In the Last Jedi,

Snoke is killed.

In response to this, the guards mount a furious attack on

Kylo Ren and Rey.

They seem far better equipped to do this than one would imagine of non-Jedi combatants. Who were these guys, and how were they so effective? As a bonus question,

Why were they fighting? Their master was dead, and Kylo Ren was the heir apparent. What was their plan after defeating the pair?

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    Damn again, being lazy has made me lose another question, +1 – Edlothiad Dec 19 '17 at 17:27
  • I remember chuckling at the beginning of the fight "Man, this will be short"...not so much. – Chris B. Behrens Dec 19 '17 at 17:28
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    Probably one of the best cinematic scenes in the series. Along with Holdo's kamikaze. – Edlothiad Dec 19 '17 at 17:31
  • I liked how they were melee bodyguards, who were several steps away from their charge... All the threats shown in the movie they would ignite their weapons, but then never stepped forward until after it was too late... Cool fight scene though. – Daishozen Dec 19 '17 at 19:27

There's an excellent 2-page spread about these guys in the Last Jedi Visual Dictionary. They are called Praetorian Guards, and they are mysterious by design. They wear full-body armor and masks that hide their identities, and are intentionally supposed to be "anonymous".

Here's an excerpt from the Visual Dictionary:

The Praetorian Guard are a bold example of an Imperial symbol reimagined, distorted, and aggrandized by the First Order. These elite sentinels stand watch over Supreme Leader Snoke's throne room aboard his flagship. Their brilliant red uniforms are a deliberate echo of those worn by Emperor Palpatine's Royal Guard, but the pageantry of the robes has been swept aside to allow an unhindered view of the precision-machined combat armor. The Praetorians are the ultimate close-circle guard, eschewing ranged weaponry. They are the last line of defense protecting Snoke, ready to destroy any threat that would dare penetrate so deeply into the First Order's heart.

I can't perfectly answer the last question (why they were still fighting when their master was dead), but evidence seems to suggest that it was out of pure loyalty. Since Snoke can clearly read minds, he probably chose those 8 guards specifically because their loyalty was unquestionable.

There is also a section about their uniforms that specifically references their loyalty (some slight paraphrasing to cut down on the extra details):

The layered armor of the Praetorians is... impregnated with conductive wirepaths that, once powered, create an intense local magnetic field. Once activated, the powered plates can deflect blaster fire. Even a lightsaber will glance off... The mag-field exposure is ultimately painful to the wearer, but... the Praetorians endure this out of unswerving loyalty and duty.

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    You've not included the quote about their "unswerving loyalty" but that would explain why they were trying to kill his killers – Valorum Dec 19 '17 at 19:46
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    Excellent point - I missed that because it was in the uniform section. But I'll add it now, thank you! – LevenTrek Dec 19 '17 at 19:48
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    Why would a mag field cause pain to the wearer? – Wraith Leader Dec 19 '17 at 19:59
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    Sorry, the book doesn't say. Perhaps it's so strong that it's pulling on the iron in their blood? (sort-of Magneto X-Men style?) Totally guessing... – LevenTrek Dec 19 '17 at 20:03
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    @LevenTrek No, because The Last Jedi doesn't use such nonsense Holywood science like midi-chlorians. – b_jonas Dec 26 '17 at 22:02

Their plan was......Revenge!

Kylo and Rey had a moment to lock eyes. Then the crimson-armored Praetorians were blurs of motion—four sets of pairs, each pair brandishing the same variant of deadly edged weapons. It was too late to save their master, but they could at least avenge his murder.

The Last Jedi: Official Novelisation

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