The way to make companions more impactful in Warband was to recruit Jeremus, outfit him with the best armor you can salvage or hand down from yourself, to ensure he doesn't get downed. Now, Bannerlord will change it up a tad.
As said previously, companions have, until now, been treated as self-regenerating units, with passive party-buffs that players do not wish their character to spend their points on, and then forgotten until they get knocked unconscious in battle.
Bannerlord, however, is implementing a few systems to make companions more impactful in your playthroughs, and give players a feeling of these characters being on their own level, with their own lives, and aspirations.
One of the ways of doing this is the cutscenes that will be implemented in the game. These cutscenes will make certain events, such as the loss of a companion, more impactful, and make you feel the weight of your actions in interpersonal relations, that numbers and sliders never could.
Aside from that, as your campaign progresses and the bonds between you and your followers develop, developers feel that it’s only appropriate that you should be able to reward them for their loyalty and service by elevating them to the ranks of the nobility.
Furthermore, TaleWorlds will be implementing new templates for party leaders, which will be based on their character.
In the most recent patch, they have removed the hard conditions that prevented the player from sending a companion to resolve an issue, as well. Instead, the companion skill in relation to the issue skill requirements will determine the success chance.
All of these show that companions will play a larger role in your journeys across Calradia, whether that can be seen via their contributions to your cause, or just making the world feel more alive.