In a huge set of episodes for the Branning clan, Max arrives back in Walford with his fearsome older brother Derek (Jamie Foreman) in tow - just as life for his family seems to be spiralling out of control.
With the girls running wild and Tanya (Jo Joyner) behaving erratically as the pressure of her cancer finally begins to take its toll, Max is keen to find out what is going on - and it doesn't take long until Tanya's loved ones finally discover her sad secret.
Here, Jake Wood - who plays Max - chats to Digital Spy about his character's reaction to the news and what's in store for the Brannings.
You're now back at work at EastEnders following a short break from the show. Is it nice to be back and busy again?
"Yeah, it is - I had ten weeks off over the summer and it was a really good break. I felt like I needed it after five years of working hard. They wanted me to sign up for another two years, which I was really happy about, but I just felt like I needed a break before I got stuck into some more exciting storylines. It did me the world of good, to be honest. I'm fresh, raring to go and very excited about what's coming up!"
Just before Max returns, we learn that he's been spending some time with his older brother Derek. Do we get to hear what they've been up to?
"You get to hear bits and pieces, but I think me and Jamie know a bit more about the backstory than what's explained on screen. So there's things they've been getting up to which might come out later, but isn't explored just yet. Essentially, Derek has just come out of prison and the two brothers have found each other again. It's been good for Derek to see Max again at this time, and it's the same for Max as he was at a bit of a loose end when he left the Square.
"The two of them have been getting up to no good - we know that much. Derek is the biggest, baddest Branning brother yet, so they've been getting up to some dodgy activities. There's some really good stuff coming up for the Brannings."
Pictured: Max and his older brother Derek.
What brings about Max's return to Walford?
"Max makes his return because Jack has called him, letting him know that Tanya is falling apart and getting drunk, while the kids are running wild. From Max's point of view, he can see that Tanya's losing control so he's keen to get back and sort everything out. He wants to give everyone a good shake-up, so when he returns, he's very much on the front foot and on the attack.
"At this point, I don't think he's got any intentions of staying - he just wants to fix things and find out what's going on before going off with Derek again. Along with everyone else apart from Lauren, Max doesn't know about Tanya's cancer yet. So everyone is looking at Tanya and seeing a woman who seems to be falling apart for no reason."
What kind of a reception does Max get when he returns?
"None of his family are very pleased to see him at all! That's no surprise to Max given the circumstances in which he left. It was Lauren and Abi who asked him to leave, while Tanya told him that she didn't love him and they had no future together. Max certainly doesn't expect a rosy welcome, and they're definitely not pleased to see him."
Pictured: Max returns to a misunderstanding at home as a pregnancy test has been found in Abi's bag.
How does Max feel when he finds out about Tanya's cancer?
"It's obviously a huge shock to Max when he finds out. It's something that he really didn't foresee, and it sheds a whole new light on things. From Max's point of view, the bottom line is that he still loves Tanya - they have so much history together. For Max, everything else suddenly seems irrelevant given the news."
If Max decides to stay for Tanya, do you think she could trust him to be loyal and faithful to her?
"I would hope so! I think this is a situation that we've never seen Max and Tanya in before. I hope that Tanya would see that Max would be a good support to her, and I hope that Max would live up to that. It's a unique set of circumstances. I think, when Max wants to, he can step up to the plate and be committed, stable and reliable. He has been like that for Tanya in the past, and I think he could be again.
"I think the whole situation will rely on Tanya more than Max - it'll be whether she wants to allow him back in, and to what extent. Max still loves Tanya and he wants to get back with her, so it's up to her."
Pictured: Tanya has been battling cancer in secret.
What kind of a dynamic do you think we could expect from Max and Cora?
"If Max does move back home, they'd potentially have to spend a lot of time together, so I think they'd have to put their differences aside for Tanya's sake. Ann Mitchell is a superb actor and Cora is a great character - a great addition to the show. I'm very happy that she's here."
Some storyline details are being kept secret for your return episodes, but we know that Thursday and Friday's episodes are written by Simon Ashdown. Were you excited to film those episodes?
"Definitely. They were absolutely brilliant scripts. Simon always delivers for the Brannings - the family are his baby in a way, so any big turning point for Max, Tanya and the others has always been Simon-led.
"I think these episodes are some of the best that I've read in the time that I've been here - they're outstanding. They're also beautifully directed by Nic Phillips. They were very exciting scripts to come back to - hopefully the episodes will be EastEnders at its best."
Pictured: Derek, Tanya and Max.
At the moment, there seems to be a big war brewing between the Brannings and the Mitchells. Can we expect a lot of trouble between the two families?
"I think so! Due to Derek's personality and the way he behaves, I'm sure he's going to be getting up to no good in the coming months. I know there's some stuff coming up between Derek and Phil. There's also quite a big history between David Wicks and Derek, and that will come to light at some point and come to a head. There's some great stuff coming up. They've outlined the story for the next year and a half - and it's very, very exciting. Watch this space!"
As Derek is such a shady character, isn't there a part of Max that's wary of getting involved with him?
"I think Max just feels like it's come along at the right time. After leaving the Square, he didn't really have any money or anywhere to live, so being reunited with Derek again has worked out quite well. Also, Max has always had a bit of a dark side. He probably wouldn't go as far as Derek, but Derek has certainly been leading him astray. Max loves his brother and he looks up to him, as he used to be the head of the family. That means Max can be quite easily led in some ways."
Derek makes his presence known upon his return to the Square.
Vanessa and Darren both left the Square while Max was away. Does Max make any reference to them when he returns? And were you sad not to get proper goodbye scenes with them?
"Max does make reference to both of them. He wonders where Vanessa is, but I'm not sure he expects to ever see her again and he probably hopes not to, after everything that happened when he left! Zöe Lucker and Charlie G Hawkins are both fantastic actors and I enjoyed working with them both.
"With Zöe, we always knew where the story was heading and that she'd be sticking around for a couple more months while I was away. So I was probably sadder not to get those goodbye scenes with Charlie - I'm very fond of Charlie and we got on very well."
As you mentioned, you've just signed up for another two years on EastEnders. Was that quite an easy decision to make?
"I think taking my break was part of that decision, really - just acknowledging that I needed some time off and wanted to come back refreshed and re-energised. I'm really grateful that they facilitated that here - it was a great compliment. I've always said that I'm 100% committed to EastEnders. I'm more than happy to stay for as long as they want me.
"Max has a lot of flaws, but he's always been a very well-defined character for me. He's a great character - I love playing Max and it's been a gift. I hope people will continue to enjoy watching him."
> EastEnders' Max to return in huge Branning week
> EastEnders Max return is lovely, says Jo Joyner
> EastEnders' Derek will bring conflict, says Jamie Foreman
> EastEnders' David Wicks returns
> Read more EastEnders spoilers and news
EastEnders' huge Branning episodes air all next week on BBC One. Max's return airs on Wednesday at 7.30pm. Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad