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posted: 6/13/2014 5:15 AM

Truly great TV: Tragedy and 'Thrones'

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  • Liverpool soccer fans arrive at Anfield Stadium to pay their respects to victims of the Hillsborough stadium disaster as flower tributes cover the field on April 17, 1989. The film "Hillsborough" examines the tragedy, in which 96 people were crushed to death, and its ramifications.

      Liverpool soccer fans arrive at Anfield Stadium to pay their respects to victims of the Hillsborough stadium disaster as flower tributes cover the field on April 17, 1989. The film "Hillsborough" examines the tragedy, in which 96 people were crushed to death, and its ramifications.
    Associated Press

  • What will become of Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) and his family after Episode 8's shocking trial by combat? Find out on Sunday's season finale of "Game of Thrones."

      What will become of Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) and his family after Episode 8's shocking trial by combat? Find out on Sunday's season finale of "Game of Thrones."
    Courtesy of HBO

  • Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her dragons return Sunday for the "Game of Thrones" season finale on HBO.

      Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her dragons return Sunday for the "Game of Thrones" season finale on HBO.
    Courtesy of HBO

  • Video: "Game of Thrones" finale

 
 

The best film I've seen this year didn't play in 3,000 theaters, employ big-name movie stars and droves of visual effects artists or air on a premium cable channel. It's a documentary that first aired on ESPN, and it's now available for streaming to Netflix subscribers.

"Hillsborough" chronicles the April 15, 1989, soccer stadium disaster in Sheffield, England, in which 96 people were crushed to death in an overcrowded, standing-room-only spectators' pen. I was only 10 when the tragedy occurred at Hillsborough Stadium, and remember the fault being put on rowdy, drunken fans. The film dispels that notion, portraying the police force assigned to the Liverpool-Nottingham Forest game as woefully unprepared at best.

Director Daniel Gordon -- who also made an ESPN documentary about Ben Johnson's infamous 100-meter dash win at the 1988 Seoul Olympics -- uses surveillance and news footage, dramatic re-creations and interviews with victims' family members to paint a full portrait of the event's terror, the resulting grief and the ongoing search for justice.

Gordon has made a powerful, unsettling film. It does not hold back any graphic imagery, and I haven't been able to shake it from my mind. In a year thus far dominated by enjoyable rides like "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "X-Men: Days of Future Past," "Hillsborough" stands tall above the fray. It is essential viewing.

Find "Hillsborough" on Netflix by searching for "30 for 30: Soccer Stories." The film is billed as an episode of ESPN's TV series, but make no mistake -- this is high-caliber filmmaking. Check espn.go.com/30for30 for upcoming airings of the film on ESPN and its associated networks.

You know nothing, Jon Snow

So a few months ago we were all calling "Breaking Bad" the best TV show ever and its concluding eight episodes the best TV season ever, and now "Game of Thrones" is inspiring that level of hyperbole all over again.

The fourth season of HBO's megahit ends at 8 p.m. Sunday with "The Children," an extended episode that promises to visit Bran Stark's (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) traveling company, the Lannister family fallout after Tyrion's (Peter Dinklage) trial by combat, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her dragons, and the victorious Jon Snow (Kit Harington).

Last week's penultimate episode broke tradition and stayed with Jon Snow and the Night's Watch for the entire hour as wildlings, giants and a woolly mammoth(!) attacked the towering wall of ice that separates the kingdom of Westeros from the icy horrors of the north. Director Neil Marshall, whose 2006 horror film "The Descent" is an overlooked gem, delivered action and a sense of scale that even "Game of Thrones" has rarely been able to match.

The fact that not all fans liked last week's full hour of hacking and slashing speaks to the show's true strengths: the writing, the acting, the tapestry of characters. It was fun to venture into summer blockbuster territory for a night, but I suspect Sunday's finale will bring the real fireworks.

Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald copy editor and a tireless consumer of pop culture. You can follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.

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