It's a good time to be a Grey's Anatomy fan.
The season 17 premiere brought fans the biggest surprise we've had in years in the form of Patrick Dempsey as Derek Shepherd, five whole years after his death. It was like a shot of adrenaline right when we needed it the most, even as the rest of the show—and even Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) herself—is dealing with the effects of COVID-19.
The best part is that we know the surprises aren't over. In an interview with Deadline, showrunner Krista Vernoff was asked if Meredith's mother Ellis (played by Kate Burton and who was originally named in the script to keep Dempsey a surprise) could show up on the beach eventually. Here's what Vernoff said:
"I don't know. I don't know. You have to tune in and see who comes to the beach. It'll be a joyful discovery."
Then, a promo that aired after the Nov. 19 episode promised that "another person from her past returns," and we've been losing our minds ever since, with no help from the cast.
On Thursday morning, a fan asked Pompeo for a hint about the next installment and the star revealed that "it's going to be a really really special episode."
As usual, Thursday night can't come soon enough.
Two people (aside from Ellis) immediately come to mind when we think of Meredith's past: George O'Malley (T.R. Knight) and Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh). Both died tragically, and at this point we're imagining that only the dead can meet Meredith on the beach (though we could be totally wrong about that).
When Meredith nearly died of drowning, she dreamed of Denny (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), bomb squad guy (Kyle Chandler) and her dead dog Doc, so Mer has had these sorts of afterlife experiences before. A dream parade of her dead friends and family members would be perfectly on brand.
All we know for sure is that the show is going hard on social media with the mystery of who might return. One tweet asked for "last guesses" with a video of waves hitting a beach that reads "Who's next?" "Lexie" is, as of press time, trending on Twitter because fans are hoping to see her. If this surprise return is not a beloved, very missed character, the show has set us all up for some serious disappointment.
Now, this may be nothing or it may be something, but on IMDb, Dempsey is not the only former star of the series whose years on the show have been updated to include 2020. Burton, Knight, Morgan, Sandra Oh, Sara Ramirez, Jessica Capshaw, Jerrika Hinton, Loretta Devine and even Katherine Heigl all are allegedly appearing in some way in 2020, if you ask IMDb.
No one has an actual episode listed in 2020 other than Dempsey, and again, this might mean absolutely nothing at all, but it is giving us something fun to speculate about...even if some of our faves are missing from that list.
Notably, the list is missing Leigh, Eric Dane, Sarah Drew and Isaiah Washington, but it does include Michael O'Neill, who played hospital shooter Gary Clark. It wouldn't not make sense for the guy who almost killed Derek to show up on the beach, but it also wouldn't make a lot of sense.
It would make the most sense, just given Meredith's drowning dream, for her to only reunite with dead characters. But at the same time, when Callie (Ramirez) was nearly dying after her car accident, she dreamed a full hospital musical. Sense might not actually apply here. Anything could happen!
Anyway, we'll have to wait to find out who else returns and if IMDb is onto something, but no matter what, we're having fun. In anticipation of somebody showing up on that beach along with Derek, catch up with all the former doctors of Grey's Anatomy below!
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.
A version of this article was originally published on Nov. 19.