How Did The ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Characters Return For The Day Of The Dead Episode? Here’s A Full Explainer

After 15 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, the show has collected quite a few character deaths. This was hugely highlighted when some of the most noteworthy ones visited Meredith during Grey’s Anatomy‘s Day of the Dead-themed episode on Nov. 1. In fact, not even all of the show’s dead fan faves made an appearance and there were still six who did thanks to a little TV magic. Those Grey’s Anatomy characters returned for the episode, despite the fact that the actors behind them did not. Still, even just seeing old footage of them made most fans audibly gasp or tear up. (Guilty of both.)

It’s just been so long since we’ve seen George or Mark or Lexie or Derek or Ellis or DOC THE DOG. (Bringing Meredith’s dog back for a moment was a low emotional blow). It was bittersweet to see their familiar faces walking around the hospital with Meredith. And Grey’s showrunner Krista Vernoff explained to The Hollywood Reporter how the sentimental scene came to be.

“When we got our air date, which was before we had our season planned, the writer of tonight’s episode, Kiley Donovan, asked to do a Day of the Dead episode,” Vernoff said. “The holiday is delightful … and the idea that our loved ones who died can come visit us on this one day of the year was moving. I suggested Meredith’s dead people come back and visit her in this episode.”

They came out in full force. George ran up behind Meredith and called her name (she couldn’t hear him), Lexie sat behind the desk and gave a friendly smile, Meredith’s mom offered an approving glance, Doc the dog ran alongside Meredith down the hallway, Derek said hello (which Meredith did seem to hear), and Mark looked on smiling. The emotional scene was accompanied by a Spanish version of “Chasing Cars,” a Grey’s Anatomy staple.

Vernoff told THR that they pulled off the special effects thanks to an archive of footage from the show.

As for the Derek clip — the only one that actually seemed to make its way from the spirit world and into the real world for Mer to hear — Vernoff said that came from a classic Derek scene.

Twitter user @_katesss astutely noted that it was the footage from Derek’s elevator proposal.

Two other characters apparently almost made the cut for the scene — Denny and the bomb squad guy played by Kyle Chandler (justice for the bomb squad guy.) But Vernoff told THR that those appearances ultimately would have felt too gimmicky.

“It just felt like a stunt because I didn’t believe in the emotional reality that Denny and Dylan were visiting Meredith on the Day of the Dead,” she said. “I figured they’d be visiting their own families. Denny is visiting Izzie, if anybody. It felt like a clip show as opposed to here are Meredith’s beloved people and dog that she’s lost coming for a visit.”

Vernoff confirmed to THR that this scene was a one-off for the episode and the holiday, and fans shouldn’t expect to see anymore CGI versions of these beloved characters. But at least we (and Meredith) got to see them once more, even if only for a moment.

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