EastEnders actress Jessica Plummer will exit the soap this month when her character Chantelle is murdered by husband Gray (Toby Alexander-Smith), it has been revealed.
The shock news comes on the eve of the show's return after a three-month coronavirus break and marks a tragic end to the long-simmering domestic abuse storyline between the couple.
Gray and Chantelle arrived on the Square last year with a seemingly-perfect marriage, but it later emerged that she had suffered years of mental and physical abuse at the hands of her husband.
When EastEnders returns tomorrow, viewers will see that the abuse has worsened during lockdown - and Chantelle decides that she must file for divorce and plot her escape.
Her efforts to get away fall devastatingly short, however, and she is killed by the hand of her abuser.
"Chantelle's story is such an important one to tell accurately and upon both character's inception we planned her tragic ending with the intention of embedding the stark reality of domestic abuse at the heart of the Atkins family," said Jon Sen, executive producer on EastEnders.
"Being able to shed light on the realities of what goes on behind closed doors has never been more crucial given the harrowing statistics as a result of the current pandemic and hopefully Chantelle's story will encourage people to speak out to someone they trust and get the support that they need.
"Jessica's performance is nothing short of extraordinary and even in her final scenes, the audience will be moved by Chantelle's strength. We're very sorry so see Jessica go but hope that her impact on viewers is long-lasting."
Speaking about her exit, Plummer said: "It's been such a privilege to play Chantelle and to be able to tell her story. Sadly what she goes through is all too common and her death is a reminder of the devastating effect of domestic abuse.
"I've known it wasn't going to end well for Chantelle for a while now and although it was a shock to find out her fate, far too many men and women suffer in silence so I hope that by raising awareness we can ultimately save lives. I am so grateful to all the team and my lovely cast members for being so supportive, I'll miss Albert Square!"
Alexander-Smith, who is expected to continue playing Gray for the foreseeable future, added: "We hope that Chantelle's story gives people the courage to speak out before it's too late and to know that there are services out there to help. Working with Women's Aid and Refuge has been invaluable in understanding the mindset of an abuser and the awful realities of abusive relationships.
"With such a tragic ending bound to be shocking for the audience, hopefully it serves as an important reminder of the devastation domestic abuse causes, especially at the moment.
"Working with Jessica has been wonderful, she'll be greatly missed and I am so thankful that we're part of such an important story together."
Plummer has already filmed her final scenes and Chantelle's exit will air later this month.