Haymitch Abernathy is a "paunchy, middle-aged man" who was the victor of the 50th Hunger Games (the Second Quarter Quell), which occurred 24 years prior to of the first book. When he was 16, Haymitch was Reaped for the Second Quarter Quell, where four tributes from each district were forced into the arena. He became an ally to a girl named Maysilee Donner, who was the original owner of Katniss' symbolic mockingjay pin, but was later forced to watch her die. Katniss finds this similar to what happened between her and Rue. During the Games, he discovers a wall of shrubbery at the edge of the Arena, concealing a force field with that ricocheted anything thrown in its direction. When the Games came down to himself (who had been eviscerated) and a female tribute, he positioned himself by the edge, knowing that when his opponent flung her weapon at him, he could duck and the force field would hurl it back at her. His plan was successful, leaving Haymitch the victor. Within two weeks of his victory, Haymitch's mother, younger brother, and girlfriend were killed by President Snow, as punishment for Haymitch using the force field to his advantage. Haymitch became an example of what happens to those who defy the Capitol.
After his victory at the Games, he became an alcoholic and has spent almost all of the next 24 years intoxicated to the point of embarrassment. Being the only surviving victor from District 12 (one of only two in the history of the Games), Haymitch was forced to mentor all of its tributes, which consumed him with guilt by being forced to participate in the Games that he hated. He dealt with these feelings with alcohol and openly flouting the dignity of the games. He treats Peeta and Katniss with contempt and is sarcastic, expending no effort to help them. However, when Katniss confronts him, he is stirred from his stupor and emerges as the pair's greatest advocate. Haymitch shows himself to be highly canny as he guides his protégés in a cleverly designed, highly unorthodox strategy aimed at ensuring the survival of both tributes.
At first, Katniss greatly disliked Haymitch to his alcoholism and harshness, Katniss later realizes that he is tired of seeing children placed in his care, only to be murdered. She can also see he cares greatly for Peeta and Katniss. After being in the Arena, she realizes that drinking was his form of escape from the nightmares caused by his experiences as a tribute and as a mentor. In the book Catching Fire, it is said that the liquor supply in District 12 ran out. As a result, Haymitch had gone insane, shaking violently and having visions that only he can see (i.e. having delirium tremens). It is left to Katniss and Peeta to coax him back to health (and get him more liquor). After this incident, Katniss begins to develop a true affection and respect for him. Katniss also realizes that she and Haymitch both think alike, since she was able to understand when he was trying to communicate to her via the parachutes gifted to her in the Arena. When Katniss discovers that Haymitch and his allies from District 13 and the Capitol failed to save Peeta from the arena as they did for her, she claws him in the face. In Mockingjay, Haymitch is forced to go through detox in District 13, as they do not permit the consumption of alcohol. Despite this, he continues to serve as a mentor to Katniss and Peeta.
In the 2012 film, Haymitch is played by Woody Harrelson.