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Why Did Patrick Dempsey Return To 'Grey's Anatomy'? Here's What He Said

Even after almost 20 years of jaw-dropping twists, Grey's Anatomy still knows how to surprise audiences in the biggest ways. The final moments of the Season 17 premiere gave Meredith (and fans!) a huge blast from the past: Patrick Dempsey's iconic character Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd showed up in the episode. But why did Patrick Dempsey return to Grey's Anatomy after all these years away? There's a lot that went into this epic moment behind the scenes.

Warning: Spoilers for the Grey's Anatomy Season 17 premiere follow. The Season 17 premiere began with the coronavirus pandemic in full swing. For most of the two-part season opener, Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) was overwhelmed with taking care of coronavirus patients. By the end of the second episode, she was falling asleep right at the nurse's station. So, it wasn't that big a surprise when Hayes (Richard Flood) found her collapsed in the parking lot as fans assumed the episode was coming to a close. What was a surprise, though, was that Meredith then found herself on a beach in a dream-like state with McDreamy himself.

The Meredith-Derek reunion brought some old-school Grey's Anatomy joy to the screen, which was exactly the goal when showrunner Krista Vernoff and Pompeo first discussed the idea. In planning Season 17, they reached out to Dempsey to see if he would reprise his role, and he was eager to do his part to help people during the pandemic.

"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," Dempsey explained to Deadline about his decision to return to the show. "What can we do to make people feel better, to give some comfort in this time of uncertainty? That’s how it began. And it was really a wonderful experience to go back."

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Dempsey continued: "Seeing everybody again was really a very healing process, and really rewarding, and a lot of fun. 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."

Apparently, Dempsey and Pompeo had no problem returning to the easy relationship they shared on screen for over 10 years before Derek died in Season 11. "Patrick and I have this chemistry, where I think, even from when we first met, for some reason it just felt like we’ve known each other for 100 years, and it’s just the same feeling," Pompeo said to Deadline. "It’s like riding a bike; we just have a chemistry and a dynamic that’s always served us well, and I think we have a genuine affection for each other."

The promo for Season 17, Episode 3 shows Meredith undergoing medical tests, presumably to figure out why she collapsed and why she's dreaming about her late husband. Her diagnosis might be a mystery right now, but one thing is sure based on the promo: There will be more McDreamy sightings in Season 17.

Season 17 of Grey's Anatomy continues on Thursday, Nov. 19, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.