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“Game of Thrones”: Fire up the dragons!

In the new season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which begins Sunday night, Sansa Stark, the young woman who has seen her father decapitated and her fantasies destroyed and now finds herself a terrified captive of a court that at any moment could treat her as an enemy, but for now treats her as semi-honored guest, sits by the water and makes up stories about the boats coming into harbor. Her companion doesn’t want to play: She recognizes the ship’s real origins and doesn’t see the point in fabricating a tale about them. Sansa grows frustrated. The whole point of the game is to imagine a different story, “because the truth is either terrible or boring.”

The third season of the epic “Game of Thrones" toggles between more positive versions of these two states, alternating between horrifying grisliness and very stately setup. Watching feels like getting into a warm bathtub lined with spikes: luxurious, enveloping, likely to cause gasps. The season’s first shot is a frozen man, on his knees, cradling his decapitated head in his own hands. Soon, a man’s nipple has been sliced off, a hand has been severed and the stump rubbed in the mud, dark blood has gurgled from many a mouth, and horses have been dismembered and arranged by some ice zombies who must really admire the Spiral Jetty. Between all this brutality, we methodically revisit the vast, increasingly far-flung cast, many of whom are doing nothing so bloody as talking. (If it was once possible to dive into the middle of “Game of Thrones,” that moment is long gone. If you haven’t been watching or reading along, get back to the beginning and start from there.)

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