♐ The love triangle is a device to serve the greater themes of war and rebirth rather than an end unto itself within the story.
♐ Prim does not die because Collins was making a heavy-handed attempt to show us "the toll of war on innocents"; rather, her death was a more complex statement on the impossibility of preserving purity and innocence through war no matter how good your intentions are.
♐ The Hunger Games is the strongest book plot-wise, although weaker in characterization; Catching Fire is uneven with both. Mockingjay is probably best with characterization, although there are gaps there too.
♐ Catching Fire was the least enjoyable book for me. Collins's problems with telling instead of showing came through particularly bad, especially in the first third or so; opportunities to give secondary characters development and personality were lost. That first third or so was tedious and mired in navel-gazing.
♐ The epilogue carries a prominent message not that everyone is totally fine and okay and happy, but that damaged people are not worthless. This is a good message. The fact that people perceive "Katniss is able to go on living her life and even finding some happiness after everything that has happened to her" as either "Katniss is secretly an eternally broken zombie" or "Katniss has unrealistically been magically healed" is fucking insulting to real people who have survived trauma and loss but still rebuilt their lives.
♐ Her characterization was strongest in Mockingjay.
♐ She is not derailed during Mockingjay; her behavior is completely believable and fairly well built up to in the previous books.
♐ She has agency throughout the series, although it is sporadic and other characters are constantly attempting to diminish it. Plotting and carrying out Coin's death is the ultimate expression of that agency.
♐ Her having children is not out of character. When she states that she does not want children earlier in the series, she gives a reason for it: that she does not want to bring them into so terrible a world. She never says that she dislikes the idea of having children in and of itself. Therefore, the logical conclusion--especially given the changes that take place in society--is not "she was forced to have children" or "her character was derailed," but that she eventually decided that the world was not too horrible to bring new life into it after all. To be more specific: Katniss says she does not want children because she doesn't want to risk them being forced to participate in the Hunger Games. At the end of the book, there are no more Hunger Games. QED.
♐ He does not force Katniss to have children. Why on earth would Collins even include something like that, anyway? "To have a sickeningly happy family ending," people say, but she has said that everything is symbolic. Translation: she does not write jack shit if it doesn't advance her themes. Tacking on a happy family ending for the sake of it does not advance her themes. See above for how the kids do advance her themes.
♐ He may be sweetness and light, but he has depth beyond that whether it was intended or not. He is self-sacrificing but also manipulative. As pure as his love for Katniss is, the fact remains that he's the one who turns it into a device to carry her through the Games in a very calculated move.
♐ He is overall a very unevenly written character. He spends the first two books almost entirely static, with most of his characterization (what little of it there is) being conveyed through Katniss telling us about it. His development is poorly packed into the third book, and even then it's less about who he is and more about what he's become.
♐ But he is not villainized or painted as antagonistic in order to resolve the love triangle. He is, in fact, not villainous. To believe he's characterized as a horrible sociopath in Mockingjay is to miss the point. He's changed because of war. Unlike Peeta, who is deeply compassionate by nature, and Katniss, who has a strong streak of empathy that allows her to identify with her enemies, Gale is basically normal (in fact, because of the first point above, he's almost a blank slate at the start of the third book, which isn't a good thing). He acts, reacts, and develops in Mockingjay as a fairly bright, tough, aggressive, but not unusually cruel person naturally would in response to being drawn into the heart of a war. Can he be a good person again afterwards? To be honest, we don't really know, since Collins dropped the ball on his pre-war characterization, but I think we're supposed to believe that the answer is yes. Given the situation, it ends up being up to the reader to decide.
♐ Finnick Odair: pretty cool, but not the new definition of awesome.
♐ Annie is not a helpless raving lunatic unfit to raise a child. It's true that the scant information we get about her in Catching Fire backs up this interpretation, and Collins could have done a better job of planting clues there that it was not the whole picture, but Mockingjay reveals the rest of that picture about her (just as it does about Finnick, and fandom was happy enough to adjust itself to accept that). She has post-traumatic stress disorder from her Games. She spaces out often and can get overwhelmed easily. So she has mental health issues. Nevertheless, by the end of Mockingjay, even after Finnick's death (which according to fandom should completely unhinge her), she is capable of being calm and together enough at least to make major decisions. Which brings me to my point: when people say that Finnick's death forever destroyed his son's chance of growing up okay because a mentally ill single mother could never raise a child right, it makes me fucking angry. More than any of my other complaints (except the one about the epilogue and its message, which is linked to this one), this one genuinely bothers me, because it's not a matter of people misinterpreting a text or simply having a reaction the author didn't intend. It's a matter of ableism. To be fair, though, it's also the result of another damaging societal idea, which is that parents should or do raise their children in a vacuum. There's no reason to believe that there isn't a community of friends who will help Annie on her bad days.
♐ I don't like pairing Finnick with anyone but Annie, not because I love that pairing so much, but because it seems out of character. That's just me.
♐ I see where Johanna/Gale comes from in fandom (aside from the obvious, annoying reason of getting Gale out of the way of Katniss/Peeta) and even dabble in it occasionally, but do not believe that it would work out long-term or that they would marry and have children. Making Johanna the mother of Gale's children in post-epilogue fics is lazy and out of character.
♐ Katniss/Gale was never a viable pairing, not because Gale turned into a horrible person in Mockingjay, but simply because Collins was too lazy about writing it for it to have ever been meant as the main pairing and too lazy about writing Gale for him to ever have been intended as the protagonist's main love interest. I do not understand why so many people were either rooting for Katniss/Gale or (more often) thinking that Katniss could pick either one and it would be okay. Well, I mean, I understand why some fans were: since Gale was a blank slate, they projected their image of the ideal boyfriend onto him. But I'd like to think that this is not the case for everyone who was okay with the pairing.
♐ Katniss and Peeta get a bittersweet-kind-of-happy ending and I'm fine with that, but they are fucked up too. The pairing is mired in issues of what is true and what is false, what is real and what is illusion. This is what makes it interesting. And yes, it would have been nice if there had been more about them working out their issues and growing together again at the end of Mockingjay, but that's not an unpopular opinion as far as I can tell.
I should be tagging, but I'm too grumpy and fretful, so instead I write about things that annoy me. I'll get to it eventually.