At the end of Game of Thrones’ seventh season, Cersei Lannister revealed to her brother and lover Jaime that she’d secured a massive loan from the Iron Bank to hire the Golden Company, a massive army-for-hire from Essos.
In season eight, it’s become increasingly clear that Cersei has literally bet everything she has on this legion of mercenaries to help her keep the Iron Throne. But what is the Golden Company, and was it really worth staking the Lannister family fortune — and the lives of the citizens of King’s Landing — on their ability to defeat Daenerys and her allies?
The short answer is: Yes, because the Golden Company’s fighters are legit. But this deal doesn’t come without risks.
The Golden Company may not have elephants, but it’s still formidable
The Golden Company is made up of 20,000 trained swordsmen and 2,000 horses, along with a few elephants. However, much to Cersei’s disappointment, when she sent Euron Greyjoy to fetch the army in season seven and ferry them back to King’s Landing, he wasn’t able to fit the elephants on his boats for the trip across the Narrow Sea.
Per George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the Golden Company was originally founded about a century prior to Game of Thrones’ present day. After a rebellion that escalated into civil war and sent many Westorosi fighters fleeing east across the Narrow Sea, they banded together and marketed their collective fighting experience. We first heard about them in the show’s fourth season, when Ser Davos suggested that Stannis hire them to assist in his invasion against Joffrey. But that didn’t come to pass because Stannis was a bit of a snob about letting hired fighters mingle with his loyal army.
The Golden Company’s current commander is “Homeless” Harry Strickland. As you can see, he looks quite different in the books — where he’s described as portly and bald, “looking little like a warrior” and “sound[ing] like an old woman” — than he does on the show:
This above photo of Harry comes to us from recently released promotional photos for season eight’s fifth episode, which show the company lined up outside the gates of King’s Landing. Jon and his northern allies, standing together with the remnants of Dany’s Unsullied and Dothraki forces, seem to be at least evenly matched — if not outnumbered:
Cersei isn’t relying on the Golden Company purely because of their skill in battle. One of the reasons they’re well-regarded is that they’re famous for never breaking a contract. This principle is built into the army’s name, and its motto: “Our word is as good as gold.” That means no switching sides in the middle of a fight.
But in this particular battle, Cersei’s choice to align herself with the Golden Company isn’t entirely risk-free. After all, the Golden Company’s fighters have never gone up against a dragon before. Plus, it’s comprised of individual sellswords like Bronn.
And as we saw in the most recent episode of season eight, “The Last of the Starks,” a swellsword’s allegiance can shift pretty darn quickly if a better offer comes along. Though the Golden Company may have a reputation for never breaking a contract, since they’re a hired army, they don’t have any loyalty to a cause, or even to each other. In fact, in Martin’s A Dance With Dragons, a point is made of noting that they’re “armed strangers.”
We wouldn’t blame any of them if they saw Drogon and immediately rethought their priorities.