Patrick Dempsey shocked fans when he made a surprise return as his beloved character during the season 17 premiere of ABC's long-running medical drama on Thursday night — and showrunner Krista Vernoff says he'll be back.
"We will see more of [Derek] this season," she told the Los Angeles Times. "This was not just a cameo. He will appear three more times."
While it's unclear exactly how and when he will return in future episodes, Dempsey's character made his shocking appearance during a dream sequence inside Meredith Grey's (Ellen Pompeo) imagination during the premiere. (Derek died during an April 2015 episode after a tragic accident.)
Vernoff said Dempsey's return was no easy feat and had to be kept "top secret" until the day of filming. She explained that she even wrote the scene as Meredith envisioning a reunion with her mother Ellis Grey (Kate Burton) instead of Derek so no one would know.
"We didn't tell the writers for the longest time. When she's walking and she looks as someone is calling to her, and she goes, 'Derek?' In the script, I had it as Ellis Grey," Vernoff recalled. "And she goes, 'Mom?' We read it at the table that way. Nobody knew what we were doing — to the point that when the crew showed up on the day we shot the scene, nobody knew. It was top secret."
As for other fallen characters making an appearance this season? Vernoff teased, "I mean, wouldn't it be exciting if we did?"
"It's crazy how much time has passed, but it really was so comforting, and lovely, and inspiring to go back, and to work together, to see everybody," he said. "It really was so open too; that was the thing, really — people were very, I think, vulnerable in a positive way, where we were all grateful to be there and to be together."
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays (9 p.m. ET) on ABC.