What are The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes movie’s biggest book changes? Adapting a book series beloved by readers is no easy task, especially when that book series is one of the most successful YA franchises of all time. (Seriously — The Hunger Games books have sold over 100 million copies.)
A Hunger Games prequel was an unexpected surprise, but a welcome one. And when it was announced that The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes would be adapted into another new movie in the series…well, we were giddy. But, of course, things are lost and added when movies are based on books, and we’re here to tell you the biggest updates when it comes to Songbirds and Snakes. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)
1. Snakes, indeed
It’s no secret that The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has snakes included. It’s in the title. But the inclusion of these reptilian fiends is much more major in the book, and a key development is missed when it comes to the on-screen translation. It all has to do with Coriolanus Snow’s fellow Academy student, Clemensia Dovecote.
In the book, Snow considers Clemensia to be one of his closest friends at the Academy. When they’re assigned to write a paper together, Snow ends up writing it alone after Clemensia is rattled by the death of Arachne, another student at the Academy.
When Snow and Clemensia are called to see Gaul about the essay, Clemensia quickly lies to Gaul, saying they both wrote it. Gaul then shows them her newest Mutts: a collection of venomous rainbow-colored snakes. She tells the two students that their essay was accidentally dropped in the tank and asks Clemensia to reach in and retrieve it.
As Clemensia is doing so, Gaul reveals that the snakes will attack anyone who has an unfamiliar scent. As she says this, a snake launches up and bites Clemensia, causing her to drop to the floor. In the book, Clemensia immediately begins to convulse and shake and is eventually pinned down and sedated by Gaul’s assistants.
Now, in the movie, this is the last we see of Clemensia. We’re told that she’s recovering, but that’s about it. Really, in the book, that’s just the beginning. Clemensia is hidden away from her family (they’re told she has the flu and can’t be seen), and Snow sees her in person again when he’s hospitalized after the bombing.
When he finds her, he’s horrified. Her skin is peeling, scaly, and her eyes have turned yellow. Essentially, she’s turning into a snake. Together, they discuss Gaul and begin to unravel what they think is potentially a conspiracy to keep them both there. Eventually, an altered Clemensia is released on the first day of the Games so she can still participate.
This is a major arc within the novel, so it’s surprising it wasn’t included in the movie. That said, there are only so many elements you can cover in a single flick, so we understand why this was cut. (Mind you, we think the new movie could have been split into two parts, as mentioned in our The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes review.)
2. There are worse Games to play
When it comes to the Game itself, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is far more occupied with Snow’s perspective rather than a lengthy depiction of what goes on. That said, we do get a lot of detail about what goes down across the 10th Annual Hunger Games.
The movie seems to skim events down to a couple of days, whereas, in the book, the Game went on for almost a whole week. In the prequel movie, the Game ends when Lucy Gray is the only tribute left standing after Gaul releases her snake Mutts into the arena. However, this event happens earlier on in the novel, meaning Lucy still has some fighting to do.
In the book, the snakes attack, but a handful of tributes still remain. (The snake attack lasts a lot longer, too, and Lucy sits with them overnight until they’re drowned by the rain, rather than just a few minutes, as shown in the movie.)
Eventually, it comes down to Lucy Gray and Reaper. She tires him out by getting him to chase her around the arena, knowing he’ll get thirsty. She then uses the rat poison that Snow managed to smuggle in an old powder compact for her to taint a puddle of water. Reaper takes a drink and eventually collapses, making Lucy Gray the winner.
Again, we understand why this one was cut for time. The main arc of both the novel and the movie revolves around Snow and his fall and eventual rise. Unlike the previous tales, this one doesn’t strictly revolve around the Games, so focus was needed elsewhere.
3. The Plinth family values
Okay, if you’ve read the book, you’ll already know how important Sejanus Plinth is. While Snow is the protagonist, Sejanus is the heart of this story. Having been born and raised in District 12, Sejanus’ father later takes them to the Capitol after coming into money.
Sejanus isn’t happy with leaving his old world behind and despises the glamour and evil of the Capitol and its people. He’s heavily against the Games, an opinion that he voices throughout the story multiple times. Initially, Snow dislikes Sejanus and finds him irritating, becoming increasingly annoyed every time he has to interact with him.
However, in the movie, this is softened slightly. Snow doesn’t seem to mind Sejanus as much. That said, the adaptation misses a key element that influences a lot of what happens later on: Snow’s relationship with the rest of the Plinth family.
Throughout the novel, Snow meets Sejanus’ mother multiple times, and she even gives him food (which, unknowingly to her, is a godsend for the starving Snow family). He also even hopes to get a reward from Sejanus’ father after saving his classmate after he snuck into the arena. In fact, Snow even has a formal meeting with Mr Plinth in the book.
All this makes Snow’s eventual betrayal of Sejanus and the family’s later appreciation for Snow all the more tragic. However, Snow barely interacts with the Plinth family at all in the movie. We see them in the background, and they’re mentioned in passing, but he doesn’t actually talk to them at all.
We think this is a shame since Snow’s relationship with Sejanus is one of the more complex and intriguing throughout the novel. What’s more, the concept of having an ex-district resident have to live through the atrocities of the Games while in the Capitol is an incredible shift in perspective. It might have been nice to highlight this relationship and would have made the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes ending even more gut-punching.
That’s the changes you need to know about when it comes to the newest addition. To see how else things tie together, check out our guide to how The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is connected to The Hunger Games, before watching the Hunger Games movies in order.
You can also check out all the Hunger Games Easter eggs, and see what happened when we spoke to director Francis Lawrence about Songbirds and Snakes. As always, be sure to check out our list of the best movies of all time, too.