“Grey’s Anatomy” fans were surprised to see Dr. Derek Shepherd back in the show’s season 17 premiere. That’s because McDreamy, as he’s affectionately known in conjunction with the long-running ABC drama, died after suffering a fatal accident back in 2015.
Patrick Dempsey, who portrayed Derek for 11 seasons, returned for the Nov. 12 two-hour episode in a dream sequence with his former love Dr. Meredith Grey (played by Ellen Pompeo). Meredith has fainted while at work, possibly due to having COVID-19, and in her unconscious state thinks she sees Derek greeting her on the beach.
Filming on the beach allowed for safer COVID-19 conditions. Both Dempsey and Pompeo tested negative for the coronavirus before shooting together. The outdoor environment was also safer for unmasked scenes.
The idea for the reunion between the two beloved characters started when Dempsey and Pompeo, who both live in Malibu, California, reconnected and took a hike together to catch up.
“There’s just so much darkness, and we knew that coming together would be a little ray of light,” Pompeo told Deadline after the surprise appearance aired. “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.”
Dempsey said returning to his old show was a great experience.
“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,” he 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.”
Check out this episode teaser for the Nov. 19 episode, posted to YouTube, with some moments from their dream scene: Meredith shouts to Derek that she misses him. “I know!” he shouts back as he walks toward her.
After the Nov. 12 episode aired, both Dempsey and Pompeo posted behind-the-scenes photos from the shoot asking everyone to wear masks and be safe during these pandemic times.
Dempsey tweeted praise for first responders, saying, “They work tirelessly and risk their lives to keep us safe.”
Please let’s come together, respect each other, wear a mask, and thank our first responders. They work tirelessly and risk their lives to keep us safe. #greysanatomy #wearamask #respect #firstresponders #thankyou pic.twitter.com/dgQigFzknM
— Patrick Dempsey (@PatrickDempsey) November 13, 2020
“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,” Vernoff said in a statement after the episode aired. “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.”
The return of Dempsey was a close-kept secret, with few of the cast or crew being let in on the plan to have McDreamy return. Vernoff even had Meredith reference her mom in the written dream sequence during the initial table read to throw people off.
So “Grey’s” fans, how did you feel about McDreamy’s return?