WARNING: Spoilers Below. Don’t read if you haven’t watched Season 8, Episode 3 “The Long Night.”
The Night King is dead. His army of White Walkers and wights is roasting in Winterfell as we speak.
Things are looking promising for the Stark family and for Daenerys’ bid for the Iron Throne. Sure, they’ve lost thousands of men, their dragons are injured, the Dothraki are gone, and nearly everyone is suffering from some sort of PTSD, but how hard can it be to dispose of one arrogant queen and her mountainous bodyguard?
Pretty damn hard it turns out.
That’s because Cersei has a secret weapon she’s been biding her time concealing in the King’s Landing harbor.
We met The Golden Company briefly in the show’s season eight premiere. Euron Greyjoy, in a bid to get on Cersei’s good side (and in her pants) presented the army of sell-swords to the Lannister queen but they were gone as quickly as they appeared and the battle of Winterfell took precedence.
But now that everyone’s eyes have turned to King’s Landing, maybe it’s time we pay closer attention to the golden-armored men and the role they have yet to play in the last great war on Game of Thrones.
The Golden Company was first mentioned back in season four when Davos suggested Stannis use them to claim the Iron Throne. Stannis was against this plan for reasons that honestly made little sense, but Davos believed the number of men at the Company’s disposal, their reputation, and their oversized elephants could sway the war.
It’s a belief Cersei is now banking on.
After revealing to her brother Jaime that she had tasked Euron with hiring the Company to help fight against whoever won the battle for the living up North, Cersei then welcomed Commander Harry Strickland into her halls. Strickland, a son of one of the original Golden Company men, commands an army of 20,000 highly-trained soldiers. Most are exiled Westerosi knights, men who participated in failed rebellions and then fled across the Narrow Sea. Ser Jorah Mormont (may he rest in peace) once served with the Golden Company (on the show at least) and that’s not the only connection the army has to the Targaryen name.
In the books, the Golden Company was first formed by Aegor “Bittersteel” Rivers, the bastard son of King Aegon IV Targaryen. He created the company to challenge his father and fellow illegitimate brothers (this king really got around) for the throne in the Blackfyre Rebellions. He was unsuccessful, but the brotherhood remained, offering sanctuary and a means of survival to men forced to flee the Seven Kingdoms because of the uprisings.
The company now is made up of the sons and grandsons of those first rebels, breeding a sense of honor and heritage amongst the sell-swords that mark them as unique amongst their kind. They have the reputation of never breaking a contract – an unheard-of thing – and their motto is: “Our word is as good as gold.”
While they sell their services to the highest bidder, and they’ve already entered an agreement with the Lannisters, it’s possible the Golden Company might switch sides in the final battle for Westeros. First, they’re an independently-governed army which means they have autonomy over the jobs they take. Though they’ve never broken a contract, they’re also known for choosing to fight for winning causes and going up against two fully-grown dragons might convince them Cersei’s is the losing side.
Apart from that, the Golden Company’s two driving themes are money and home.
They plate their armor in gold, bejewel their swords – these guys love the finer things. Cersei was able to pay off the Iron Bank, and take out a greater loan for the Company’s services because her forces sacked Highgarden and took the Tyrell fortune, but if something goes awry with payment – or if the brotherhood decides they want more money if they’re going to take down dragons – then the promise of paying debts isn’t going to be enough.
Another interesting theory surrounding rumors of the Company’s true allegiance rests with its founding father, a Targaryen. Now, the Company first fought to de-throne a Targaryen, but that’s because Aegor believed himself to be a better king than his father, who had the title of Aegon the Unworthy. The Golden Company soldiers are predominately Westerosi knights in exile so they might choose to fight for whoever promises a better future for the Seven Kingdoms. Daenerys, unlike Cersei, has consistently rewarded those who’ve chosen to fight for her. She’s freed slaves, unchained the Unsullied, led the Dothraki across the sea. If she follows that pattern and promises the Golden Company they can return to their homes and lands once the fighting is done, that pledge, plus her Targaryen heritage, might be enough to sway them to her side.
Or maybe Arya Stark will finally cross the Lannister queen off her list and all of this battle strategy theorizing will be for nothing.