Warning: spoilers ahead for the November 1 episode of Grey’s Anatomy, called “Flowers Grow Out of My Grave.”
Now in its fifteenth season, Grey’s Anatomy has killed off a whole bunch of characters, to the point that fans have to be nervous whenever news breaks that an actor is departing the series. Season 15 revealed that at least one more death is on the way: Meredith’s estranged father, Thatcher. In “Flowers Grow Out of My Grave,” the show found a touching way to bring back many characters who died in seasons past, and many fans undoubtedly needed to break out the tissues. Here’s how it happened.
At the end of “Flowers Grow Out of My Grave,” Meredith was visited by visions of loved ones who had passed away. Now, fans don’t need to worry that this is a Denny situation and Meredith is seeing dead people because of a brain tumor. No, she was visited by her friends who died because she spent the episode treating a patient whose family was celebrating the Day of the Dead, prompting Meredith to think back on those she loved and lost.
As she walked down the hallway of the hospital, Meredith spotted George, who was one of the first really big deaths of Grey’s Anatomy. Her mom was present with a smile, as was Lexie. Mark turned up as well, and of course Derek got a moment. Even her beloved dog Doc got an appearance.
If none of that was enough to get longtime fans reaching for the tissue box, the song that played over the scene might have done the trick. The song was none other than a Spanish-language version of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars,” which has been used many times over the 15 seasons so far. Grey’s Anatomy returned showrunner Krista Vernoff explained how the scene came about, saying this:
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 because we’re actually airing on the same day. I loved the idea because after 15 seasons, it’s exciting to be airing on a holiday we’ve never done an episode about — and because it’s the holiday of the community that is being attacked in our country right now by our government and misrepresented. The holiday is delightful. I had just seen Coco with my daughter — whose name is Coco — 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. This was one of our first ideas at the beginning of the season. Kiley wrote this beautiful episode and I spent weeks in post with the visual effects team actualizing that sequence.
As it turns out, Grey’s Anatomy embraced Day of the Dead because the episode happened to air on the correct date and writer Kiley Donovan had the idea to embrace it for the show. It can’t be easy for a show that has been on the air for so many years to cover new ground, and a Day of the Dead episode certainly hadn’t been done by Grey’s Anatomy before. In fact, few shows have ever done a Day of the Dead episode.
Meredith certainly has lost enough people over the years that there were plenty of people who could have made a cameo from beyond the grave. In fact, Krista Vernoff actually cut a few dead characters that were once slated to appear in the episode. Denny Duquette, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan long before he picked up a baseball bat and started bashing faces in on The Walking Dead, was originally on the list of the dead to turn up in Flowers Grow Out of My Grave.”
Kyle Chandler was once slated to turn up in the episode as well. Chandler played Dylan, who is probably better known as “bomb squad guy” and blew up into pink mist after a bomb was taken out of a patient. Dylan and Denny ultimately didn’t make the cut. According to Krista Vernoff, she didn’t believe it was emotionally realistic for those two characters to be visiting Meredith on the Day of the Dead when they would have had more important people in their lives. Maybe Denny visited Izzie off-screen somewhere.
Although some of the appearances from dead characters were clearly pulled from memorable past episodes, others were more difficult to place. Krista Vernoff went on in her chat with THR to say this about how she compiled the dearly departed:
When an actor leaves the show there is paperwork put into place that allows us to use clips. We have some iconic footage that the fans will immediately recognize: That shot of Derek, the fans who have watched the show multiple times know what episode that is from. There are iconic moments and shots that we pulled from moments that actually never aired on the show — like Mark with Derek — and then there’s newly shot stuff with Ellis and Doc the dog.
Grey’s Anatomy didn’t have to bring all the actors back for new footage in order to include their characters in Meredith’s bittersweet walk down memory lane, and longtime fans got to enjoy a few brief moments of some of their favorite characters back within the walls of the hospital. At the very least, it was nice to see some of them looking a lot better than they did when they died. Characters on Grey’s Anatomy generally don’t get to go gently into the night.
There really couldn’t have been a better song to use for this sequence than “Chasing Cars.” The song has been used many times on Grey’s Anatomy, and almost always in scenes that are seriously emotional. The show did mix things up this time around by using a cover of “Chasing Cars.” If it’s not a cover you were familiar with, there was a good reason.
Krista Vernoff revealed the story behind the Spanish-language version of “Chasing Cars” like this:
We were trying to figure out what song would play over that sequence and Kiley suggested playing an iconic Grey’s song and having it be covered in Spanish. That was her idea. As soon as she said it, I said, “Oh my God it has to be ‘Chasing Cars!'” I mean how many times has that song played? It’s always our go-to. It felt like the most beautiful way to pay tribute to the history of the show while keeping alive the culture that we were celebrating with this episode. We commissioned that song. It’s by Moon & Sun, featuring Israel De Corcho.
Grey’s Anatomy commissioned a special version of “Chasing Cars” for the very special sequence, and the music combined with the long-dead characters guarantees that this is a scene that won’t be forgotten. The show has come a very long way since characters like George died, but this episode proved that even the long-dead aren’t forgotten.
Tune in to ABC on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET for new episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Thatcher Grey doesn’t have much time left, so you’ll probably want to prepare yourself for another death. He’s not a huge character whose death will force Grey’s Anatomy to reinvent itself, but it will still make a difference to Meredith, estranged or not. Maybe she really will need a good romance this season. For some additional viewing options, check out our fall TV premiere schedule.