It’s fair to say the past 12 months haven’t been entirely smooth running for the cast and crew at ‘EastEnders’, but Christmas Day’s episode proved the soap is returning to fine form.
Before ending on a cliffhanger - is Abi dead? Is Lauren dead? Did the accident kill then both? - the festive episode offered up plenty of drama as Max Branning’s world (finally) imploded.
Penned by Simon Ashdown, the writer who created the Brannings, the hour-long special also saw a much longed-for comeback, as Tanya Branning returned to Albert Square for the first time since 2015’s Live Week.
Here are all of the twists and turns that had us on the edge of our seats…
Let’s start with the most gasp-inducing bit: Afters months of speculation - and unashamed pleas from fans and critics alike - Jo Joyner finally set foot in Walford again, and her timing couldn’t have been better.
There’s no way bosses could have written out Abi and Lauren without their mother being present, and in a tragic twist, she’d arrived with the hope of saving her daughters from their father.
Tanya also realised what was going on between Stacey Fowler and Max pretty quickly, before revealing the truth about her ex-husband’s murderous ways to the mum-of-three, which brings us to…
The big reveal
By the end of the episode, Stacey, Lauren, Abi, Kathy Beale, Ian Beale and Phil Mitchell all knew that Max killed Stephen, thanks - for the most part - to Tanya, who revealed that Jane had told her everything.
While Abi and Lauren’s fate hangs in the balance, it seems clear that Max has other things to worry about to. This is Soapland after all, so his chances of getting away with this are pretty slim.
Max vs Phil
After learning the truth, a panicked Kathy rushed to her ex’s house and told him everything. And just when it seemed Max was already at rock bottom, Phil pointed a gun at him as he lay flat on his back in the gardens. A scuffle spared Max taking a bullet, but this is surely just the start of a fresh war between the pair.
Max’s suicide attempt
Jake Wood’s character revealed that when he was in prison, he tried to take his own life, but was found by the guards, and the actor has hinted that Max’s mental health will be explored in the wake of the Christmas episodes.
“At the real heart of it there’s just a guy who’s incredibly lost and very isolated,” he said of the storyline last week. “He’s dealing with it in the only way he sees that he can.”
Mick and Linda Carter’s vow renewal
The subplot centred on the couple’s wedding vow renewal, and while Mick pulled through in the end, it wasn’t exactly the joyful day Linda was hoping for.
Will he continue keeping secrets from his wife? And how on earth is all of the Aidan drama going to end? We can’t see it going too well for the landlord…
Are Abi and Lauren dead?
In classic ‘EastEnders’ fashion, the suitably miserable and tense Christmas episode ended with a jaw-dropping cliffhanger as the sisters plummeted off the roof of the Queen Vic, after making their way up there in the hope of saving Max.
The closing shots showed them on the floor outside the pub… But are they both dead?
While we do know both Jacqueline Jossa and Lorna Fitzgerald are bowing out of the soap, fans will have to wait and see exactly what the future holds for the pair. If they don’t make it, things could get a whole lot worse for Max.
Catch up on all the latest soap news and spoilers here.