Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy in the Hunger Games film saga

How Did Haymitch Abernathy Win the 50th Hunger Games?

Haymitch Abernathy was the second Hunger Games victor to come from District 12 and the last before Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark were reaped as tributes for the 74th iteration. But how did he actually win?

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Chosen to fight in the second Quarter Quell—extra special games held every 25 years, whose unique additional rules are ceremoniously unveiled before the reaping—Haymitch found himself fighting in a Hunger Games against twice the number of competitors than usual. Coming from District 12, the odds were already stacked against him as, like most other District 12 tributes, he was malnourished and lacking in both the survival and combat training necessary to survive the Arena. This made his win a huge surprise for viewers and game makers alike. A bitter alcoholic by the time he was forced to act as a mentor to Peeta and Katniss, readers of the books and viewers of the films found themselves wondering how he’d managed his win and if the things he’d had to do to survive were what had shaped him into the cynical misanthropist he’d become.

How did Haymitch win his Hunger Games?

Despite the low odds of survival, Haymitch actually did very well in the games, partly due to the alliance he’d made with fellow District 12 tribute, Maysilee Donner—a friend of Katniss’ mother and the twin sister of the District 12 Mayor’s wife.

Upon entering the arena, Haymitch didn’t allow himself to stop and stare—despite how incredible the creative environment was. Other tributes weren’t as practical, and 18 of them were slaughtered right away while Haymitch had already set off with a backpack and a knife. Later, he would be forced to combat a group of tributes armed only with his knife—whether he had experience fighting with it back in District 12 or if he picked up his skills during pre-game training remains unsaid—and managed to defeat all but one of them, with Maysilee rescuing him at the last minute by picking off his last opponent with a poison dart.

Maysilee and Haymitch then made their way across the arena, sharing resources and working together to kill any other tributes who attacked them. Eventually, they reached the edge of the arena, which seemed to be a cliff over a dead drop, at which point their alliance ended—Maysilee, not wanting to have to kill her friend, headed back toward the center of the arena while Haymitch lingered on the cliffs. Throwing a pebble over the edge, he discovered the force field surrounding the arena when the pebble bounced back—just before Maysilee began to scream.

Haymitch arrived too late to save Maysilee from the muttations—genetically modified animals created by the Capitol—that killed her, and the arena’s environment had killed off most of the other remaining tributes. This left Haymitch with just one Career Tribute (those who have specially trained to take part in the Hunger Games for years) from District 1. Haymitch went back to the cliffs, and when the Career found him there and tried to kill him, Haymitch used the forcefield to win, ensuring that when his opponent threw his axe, it was in the direction of the forcefield. Haymitch ducked, the axe bounced off the forcefield, and the Career was struck by it instead.

Despite Haymitch’s clever victory, the Capitol wasn’t happy, viewing it as a deliberate insult and an act of rebellion against its oppressive regime. President Snow retaliated and had Haymitch’s family and his girlfriend murdered, sending the already traumatized 16-year-old boy back home to live alone and mentor decades of children to go through the same trauma, none of whom survived until Katniss and Peeta came along 24 years later.

(featured image: Lionsgate)

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Siobhan Ball
Siobhan Ball (she/her) is a contributing writer covering news, queer stuff, politics and Star Wars. A former historian and archivist, she made her first forays into journalism by writing a number of queer history articles c. 2016 and things spiralled from there. When she's not working she's still writing, with several novels and a book on Irish myth on the go, as well as developing her skills as a jeweller.