Let’s Talk About Why Haymitch Abernathy Is The Most Overlooked But Epic Supporting Character Ever
Let’s Talk About is a series of blog posts where Writer Gal gives her (unsolicited) take on pop culture – aka books, TV series, and movies – that she shamelessly binge watches in the name of ‘research.’ SPOILERS GALORE!!!
Let’s face it. Every supporting character in YA fantasy books has been measured against the sheer amazeballs awesomeness that is Gandalf the Grey and Albus Wolfric Brian Percival Dumbledore (I might have got the order of the names wrong). And, yeah, the two wizards of the wizarding worlds are EPIC BADASSES – I cannot stress enough how badass they are – and seeing their heroic, adventurous journeys unfold through books and movies has been nothing less than sheer joy and cinematic sweetness.
But, I propose another name to be added to this list. One who is, in effect, the exact opposite of everything the two heroic badass motherf*%^kers stand for.
He is neither heroic nor a badass. Hell, he is actually not even that nice. But, I recently re-watched this movie series and realized how completely and utterly effective he is.
I am, of course, talking about Haymitch Abernathy from The Hunger Games trilogy. Both the guy from the books and the cooler, oh-so-lazy drunk on a bender version played by Woody Harrelson. (Side note: Somebody give the man an Oscar, pronto! He is so good in everything!)
The Drunk Mentor
Haymitch Abernathy is introduced as a mentor in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. A Victor from District 12, the *only* Victor from District 12 who has watched young men and women be led like lambs to slaughter for too many years to count.
A mentor’s job is to keep his Tributes alive. Haymitch has failed spectacularly at his job for years on end.
So, he has taken to drinking as the next best panacea to get through the nightmarish guilt of leading kids to their deaths, knowing there was nothing he could ever do to save them. He is brash, he is uncouth, he is very often drunk as he interacts with Katniss and Peeta in the first few scenes.
In his head, he has already said goodbye to these two kids before he knows their names. And being sloshed is the only way he can deal with them. The way Harrelson plays it is such a joy. Amiable, buzzed and with only a hint of everything he’s ever had to live with visible when he says, “I’d prepare myself for imminent death.”
Then…then…Katniss throws a knife at him. Right at his breakfast. And Haymitch wakes up. Well, not literally, but he sees it. The spark that turns the Girl on Fire into The Mockingjay and shakes up an entire civilization.
He is the first to see it. Katniss’s potential. The sheer anger she keeps contained which, if pointed in the right direction, could lead to great things. Maybe, even keep her alive in The Hunger Games. And that’s what he taps into, when he starts coaching her. He taunts her, unbearably, pushing at all her buttons until she wants to murder him.
But he gets her. He understands that Katniss is not a nice person. You cannot be nice and still win at The Hunger Games. Their telepathy is actually way more believable than Edward reading Bella’s mind at times, TBH.
Their telepathy is proved later on in the arena when he starts to encourage the romance between Katniss and Peeta and that one sarcastic note with the soup that says, You call that a kiss? He could have made the sponsors send them medicines for Peeta but he fanned the star-crossed lovers’ romance, until IT became the reason to watch the games, not little kids killing each other for the amusement of an autocratic government.
A small pause here for the off-scene camaraderie between Peeta and Haymitch.
If Haymitch understands Katniss and her prickly, offensive exterior than he is equally appreciative of Peeta’s good guy heart. Not that Peeta isn’t manipulative on his own (admitting to a crush on the girl he is supposed to kill is nothing short of genius) but, with Peeta guiding Haymitch and vice versa, they are like the devil and the angel sitting on Katniss’s shoulder. Except, they agree with each other over everything!
When the happy couple wins the bloody Hunger Games, Haymitch isn’t happy. He is even more worried than before.
And this becomes apparent in Catching Fire when he slides back to his drunk ways and spends the year leading up to the next Games in a drunken stupor. Both aided and despaired by Katniss and Peeta.
But, never more does Haymitch’s role become clear than when he shakes some sense into Katniss in Catching Fire. At the very start of the Victory Tour, Katniss and Peeta make a very unwise, public announcement and a poor old man ends up paying the price for it. Haymitch is the one who snaps Katniss out of her hysteria and infuriates her into thinking clearly.
He understands the enemy they are up against. Knows there is no way out for any of them. Not then. And, once again, it is Haymitch who makes the hard choice and gets the surly, devastated Katniss on board the plan of keeping the two of them alive.
For me, Katniss and Peeta were always some kind of a doomed love triangle with Gale.
But, now, upon re-watching the series, I realized that Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch are like three parts of a conscience – the decency, the slyness, and the ruthless. Each emerging when required to do what needs doing.
This fact became clearer by the end of Catching Fire when Haymitch was revealed to be in the very thick of the rebellion shaking up the Capitol, with friends in high places aka District 13.
But, he has his softer moments too. Like, when he promises to volunteer in Peeta’s place and vows to Katniss that he’d be the one they’d save this year. Not her. Like, he hugs her so tight after she witnesses the execution of the old man in District 7 after yelling at her. Or when he admits to Katniss that she is the only real friend he has in District 13.
Haymitch isn’t there for a fair bit of Mockingjay as Katniss deals with the severe shocks she’s been dealt so far. Peeta’s gone. So’s District 12. District 13 is real. Haymitch was part of a plot to rescue her, as the symbol of some revolution and so left Peeta behind. It is this fact, she can’t live with when she almost kills him at the end of Catching Fire.
The book never establishes Haymitch’s presence while the movie explains it as him ‘drying off in a facility a mile away from District 13’s underground bunker.’
But, when The Mockingjay is ready to become the face of the revolution, it is, once again Haymitch who strategizes the best way to use her. Let her act natural. Let her be. Don’t give her words. Make her fight.
It works, almost too well, when the Capitol bombs the hospital in the District she’d just visited. Of course, that’s just one of several bombings in the concluding book of the trilogy and so egregious, so to speak.
I mentioned Haymitch and Katniss’ telepathy before. And the best, most spectacular example of this is at the very end. When Haymitch throws in his lot with Katniss about holding a symbolic Hunger Games with the Capitol’s children as Tributes to satisfy the rebels.
And he is the only one who understands, why Katniss kills President Coin instead of executing Snow like she is supposed to.
He gets her, in the most basic of ways. And he approves of her, much like he loves Peeta, in his own fashion, for being the best among them all.
I could write a few more pages on why Haymitch Abernathy is so freaking awesome but I’ll end it here for today.
Till next time.
PS: Who is YOUR Favorite Hunger Games character and why?
Feature Image: Screener TV
Image: FemaleFirst UK