Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (April 22)

Apr 22, 2019

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.

Happy Monday, everyone! I'm all caught up on "Game of Thrones," which I expect is the bulk of what folks will want to discuss today, so if you haven't seen the first two episodes of the final season and want to remain blissfully ignorant of them, proceed with the rest of this chat at your own risk. Also: I spent the last couple of weeks in Vienna, which was a lovely experience, so if anyone wants to talk about European travel, or travel in general, I'm very much down for that as well. Let's proceed!

Totally understand if it's something you don't wish to discuss in a public forum, but considering the behind-the-scenes of ThinkProgress is back in the news and curious what's your take on all of this?

I think it's pretty weird and inappropriate to ask me about a) a dispute at one of my former places of employment, b) in which I had no involvement, so your curiosity will have to remain unsatisfied.

After last night's episode, HBO showed their preview for next week's episode. In it, Dany say something like, "The dead are already here". Has someone inside Winterfell FINALLY realized that there are a whole bunch of dead people in the crypts that the Night King can raise? The number of times that people in last night's episode talked about the crypts being the safest place definitely seemed like they were foreshadowing just the opposite!

That definitely seems like a possibility, although I don't remember if the Night King has to have contact with the bodies of the dead in order to reanimate them, in which case, someone's going to have to get into the crypt in the first place. There's definitely been some speculation that we're going to end up with Undead Ned Stark, possibly chasing Arya through the crypts at Winterfell. Given the conversation between Jon and Dany in this week's episodes, I would also be somewhat amused by the prospect of an Undead Lyanna Stark wandering around Winterfell, but that's just my sick sense of humor and, if I'm being honest, a way to deflect from my fear that we're going to see really awful things happen to Sam, Gilly and Little Sam down there. "Game of Thrones" has definitely felt very different to me since becoming a parent, and I'm bracing myself hard for next week's episode, because I think it's going to be even harder for me to take than previous battle sequences have been. 

Do you think Melisandre will make a timely return to Westeros during the big battle? My hope is that she will return with a fair sized army of red priests (who have been building power and followers in Essos for the past few years), to lay down serious fire damage to the hordes of ice terrors. Bonus spell: Perhaps the red priests can raise the dead just like the Night King can, to join their ranks? Stannis and his army all died nearby...perhaps all those visions Melisandre saw of Stannis in flames were actually of re-born fire zombie Stannis making a one night only return to fight the final battle?

Maybe! At the same time, Melisandre has said that it's her fate to die in Westeros, so it's possible she won't make such a glamorous return. She's also refused to promise Jon Snow that she won't resurrect him again, so we could have a scenario where the former Aegon Targaryen gets to wear plot armor yet again.

Was it just me or when Jon was telling Dany about his true parentage was anybody else thinking "Oh my god she's gonna kill him!!!" I wouldn't put it past her to see her "accidentally" torch him with her dragon during battle, although it's possible the dragon might refuse, seeing as he is family.

This occurred to me, too! I'm sort of wondering if she would either kill him or let him die in battle only for -- given the last question I just answered -- Melisandre to resurrect him again, leading to a total Dany meltdown. I've long thought a plausible ending for the series might be for Dany to go full Targaryen mad and for Jon to have to kill her. The resurrection of a man who could blow up any chance she has of uniting the seven kingdoms seems like it could be a dandy spark for madness.

What is your favorite fan theory on how it will end?

I...don't particularly have one, honestly? I enjoy the Marvel movies in a kind of light way, but I'm long past the point of having any particular speculative investment in the series. It's far too ephemeral for that, and since we basically know they're going to reverse the effect of Thanos' initial snap, it's just too hard for me to see any of this as tremendously consequential.

Everybody knows that in a teen slasher horror movie the girl who just had sex dies. Poor Arya. She's a goner.

Although, to be fair, the whole schtick that animates "Game of Thrones" is defying existing genre fiction tropes. So anything is possible!

I've been wondering if Arya will survive the onslaught only for the Faceless Men to hunt her down. I'm not sure you walk out of the House of Black and White like that without consequences. 

What's the over/under on the number of regular Games of Thrones characters (i.e. speaking lines in more than ten episode) who will die in next week's bloodbath? I've devised a deathpool style game to go with the episode. Name all the characters you think will die. The person with the highest net right (number who did die minus number who lived) wins the pool. It encourages you to name as many as possible but only the ones you feel really confident about. My entry: Brienne, Gendry, Gilly, Jorah Mormont, Beric, Eddison, Theon, Tormund.

I would think that a whole bunch of people are going to get got! I think that's a pretty good list, and I'd add Jaime to it: I think his story got so significantly resolved in this episode that it's hard for me to imagine there's much left for him to do, unless we think he absolutely has to survive in order to be the surprise fulfillment of the Valonqar prophecy. One possibility a friend and I were discussing is the prospect that the Hound will get wighted and we'll have an all-zombie Cleganebowl. I have to say, I think the happiest possible ending for Sandor might be one where he just never has to see his brother again. But this is "Game of Thrones," which probably means he'll get his head squished in just as Arya admits that she actually does care about him.

Weren't you waiting for Jamie to tell Daenerys "Yeah, I figured after watching your dad burn Sansa and Jon's Uncle and Grandfather to death that a change in leadership was needed. Really, my only crime is that I beat Ned Stark to the sword thrust."

MORE THAN A LITTLE. 

Where is ayas youngest brother

In the show, Rickon Stark is killed in the run-up to the Battle of the Bastards. His death basically kicks off the fighting.

Does it feel like the Sri Lanka bombing coverage sort of came and went in a quick moment?

Speaking from the perspective of someone working in a newsroom, I don't feel like this is a story that is over or that we've stopped covering. It does seem like the Sri Lankan government is trying to keep strict control over emerging information about the attack, which may be slowing down reporting a bit. And it also appears to have been carried out by a group that a lot of Westerners aren't familiar with, so I think it's taking folks a while to get up to speed. But I don't think it's gone.

I haven't read GRRM's original books so I was a bit surprise to see that there were still two more books to come rather than just one.

Hoooboy, yes, that is the case. The series has grown in scope over the time Martin's been writing it, and Martin's also gotten slower in turning out the books as his narrative's become more complicated.  I have a lot of sympathy for him: he's under tremendous pressure, and it's a huge number of plot skeins to untangle. But I've also basically given up hope that we'll ever see his version of the ending, and accepted that "Game of Thrones" is a judicious and frequently well-executed edit of Martin's sprawling narrative.

Something I never knew was Articles of Impeachment of George W. Bush were drawn in the House of Representatives something like 35 times. There's always a "fierce urgency of now" so I get this administration is a black hole sucking in all pop culture attention plus the lackluster results of movies about the Bush era so far like "W." or "Vice," but I do hope going forward the terribleness of the Bush 43 administration isn't forgotten by artistic creators of content.

I'm not sure Ryan Murphy would have been the person to do it, but I am disappointed that we didn't get to see FX's planned mini-series about Hurricane Katrina, which I think would have been a valuable reminder of what that era was like in domestic politics.

I indeed recall that, back in the days when Tyrion was a smart man, he urged everyone to read their history. Thus, I see the clear line the show might be drawing between memory as wisdom back in season 1 and Bran's claim that his being the personification of memory is the cause for the Night King's grudge-quest. Though I see it, I confess I still don't feel it -- maybe in part because the Citadel, as the Kingdoms' repository of memory, has been revealed since season 1 as being such a dusty, deathly retreat from life. Thus I just don't really see how that memory theme can really motivate the overarching narrative the way this episode seemed to urge. Do you? Or do you think it's just a nothing-burger the show suddenly cooked up?

I don't know that it's a nothingburger, but boy was last night's reveal a Bran Ex Machina. I've seen some speculation that the Night King is going to conquer King's Landing while the bulk of his host attacks Winterfell, which could work from a dramatic perspective in that it would leave our heroes facing an Undead Golden Company (a move that would save the show from having to introduce us to yet another set of characters) and it would postpone the big dragon showdown.

hi there, hope all is well w everyone on this spring day - any fun binges (not a GoT fan) - have watched Ozark, Big Little lies, Bloodline.... any ideas? Many thanks!

I don't know that I'd call "The Americans" fun, but it's fantastic, and if you haven't watched it, I'd wolf it down.  If you want a comedy that's definitely going to make you snort with laughter, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is my currently-airing go-to. 

Who is most likely to not survive episode 3 from the Strai family?

Hmmm, this is an interesting question. I don't know if he technically counts as a Stark anymore, but I could see Jon die and be reanimated. I could also see a scenario in which Sansa dies in a way that exacerbates the tensions between Jon and Dany. I still think Arya might have a date with the Faceless Men, but I'm not sure she's essential to the endgame here. 

Waiter: Are you expecting someone? Me: YES, my 15yo daughter. Waiter: Wow, you do not look old enough to have a daughter that age.... Me; Why thank you that's very kind (Enter daughter) Waiter: oooooh, I thought you said 50 year old daughter..... (sigh). #notipforyou

You should always tip! People depend on tips for their livelihood, and not tipping at all, except in case of a really consequential error like botching an allergy issue, is a major moral faux pas in my book.

Did you stop by the Vienna Inn? They have the best chili dogs in town! And Amphora is great for late-night munchies!

I was in Austria, not around the corner!

Enjoyed the pilot episode of Rammy for its cultural specificity (I asked a question about Muslim representation a couple weeks ago) but it bothered me the two romantic partners of Rammy both were, I dont know the right word, in the wrong, and the show passed it off as his fault. The first woman dumped Rammy for lying to him about his religious background but her language ("I assumed you were culturally Muslim") suggests she never bothered to directly inquire. Then she held his lack of drinking against him and called him date rapey. I can understand the second woman (the arranged date) being a little upset that he assumed she was something she wasnt (what Chloe, the first woman, did to Rammy) but the way she pressured him in the car was extreme. If the genders were reversed, can you imagine how offensive that scene would be?

I'd be curious as to what other readers who might have seen the show think (since I haven't).

So, a dragon glass spear. I can't help but be reminded of the Night King taking down Viserion with his magic ice spear. Can Arya take down a White-Walker-Dragon with a dragon glass spear? This episode did seem to be highlighting her marksmanship (bow and arrow, throwing knives) Dare we hope our little assassin takes out the biggest of enemies???

I've seen some folks theorize that Arya is planning to assassinate the Night King, which I suppose is possible! Spears do make me a bit itchy, since once thrown, they can't be easily retrieved, but I suppose she's still got Needle.

What is the central underlying metaphor of Game of Thrones? Is it climate change? Political dynamics in monarchies? Life as an ultimately futile fight against the inevitable?

Do I have to choose just one? Also, the strength of "Game of Thrones" is that it's a story that began to be told in one era of American politics and that has been able to persist and feel relevant through several subsequent ones. We don't have to reduce it to just one thing.

What are the chances that Bronn of the Blackwater shows up with his crossbow and kills an undead Viserion? (I have not read all the books, so I am not sure how any of this ends)

Unless that thing fires Valyrian steel or dragonglass bolts, probably not.

Also: the final two books in the series haven't been written, so none of us have any idea what's coming down the pike, not even those of us who have read and theorized about the books for years.

Everybody has a right to refuse to comment, but journalists should not be affair to ask the questions that will get accused of being weird or inappropriate. I wish more journalists ask more questions. Discretion is a virtue, but considering how much in news ThinkProgress was, it seems weird and inappropriate to hide information from the general public.

If you would like to officially ask me for comment on anything involving ThinkProgress, you can reach out to Brooke Lorenz, who handles my press at the Post. Using the chat to try to dig about things that I've said I know nothing about is inimical to the nature of the chat.

The Night King does not need contact, I do not believe. Remember at Hardhome when he just lifts his arms and all the corpses get up? I don't know if the other White Walkers need contact or not.

Yeah, we'll see!

People often point to acting as a reason why certain scenes or character relationships won't work. Yet a strong actress like Natalie Portman wasn't able to breathe much life into Lucas's weak dialogue and strained story in the prequels. Do you think anyone could make Bran as the three eyed Raven much more relatable, or breath much more fire into Dany and Jon's underdetermined romance?

I actually like Isaac Hempstead Wright's performance as Bran quite a bit this season, and I think it would be a mistake to try to make him more relatable. He's not human now: he's something else entirely.

I do think it's a shame that Harington and Clarke have turned out to be the weakest links in this ensemble cast.

I've probably read too many John Irving novels, but the main thing I associate with modern Vienna is antisemitism. The fact that you called it lovely is a good sign, but... did you see many signs of nativism? Or is that overblown?

We did not experience anti-Semitism personally, and I didn't see any swastikas or anything else I recognized as anti-Jewish insignia in the graffiti we saw around the city. That said, I don't speak German, and I may not be familiar with some imagery with connotations with which I'm not aware.

I used to live in Bratislava and went to Vienna by train a lot. Such a lovely city to visit! Did you have any excellent Austrian wine? Any trips to the opera?

We did on both counts! We actually splurged on front-row seats to La Boheme, which was completely marvelous.

Did you write a review for season eight, episode 1? If so where can I read it. Thanks.

I was on vacation, but I'll be going back and writing my own recap sometime this week.

WHERE is Julian Assange's cat? I am deeply troubled.....

CNN actually reported on the fate of the cat, who appears to be fine.

Time flies, y'all! I have to get to my 2pm meeting, but I'll see you all back here this time next week.

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