An iconic ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ star returned to the show in epic season premiere twist

Scott Stump
·5 min read

Was it all a McDream?

The return of an iconic character highlighted the stunning ending of Thursday night's season premiere of "Grey's Anatomy" and left fans thinking they might be dreaming right along with Ellen Pompeo's character on the show.

That's right, McDreamy is back, and his appearance fittingly came in a dream sequence.

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Patrick Dempsey's beloved character, Derek Shepherd, who died on the show back in 2015, had an emotional reunion with his widow, Meredith Grey, played by Pompeo. The eye-opening moment came in a dream sequence between the two on the beach after Meredith had a medical emergency and collapsed in the parking lot of the hospital at the end of the two-hour season 17 premiere.

"It was so fun because we know that people are gonna freak out," Pompeo told Jimmy Kimmel on his late-night show Thursday. "And we all know 2020 has been a really long, ugly road, and we were so happy just to be able to film these scenes and know how much joy it was gonna bring people. We definitely had a ball."

"From a writer’s perspective, it happened because it was my job to find a way — once we determined that we were doing the pandemic — to also bring joy, and escape, and fan candy, and all the things that at 'Grey's Anatomy' we give people," showrunner Krista Vernoff told told Deadline. "We give them romance, and we give them humor, and we give them joy, and a lot of that is lacking for the medical community in this pandemic. And so, I was walking on the beach one day, and I was like, what if there’s a Meredith dream motif?"

Pompeo told Deadline that she and Dempsey, who live near one another in Malibu, California, were hiking near the beach one day when she asked him if he would come back and be part of the show this season.

"I think the whole atmosphere has changed, certainly working at the beach, and seeing everybody again was really a very healing process, and really rewarding, and a lot of fun," Dempsey told Deadline. "And hopefully, that feeling translates, and the fans enjoy it. I know that they’ve been wanting us to get back together, and I think this will satisfy a lot of people, and surprise a lot of people, hopefully."

Even though it had been years since they were united on screen, Pompeo and Dempsey quickly recaptured the magic that fans loved for years.

"Patrick and I have this chemistry, where I think, even from when we first met, for some reason it just felt like we’ve known each other for a hundred years, and it’s just the same feeling," Pompeo told Deadline. "It’s like riding a bike, we just have a chemistry and a dynamic that’s always served us well, and I think we have a genuine affection for each other."

Fans predictably were stunned when they saw the surprise ending.

"When you think you are over the show and then the writers throw this in your face. McDreamy is Back," one fan tweeted.

"DEREK SHEPHERD IS BACK???? 2020 is testing me!!!" another tweeted.

This season, which is being filmed during the pandemic, is dedicated to first responders. The premiere also addressed the coronavirus crisis with scenes depicting hospital personnel frustrated at a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and rising deaths from COVID-19 in addition to the show's signature interpersonal drama.

Meredith's collapse at the end of the episode also has fans wondering if she's dying, particularly after Pompeo's comments in October that this could be the final season for the long-running ABC drama.

“We don’t know when the show is really ending yet,” Pompeo told Variety. “But the truth is, this year could be it.”

Pompeo, 50, has starred as Dr. Grey since the show began in 2005, and her contract is up in a few months. The show'screator, Shonda Rhimes, has also said on multiple occasions that she might end the show when Pompeo decides she's done.

"You can’t read into anything," Pompeo told Deadline. "Really, that’s dangerous territory. And so, at this point, I think, we don’t know what we’re going to do."

One thing that is for sure, the beach dream sequence will pop up in future episodes.

"The beach motif — which will continue beyond the premiere — provided a way for us to live outside the pandemic even for a little while here and there," Vernoff said in a statement to E! News. "And Derek's return provided pure joy for us, for Meredith, and for the fans."

Thursday night's episode also raised another pressing question. Will there be more McDreamy?

"It’s more than the one scene you saw, and it was just joyful," Vernoff told Deadline.