How Haymitch Abernathy Won His Hunger Games

When we first meet Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) in The Hunger Games, he is drunk and sarcastic – more concerned with spilling his drink than helping Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) survive. Indeed, he even tells them to embrace the probability of their imminent deaths. While we see a flicker of his quick reflexes, it still isn’t clear to us how this drunken, jaded fool ever won the intense arena battle that is central to the Hunger Games series, or what happened to change him into this sad state. He becomes an integral part of the story, a crucial ally to both Katniss and Peeta and a figurehead of the Rebellion against the Capitol. Though we do learn about how cruel the games are, and how a victor never really wins, the first four films never reveal Haymitch’s full story. It’s a prequel we’d love to see, so let’s dive into what the books have to say about District 12’s only-living victor and mentor.


Haymitch Won the Second Quarter Quell

Image via Lionsgate

Haymitch is the victor of the 50th Hunger Games, better known as the second quarter quell. It is written in the charter of the games that every 25 years there will be a quarter quell, to remind each new generation that the games are held due to the 13 districts uprising against the Capitol. Each quarter quell is distinguished by games ofPeeta’secial significance – the third quarter quell amends the rules of reaping to only include previous victors, which leads to Katniss and Peeta return to the arena in one of the best sequels of all time, and perhaps the best of the films The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. In the first quarter quell it is revealed that instead of being reaped, each district would vote on who to send into the games as tribute. The second quarter quell’s special stipulation was that the Capitol would reap double the amount of children, meaning Haymitch had double the amount of tributes (47) who needed to die in order for him to live.

He trained well, showing skill with a knife, and was given odds of 10-1 in winning. At 16, he was already charming and witty, but also arrogant, remarking to Caesar Flickerman (played by Stanley Tucci) that despite there being 100% more competitors, “They’ll still be 100% as stupid as usual, so I figure my odds will be roughly the same.” We see this lighter side of Haymitch revealed when Katniss is being tested and shoots her arrow at the pig. He is giggling with excitement, not just at the prospect of finally finding someone from 12 that might have a chance at winning, but also at discovering Katniss shares his disdain for the Capitol, sarcastically thanking them for their consideration.

RELATED: Here’s How to Watch the ‘Hunger Games’ Movies in Order (Chronologically and by Release Date)

Haymitch’s Fight For Survival in the Arena

Woody Harrelson as Haymitch in The Hunger Games
Image via Lionsgate

To celebrate half a century of Hunger Games, the game maker created a truly beautiful arena. As the pedestals rose the tributes were overwhelmed by the lush surroundings, full of flowers and animals with a stunning snow-capped mountain as the finishing touch. It was all beautiful…but deadly. The flowers were poisonous, the animals aggressive, and the snow-capped mountain erupted on day 4, revealing itself in actuality to be a deadly volcano, killing 12 tributes. Haymitch was not seduced by the allure of the surroundings, quickly securing a bag and a knife from the cornucopia before retreating into the woods. While in the woods, Haymitch runs into three career tributes. He’s outmanned but not outgunned as he quickly kills two of them with his knife. The final tribute manages to disarm him, and as they go in for the kill fellow District 12 tribute Maysilee Donner kills the career with a dart.

Much like Katniss and Rue (Amandla Stenberg), the two then agree to work together. They steal food from the other dead tributes, and Haymitch leads them to the very edge of the arena. While there, he notices that a forcefield surrounds the arena and that anything thrown at it bounces back. The victors who return to the arena in Catching Fire also understand the mechanics and importance of the surrounding forcefield, though Katniss chooses to wield its power in a far more destructive and final manner. When Haymitch refuses to leave the edge, Maysilee chooses to separate from him and turn back towards the center, only to be killed by a mutt. Haymitch holds her hand as she dies, again mirroring Katniss and Rue’s story. That same day two more tributes are killed, leaving just Haymitch and a District 1 career tribute left. A violent and deadly fight ensues between the two. She slashes open his chest with an axe while he cuts out her eye. She throws her axe at him, and he strategically dodges it and allows it to hit the forcefield, where it bounces back and hits her in the face, killing her. Haymitch is pronounced the victor, and he believes the worst will then be over, his life now a tale of riches and glory.

Haymitch’s Story Shows the True Cost of Being a Victor

However, his battle is not done. President Snow (played by Donald Sutherland in the films) is not impressed with Haymitch’s clever manipulation of the forcefield and two weeks after he returns home, his mother, brother, and girlfriend are all murdered. This is The Hunger Games after all, never one to shy away from the bleakness of war and the cruelty of dictatorships. His warning to Katniss and Peeta at the end of the first film about the Capitol “not taking these things lightly” bears more weight when you understand the heavy toll he paid for his clever win. Audiences will get to discover more about Snow’s history with District 12 winners when The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes comes out later this year.

Throughout the world of Panem we discover many Victor’s lives are ruined by winning the Games. The real MVP of the rebellion Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) is forced into prostitution while Johanna Mason’s (Jena Malone) family is killed when she refuses to prostitute herself. There are many with substance abuse problems, like the Morphlings we see in Catching Fire. Haymitch himself begins drinking to numb the pain, and starts sleeps with a knife in his hand. His hatred of the Capitol crystallized here, allowing him to become a central figure within the rebellion he would help plan 25 years later. His story lays bare the myth of being a Hunger Games “Victor”, showing that the traumatic memories never subside and that even if you manage to leave the arena, you can never escape the weight of your actions, nor are you immune to the might of the Capitol. The only real path to victory is to spark the fire of revolution.

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