds of pages of roller coaster emotions, was a feeling of defeat. I don’t think she did it on purpose. I think she got caught up with the grief herself, and was overcome with it.

      At least, I have a feeling of defeat. I’m certainly glad you found some good in it and didn’t feel as horrible as I did in the end.

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