The Ending of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Explained

Suzanne Collins faced a predicament when she set out to write The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a Hunger Games prequel book revolving around a protagonist whose fate readers are already well-acquainted with. How to make Coriolanus Snow, Panem’s tyrannical president, into a character worth rooting for against all odds?

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Enter Lucy Gray Baird. The District 12 Covey girl whose name is drawn in the Reaping for the 10th annual Hunger Games proves to be a challenge for 18-year-old Coriolanus, whose family has lost the wealth and prestige they once harbored following the end of Panem’s civil war. Coriolanus is tasked with mentoring Lucy Gray to win the Games, a near-impossible feat he plans on accomplishing in order to win a prize that will pay for his university education. Things get complicated when the two end up falling in love.

But, this isn’t a typical love story. Though Songbirds and Snakes is set decades before we see Coriolanus’s rise as Panem’s despot in The Hunger Games, his villainous arc is clear. He is ultimately plagued by increasing paranoia and totally devoted to a sinister worldview, in which he constantly betrays those close to him. Though Coriolanus and Lucy Gray’s romance abruptly ends at the close of the prequel, many questions are left unanswered.

 

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The new film adaptation, which stars Tom Blyth and Rachel Zegler as Coriolanus and Lucy Gray, doesn’t stray far from the book’s original ambiguous ending. Ahead, we answer every burning question you’ll probably have after watching Songbirds and Snakes.


Why does Coriolanus turn on Lucy Gray?

Driven by his ambition to rise to the top, Coriolanus succumbs to his own paranoia. Lucy Gray is no exception to this.

Following Coriolanus’s murder of Mayfair, the mayor’s daughter, the couple decide that there is no future left for them in District 12 and make a plan to escape to the woods. But, along the way, Coriolanus accidentally reveals that he is responsible for the deaths of three people, rather than two deaths that Lucy Gray had already known about. Things take a turn for the worse when the two make a pit stop at a lakeside hut, the forest shelter that the Covey have often taken refuge in, where he discovers the weapon he used to kill Mayfair.

With the gun in his hands, Coriolanus immediately brainstorms ways to dispose of the evidence so he can return to Panem as a free man. There’s only one loop hole: Lucy Gray knows the truth.

In the book, Coriolanus initially attempts to rationalize Lucy Gray’s loyalty to him. “She would never tell,” he thinks to himself. “She’d never rat him out. It wasn’t her style, and it would implicate her in the murders as well.”

But, he grows more agitated when Lucy Gray leaves the hut to collect katniss plants along the lake’s shore. Bringing the rifle with him outside, he follows after her but cannot locate her by the water. Instead, he finds the orange scarf he had previously gifted her laying on the ground. When he picks it up and a snake emerges from beneath it and bites him, he becomes convinced that Lucy Gray booby trapped the scarf and turned on him.

tom blyth as coriolanus snow and rachel zegler as lucy gray baird in the hunger games the ballad of songbirds and snakes photo credit murray close

Murray Close/Lionsgate

Did Lucy Gray actually booby trap Coriolanus?

Coriolanus may be convinced that Lucy Gray betrayed him, but his paranoia makes him an unreliable narrator. Ultimately, her true intentions are never confirmed. She may have clued in on his untrustworthiness, but it’s also entirely plausible that she had no plans on turning against him. The book previously mentions that snakes are common in this part of the woods and that Lucy Gray’s scarf often came undone, facts that cast doubt on Coriolanus’s paranoid narrative.

Whatever the case, getting bitten by the snake fully revolted Coriolanus. He thrashes through the woods to find her, shooting blindly at sounds that he deems to be her footsteps.

Finally, he hears her singing “The Hanging Tree,” the haunting melody she had written earlier after witnessing the execution of a District 12 rebel. Flying mockingjays pick up the tune and mimic it back to him, infuriating Coriolanus, who then opens fire maniacally in a circle around him.

In the book, he rationalizes his action to himself: “If the Covey found Lucy Gray’s body, they wouldn’t report it. They wouldn’t want the attention it brought. It might connect them to the rebels or reveal their hideout. If there was a body. He could not even confirm he’d hit her.”

Eventually, Coriolanus quits his pursuit of Lucy Gray. He rows out to the middle of the lake to drop the murder weapons, thus securing his innocence, and returns to District 12.

Does Lucy Gray survive?

In the book and the movie, Lucy Gray’s fate is never confirmed. It’s possible that she could have been wounded or even killed by a bullet, considering Coriolanus’s frantic firing at the last location she had presumably been at. The book states that Coriolanus had heard a “faint cry,” and the movie briefly shows Lucy Gray running through a thicket of trees. Still, her body is never found. Additionally, she’s well-acquainted with the woods, which may have allowed her to outsmart and escape from Coriolanus.

Whether or not she is alive by the end of the story, Head Gamemaker Dr. Volumnia Gaul attempts to erase her memory in Panem by wiping out every copy of the 10th Games. By the time of the 74th Hunger Games in the trilogy’s first book, it’s briefly mentioned that there have only ever been two victors in District 12, with the first never named. So, it’s clear that people are vaguely aware of Lucy Gray’s existence, but not explicitly.

Her memory lived on in other ways, however. The prequel reveals that the songs Katniss Everdeen had sung in the Hunger Games—melodies that incited the revolution that finally toppled the Capitol—were written by Lucy Gray. These include “Deep in the Meadow,” the lullaby Katniss sings to Rue in the 74th Games, and “The Hanging Tree,” which Katniss sings in a rebel propaganda video.

“Focusing on the 10th Hunger Games also gave me the opportunity to tell Lucy Gray’s story,” author Suzanne Collins said in a 2020 interview. “Katniss doesn’t seem to know anything about the person worth mentioning. While her story isn’t well-known, Lucy Gray lives on in a significant way through her music, helping to bring down Snow in the trilogy. Imagine his reaction when Katniss starts singing ‘Deep in the Meadow’ to Rue in the arena. Beyond that, Lucy Gray’s legacy is that she introduced entertainment to the Hunger Games.”

Actor Rachel Zegler, who portrays Lucy Gray in the film adaptation, previously talked to Bazaar about her hopes for her character. “I always think about what happens to my characters while the credits roll for audiences,” she said. “When it comes to Lucy Gray, I like to think she’s free. I hope one day I’ll get to hear that from Suzanne, though.”