The ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Season Premiere on ABC Left Viewers Shocked in the Best Possible Way

ABC

ABC teased a “shocking, jaw-dropping ending” to the Season 17 premiere of their hit series Grey’s Anatomy and it turned out to be a huge understatement; beware, major spoilers ahead.

The end of the episode gave viewers one of the biggest twists ever. Patrick Dempsey’s Derek Shepherd, who died in April 2015 and left fans heartbroken, appeared in a beach dream sequence with Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith Grey after she collapsed in the parking lot of the hospital. In the dream, Shepherd calls out Grey’s name, and the two have just enough time to lock eyes before the episode ends.

“The most important task we had this season was to honor the reality of this global pandemic and the impact it’s having —particularly on healthcare workers,” Krista Vernoff said in a statement. “Along with that, we had to come up with creative ways to allow our show to still be fun and romantic and provide some escapism. Enter Patrick Dempsey. 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. And Derek’s return provided pure joy for us, for Meredith, and for the fans.”

“Season 17 has been a Herculean effort by our cast, our crew, our writers, and our partners at Disney and ABC — and we are proud of it. But our effort is nothing compared to the work of our Frontline healthcare workers to whom this season is dedicated,” the showrunner continued. “We hope our show inspires you to wear your masks to protect them and each other. As Derek Shepherd would say, ‘It’s a beautiful day to save lives.'”

Pompeo said in an interview with Deadline that while hiking with Dempsey in Malibu, “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?’”

Dempsey said he wanted to go back because of all the good the show does. He asked himself, “‘OK, what can we do for all the frontline responders?’ I’ve been tracking what Grey’s had been doing with giving masks and making sure that people had the right equipment, and it came from that place — OK, what can we do to make people feel better, to give some comfort in this time of uncertainty, and that’s how it began. And it was really a wonderful experience to go back, to work with [director/EP] Debbie [Allen].”

The premiere picked up weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, with the characters facing the challenges that the healthcare workers had to face daily in real life. Production of Season 16 of the show was cut short due to the pandemic.

“I’ve heard that when tidal waves hit, there are often people watching onshore,” Meredith said in a voiceover in the opening scene, on the beach where Derek later appears. “They see the disaster coming. They see the horizon disappearing. They don’t really see until it’s too late. There’s a lecture we take in residency that’s meant to prepare us for such surprises. It’s called disaster ethics, where future surgeons imagine what they would do when the unimaginable happens. But it’s imperfect because while it’s good to plan for the worst, you can’t really know how it will end until your smack dab in the middle of it.”

A teaser for next week shows Meredith possibly struggling with COVID-19. “If I fall asleep, I’m afraid I won’t wake up,” she says in the clip, which also showed more of the fan-favorite Grey’s Anatomy couple on the beach.

Vernoff spoke to the Los Angeles Times and revealed that this was not just a one-time cameo. She said, “We will see more of [Derek] this season. This was not just a cameo. He will appear three more times.”

Pompeo stated that this season was an “opportunity to tell the story of how hard this [pandemic] is for our healthcare workers; it’s devastating for them. I think Krista [Vernoff] will tell you that they’ve sat down with so many doctors and nurses, and they hear the stories, and they’re writing right from these stories that they’re hearing. And this has been devastating and changed the medical community forever.”

Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 PM ET on ABC. We want to thank all of the real-life frontline workers for their hard work and dedication, and hope everyone stays safe.