EastEnders: Tanya Branning returns in shock twist

Jo Joyner is back for the biggest Walford Christmas in a decade

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Tanya Branning made a surprise return to EastEnders in tonight’s epic Christmas Day episode, but probably wishes she hadn’t after watching in horror as daughters Abi and Lauren fell from the Queen Vic roof after trying to stop their dad Max commit suicide.

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Jo Joyner’s reappearance was a closely-guarded secret and she arrived in Walford unannounced armed with information from friend Jane Beale that revealed the full extent of ex-husband Max’s twisted revenge plot, including the fact he left Jane to die in a burning building and was responsible for the death of Steven Beale.

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With Max having lost everything, he teetered on the edge of the iconic pub roof – the scene of son Bradley’s death in 2010 when he took a tumble trying to escape the police who believed he had killed Archie Mitchell – but Abi and Lauren’s attempts at saving him ended with them slipping and falling to the ground below.

Speaking about Tanya’s return, writer Simon Ashdown, who created the character back in 2006, said it was essential she was there as part of the climax of Max’s story. “John Yorke (executive consultant) approached me to return to EastEnders and had a skeleton of what would happen to Max at Christmas. I could see the ending in my head and we discussed it and it evolved – having brought in the Brannings it felt like going back to their roots and paying off that original Max and Stacey affair story.

“We talked to Jo Joyner and asked her to come back and she agreed. Then we had all the players in place.”

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Yorke revealed Joyner was initially nervous about reprising the role she last played in 2015 during a guest stint in EastEnders’ 30th anniversary live week. “She told me that as soon as Simon pitched her the story, and what happened to Abi and Lauren, she knew had to be there despite the initial nerves. It was very special having her back.

“Jo is so busy and filmed this in the middle of the night while she was doing another show. That’s why there were so many night shoots as it was the only time she was free!”

How long Tanya stays in Walford remains to be seen, and hinges on the eventual fate of her daughters. Will Abi and Lauren survive their fall?

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