Katniss rushes forward to prevent the Peacekeeper from striking Gale again, but it is too late to stop him. Instead, she gets struck on the cheek by the whip. He raises the whip to hit her again, but Haymitch steps in and orders him to stop.
Haymitch snaps at the man for damaging Katniss' face, as she has a photo shoot coming up, and the new Peacekeeper recognizes her as a victor in the Hunger Games. He tells Haymitch that it doesn't matter who she is, she stopped the punishment of a confessed criminal. Gale, who had returned from the woods with a wild turkey he killed, has been caught by the new Peacekeeper for breaking the law.
The other Peacekeepers take this moment to step in and tell him that the required number of lashes has been distributed, and he walks off. Haymitch, Peeta, and a couple of Gale's coworkers carry Gale to Katniss' mother so she and Prim can treat him. On the way, Katniss learns that no one knows what happened to Cray, the old Head Peacekeeper, and that the man who replaced him and punished Gale is named Romulus Thread.
Katniss' mother and Prim begin working to heal Gale, cleaning his wounds and dulling the pain. When Katniss realizes her mother won't be giving Gale any pain medicine, she becomes angry and shouts at her. Peeta and Haymitch have to carry her out of the room to calm her down.
Soon, there is a knock at the door. It is Madge, carrying some vials of liquid and instructing them to use it on Gale. Katniss' mother informs them that it is medicine from the Capitol, called morphling. While Katniss is glad Madge has given them some medicine, she is irritated by the possibility that perhaps Madge and Gale are closer friends than she thought.
Katniss begins to imagine if she and Gale's roles were reversed. She realizes she would hate Gale if he had fought in the Hunger Games, formed a relationship with a strange girl, and then promised to marry her.
This realization of her feelings for Gale chokes her. She is ashamed of herself for wanting to run away and leave everyone behind when she has power to make an impact. She realizes she has been a coward, and that it is time to face the Capitol in order to truly save Panem. Consumed by the rush of emotion, she leans in to kiss Gale. He wakes, and she tells him she isn't running away anymore, and he says he is staying, too.
Though Katniss and Gale said some extremely hurtful things to one another in the woods in Chapter 7, she still cares for him enough to throw herself in the path of a striking whip. When she realizes Gale is being whipped, she does not think of the consequences of running to stop it, and instead thinks only of protecting Gale. Though the Capitol damaged their relationship, Katniss is willing to risk pain from the whip and punishment from the Peacekeepers to protect Gale; her friendship with Gale means more to her than her own pride or pain.
Cray's disappearance and the appearance of a new, sadistic Peacekeeper are signs that the Capitol is invading every aspect of Katniss' life. When Gale returned from the woods with a freshly killed piece of game, as he and Katniss had done on many occasions, he is punished by a new puppet of the Capitol in a violent and horrific way. Gale's beating finalizes what Katniss has known ever since Snow's visit: the woods are no longer a safe haven, and they will never be able to hunt again.
Katniss' outrage at her mother for not giving Gale pain medicine, her jealousy at Madge's friendship with him, and their kiss at the end of the chapter confuse Katniss. She loves Gale as a friend, and insists it is nothing more, but when she pictures the scenario of Gale fighting in the Games and falling in love with someone else, she is hurt, jealous, and angry. She suddenly understands why Gale has been acting the way he has, and why she is a true coward. The whipping has helped Katniss understand the complications of their relationship.
Gale wants to stay, fight the Capitol, and protect those too weak to resist the Capitol's terrifying reign. Gale clearly exhibits the themes of trust and faith. He genuinely has hope that they can stay and put up a fight. However, Katniss wants to run away and start a new life without the tyranny of the Capitol. She says that it isn't a surprise she won the Games, because no decent person ever does. The Capitol's choking control over life has reached a new level for her. Now, she feels that she has also lost the claim that she is a decent person.
Being torn away from Prim, enduring threats against her family, and being forced into a marriage with Peeta are excruciating blows Katniss has been dealt since she volunteered to be a tribute. She has lost the ability to control her fate or choose whom she loves. In her mind, the Capitol has successfully changed her into a selfish, violent person who has killed innocent children. But she has hope in Gale's trust in the cause, and decides to stay.
Her decision to remain in District 12 is rooted in the courage Gale displayed when he said he wanted to stay and fight. Her comparison of life in District 12 to life in the arena demonstrates that Katniss now fully realizes she is fighting a second kind of Hunger Games, but this time is a different form of entrapment. This time, her home is now her arena, the number of enemies has increased, and she will not survive.