Just as a new year began in Emmerdale, tragedy struck, as Heath Hope (Sebastian Dowling) was killed in a car crash after a teenage joy ride went devastatingly wrong.


We're used to the soaps dishing out distress during the festive season. But through this powerful storyline, Emmerdale has been able to showcase its core strength through strong writing and stunning performances.

From the moment Bob took in the scene as his beloved son was unable to be revived, this was a plot with maximum impact.

Tony Audenshaw's dedicated portrayal of a broken Bob has been a welcome chance to put the character in the spotlight, away from scandalous discoveries of affairs and comedic capers - as much as we enjoy the latter.

Then there's Lesley Dunlop as Heath's heartbroken step-mother Brenda Walker.

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For years now, Brenda has been the nosy, gossip-mongering presence in the village café, with her unwanted comments irritating almost everyone as she involved herself in their private business.

Brenda comforts Cathy as Bob sits across from them in Emmerdale
Gabrielle Dowling as Cathy, Lesley Dunlop as Brenda and Tony Audenshaw as Bob in Emmerdale. ITV

But as Brenda learned that Heath had not survived, we were suddenly transported back to 2013, when she found out that daughter Gennie Sharma (Sian Reese-Williams) had been murdered.

It's been far too long since Brenda was centre stage, and Dunlop shone as her alter ego wept over Cathy (Gabrielle Dowling) being so brutally separated from her twin brother and recalled the last time she saw Heath.

Death in soap can often feel unnecessary and random, but as unexpected as Heath's loss has been, it has created some of Emmerdale's best material yet.

Amid Bob and Brenda's shattering grief has been Cathy's own pain. With Dowling's work from last year already shifting our opinion of Cathy from a moody, rude teen to a complex, troubled soul, adding bereavement into the mix has allowed the character room to breathe and grow.

Quiet moments of reflection saw Cathy and Eric Pollard (Chris Chittell) talking about Heath's legacy, with a seamless line included to remind us that Pollard is living with Parkinson's disease as Cathy ensured he had taken his medication on time - because life has to go on.

Village vicar Charles Anderson (Kevin Mathurin) began Heath's funeral service by saying that the entire community had been affected by his passing - and this has been shown in the weeks since the crash.

Sam Dingle (James Hooton) spoke of untimely death as he remembered late brother Ben (Steve Fury), while several other characters, from Arthur Thomas (Alfie Clarke) to Charity Dingle (Emma Atkins), referenced the tragedy.

What happened to Heath is not something the show is willing to gloss over, and the aftermath has been thoroughly committed to, making this a long-running story.

Alongside this grief have been the conflicting stories of the other passengers in the car - Cathy and Angelica King (Rebecca Bakes).

With Cathy's behaviour having caused concern for some time amid her diagnosis of PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder), the village, and viewers too, wrote her off as responsible for the accident. But she was adamant that, in fact, Angel was driving the car by the time the fatal crash occurred.

Bob's refusal to believe Cathy has led to a rift between father and daughter, but in scenes airing this week, Angel confessed that she was behind the wheel.

And there's no doubt that the twist of Angelica's guilt will have repercussions for months to come, whatever happens next.

Parents Nicola (Nicola Wheeler) and Jimmy King (Nick Miles) have quite the journey ahead of them as they help Angel face up to an uncertain future, while Bob will have a lot of making up to do when he realises that Cathy has been telling the truth all along.

Rebecca Bakes as Angelica King in Emmerdale walking through a graveyard
Rebecca Bakes as Angelica King in Emmerdale. ITV

It all boils down to character-driven drama, and when this is the main focus, Emmerdale is at its very best. The soap has been known to tackle tragedy with particular sensitivity in the past, with the overdose of Holly Barton (Sophie Powles) standing out as one of its most delicate examples.

However, all soaps are guilty of airing deaths which barely get a mention in the months following, so the fact that Heath's will go on to resonate is important.

It's worth noting, too, that Bob has history with the Kings. His daughter Dawn Woods (Julia Mallam) died during the family's house explosion in 2006, and Jimmy only revealed the cause just a few years ago.

Emmerdale is known for revisiting stories when the moment calls for it, and no doubt Bob will have something to say about history repeating itself.

Ultimately, starting 2024 with Heath's death has been the shift that Emmerdale needed, veering away from cheating plots and delving into the hearts and minds of characters we haven't connected with in far too long.

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Emmerdale airs on weekdays at 7:30pm on ITV1 and ITVX. If you’re looking for more to watch, check out our TV Guide and Streaming Guide or visit our Soaps hub.


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