Meredith Grey’s (Ellen Pompeo) battle with coronavirus continued during Thursday’s episode, with the surgeon sleeping around the clock as her condition worsened. It wasn’t long before she returned to the beach she’s been dreaming about since her COVID-19 diagnosis. After reuniting with late husband Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) during the first two episodes of season 17, Meredith found George (Knight) on a lifeguard stand.
After acknowledging that what McDreamy already told her — the sand (and ocean) aren’t “real” — George revealed that he checks in on Meredith and her three kids from heaven.
“Your kids. You’ve got great kids. I check in sometimes,” he said.
Knight left Grey’s Anatomy after five seasons in 2009. After his character George died during surgery following a bus accident, the actor opened up about his departure, claiming he and creator Shonda Rhimes had a “gradual breakdown of communication” over the years.
“My five-year experience proved to me that I could not trust any answer that was given [about George],” Knight told Entertainment Weekly at the time. “And with respect, I’m going to leave it at that. … There are a lot of people who would like to be in my position. But in the end, I need to be fulfilled in my work.”
During Thursday’s episode, Meredith told George that he was “devastated” when he died. He corrected her, reminding her that Meredith, Alex (Justin Chambers), Cristina (Sandra Oh) and Izzie (Katherine Heigl) were “cracking up” at his funeral, which fans saw during the season 6 premiere.
“I was devastated. And then? I was OK,” she replied. “Even with Derek, eventually, you go on. And the kids? Would go on.”
George disagreed. “They would, but I think maybe with them it’s different,” he said. “My mom didn’t go on … Not really, not like she used to. Some grief is heavier than other grief. … I just want her to let it go. I want her to know I’m still me, even though she can’t touch me; she can’t see me. But I am still me.”
George later asked Meredith if she still “dances it out” like she used to do with Cristina. “That’s what I miss about being alive,” he admitted.
Back at Grey Sloan Memorial, Richard Weber (James Pickens Jr.) debated how to handle Meredith’s case after Teddy Altman (Kim Raver) recommended they submit her for a clinical trial.
“If you stay here, you might break him,” George told Meredith after she imagined Richard on the beach too. The former chief made the decision to move forward with the trial after Meredith, who was shaking, said George’s name out loud from her hospital bed.
Knight took to Instagram after Thursday’s episode aired, writing, “George O’Malley will always claim my heart. Thank you to Ellen, Chandra [Wilson], Jim, [showrunner] Krista Vernoff and all the familiar faces for once again sharing your beautiful light.”
Knight also opened up to Deadline about the “overwhelming” it was to return to the show.
“It was the ending I never expected and couldn’t possibly have expected, in so many ways. It’s such an awkward position to be put in to be asked that, to be honest, with all due respect, so I will just say in Krista’s hands I feel safe, I feel energized,” he said. “It’s like when you mentioned about that line that seemed like improv. I’m not going to take credit for that. I give credit to Ellen and I give credit to Krista because to write something that can seem like improv, that’s in the writing, too. And that is just a joy to get to interpret.”
Grey’s Anatomy airs on ABC Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET.