EastEnders Johnny Carter comp image - Ted Reilly and Sam Strike

Who’s leaving EastEnders? And who’s returning to and joining the soap?

There are some big departures coming up!

Who’s leaving EastEnders in 2023? After several exits already and some heartbreaking tragedy we know we’ve got one more death at least to follow Lola’s devastating farewell.

And though we’ve already had some very exciting returns with Peter Beale and Ian Beale coming back to Albert Square along with the once-dead Cindy Beale, the comebacks aren’t stopping there, either.

Because there are some super dramatic stories in the pipeline, which means there are bound to be some more surprises in store.

EastEnders boss Chris Clenshaw has confirmed there are more returns to look out for, including Lauren Branning, who is coming back to Walford. And it’s also been announced she won’t be coming back alone as Jack’s daughter Penny Branning will be with her. But what brings them back to the Square – is it tragedy?

Another return has been announced as well: Johnny Carter is heading back to Walford. He’s been recast again as the third actor to play him takes on the role. More details below!

Here’s a round up of who is leaving, returning and joining the cast of EastEnders in 2023.

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Johnny Carter returns to EastEnders

It has been revealed that the son of Mick and Linda will return to the show. Johnny Carter has been living and working in Manchester for the past five years after relocating north, in January 2018.

He will be played by new actor Charlie Suff, who will become the third person to play the role. Sam Strike was the first Johnny, with Ted Reilly being the last actor to star. Johnny’s return will take place soon, though it’s not been confirmed exactly when.

Charlie has spoken about his new role: “I’m so delighted to be joining such an iconic programme – EastEnders was always on at my house when I was growing up. Johnny is a complex character who has been through so much, which I can’t wait to explore. I’ve found EastEnders to be the most kind and loving space to work in, and I already feel like one of the family.”

Chris Clenshaw, Executive Producer, added: “I’m delighted to welcome Charlie Suff to the role of Johnny Carter. Although we haven’t seen Johnny on The Square in almost five years, his character remains linked to the show and its most iconic venue, The Queen Vic. Since his short time away, the Carter family dynamics have changed significantly, and it’s safe to say that Johnny will be returning to a very different Walford than the one he left.”

So what brings Johnny back to Albert Square? Will his mum be pleased to see her sausage again?

Ben crying in Callum's arms on EastEnders
Ben and Callum have been through a lot together (Credit: BBC)

Fans react

Viewers are already concerned by news of Johnny’s comeback. They’re worried that it could affect gay couple Callum and Ben as Johnny is also gay.

“He better not cause any trouble for Ballum,” wrote one on social media.

“What are the chances he’ll fall for married Callum?” questioned someone else.

Another added: “Let a gay character just be a gay character. Ben and Callum need friends, not threats. Let the couple be happy‼️”

Although no hint that he might come between the boys has been suggested, Johnny did help Ben cope when his first partner Paul Coker was murdered.

Who’s leaving EastEnders in 2023?

Stacey, Suki Linda, Sharon, Denise, Kathy post in an EastEnders press shot in bright clothes, Sharon's in a wedding dress
The Six. But who is the killer? And who will die? (Credit: BBC)

The biggest exit confirmed for this year remains a mystery. In flashforward scenes aired in February we discovered there will be a death at Christmas.

So far, the only clues we have are that it is a male and he will die in The Vic. There was a close-up shot of his cufflinks, so we’re guessing that’s another big hint.

Scenes showed Sharon, Denise, Stacey, Kathy, Suki and Linda standing over the dead body. They all looked shocked and Stacey was covered in blood.

Sharon – in a wedding dress – leant over the body and checked his pulse. She declared: “He’s dead.”

But who is ‘he’? Who will be leaving EastEnders before the end of 2023?

So far guesses are focused on the Panesar family with Nish and Ravi leading the betting. But is that just too obvious?

Rock’s off (Credit: BBC)

Rocky Cotton

It’s been confirmed that newlywed Rocky will be leaving Albert Square. Rumours were rife that Brian Conley, who plays cheeky chappy Rocky had fallen out with the show’s bosses and was leaving because of that.

But now Enders have confirmed that Rocky’s going – and it’s not because of any arguments.

“We can confirm that Brian Conley will be leaving EastEnders. There is absolutely no truth in any claims of a feud with bosses and the show fully support Brian in his decision to leave which was made some time ago. We wish him the best of luck for the future as we continue to work towards his exit storyline which has been in the works for some time.”

So how will Rocky be leaving? Could he be one of the victims of the fire that will sweep through the cafe later this week? Or will his gambling habit, which is already causing him real trouble, finally be the end of him and Kathy?

Will Karen die in the cafe fire? (Credit: BBC)

Karen Taylor

Karen Taylor has also been confirmed as leaving Walford later this year. Lorraine Stanley, who plays the mouthy matriarch, will be leaving her role as Karen, who she’s played for six years.

She wrote on her Instagram that was sad to be saying goodbye, but added that she was looking forward to what comes next.

And Lorraine has been messing with fans’ heads, teasing everyone about how exactly Karen departs. She recently shared that she’d finished filming and then posted a fan theory about Karen meeting a fiery end! Was she just trolling us, or was that a huge clue?!

As she gets deeper involved with Keanu’s scheme to kidnap his own son, it looks increasingly likely this storyline will play a part in her departure. Will she take the fall and go to prison to protect Keanu? Or will she take the ransom money and go on the run?

Will Whit get a happy ending? Doubtful. (Credit: BBC)

Whitney Dean

Whit’s part of the wallpaper in Albert Square, having been in the show since she was a teenager – 15 years ago.

Since then she’s been through all sorts of heartache, including the shocking reveal that teen Whitney had been groomed and raped by Tony King.

She’s been sexually exploited, she’s been married and divorced, jilted at the altar, snogged married Mick Carter, said a tragic goodbye to her baby, Peach, and even killed her stalker in self defence!

And now it seems she’s finally found happiness with Zack Hudson only for us to be told she’s off? We’re devastated, frankly! And we’re keeping everything crossed that Whit gets the happy ending she deserves.

Who else is returning to EastEnders in 2023?

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Lauren Branning

EastEnders has confirmed that Jacqueline Jossa is reprising her role of Lauren Branning permanently. Lauren was last seen in France when she met up with Peter Beale and their son, Louie.

Peter and Lauren seemed to be growing closer again, but she was horrified to find out he had been keeping the secret his mother, Cindy, was still alive. Lauren couldn’t get over the betrayal and ditched him.

But why will she return to Walford this time? Is a reunion with Peter back on the cards? Or does she know about her secret sister living at The Vic?

On reprising the role, Jacqueline Jossa said: “I’m really excited! It’s such an amazing time to be back as there is so much buzz around EastEnders at the moment, and I’ve been watching and loving it like a fan. Walford holds such a special place in my heart, so it really does feel like coming home.”

EastEnders' Penny and Lauren Branning pose on the Square looking very serious
Why is Penny back? (Credit: BBC)

Penny Branning

Jack Branning’s daughter, Penny, is heading back to Walford after 15 years. She’s been living in France with her mum, Selina. She returns with her cousin, Lauren, but why?

Kitty Castledine will play Penny. It’s her first television role since graduating this summer. Speaking of joining the show, Kitty said: “I didn’t expect to start my EastEnders journey so soon out of drama school – I can’t actually believe it!

“My whole family are EastEnders fans, and I remember sitting on my Nanny Kay’s lap to tune in, and now they get to watch me in Albert Square. The inclusion of disabled talent on screen is so important to me as a wheelchair user, so I’m thrilled to be playing a character as feisty and cool as Penny. She’s thrown into the middle of the drama straight away, and I can’t wait to see what she gets up to.”

EastEnders Executive Producer Chris Clenshaw added: “It’s been a long time since Penny Branning was in Walford, and she’s a very different person from the one our viewers might remember. Kitty is a terrific addition to the show, and we’re looking forward to seeing Penny back in Albert Square.”

Penny’s return has got fans speculating online. She and Lauren are wearing all black! Does this mean they’re back for a funeral? Is this a hint Jack is going to die?

“Why are she and Lauren dressed in all black? Is it a funeral? Please tell me it’s not Jack!” feared one on X. Another added: “Jack could genuinely be the body!”

“Hang on hang on… They’re both in black…Is Jack the body at Christmas?” queried one more.

Someone else said: “Lauren and Penny in funeral vibed outfits… Is Jack the body at Christmas!?”

It’s good news for Shirley fans (Credit: BBC)

Shirley Carter

It’s fair to say Walford hasn’t been kind to Shirley Carter. She left at the end of December 2022 after her son, Mick Carter disappeared at sea.

Following the death of her sister Tina Carter the previous year, she felt too haunted by their ghosts to stick around.

However, the good news is Shirl will return!

An EastEnders spokesperson told Digital Spy: “Linda Henry will be returning to EastEnders.”

But, how soon will it be before Shirley returns back home? And what will the reception be on her return? After Linda received a photograph of Shirley with rapist Dean Wicks in the background, will Shirl we welcomed back with open arms?

Priya and Avani are the most recent newcomers (Credit: BBC)

Who’s joining EastEnders?

After the recent arrivals of Ravi’s ex Priya and their daughter Avani – who are already making themselves RIGHT at home in Albert Square – there haven’t been any newcomers announced.

But we know that there are bound to be some surprises up the ‘Enders bosses’ sleeves, so watch this space and we’ll share more as soon as we know!

Read more: Complete EastEnders cast list for 2023 – meet them all here

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EastEnders usually airs Monday to Thursday at 7.30pm on BBC One.

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**This article is updated regularly to reflect the ongoing changes in the EastEnders cast.

Carena Crawford
Associate Editor (Soaps)

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