Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (August 14)

Aug 14, 2017

When the credits come up at the movies, the pages in a book run out, or the last commercial rolls over the end of a television episode, the story might be over. But the discussion is just getting started. Here at Act Four, we’ll get together every week to talk about the best (and worst) in pop culture. We’ll also try to sort out why the stories we love mean so much to us, and what they mean for the rest of the world.

Greetings, everyone! Before we start, two notes: I have to end today's chat five minutes early due to a big interview for this year's Giant Project (TM). And next week, though I'll be recapping "Game of Thrones" as usual, there won't be a chat since I'll be on a vacation that is a long-gestating wedding present. To make up for it, I'll be doing a two-hour chat on August 28, after the "Game of Thrones" finale, so we can talk about that and anything else you've stored up to ask me about in the intervening two weeks. Today, we'll talk about "Game of Thrones," obviously, but I'm also curious to hear any thoughts you all might have on Shonda Rhimes' new deal with Netflix, Charlottesville, or anything else. Let's get to it.

How does one transport a murderous ice zombie across a massive continent? Do you need to package them with dry ice? Does Amazon Prime deliver? If so, does it come with a free six-month subscription to the Amazon Washington Post? Also, how did no one stand up and say, "You know, I'm not sure this is the BEST idea..."?

I sort of thought the best transcontinental shipping method for a murderous ice zombie might be a dragon's claws, but unlike Davos Seaworth, I am not an expert in smuggling rare and tricky commodities across Westeros. I should also note that while subscriptions delivered via raven might net more revenue than web-based subscriptions and display advertising, I suspect that I would fare extremely poorly in the world of "Game of Thrones," and thus am glad to be living in the real world in this particular era. 

And yeah, man, I have no idea how this works. I sort of assumed this season of "Game of Thrones" was going to be the Starks, Lannisters and Targaryens hashing things out among themselves and then the White Walkers heading down from the North next season. Now, it seems like things might be reversed, and everyone will put things on hold to deal with the Night King, and once humanity's saved, proceed in incredibly bloody and depressing fashion. That might actually be a more suitable trajectory for the idea about "Game of Thrones" final act that I outlined a couple of weeks ago. I just have no idea how it's going to go.

Unsure why, but A-list actors seems pretty fond of it. Wondering if you are coming to it this year?

I've only been to the Toronto International Film Festival once, but I really enjoyed it: Toronto is a great city full of wonderful food, including a really terrific doughnut shop right by the theater where the press screenings are held, its lineup is generally pretty consistent, minus some of the wilder swings and misses that show up at Sundance and Cannes, and especially coming from DC this time of year, the weather feels pretty wonderful. That said, I'm not going to be at TIFF this year. Said long-awaited wedding present trip overlaps with it, and I'm also finishing up this year's Giant Project. I hope to return in the future, though; I loved my time at TIFF. If  and when I come back, we'll arrange some kind of reader meetup there.

Am I the only one completely baffled by the Snow Operation? I love the band of characters they've managed to put together to head north, but I'm completely lost on the motivation of Dany or Cersei in this whole thing, especially given the rapid-fire setup. What are any of the non-Snow characters hoping to get out of this? Is Dany doing this to convince herself of the threat or to convince others? How does showing Cersei a zombie get her to do anything Dany would want?

I think Cersei is just trying to buy time, and possibly proximity, in the hope she can have someone assassinate Dany and her core supporters. Dany's motivations are, frankly, less clear to me.  If anyone has thoughts on this score, I'd welcome them. The guys who team up with Jon at the Wall seem to have differing but reasonably overlapping motivations: Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr have religious convictions to fulfull; the Hound, if not a full convert, clearly wants to be fighting *something*; Jorah Mormont is basically determined to die in Dany's service; Gendry and Jon are in the early flush of their bromance; and Tormund Giantsbane wants to do whatever is necessary to get reinforcements up to the Wall so he and the wildlings are guarding Eastwatch by themselves. Does the plan make logistical sense to me? Hell, no. But I can see why various characters on the show have embraced it.

Should have mentioned a reason for the soft spot for the breakup of Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow was that it lead to a super funny opening monologue on 'Saturday Night Live.'  http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/opening-monologue/2870460

Did you have a soft spot for them, or are you nostalgic for their breakup itself? 

With the conclusion of the Orphan Black series, how do you view the overall arc of the series over the past five years? Do you think the finale was a satisfying wrap up to all the issues the Leda clones confronted over the series arc? The show runners, Graeme Manson and John Fawcett, have indicated they would be open to doing an Orphan Black movie in the future, to continue exploring some of the issues raised in the series. Thoughts?

I honestly didn't keep up with "Orphan Black." I like Tatiana Maslany, but the show itself didn't really grab me. I'd invite other readers to weigh in, though! Feel free to use this as a discussion space, and I'll happily promote any interesting insights.

What a great episode! The end with the gate lifting, the wind and snow, and Jon and company heading out beyond the wall- amazing. But the questions... So where is Sam going do you think? Winterfell? They never told him about his dad and brother. so he would have no motivation to go home. Is Cersei really pregnant? Why doesn't Bran share what he knows? What do you think Alyssa?

SO MANY QUESTIONS.

1) I'm not sure where Sam is going, and I honestly hadn't considered that in detail until you brought it up. When I'm racing through those recaps late at night, I sort of end up collapsing in a mess of adrenaline and exhaustion at the end of them, and sometimes my thoughts become clearer the next day. Sam could be going to Winterfell or to Dragonstone, the two places Jon is likely to be. He could even be heading back towards the Wall, now that he has a backpack full of knowledge and a Valyrian Steel sword. I don't think he'd have any motivation to go home in any case: he can't stand his father and brother, and he stole from them, so that would make for a tricky reunion. I've seen some folks ask if he'll end up the head of House Tarly; that could be tricky since he swore the vows of the Night's Watch, but he's pretty well violated those by taking up with Gilly, so I think anything's possible.

2) Man, I have no idea if Cersei is really pregnant. She could be! She could be pregnant with Jaime's baby. She could be pregnant with Euron's baby, a revelation that could put a permanent rift between her and Jaime. She could be pregnant and hold the possibility of abortion the pregnancy over Jaime's head. There are a lot of possibilities, all of them nasty.

3) I am not sure. I dearly hope Littlefinger doesn't manipulate Arya into killing Sansa, which the show is clearly teasing as a possibility. I suspect we'll get to the brink of that possibility and that will be when Bran intervenes. At least I hope that's what happens.

So the most interesting possible plot twist I've heard lately has been - how will Dany react when she finds out Jon is a Targaryen with more dibs on the throne than she has? She's definitely a big fan o' burnin' people, just like her father was, so will she hop on a dragon and try to incinerate him? Will HE hop on another dragon and battle it out with her? With everyone shipping Jonerys lately as a possible love match, this seems like a much more dramatic possible outcome.

My husband and I have for a while been discussing the possibility that Dany goes full Mad Queen, and the revelation a) that a Baratheon heir exists, b) that Jon might have a claim to the throne that supersedes hers could both be big triggers. One way for the series to go super-dark would be for Jon and Dany to get together, for her to go insane, and for him to have to kill her. That said, for all this to come to pass, he's going to have to get back from Eastwatch first.

Hi Alyssa - love your focus on the ethical questions in GoTs. Might it have been less cruel AND smarter if Dany had released the Tarlys and all the POWs, bending the knee or not? She would have shown that she was truly was a new kind of ruler- very powerful, but also capable of a revolutionary, wheel-breaking mercy. The men would have gone home with an amazing story and great propaganda for Dany. Keep fighting her - and the terrifying dragons - or rise up against the nasty Cersei? It would have been the perfect combination of getting allegiance by both fear and love.

I agree: there's a tension between Dany's stated desire to build a new kind of society and her demands for absolute surrender that I don't think can be resolved. It's possible that her relationship with Jon will open her to the possibility of a kind of elected monarchy, but she is sure not showing a lot of inclinations in that direction. I think she might have been better off to tell the Tarlys et.al. that if they stay neutral, she won't attack them and will defend them if Cersei does. But then, I also haven't spent my whole life on the run and persecuted, and I don't have a dragon whose need to incinerate people I need to occasionally indulge.

I agree that Elba is hugely talented and badly used by Hollywood, but I see this less as an issue about Elba and more about the overpowering fact that Hollywood has very narrow lanes? If you aren't a certain kind of white guy -- well, potentially, two kinds of white guy, one for actioners and one for comedies -- then you struggle. I don't think Elba or the work would be well served by casting him as, say, Sebastian in "La La Land" or Chris Kyle in "American Sniper."

I totally agree. That piece was really meant to indict Hollywood's lanes, not so much Elba himself or his choices. I would love to see him in romantic comedies, or in the modern equivalent of Humphrey Bogart roles, which he could do beautifully but also don't quite exist anymore. As all his voice work shows, he has the potential to be funny that almost no one ever lets him exercise.

I started re-watching GoT from the beginning. When Jon saves the Lord Commander from the white walker, the Commander sends the sergeant of arms to Cersi with the arm that Ghost tore off. Any one remember what happened - did the sergeant die on the way? I just finished S1, so it may come up, but I have no recollection.

I'm in the middle of a season one rewatch myself, but haven't quite gotten to this point. Does anyone else remember?

What do you think about the contrast between Daenerys being delegitimized as a "foreigner" on one hand, and what she will feel about Jon being revealed as the true heir to the Targaryen dynasty when she's been carrying that torch for her entire life?

This is something I intend to write about in greater detail at some point, and that I've been thinking about a lot. Although I'm not sure it's neatly analogous to our own society. One thing "Game of Thrones" has done fairly well, I think, is make the point that the Dothraki have a sophisticated culture of their own, but also that their society is arranged along profoundly different lines than that of Westeros and that it's not at all clear how to meld the two. That is not at all like what's happening here in the United States, but in the context of the show, it is a real problem that Dany will have to address, not merely when she's trying to win allies, but when she's trying to break the wheel and build a new society. I also should note that I don't think the idea of "birtherism" really applies here; nobody is saying that Dany isn't a real Targaryen. Royal laws of succession are different from laws of citizenship. And the question of culture is tangled up with questions of law and of might in very complex ways.

JSnow brought Hound, Thoros etc with him because? He needs them if he's killed to be brought back to life? Maybe Drogon will rescue him? Ghost?

Hmmm, maybe. I don't think he knew that they'd be there, though.

While I've not been particularly thrilled with the condensing of plotlines and teleportation of characters this year, the thought occurred to me that Gendry's conversation with Jon was not just a way to pave over his sudden airdrop back into the series ('Hey, I'm packed already, let's move this along!') but also a twisted foreshadowing of a conflict down the road. 'Our fathers fought together!' could very well turn into 'Your father murdered my father, you bastard.' Of course, since he's not exactly going to go to work for Cersei, I'm curious who he'd end up supporting? Hotpie?

I don't really see that as the point of contention: Robert died believing that Eddard would serve as regent for Joffrey, and Eddard died at Joffrey's hands long after Robert could do anything to stop it. I think the question is more likely whether Gendry has a claim to the throne. But we'll see! Maybe Gendry, Hot Pie, Sam and Gilly can end up founding a small town together where all the non-terrible people in "Game of Thrones" can come to live when all this mess is over. If there is human society left after all this mess is over, that is.

Cersei's motivations & strategy make perfect sense. Dany is probably making a tactical mistake; she should push her advantage against Cersei before sending supporters north. But maybe she's doing it because she's enamored with Jon? What I don't understand is why Jon thinks it's a good idea to go north of the wall with no plan and a tiny band of (admittedly awesome) characters. Why not stay behind the wall and pick off one wight from there???

I do not think much of Jon Snow as a tactician. But maybe some genius will emerge from all of this that I just can't anticipate. 

Do you think Cersei is actually happy white walkers exist?

I definitely think Cersei's us-against-the-world has always had a suicidal edge to it, one that's become more intense in recent episodes. I could see a situation where she basically decides it's better for humanity to perish than for anyone else to sit on the Iron Throne, but then, I'm not sure how you negotiate with the Night King. Dude doesn't seem real talkative.

How does one get a white walker past the wall? Didn't Benjen have to stay North of the wall because of the spells on the wall to prevent the dead from passing? I guess they could ship it on a boat, but they don't seem to have prepared for that... Prediction: Jon Snow accidentally brings down the wall by dragging a white walker through it

Seems possible. I've also wondered if Bran's return through the Wall made the magic a little hinky.

The arm had rotted away by the time he made it to King's Landing and gotten an audience. Too bad they didn't unlock Fast Travel until season 6.

Thanks for the reminder! Clearly, they needed Amazon Prime Two-Day shipping.

Sorry to be a spoil-sport on your idea for a town of non-terrible people, but Gendry just murdered two city guards with a hammer, without a second's hesitation or remorse.

Bad things happen in war. Given the overall body counts a lot of these characters have amassed, he's still on the cheerier side of the ledger.

US magazine says she's pregnant. I TOTALLY missed the clues. What were they?

After Jaime meets with Tyrion, Cersei tells him  “Dead men, dragons and dragon queens. Whatever stands in our way, we will defeat it. For ourselves, for our house for this," the last said while placing her hands on her abdomen. They they have a chat about the possibility of acknowledging their child publicly.

Not the former - was thinking about what will happen with both learning that Rhaegar was Jon's father who was cut down by Robert at the Battle of The Trident.

Ah, I see your point. Though it's pretty hard for Gendry to blame Jon for that.

Alyssa, I too have been thinking about how to get a White Walker down to Westeros. Do you think Uncle Benjen will make an appearance and volunteer to go with Jon? That would be easier and safer. I'm sure he could tell some tales.

If Benjen comes back with Jon, the Wall definitely comes down. Which I suppose would be one way to convince the people of Westeros that the White Walkers are real, but at a very high cost.

Bran knows (or can come to know) everything that ever happened through his mystical three-eyed raven powers. Sam wants to learn from the past through the less mystical skill of reading books. Both could use their talents to learn how to beat White Walkers. It would be fascinating to see how they go down their different paths towards the same end, and how they are able to convince others of what they know!

It would also be interesting to see if Sam can help Bran figure out how to act more like a human being again, though I suspect that is a fairly futile wish.

But Gendry is a bastard, no way around it, so unless the citizens of the Seven Kingdoms revolt and clamor for a change in the rules of succession, he can't be king.

Oh, totally. I just think that given that the Lannisters and Targaryens both think the Baratheon line has been extirpated, they might get jittery at the prospect that Gendry could become a symbol for people to rally around. And hey, maybe we'll see the birth of a genuine populist movement in Westeros.

While there is a lot to like about this season, how fast the characters are moving around, is making this all feel rushed. The hint at a Relationship between Jon And Daenerys feels hollow. It would have been great to see a whole season of the two of them at Dragonstone, showing mutual respect turning into much more.

Yeah, I wish this could have been slowed down a bit more. Although my biggest problem is that I really think Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington have very little chemistry. Maybe time and more scenes together could rectify that. But I'm not sure the basic spark is there, and that might be hard to ever conjure into existence. 

Is Kit Harrington the modern day version of Yul Brynner?

I think the safe answer to this is no, probably not. He's fine. But he's not a great actor.

When did American popular culture shift so that white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK became less un-acceptable alternatives? Was it simply rebranding them "alt-right" in order to make them sound more benign? Access to the Internet, making it easier and cheaper to spew their hate messages? For many decades post-WW II this movement would have been totally unacceptable in mainstream culture.

Well, let's distinguish between popular culture, as in film, television, novels, music, etc., and culture more broadly. I don't think there's particular support or leniency for white supremacy in mainstream popular culture: the movement has no prominent artists who are adherents. I'd also push back against the idea that this is new to precisely this moment. David Duke won a special election race for a Louisiana House seat in 1989, and ran for Senate and Governor of the state! Tony Horowitz's great book "Confederates in the Attic," published in 1998, chronicles the persistence of Confederate nostalgia, white supremacy and the Klan. 

That said, I do think that people like Richard Spencer have been spectacularly successful at marketing themselves online and to the press, because they're more polished than Duke and some of their other predecessors. I'm of two minds about whether it was right to cover Spencer the way he was covered, or whether it would have been better to ignore him. But it's absolutely true that seeing a gathering like the one in Charlottesville was hugely disturbing. I do wonder if the aftermath of it, which already includes participants doing their jobs, will be a turning point.

Okay, folks, I gotta go get ready for this interview. See you back here for a super-sized chat on August 28, and enjoy the eclipse and "Game of Thrones" in the mean time!

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Alyssa Rosenberg
Alyssa Rosenberg blogs about pop culture for The Washington Post's Opinions section.
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