After more than a decade and a half’s worth of tear-jerking deaths and miracles, it feels fair to say that most Grey’s Anatomy twists feel like par for the course. Sure, their details surprise—but do they really shock us anymore? (That’s a sincere question; I have not felt true emotion since they axed Denny Duquette.) But last week, the long-running medical drama’s 17th season premiere dropped a veritable stunner: Derek Shepherd, dead for five years now, has returned. And as Patrick Dempsey told Ellen DeGeneres Wednesday, he’ll be around “throughout the season.”
At the end of Thursday’s premiere, we saw Meredith reunited with McDreamy on a dreamy beach—and oh, did he look as dreamy as ever, swathed in a light blue shirt and cuffed linen pants. On Wednesday’s Ellen, Patrick Dempsey explained how this happened—and confirmed some genuinely frightening news about Meredith Grey.
“I reached out to Ellen [Pompeo],” Dempsey told DeGeneres. “Ellen and I got together in July. We were like, ‘What can we do to get people to wear masks? How can we make an impact here?”
The two hadn’t spoken in quite some time, Dempsey said. A couple theories come to mind as to why, but as the two were catching up, the actor said Pompeo proposed his return and outlined the show’s Season 17 plans. He was in.
And just in case Meredith’s collapse at the end of the premiere and a recent promo in which she’s gasping for air while Miranda Bailey tends to her in full PPE, Dempsey confirmed this season’s big, harrowing twist: Meredith has COVID-19, and his character is visiting her “in her Covid dream.” As Meredith tells Bailey in the clip, “If I fall asleep, I’m afraid I might not wake up.”
But the real miracle here was that the production kept McDreamy’s return a secret. Apart from Pompeo, showrunner Krista Vernoff, and a handful of others at ABC, Dempsey said, “No one knew until I showed up on set that day. And then we were really concerned that someone would take a picture, it would get out somehow. But we managed to keep it a secret, which was pretty phenomenal.”