Welcome back to the Hunger Games.
A new crop of tributes will enter the arena in Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, the Hunger Games prequel centered on a teenaged Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth, preceding Donald Sutherland) before his days as tyrannical president of Panem. In the prequel — in theaters Nov. 17 — it's the 10th annual Hunger Games, a spectacle wherein district children are forced to fight to the death as punishment for the insurrection the districts waged against the Capitol during the first civil war. Much to his displeasure, young Snow has been assigned to mentor Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), the District 12 female tribute (and not exactly the cream of the crop).
But he's got his eyes on the Plinth Prize, a cash reward awarded to the mentor whose tribute emerges victorious, that would secure his spot at the university next year. When Lucy Gray — a member of the Covey, a group of musical nomads in Panem — captures the country's attention with a song at the Reaping, Snow realizes they just might have a shot at winning.
EW has an exclusive inside look at the new trailer (above), which features a familiar ballad. Below, franchise director Francis Lawrence — who also helmed Catching Fire and both Mockingjay movies — breaks it all down.
Are you, are you comin' to the tree?
The trailer opens with a familiar song, one that sounds more haunting this time around: Zegler's rendition of "The Hanging Tree," first sung by Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen in Mockingjay Part 1 while she's filming a promotional video for the rebellion. (It's later broadcast to the districts to rally allies.) The prequel reveals that the song originates from none other than Lucy Gray. Music, of course, plays a more prominent role in the prequel given the songbird's Covey background. "She's a performer," Lawrence says. "After witnessing a man being hanged for multiple murders, she crafts 'The Hanging Tree,' which is, of course, 65 years later in these stories a song we hear Katniss singing. So this is a song that's been passed down through generations of people in District 12." Though fan theories abound that Lucy Gray has connections to the Everdeen family tree as Katniss' grandmother, Lawrence sways toward another popular theory: "I think Maude Ivory, the youngest in the Covey, is related to the Everdeens in the grand mythology of everything." (Get ready to meet Maude Ivory, too.)
Everything's coming up roses
Lionsgate Tom Blyth in 'The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes'
The tributes arrive at the train station ahead of the games, and Coriolanus is there to welcome Lucy Gray with a white rose, which becomes his signature floral in the original franchise. "You look like you shouldn't be here," she tells him. (He shouldn't. "A rebel," indeed.) In the original films, Sutherland's Snow leaves Katniss white roses at her home in the Victor's Village and later taunts her with beds and beds of blooms in the final film after he bombs District 13. Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) also reveals in the final film that Snow uses the scent of roses to mask the smell of blood that comes from his mouth sores. In the prequel book, the roses aren't as sinister. We learn Snow's love of white roses originates from his late mother, who died while giving birth to his younger sibling, who also died. He recalls her always smelling of roses thanks to a rose makeup compact she often used. His grandmother, too, has a rose garden on the terrace of their home. "When you're distilling a book of this length down to a feature film, there are certain things you have to lose," Lawrence says of the rose references. "And we lost a little bit of that, but of course we can't lose roses and Snow's connection to roses." The simple gesture felt like a natural inclusion. "It's part of the fun of being able to tell a story like this. We get to dive into the origins of elements we're familiar with."
Keep the peace
Lionsgate Tom Blyth in 'The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes'
In the original films, the story ended once the games came to an end, right? Well, the prequel is much more epic in scope. "It traverses much more ground and covers much more emotional territory and tells a larger narrative than just the games themselves," Lawrence teases. Without giving too much anyway, it's after the games come to an end that Coriolanus' story begins. He's forced to enroll in Peacekeeper duties, and he finds himself in none other than District 12. "If you've just seen the other movies with Donald Sutherland and how he reacts to District 12, you would never think that he'd actually spent a fair amount of time there himself as a Peacekeeper," Lawrence observes. Don't be too surprised, then, if you see the young Coriolanus traversing the same meadows and roads as a certain other District 12 citizen and her best pal Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth).
A rainbow of destruction
Lionsgate Viola Davis and a tub of colorful snakes in 'The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes'
The trailer introduces two major adversaries in young Snow's life: head gamemaker Volumnia Gaul (played by a positively sinister Viola Davis), and Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage), school dean and unintentional creator of the Hunger Games. Both Davis and Dinklage were Lawrence's first choices for their respective roles. "Some of Peter's scenes are some of my favorites in the movie," he says. "I wanted to work with him for so long. He came in and blew everybody away." Davis, on the other hand, had a "gravitas" that made her perfect for the role of the twisted Gaul, whose weapon of choice, per the trailer, are colorful snake mutations. (Remember those monkey and lizard mutations in the original films?) "We wanted to create a different kind of character in terms of powerful women in these stories," Lawrence says of the gamemaker. Whereas Julianne Moore's rebellion leader Alma Coin was a leader corrupted by power, Davis' Volumnia is "a very strong believer in a specific philosophy and is grooming Snow in that direction," he notes. "She finds strange joy and creativity in her job as a gamemaker. She's a creative person with a very sinister underpinning, so there's a lot of color in her wardrobe and in her hair, even her eyes, and also in her creation... She's truly the first real gamemaker to think outside the box."
"It's the things we love most that destroy us"
Perhaps the most notable callback in the trailer is the booming voiceover uttered by Sutherland's Snow: "It's the things we love most that destroy us." In Mockingjay Part 2, the president says this to Katniss with the most menacing Cheshire Cat-type smile after Gale and other District 13 volunteers successfully extract Peeta and other kidnapped victors from the Capitol. What Katniss doesn't know, however, is Peeta has been hijacked and brainwashed to view her as a threat, hence the warning from Snow. The line also perfectly encapsulates the relationship between young Coriolanus and Lucy Gray, who fall in love with each other against the backdrop of the brutality of the games. Their love story, however, does not have the same happy ending as Katniss and Peeta's love story, making the quote all the more fitting. Lawrence concedes the inclusion was a happy accident. Thank the Lionsgate marketing team, who first tossed it into the teaser trailer, for that. "I remember being blown away by it and how it perfectly fit the themes and mysteries of the movie that we were making, but also connecting young Snow with the Snow we're familiar with," Lawrence says. "So it was actually backwards that it was in the teaser trailer first, and then I decided to add it."
Ready to return to the arena? The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes arrives in theaters Nov. 17. Watch the full trailer above.