Ellen Pompeo's Meredith Grey is on the verge of death.
It's a scenario that would cause any diehard Grey's Anatomy fan to worry while watching, but as with all things at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, it's likely for a reason. After that explosive season 17 premiere in which Patrick Dempsey's Derek Shepherd returned to Meredith in a beachy dream sequence, she officially began experiencing the dirty and painful side effects of contracting COVID-19 during the Thursday, Nov. 19 episode.
But why, exactly, would the people behind ABC's biggest hospital drama threaten the life of its main character? Well, it's all about respect.
In a statement shared with The Hollywood Reporter following Thursday's episode, showrunner Krista Vernoff explained her decision to give Meredith the deadly virus. "Last week we felt Meredith Grey's pain as a doctor treating an early surge of COVID patients," Vernoff said. "This week we begin to experience what it is for her to be a COVID patient herself."
"Over 1,700 healthcare workers in the U.S. have died of COVID to date," she continued. "Many thousands more have been infected. Healthcare workers are on the front lines of this crisis, living through a war for which they were not trained. We saw an opportunity to dramatize and illuminate their plight through the incredibly well loved and well-known character of Meredith Grey. Doctors and nurses are fighting for us and falling for us. The least we can do is wear a mask, socially distance and stay home whenever possible. Meredith has a real fight ahead of her. And...she has that beach. Darkness and light. It's a powerful season. Stay tuned."
Speaking of that beach, Derek once again returned to the show during episode two as Meredith, after passing out, tried to run towards him on the beach but fell flat on her face. Fortunately, Dempsey recently told Ellen DeGeneres that while he's not sure how many episodes he'll be in, "I know I'm throughout this season. He comes back to visit."
In an interview with Deadline, Vernoff also hinted that the surprises and guest appearances just might not be over when asked if Meredith's mom Ellis (Kate Burton) would come back. "I don't know," she teased. "I don't know. You have to tune in and see who comes to the beach. It'll be a joyful discovery."
She definitely knows—and we're all here for anything joyful.
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.