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President Snow's Entire Hunger Games Backstory Explained

The Hunger Games, both the bestselling book series by Suzanne Collins and the blockbuster film franchise, is a dystopian saga of cruelty and justice. In the future, the United States has transformed into Panem, a fascist state ruled by a totalitarian government in the well-appointed Capitol, which oversees 12 distinct districts. Each year, every area sends two of its children to fight to the death. It's a punishment for past uprisings, a deterrent for future ones, and entertainment for the masses, and it's where our hero, the bowhunting Katniss Everdeen, finds herself during the 74th Hunger Games.

But who's the one behind all this murder? Who's calling the shots in this depraved dictatorship? Well, the answer is Coriolanus Snow, who rules with an iron fist and unbelievable cruelty. But how did Snow get to be in this position of power, and how did he rid himself of his humanity? Well, the tale of President Snow is a fascinating story, one told via little bits throughout The Hunger Games, as well as in the Snow-focused prequel novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. And if you want to know more about this cold-blooded tyrant, then keep reading for President Snow's entire Hunger Games backstory explained.

President Snow grew up during a massive civil war

The first part of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes concerns preparation and production of the tenth annual Hunger Games. This yearly murderfest is punishment to Panem's 12 districts for daring to rise up against an oppressive government regime, one that barely kept its people alive while allowing Capitol citizens and assorted barons of industry to live in luxury. And as the tenth annual Hunger Games, it marks a decade since the end of that devastating civil war.

Coriolanus Snow is 18 during the prequel novel, meaning the conflict ended when he was eight years old. In one passage, there's a passing reference to how Snow and his classmates were around two years old at the start of the war, meaning their lives of luxury and privilege were interrupted for a period of about six years.

Snow's father was Crassus Snow, a high-ranking military general who spent most of his time away from his family in the Capitol and died in the war when he was shot by a rebel sniper. Snow's mother also died during the war, while giving birth to a baby girl who, you guessed it, also didn't survive. So yeah, saying that Snow had a rough childhood is a bit of an understatement.

He was raised by his grandmother in the Capitol

Due to the death of both of his parents during the Panem Civil War, Coriolanus Snow — known by the childhood nickname "Coryo" at the time — finds himself under the care of his grandmother. Bound to the Capitol's culture of pomp, aggrandizement, and overall fanciness at the expense of emotional warmth, she demands that Coryo call her "the Grandma'am." The wealthy matriarch of the long-established and highly respected Snow family is a hard-line supporter of the tough Capitol government, and by the time Coryo is nearly an adult, he shares her opinions because she drilled them into his brain. She proudly sings the Capitol anthem, "Gem of Panem," with fervor, and she frequently badmouths rebels — meaning anyone from the Districts — as well as servants and other prominent families she thinks aren't as important as hers. 

Snow spends the rest of his childhood with the Grandma'am (and his cousin, Tigris, a generous stylist) up until his high school graduation and then again upon his return from Peacekeeper training. As for where he hangs his proverbial hat, the future president lives with his relatives in the Snow family ancestral home, a penthouse apartment in one of Panem's tallest buildings but one that falls into disrepair during the war and the reconstruction period. Like so many others in Panem during this time of hardship, the Snow family struggles for food, subsisting for years on cheap foodstuffs like lima beans, oatmeal, and potatoes. 

The reason for roses

According to The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, during and after the war, Capitol residents are forced to endure a life without some of the many luxuries to which they'd become accustomed and entitled to, including high-quality clothes, expensive meat, and flowers. Such things are extravagances and hard to come by, except in the Snow household, where the Grandma'am grows her own flowers, utilizing the rooftop garden adjacent to the family's penthouse digs. She doesn't have many and can only manage to ever bring a handful to full flower at any given time, but during the prequel novel, she carefully, if reluctantly, doles out a few to Coriolanus Snow to liven up his outfits for events pertaining to the Hunger Games and his studies at the Academy.

In part because of familial and sentimental attachments, roses become a personal trademark of Coriolanus Snow in his adulthood. He tends to a personal garden and is rarely seen without a rose on his lapel. According to Hunger Games victor-turned-rebel Finnick Odair, Snow dispatches those he fears will turn on him by slipping them poison. So as not to arouse suspicion, Snow also consumes the poison around his potential enemies, and while he imbibes an antidote in time, the practice leaves him with mouth sores that make the man constantly smell like blood. The roses he wears are genetically enhanced to have a powerful smell to cover up that spooky, sanguine scent.

President Snow loved someone a lot like Katniss Everdeen

The Snow clan is among the more prominent and famous families of the Capitol, full of prominent and famous members since way back in the history of Panem. In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, it's revealed that the bloodline even has its own unofficial and subtly cutthroat motto: "Snow lands on top." Teenage Coriolanus Snow is thus entitled to many privileges he considers his birthright, such as attending an elite Capitol school known only as the Academy. Even among an already rarified student body, Snow is the best of the best, earning top marks, and he's selected for a program introduced with the tenth Hunger Games, wherein Academy students would be assigned as mentors to each of the 24 forced Hunger Games participants or "tributes" from around Panem.

His tribute assignment is 16-year-old Lucy Gray Baird of District 12, the sector known for its coal mining and poverty. Resentful at first, Snow is motivated to help the plucky, Katniss-esque Lucy Gray win — in part because the winning mentor receives a full college scholarship, something the broke Snow family could use. But then he falls in love with Lucy Gray, an enigmatic and charming young woman who captivates Panem by singing old folk songs whenever she's paraded around in pre-Games events. Lucy Gray is Snow's first love but not his first encounter with a woman. The prequel novel implies that he once attempted something physical after being dared by his friend, Festus.

He cheated in the Hunger Games

As a mentor, 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow watches the tenth annual Hunger Games remotely, from a luxury box at his school with the other mentors. Not yet held in a specially created arena with all sorts of special effects, the tributes run around a bombed-out stadium, hiding where they can. Snow momentarily participates in these Hunger Games, as it were, when his friend and fellow mentor, Sejanus Plinth, sneaks into the in-progress death battle to retrieve the body of his assigned tribute, Marcus, a teenager he knew from his early childhood days when he lived in District 2. Dr. Gaul, one of the Games' more sadistic architects and overseers, forces Snow into the arena to get Sejanus out, during which time he's attacked by a tribute named Bobbin, whom Snow had no choice but to kill in self-defense, beating him to death with a board.

Coryo safely gets out of the arena, and so does his tribute and true love, Lucy Gray. She's the last tribute standing ... but not without some help from Snow. While looking for Dr. Gaul on an unrelated manner one day, he came across a tank full of vicious, mutated snakes set to be used to attack the tributes. Snow knew that they wouldn't attack Lucy Gray if they knew her scent, so he slipped a handkerchief she'd used into the tank. When those snakes hit the arena and killed several tributes, sure enough, they left Lucy Gray alone. 

President Snow didn't keep the peace as a Peacekeeper

While he wins the Hunger Games, Coriolanus Snow doesn't get to claim a scholarship and a place at the university in the fall. Instead, he's confronted by Academy dean Casca Highbottom with evidence of his cheating. To spare his family embarrassment (and Snow some horrific punishment), he's allowed to enlist as a Peacemaker, Panem's paramilitary police force. He asks to train at the facility in District 12, hoping to be close to Lucy Gray Baird, whom he tracks down when she's performing with her makeshift family of traveling musicians.

He quickly settles into a routine of training all week, then going to see Lucy Gray and her family perform haunting folk songs on Saturday night (including "The Hanging Tree," which Katniss Everdeen would sing as a protest anthem 70 years later). He's almost accepted his future as a Peacekeeper with Lucy Gray by his side when fellow disgraced Capitol boy-turned-Peacekeeper Sejanus starts to help locals plan a revolt and escape the district. Among those rebels are Lucy Gray's ex-boyfriend, Billy Taupe, of whom Snow can't shake his overwhelming jealousy. 

However, the plan goes wrong when Billy Taupe's new flame, Mayfair, the mayor's daughter, overhears their plot to escape and leave District 12 ... and Snow shoots and kills her. Another rebel, Spruce, guns down Billy Taupe, and Spruce himself dies after he's arrested. Sejanus is caught, too, and he hangs for his crimes, which Snow reported to Capitol authorities.

He helped transform the Hunger Games

Coriolanus Snow makes plans to escape Panem with Lucy Gray, only to learn he's been accepted into Peacekeeper officer training, which is a way back into the Snows' old life of Capitol elitism. However, he decides to abscond with Lucy Gray anyway, but after accidentally confessing that he was responsible for Sejanus' death, she leaves him in the woods, never to be seen again. 

Snow then realizes that he's a Capitol man at heart and hops a train for officer school. Instead, he's dropped off at the Capitol, where he learns that Dr. Gaul had summoned him to study under her at the University. Peacekeeper training had been a set-up, merely a way for him to learn about District people.

At Dr. Gaul's behest, Snow also goes on to work as a gamemaker, as he'd shown aptitude for the profession as a student mentor. Sending food via drone to tributes had been his idea, as was setting odds on those competitors. As an apprentice gamemaker, Snow introduces the idea of the Victors' Village, a luxurious area of homes in each district where Hunger Games winners would live. Meanwhile, Sejanus Plinth's grieving father, unaware of Snow's snitching, makes young Coryo his heir, returning the Snow family to a position of wealth.

As president, Snow exacted revenge on his rivals

It's not surprising that the cutthroat, calculating, and careerist Coriolanus Snow rises to the position of all-powerful leader of Panem. And once he ascends to the presidency, Snow becomes a brutal and tyrannical dictator, one who maintains order with might and violence. His administration sees an increased military presence in all the districts, along with a more pronounced role for his beloved Hunger Games, all to keep the citizenry in line. 

Snow is also very quick to murder the families of his enemies or those who make the government or the Capitol appear weak or foolish. Take for example Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss Everdeen's mentor and winner of the 50th Hunger Games. He emerges as a victor after manipulating his arena's force field. For showcasing a flaw in the game, Snow has Haymitch's family and girlfriend killed. And after Johanna Mason wins the 71st Hunger Games and subsequently refuses to prostitute herself, her family meets the same fate as Haymitch's. In short, President Snow's rise to power was full of tragedy and deception, and once he reached the top, he unleashed all his darkness on the people of Panem.