Johnny Carter was first introduced to EastEnders viewers in late 2013, arriving as part of the new family on the Square. Played by Sam Strike, Johnny made a huge impression on viewers within weeks, making him pretty unforgettable. The Carters made history, coming in to the soap opera at the very top of the food chain: the new owners of Queen Vic. Johnny's storylines involved him and his family coming to terms with his sexuality, which led to a highly praised coming out scene between Johnny and his father Mick (played by Danny Dyer). After only a year, Strike decided to leave the role and Johnny departed on the 23 December 2014. With news having broke last week that Johnny is returning with new actor Ted Reilly assuming the role, it'll be interesting to see how the character will impact current storylines, and why he has decided to return to Albert Square.
As I stated, within weeks, Johnny made an impression on the viewers. Initially hiding his sexuality, Johnny finally came out in what is considered an extremely revolutionary moment for EastEnders. Sam Strike played the scene beautifully. This led to disruption in the family home between Johnny and mum Linda Carter (played by the wonderful Kellie Bright). Linda initially couldn't accept that her beloved Johnny was gay, later revealing she feared for how people would treat him. As the year progressed, Linda finally accepted her son, later commenting that she was "stupid" for her initial reaction. Johnny was present for several of the Carter's key moments - his coming out, Linda's birthday party, Mick's swim, Nancy's "wedding". Johnny also managed to find love in the form of Gianluca Cavallo, his Italian boyfriend. Gianluca became the perfect storyline for Strike to make his exit, and thus Johnny embarked on an adventure to Italy to reunite with his boyfriend. Now a year has passed, and Johnny will be coming home. Before his imminent return, I have outlined a few notes on what Johnny's return will mean for EastEnders.
1. Why is Johnny returning?
We all know that Johnny was an important character, but the question has to be raised, storyline wise, what is the reason for Johnny's return? I had been wondering for the past few months if the producers were planning a return, as the character has been referenced several times in recent episodes, and the family photo featuring Strike's Johnny has been covered up by an ironing board. So, now that we know Johnny is returning, it'll be interesting to see what storyline will be used to coincide with his return.
2. Is Gianluca still on the scene?
Gianluca Cavallo (played by Gabriele Lombardo) first appeared on 27th June 2014, capturing Johnny Carter's heart. A couple of weeks later, Luca reappeared at Linda Carter's birthday party, and thus led to Linda finally coming to terms with her son's sexuality. In the following episode, Luca departed for Italy with Johnny later telling sister Nancy (Maddy Hill) that he was ready to go with him, but he "got scared". Several months later (following Strike's announcement of his departure) Johnny revealed that he had been in contact with Luca again, which led to him departing for Italy, to go on an adventure with his former lover. Interestingly, Johnny's arc culminated as it should have - his mum Linda was finally able to let him go. Following Mick and Linda's wedding at the beginning of 2016, the couple stated that they met up with Luca and Johnny in Italy, which leads us to believe that Luca is still on the scene. Moreover, Luca and Linda really hit it off, so it would be a shame to not see them on screen together again.
3. Johnny's reaction to Linda's ordeal
Despite still being on EastEnders when Linda was raped, Johnny never found out about the attack. Since Mick and Linda have seen Johnny (off-screen) in person since, one would think that they would've informed him of Linda's horrific attack, however it is being reported that Johnny has been kept in the dark. Moreover, that means that Johnny is yet to discover that Shirley Carter is actually his granny and that his uncle Dean Wicks raped his mum.
4. Johnny's relationship with Ollie
Johnny was always the baby of the Carter family, with Linda always calling him her little "sausage". It'll be interesting to see if the dynamic of the Carter family changes now that baby Ollie is a huge part of the Carter's lives.
5. Will Johnny's return impact Ben or Paul?
Not long before Strike's exit, it became clear that the writers were working up a storyline that would've seen Johnny get involved with Ben Mitchell (Harry Reid). Since Johnny left, that never happened. Not long afterwards, Paul Coker (Jonny Labey) debuted and has had an on-off relationship with Ben Mitchell. Considering that the Ben/Paul storyline is very much a current storyline, it leads us to believe that perhaps Johnny's return will involve some sort of link to Ben, or perhaps even as a new love interest for Paul, now that Ben is off-limits.
5. Linda Carter
Linda Carter, played by the magnificently talented Kellie Bright, was involved in nearly all of Johnny's storylines. The chemistry shared by Sam Strike and Kellie Bright was so powerful, that they often stole every scene and they quickly became one of the strongest mother/son relationships ever seen on screen. The pair' chemistry was undeniable, so it'll be interesting to see how Ted Reilly fits in the role or if he'll be able to replicate that mother/son bond. One thing is for certain, Linda will be pleased to have her beloved son back! I can't wait for more Johnny/Linda scenes!
6. Will the re-cast work?
I remember being so disappointed when Strike announced his departure from EastEnders. As a writer, I always believed the character of Johnny Carter had so much potential, and he would be a great character to write for. Props to Strike for having the courage to leave and pursue his dream, I have no doubt that he will have a great career as he is a really great actor. In fact, Strike has already landed his first lead role, playing the lead character in Leatherface. If you'd have asked me a year ago if I could ever justify a recast of the character, I would've immediately shut the idea down with an emphatic NO. However, today I find myself rather excited to see Johnny return, and that is because of Ted Reilly. Having seen Reilly in action in Grantchester, I have no doubt that the role is in safe hands. Unlike the majority of soap re-casts, Reilly bears somewhat of a resemblance to Strike, so I must congratulate EastEnders on casting someone who is a believable Johnny Carter. It's too early to tell, but considering how important of a character Johnny is, I have high hopes that the producers will be able to pull this off.