Plus, what really happened with Katherine Heigl’s exit.

McDreamy is back. It was the twist no Grey’s Anatomy fan saw coming: At the end of the two-hour season 17 premiere, Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) collapsed, and when viewers got a glimpse at what she was dreaming about, Derek (Patrick Dempsey) was standing on a beach calling her name.
Patrick Dempsey’s return comes as a shock not only because his character was killed in the show’s eleventh season, but because there was some controversy around his exit. Now, Grey’s showrunner Krista Vernoff is telling the Los Angeles Times how it all came together.
According to Vernoff, after she came up with the idea for the beach motif, it was star Ellen Pompeo who brought up Dempsey. “In all my wildest fantasy imaginings of who we might get, he was not on the list,” Vernoff says. “Because there was some complexity around him leaving the show.” But Pompeo assured her that they’d gone on a hike recently and she thought he’d come back.
When it came to keeping the secret of Dempsey’s return, Vernoff says, “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. 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.”
Ultimately, they pulled it off by shooting at a private beach. “It was so moving and healing,” Vernoff says. “This show has been on for 17 seasons. There’s been some drama around some exits. And there have been enough years in the interim that everyone grows up; they grow up, they realize where they got things wrong. There’s always sort of two sides to every story. What it felt like was a homecoming.”
And it isn’t over. Vernoff also revealed that Derek’s return was “not just a cameo.” Rather, he is set to appear three more times.
In terms of other potential returns, Vernoff is keeping her lips sealed, though she did share the story of an exit that never happened. For years, fans have wondered why Izzie’s (Katherine Heigl) story didn’t get some sort of on-screen conclusion. And according to Vernoff, she herself had written an episode to properly tie up Alex (Justin Chambers) and Izzie. “The day before it was supposed to start prepping or shooting, I can’t remember, we got a call that Katie wasn’t coming,” Vernoff says. “Just wasn’t coming. Wasn’t going to do it.”
For more, read the entire Los Angeles Times story here.
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