This weekend, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes hits theaters and with it, the Hunger Games – both the franchise and the games themselves – return. This time, it’s a new, unfamiliar cast of characters and even the one familiar name appears to be a very different person in this movie. But the games, as always, remain the same: brutal, unforgiving, deadly, and full of political intrigue.

Plenty of people who have never read the books might be wondering how it all fits in with the original trilogy. While many elements from the trailers have felt familiar, it’s all different enough to warrant a little breakdown. Here’s what to know before heading to theaters to see The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

It’s Set Over 60 Years Before The Original Trilogy

The first Hunger Games that audiences were ever introduced to was the 74th Hunger Games, where Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark were the victors. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is set a whopping 64 years before the events of the original trilogy, during the 10th annual Hunger Games. With it being only a decade after the war that spawned the creation of the games in the first place, it’s all very different. The Hunger Games aren’t as developed in the prequel, not yet the glitzy machine and full arm of Capitol propaganda that they are in the original trilogy. Instead, they’re just militant death marches between struggling teenagers.

The sentiment is also different: there’s still a lot of resentment from the people at the Capitol for the people of the Districts; there’s still much damage, both mental and physical, to be repaired. The Ballad of Songbids and Snakes doesn’t tell The Hunger Games‘ story of dystopia; instead, it tells the story of how a society becomes one. It also tells the story of how individual people can help create that dystopia through individual actions.

The Main Characters Of The Trilogy Don’t Appear – Except One

With The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes being set 64 years before the original trilogy, it stands to reason that no characters from the Hunger Games movies would appear in this one. The prequel movie, however, is about one main character from the first trilogy: Coriolanus Snow, played by Tom Blyth. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes tells the story of how Snow, called “Coryo” by his friends and family, starts down the dark path that turns him into the bloody and ruthless dictator of The Hunger Games almost 70 years later.

At the time of the prequel, the once powerful and respected Snow family has fallen on hard times. The patriarch of the struggling family was killed in the war, and now it’s up to his 18-year-old son, Coriolanus, to make something of himself and restore the family name. The 10th Hunger Games are the first in which mentors are chosen for the tributes, and Coryo is selected for the prestigious role. His tribute is Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) from District 12, much to his dismay.

Even then, the Hunger Games were starting to become as much about behind-the-scenes politics as the real life-and-death struggle on the ground. As such, Coriolanus has his work cut out for him: as a member of the nomadic musical group known as the Covey, Lucy gained the attention of Panem when she defiantly sang during the District 12 reaping ceremony. Still, Coriolanus is determined to make a good impression and for his tribute to go far, as his destitute family desperately needs the monetary prize and the prestige that would come with a good showing.

You Don’t Need To Have Read The Prequel Book To Understand The Movie

As The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is set so far before the original Hunger Games movies, the story is a standalone one, completely separate from the first. Yes, Coriolanus Snow is one of the main characters, and Tigris Snow, a minor supporting character from the original books and movies, also features. But the story is a self-contained one and the themes of power, oppression, love, and choice are universal. One can head into the movie without ever having cracked the prequel novel or a single book in The Hunger Games trilogy and still be just fine.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is in theaters now. Get tickets here.

  • Editorial