The festive period is always the most dramatic when it comes to EastEnders – but let's not forget what the rest of the year brings BBC viewers.

In 2021 the BBC soap delivered murder, shock paternity bombshells, major character returns and exits and everything in between.

Now with 2022 on the horizon, Daily Star has compiled a list of what EastEnders fans could have to look forward to – and even if only a few of these predictions come through it'll be must-watch viewing.

From iconic characters returning, to finally getting answers to burning questions, here's what could happen in EastEnders next year.

Ian Beale return

Actor Adam Woodyatt has been very coy about his return to EastEnders as Ian Beale.

He left the show in January 2021 and is yet to return, however there may be some hope.

Adam, who has been in EastEnders since 1985, previously explained that the earlier he would return to the soap would be 2022, as he was busy with a touring play.

Of course, he then joined the I'm A Celeb line-up and spoke of his decision to leave on there.

He said in November: "I just had another opportunity. This play came up. I just fancied doing something different. The way the storyline is, they needed me to take a break. Yeah, the break's just got longer."

Adam then said he was "available as of April" when asked if he'd make a move into movies.

The door was left open for him to return, as he has come and gone numerous times in the past – so there's every chance viewers could see Ian make yet another grand re-entrance.

Heart-wrenching storylines

Earlier in 2021, it was announced that Chris Clenshaw was taking over as executive from exiting Jon Sen.

It's unlikely that Clenshaw's work on the soap will be on-screen until halfway through 2022 – but there's huge potential for some hard-hitting stuff.

He worked on EastEnders before, with input on storylines such as Shakil's knife crime death, and Ruby Allen's rape plot.

And he helped out on Peggy Mitchell's grand goodbye too, as well as Stacey Slater's 2016 psychosis.

With that in mind, it seems likely that EastEnders will see a return to gritty, issue-led storylines.

Of course, the BBC soap has been delivering the serious storylines – what with Linda's alcoholism and the FGM story arc – though nothing will match the raw emotion that came through Clenshaw's previous work.

Jacqueline Jossa comeback

Jacqueline Jossa played Lauren Branning on and off between 2010 and 2018, after taking over the role from Madeline Duggan.

The mum-of-two left the soap in February 2018 and went on to achieve major success, winning I'm A Celebrity in 2019.

She then teamed up with online fashion brand In The Style and makeup company BPerfect to release tanning and beauty products.

However she has since confirmed she will go back to EastEnders.

In October, she told the Mirror: "I'll obviously go back at some point. But it would have to be the right storyline.

"As one of the biggest shows in the country, it would have to work for both them and me because they might not be ready for Lauren Branning, so it depends on timing."

Lauren left Albert Square to go to New Zealand to be with Peter Beale, now played by Dayle Hudson, but they split up and Peter came home.

Apart from a reunion with Peter though, there might not be much for Lauren to return to, as both dad Max and mum Tanya are no longer around.

But it won't stop fans hoping the soap favourite will make a comeback – and maybe 2022 will be the year it happens.

Gray is finally caught

Patient viewers have been dying for evil Gray Atkins to be rumbled for the three murders he's committed – Chantelle Atkins, Tina Carter and Kush Kazemi.

And soap bosses announced he would get his comeuppance soon – but exact details were never confirmed.

Earlier this year, senior executive producer Kate Oates said: "Gray's story was always intended to be a longer arc after the death of Chantelle; but even though some of his actions have been extreme, they have always been grounded in the roots of Gray's character," she said.

"He's a classic narcissist: everything he does is designed to fit a narrative that absolves him from guilt, and paints him out to be a good guy. I think in Gray, we have a character who tells himself that Chantelle died in a terrible accident; that Tina had to die so he could be there for his kids; and Kush had to go, because he and Whitney are 'meant to be'.

"He's the centre of his own universe, and nothing is his fault. But life is going to throw Gray a curveball; something out of his control, that will bring the story back to its grass roots as he tries to start again in a new relationship.

"But Gray hasn't been as clever as he thinks. Smoking guns are all over the Square, just waiting to be found. Gray's downfall awaits."

Meanwhile, outgoing executive producer Jon Sen said: "We've obviously got the culmination or we're building to the kind of culmination of the Gray storyline.

"It's kind of [the] next chapter. Obviously, it has been a very long story arc and it's taken many twists and turns, but we are kind of going back to the grass roots of the story, really pivoting it back to its origins, and it's gonna be a fascinating turn of events for the Atkins family."

With Gray's wedding coming up, could the first few weeks of 2022 see his life finally come crashing down around him?

Recently, Whitney has been learning the truth about him and looks set to expose him – but will she get a chance?

Dot Cotton explanation

Long-serving character Dot Cotton left the soap in 2020 but fans are still dying for some more information about what she's up to.

She went to Ireland to visit Charlie after Sonia stole some of the inheritance she got from Dr Legg and made it clear she wouldn't be returning.

Actress June Brown, who played Dot from 1985, also made it clear she would never play the character again.

The 94-year-old said at the time of her exit on the Distinct Nostalgia podcast: "I don’t want a retainer for EastEnders, I’ve left. I’ve left for good.

“I’ve sent her off to Ireland and that’s where she’ll stay. I’ve left EastEnders. I did make up a limerick. It’s a bit dirty. I went back to do a good story. Alas and alack, when I got back it had gone up in smoke.

“Well that is no joke. I got a small part, a very small part. And that ended up as a big wet fart. Alas and alack, I will never go back.”

But with her being such a big character, there is still hope that her storyline will continue.

Sadly, with June adamant she will not return, it may be that Dot is killed off off-screen.

Fans have been theorising since her exit in 2020 that this would happen.

Brand new family

When Chris Clenshaw worked on EastEnders before, he dod so under Dominic Treadwell-Collins.

Fans loved that era of the soap, with it introducing the Carter clan and the nail-biting Who Killed Lucy plot.

With Clenshaw now returning – this time as executive producer – there's huge potential for him to throw a huge shake-up at the soap, potentially by introducing a new family.

EastEnders, like the other soaps, is known for revolving around current issues.

A huge topic of conversation at the moment is immigration and asylum seekers – could EastEnders be the soap to take that on?

Expanded EastEnders universe

It's been years since the BBC announced plans to extend Walford with its new EastEnders set.

Since then, there have been a number of delays – not forgetting the pandemic, of course.

However with the estimation that the set will be complete by May 2023, viewers could see new filming locations around Albert Square pop up – or at least more exploration of already established settings.

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