Melanie Schmitz
December 30, 2013 2:00 pm

It recently came to my attention, with the release of Lionsgate’s and Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire, that certain people out there are not, in fact, rabid fans of The Hunger Games’ meek hero, Peeta Mellark. The woman in question was inquiring about my reaction to the latest installment of the film-trilogy and queried, “So, are you Team Gale or Team Peeta?” As someone who’s never read the books (Gasp! I know… sorry), I had never been posed that question before nor had I been confronted with that sort of hasty decision-making regarding ridiculously handsome fictional characters. I’m a big fan of the movies, however, so I figured I’d at least attempt an answer. “Neither,” I smiled diplomatically. “I’m Team Katniss.”

The look of incredulity on the woman’s face made me want to take it back. “Well… you have to choose a side,” she remarked, slightly confused, as if no one had ever answered the question in that form before. “You know…” I scrambled. “Because the stories are about Katniss… how she’s there to fight for Prim and her mother and her District and come back breathing… I don’t know if Suzanne meant for the stories to be about a ‘love triangle’… I’m sure she wanted the books and movies to be focused on more than that…”

There was a three second delay before my friend stepped in and said, “Yeah, but there is definitely a love triangle no matter how hard you deny it. So who are you for? Gale or Peeta?” The other woman glanced over at her quickly and said, grinning, “I’m ALL for Team Gale. He’s so hot.” After a brief survey, everyone else in the room seemed to be of the same opinion. A part of me thinks if they had been a few years younger, they all would have marched over and promptly scribbled “TEAM GALE 4EVAH!!!” on the walls of the nearest bathroom stall (although they’re right– total hottie).

I’d love to say I answered back with majestic tone and sentence structure so flawless that the angels wept and gold coins rained from the sky, but alas, this wasn’t meant to be. In the end I decided upon awkwardly changing the topic to fruit or barnyard animals or something because I definitely wasn’t ready to put up my dukes and do what I really wanted to do, which was to fight the good fight for Peeta Mellark.

I suppose, if I had actually vocalized it, I just might have said “Team Peeta”. I’m not sure when my brain made that decision for me or if I’ve just been slowly converted over the course of the two movies, but there’s the truth. Team Peeta Mellark. 100%.

I know, Gale is the “hot one”. Gale is wonderful and sweet and loving and would do anything to protect Katniss and her family. He allows himself to be captured and, quite literally, tied to the whipping post all in defense of a fellow citizen. He is heroic and wants to fight and join the ranks of the rising revolution. Gale is, in most ways, the hero that Gotham nee—uh… wrong movie. Sorry. But really, he’s the hero’s-hero of the District, despite never having been reaped for the Hunger Games.

Does that mean he’s right for Katniss, though? I don’t know. Honestly, I’m not sure if Katniss was sure for a long time. I think, when he asked her if she loved him enough to run away with him and start anew, she balked for just that reason.

It’s like when you start dating someone with whom the chemistry just isn’t right, but who is wonderful and adorable and sweet, and you want to fall for them because isn’t that what people are supposed to do? Fall in love? Choose the “nice guy”, the “good citizen”, the “golden boy”? “Perfection”, however, does not equal a perfect mate. On paper, Gale was the best choice for Katniss: he had an amazing work ethic, protective qualities, and most importantly, he was crazy in love. Unfortunately for him, Katniss was crazy about Prim. It was always about Prim, after all. That was “love” for Katniss. She would have done anything—kill, fight, die—for her Little Duck.

Enter Peeta Mellark. Peeta is so unassuming that you sometimes forget just how desperately in love he was with Katniss from the beginning. Maybe he didn’t know how deeply he had succumbed until the two were thrust together in the Arena, but it was always there, from the moment he threw her that blackened loaf of bread. Peeta’s love for Katniss isn’t orthodox in any way. Peeta loves Katniss for a plenitude of reasons, romance being only one facet.

Sure, Peeta has all the same types of qualities as Gale, just not as magnified. Where Gale is fierce and defends others by taking the whip, Peeta does the same by playing a clever game of Keep-Away and leading Katniss’ enemies from her, all the while knowing full well that they could turn on him at any moment. Where Gale is passionate and urges Katniss to run away with him, Peeta instead offers himself up (multiple times), so that she would return to her family and, more importantly, Prim. As far as the antiquated argument that Gale is “manlier” or that Peeta is weak or shows little evidence of masculinity (aside from throwing that huge spiked bowling ball thing—oh, baby…), to hell with that. Peeta is strong in non-traditional ways, his disdain for having to prove his manhood being first and foremost. He understands that being strong isn’t just physical. He is talented and uses those talents to his advantage. He has a calming presence and listens when most people would try to talk big.

Peeta knows why Katniss is in the arena. He knows her love for her sister surpasses any childhood crush or unrequited adoration and he respects that, rather than testing Katniss’ ability to emotionally stretch herself thin. When he reveals the pendant containing photos of Katniss’ family, he proves that, even in his last request to Effie, his only concern was in reminding Katniss why she needed to survive. Hell, he even includes a photo of his “rival” Gale. Talk about classy.

As beautiful and kind as Gale may be, Peeta Mellark is what Katniss needs: someone who understands her heart and motives and respects them, no matter how hard it is for him to put his own feelings aside. He doesn’t try to compete with Gale or put him down or prove to Katniss why he is the better choice. He is kind and has a deep understanding of the complexities of life. He stands next to Katniss in that arena as an equal partner and a friend first and foremost, a hopeless romantic second. Peeta Mellark isn’t perfect but that’s why he’s right for Katniss; together they help one other navigate the perilous ways and remind one another that there is still good in the world.

So yeah…Team Peeta, I guess.

Whose team are you on? Team Gale? Team Peeta? Or hopefully… Team Katniss?

Photos courtesy of Lionsgate films. Featured image photo credit: Murray Close

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