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What the Iron Throne reveals about the hidden history of user-friendly design

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17.05.2019

Like many of you, I am eagerly anticipating the last episode of Game of Thrones on Sunday, and with it, the final answer to the ultimate question: Who will rule the seven kingdoms of Westeros? Will it be Daenerys, Jon, Sansa, or someone else?

[Photo: HBO]Whoever ends up sitting on the Iron Throne–assuming it survived the collapse of the Red Keep–the show’s history suggests that they’re not likely to stay there for very long. This is not only because of the many rivals, from one house or another, who will be looking to usurp the throne. Frankly, it is also because the Iron Throne was not designed to be particularly user friendly, as Stannis Baratheon, the former Lord of Dragonstone, described, before he was slain on the battlefield in season 5:

“Have you ever seen the Iron Throne? The barbs along the back, the ribbons of twisted steel, the jagged ends of swords and knives all tangled up and melted? It is not a comfortable seat, sir. Aerys cut himself so often men took to calling him King Scab, and Maegor the Cruel was murdered in that chair. By that chair, to hear some tell it. It is not a seat where a man can rest at ease.”

You have to hand it to George R.R. Martin. It’s hard to imagine a more imposing symbol of power than a throne forged from the melted weapons of vanquished foes. In fact, in his original conception the throne was even more massive and sprawling, a violent scrap heap on which the poor ruler would perch uncomfortably. The show’s designers scaled that vision back into a more conventional form that we might associate with a medieval king, with the swords fanned out behind like some sort of gruesome peacock. While it is not based on any specific historical reference that I can think of, you might consider the imposing throne of Ivan the Terrible, made from the massive tusks of elephants and carved with old testament battle scenes, for a somewhat comparable symbol of power (elephants were once used as terrifying weapons of war–Queen Cersei herself was quite disappointed to discover that the army she purchased from the Golden Company at the beginning of this season did not include any of these powerful beasts).

But why would anyone design a throne to be so uncomfortable? With all of the privilege and power of the seven kingdoms at your fingertips, why not make some minor adjustments so that the throne is a bit more cushy (a royal lumbar pillow perhaps)? This question hints at a fundamental shift in our expectations of design, a shift that has shaped the user-friendly age we find ourselves in today. The evolution of........

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