MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
The season 8 premiere of Game Of Thrones answered several questions leftover from the previous season, namely, when will Jon Snow learn his true identity, and what will his reaction be? And while older, but no less important, elements were left unansered, new narrative threads were established, in particular, a question of Bronn's true loyalty, now that he's tasked with assassinating Jaime and Tyrion (and if he carries out these murders, will he rank among the most hated characters in Westeros?).
But one new-ish element to the series no doubt left several fans wondering, "What is the Golden Company on Game of Thrones?" And just why is Cersei expecting a fleet of Golden Company elephants? Here's everything you need to know about this organization, and what their presence in this final season might mean for the story overall.
The Golden Company's services aren't hard-won or based in any personal investment, like the army amassed by Daenerys Targaryen. Basically, if you have the scratch to pay them, they'll fight for just about anyone (and Cersei certainly has the funds, given the loan she took out with the Iron Bank in season 7). And yet, despite their status as mercenaries, the Company doesn't see themselves that way, as New York Times writer Jennifer Vineyard explains:
They are a brotherhood of exiles and the sons of exiles. Even if they’re based in Essos, they consider themselves (mostly) to be Westerosi...Perhaps this is the logic Cersei relies upon to avoid the argument that she, too, is using a foreign army.
This last sentence refers to Cersei's callous and fairly racist remarks concerning Dany's army, which is comprised of the Unsullied and the Dothraki, both of which are primarily people of color. This also means that while the Golden Company didn't offer up their services willingly, their investment in the fight is based on a little bit more than money alone - and this could spell trouble for Dany, Jon Snow, and everyone on the other side of the war.
We meet Harry Strickland (Marc Rissmann), commander of the Golden Company, in the season 8 premiere. Since his one scene in this episode is brief, we don't learn a lot about him, but if he's anything like his literary counterpart, he just might prove to be a thorn in Cersei's side.
One big difference from the novels by George R.R. Martin is Strickland's age: he's depicted as an old man with gray hair, which he combs over to hide his bald pate. He's also considered to be a cowardly and petulant man who would avoid battle at all costs. Those that follow him speculate that he only rose to the title of commander because of his lineage, being a fourth generation Strickland—The Company runs a bit like a monarchy, with fathers raising sons specifically to serve in the army.
Age difference aside, if the television version of the character behaves this way, the Company may just be more trouble than they're worth.
As Strickland gives Cersei a rundown of the Company's numbers (how many soldiers, how many horses, etc.), the current queen of Westeros is disheartened to hear that there were no elephants aboard the fleet, a fact she bemoans again after hooking up with Euron Greyjoy.
While fans of the series understood the joke on the surface (i.e. Cersei really wanted some war elephants on her side), the whole thing was actually a fun easter egg from the books, specifically A Dance With Dragons, where we first meet the Golden Company. While known as a formidable army for numerous reasons, number one on that list are their 24 fearsome elephants. But just like in the series, the battle prowess of these pachyderms has yet to play out—though they just might finally appear in George R.R. Martin's long-gestating The Winds Of Winter.
Hence, Cersei's lament about wanting to see those elephants is shared by fans of the novels, who've been waiting for elephant battle action for some time now.
The company's motto is "Our word is good as gold." They pride themselves in having never broken a contract in their entire history, and their reputation as an honorable and disciplined army precedes them. As Den of Geek writer Alec Bojalad explains:
As implied by their name, the Golden Company is the golden standard of hired military help in Essos and the known world...
The modern day Golden Company is world-renowned for both its skill in combat and its ironclad principles. In addition to never breaking a contract, the company operates with a level of opulence and splendor not common for a bunch of mercenaries. They are a disciplined crew that don't even necessarily see themselves as sellswords but rather a free brotherhood of exiles looking for glory (and cash). The leader of the sellswords sets up shop in a tent surrounded on all sides by pikes with golden skulls atop them - each skull being the bejeweled remains of a previous Golden Company captain.