The basic structure of “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” can be neatly broken down into distinct sections. There’s Coriolanus and Lucy Gray’s prep for her participation in the Hunger Games (which doubles as relationship-building for their early romance), followed by the prolonged stretch in the middle act, showcasing the actual Games in all their harrowing detail, and the extended denouement. Here, the films charts Snow’s exile to the Districts, his reconnection with Lucy Gray, and eventually the decisive choices he makes that forever put him and Lucy Gray on opposite sides of the political and moral divide.
To understand the downer of an ending, however, one has to remember the journey Snow took to get to that point. With his once-wealthy family left bereft after the war, Coriolanus focuses all his energy on becoming a top student in the war-torn Capitol. Presented with a chance to show his ambition through mentoring tributes for the Games, Snow is paired with Lucy Gray and soon bonds over their shared struggles — though, at the same time, his suggestions to spice up the show also help shape the sadistic future of the Games. His efforts to help Lucy Gray survive the ordeal eventually end up with him briefly in the arena itself, saving a fellow mentor and forced to kill a tribute with his own hands. When it’s discovered that he cheated to help Lucy win, Snow is exiled to the Districts to live as a Peacekeeper for a minimum of 20 years … where he reunites with Lucy Gray and faces a series of crossroads that decide his fate.
Choosing to turn against his own rebel-sympathizing friend Sejanus Plinth (Josh Andrés Rivera), as it turns out, is the beginning of the end.