Grey's Anatomy returned to TV Thursday night with a Season 17 premiere that proved the new season is what dreams are made of. In the final moments of the episode, and in a "shocking, jaw-dropping ending" that not even longtime fans saw coming, the ABC medical drama brought back a beloved character. Warning: This post contained major spoilers for Grey's Anatomy Season 17, Episode 1, "All Tomorrow’s Parties."
The two-hour coronavirus-driven episode culminated with Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) found unconscious in the parking lot of Grey Sloan Memorial by Cormac (Richard Flood), all signs pointing to her having contracted the coronavirus. Seemingly near death, the show was transported to a dream sequence, in which Meredith is on the beach watching the waves crash against the shore. In the final seconds of the episode, and just as her voice-over ends, someone could be heard calling her name, that voice is revealed to belong to Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey).
Dempsey's return to the series came five years after his character was killed off in a Season 11 episode that aired in April of 2015. At the time of his departure from the series, which left Grey's fans reeling, the actor had been a staple on the drama for 10 seasons. Speaking with Deadline following the episode, showrunner Krist Vernoff revealed that the idea to bring Dempsey back had stemmed from the desire to "bring joy, and escape" to the pandemic storyline. After deciding that she wanted a dream motif of Meredith walking on the beach, Vernoff said she decided she also wanted to bring back a dead character for Meredith to see, with Pompeo being the one to suggest Dempsey. The actress said she suggested Dempsey after they were hiking in Malibu with the beach in view.
"The idea just struck me so I just said to him, would you ever consider coming and being a part of the storytelling this season?" Pompeo recalled. "There's just so much darkness, and we knew that coming together would be a little ray of light. And so, I think we had the same idea, at the core, to want to help people and bring a smile to people's faces. So, he loved the idea, and we were just so excited, and we had a ball filming it."
As for how long fans can expect McDreamy to hang around? Vernoff said "it's more than the one scene you saw." New episodes of Grey's Anatomy air Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.