Grey's Anatomy Showrunner Says Keeping Patrick Dempsey's Surprise Return Secret 'Was an Epic Feat'
PLUS: Patrick Dempsey on His Surprise Grey's Anatomy Return: It Was 'Lovely and Inspiring to Go Back'
Showrunner Krista Vernoff confirmed to Variety that Dempsey will reprise his role as Derek again in the second half of season 17, teasing, "You will see McDreamy again in the back half of the season."
Derek, the late husband of Ellen Pompeo's Meredith Grey, died in a tragic car crash in the series' season 11. However, he reemerged in this season's premiere last month, appearing during one of Meredith's dreams while she battled a severe case of COVID-19.
Following that appearance, Vernoff told the Los Angeles Times that Dempsey's character would return three more times. So far, he has only appeared in Meredith's vivid dreams once more, meaning two additional Derek sightings are in fans' futures.
George O'Malley (T.R. Knight), who died in Grey's season 5 after saving a woman from getting hit by a bus, also made an appearance in Meredith's dreams this season, prompting fans to wonder if more past stars would return to the long-running medical drama.
"We all have hopes, but we don't have anything new to report yet," Vernoff told Variety of whether viewers can expect future cameos.
As for the future of the show in general, Vernoff said she's not sure when Grey's will end.
"'I don't know' is the honest answer," she said. "I don't know. And so, I planned a phenomenal season, and I've planned what can be a season finale or what could be a series finale."
Krista Vernoff/abc Patrick Dempsey and Ellen Pompeo
"I never really believe it's really over until everybody sits me down — they're all going to have to come together and sit me down and tell me it's really over," Vernoff continued. "But you always have to plan for both contingencies. We have a plan for how the season is going to end, and I feel really good about that plan, but I will say that at this point in any given season, we usually have a plan for where the season is going to end and it doesn’t always end where we think it will. So, you never know."
Pompeo, who also serves as a producer on Grey's, previously said that the show will likely end when she leaves.
"We don't know when the show is really ending yet," the actress, 51, told Variety in October. "But the truth is, this year could be it."
"I'm constantly fighting for the show as a whole to be as good as it can be. As a producer, I feel like I have permission to be able to do that," she later added. "I mean, this is the last year of my contract right now. I don't know that this is the last year? But it could very well could be."
Season 17 of Grey's Anatomy returns March 4 on ABC.