Guide to “Grey’s Anatomy” in 2021: Seasons 17 & 18

  • Aug 2, 2021
  • Daniel Tynski
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The longest-running medical drama, “Grey’s Anatomy,” premiered its 17th season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Incorporating personal protective equipment (PPE) into most scenes, taking health precautions to keep the cast and their families safe, and with the appearance of beloved characters, season 17 was anything but usual. 

In this guide, we’ll recap key moments of season 17. Plus, we’ll explore cast members and their roles in the season. Then, see what we know so far about season 18 of “Grey’s Anatomy.”

What Happened Last Season?

Season 17 of the critically acclaimed series, “Grey’s Anatomy,” aired on Nov. 12, 2020, and ran until June 3, 2021. Like other seasons, season 17 was jam-packed with love, drama, and heartbreak; however, this season was different. While most seasons have over 20 episodes, season 17 only had 17 episodes. It also ended in June instead of the typical May season finale. And Krista Vernoff wasn’t credited as the writer for a single episode for the first time in the show’s history. 

When showrunner Krista Vernoff decided not to make the season about the pandemic, writers and doctors persuaded her to change her mind. The pandemic has changed the face of medicine forever, and the “Grey’s Anatomy” writing team and medical advisers felt it was their duty to depict the pandemic. 

Production of the season was greatly impacted by COVID-19. Epidemiologists, health and safety experts, and unions were consulted to write the script. Actors were tested for the virus three times a week. Paper scripts were traded in for digital scripts on iPads. Practically everything you can think of changed so the “Grey’s Anatomy” team could safely film season 17.

Season Overview (Spoiler Alert)

Hit hard by the pandemic, Seattle medical staff at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital became the city’s most robust COVID-19 treatment center. Doctors, nurses, and other medical staff distanced themselves from their family and friends to ensure their safety and had to adapt to the “new normal.” However, even when social distancing and taking the utmost precautions, important key characters contracted the COVID-19 virus. 

Meredith Grey, who contracted the virus, was treated for most of the season. She contracted a severe case of the virus and was in and out of consciousness. For this reason, most scenes with Meredith Grey took place on a dream-like beach. While she was sick, she talked to key characters in earlier seasons of the series who had already died. Walking on the beach with Derek Shepherd, catching up with George O’Malley, and seeing Mark Sloan and Lexie Grey together, she talked about the possibility of dying.

The entire season was full of suspense. Viewers were unsure if Meredith would stay with Derek or make it back to her children, Carina DeLuca and Miranda Bailey grieved at the loss of loved ones, and Jackson Avery chose to leave Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital. Keep reading to uncover more key moments from season 17 of “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Key Moments (Spoiler Alert)

Season 17 of “Grey’s Anatomy” was filled with twists and turns. This season was especially emotional as it focused on the pandemic, the mistreatment of Black people, and human trafficking. 

  • Meredith contracted COVID-19: When Meredith Grey contracted the virus working in the COVID-19 ICU, she slipped in and out of awareness. During this season, her close friends, family, and colleagues fought tirelessly to treat her. As she contracted the virus relatively early on, knowledge of the disease was constantly evolving. 
  • Miranda Bailey lost her mother to COVID-19: Separated from her family and grieving her mother, Miranda Bailey stepped into action. Turning the hospital into a COVID-19 treatment center, Bailey worked vigorously.
  • Maggie Pierce became outspoken about the medical treatment of Black people: Maggie, frustrated by the astonishing number of Black people contracting the illness and disproportionately affected and dying from the virus, worked hard to be the change. Maggie loses her patience and learns to vent her frustrations per advice from Catherine Fox. 
  • Amelia Shepherd and Atticus “Link” Lincoln took care of the kids: When Meredith was in the hospital, Amelia and Link were still learning to be new parents while also watching their nieces and nephews. Caring for a newborn and their nieces and nephew, as well as worrying about Meredith, caused the new parents to be overwhelmed. 
  • Andrew DeLuca identifies a human trafficking victim: After identifying a potential victim of human trafficking, people aren’t quick to believe him. The victim is saved, but her captor wants revenge and stabs him. 
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Cast Members With Leading Roles

Last season’s critical characters included: 

  • Meredith Grey: Grey, played by Ellen Pompeo, spent most of the season being treated for COVID-19. Scenes with Grey took place on a beach where she connected with loved ones. Once she’s discharged from the hospital, she deals with the impacts of COVID-19 on her daily life and takes up a new role of training residents. 
  • Miranda Bailey: Bailey lost her mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, to COVID-19. Despite her OCD, she continued to run Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital during the pandemic. 
  • Zola Grey: Zola, being Meredith’s oldest child, played a larger role in this season. She wanted to know what was happening to her mother. In season 17, viewers got to know Zola more and get more insight into her relationship with her younger siblings, Bailey and Ellis. 
  • Richard Webber: Webber returned to Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital after suffering cobalt poisoning from a hip replacement. He became Meredith’s health care proxy and officiated his birth daughter’s, Maggie Pierce, wedding. 
  • Maggie Pierce: After reconnecting with Winston Ndugu at a conference, the two started a long-distance relationship. While they video-called at the beginning of the season, Winston arrived in Seattle and the two fell even more in love. After meeting each other’s family, they became engaged and got married. 
  • Amelia Shepherd: Caring for a newborn and her sister-in-law’s children while her partner battled to stay sober was difficult. Her sobriety was tested, but she remained clean. She also played an impactful role in helping Teddy through her struggle with PTSD. 
  • Atticus Link: Link and Amelia have a child together. Learning to be a new father and helping with Meredith’s kids while dealing with the stress of the pandemic was difficult for him. He drank alcohol to cope but stopped after a conversation with Amelia. Learning to take care of multiple kids inspired Atticus to tell Amelia he wanted more kids and to get married. When she declined the proposal, he left to live with Jo. 
  • Jo Wilson: Once she helped deliver a baby, Jo came to the realization that surgery wasn’t inspiring anymore. She decided to switch specialties to pediatrics and became attached to an infant named Luna. Luna’s mother died, and Jo wanted to foster her. After her application was rejected due to her background, Link said he would foster Luna with the goal of Jo eventually getting full custody. 
  • Cormac Hayes: When Luna, an infant in the ICU was born from an abdominal pregnancy, Cormac worked closely with Jo. Then, when Jo switched specialties, he played a key role in helping her with pediatrics. During this season, Cormac helped support Meredith while she was ill and also participated in a police brutality protest with his children. He was injured during the protest but recovered.
  • Jackson Avery: Avery, growing more and more outraged by the treatment of Black people by health care workers and cops, decided he needed to do more. As he treated the injured from police brutality protests, Avery pivoted and decided to become head of the Catherine Fox Foundation. After speaking with his ex-wife April Kepner, he moved to Boston with her and their daughter Harriet. 
  • Tom Koracick: Also falling seriously ill to COVID-19, Koracick struggled with survivor’s guilt. Dealing with the fallout from his affair with Teddy Altman, Koracick asked Jackson Avery to let him come to Boston with him. Reluctantly, Avery allowed Koracick to join him at the Catherine Fox Foundation. At the end of the season, viewers also learned that Koracick bought Jo Wilson’s shares of the hospital, leaving him as a partial owner of Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital. 
  • Owen Hunt: Finding out that Teddy cheated on him with Koracick, Owen canceled their wedding. In addition to finding out about the affair, Hunt learned that Allison was Teddy’s girlfriend — although she didn’t tell him this before naming their daughter Allison. By the end of season 17, Hunt forgave Teddy and the two became engaged again. 
  • Teddy Altman: After Owen accidentally received a voicemail of Teddy and Tom Koracick hooking up, their wedding was canceled. In addition to battling the aftermath of her affair, she also faced PTSD at the loss of DeLuca. Recovering from the trauma was no easy feat, but she returned and ultimately played a pivotal role in saving Meredith Grey’s life. 
  • Levi Schmitt: Schmitt began hooking up with his ex, Nico, as a way to relieve stress at the start of the pandemic. As time went on, their relationship blossomed, and they got back together. When Nico asked Levi to move in with him, Levi turned him down. Living in Jo’s apartment, Levi was a supportive friend when Jo wanted to switch specialties. Schmitt also gained confidence this season by performing a life-saving procedure in a hyperbaric chamber. 
  • Andrew DeLuca: DeLuca discovered that his patient was a sex-trafficking victim. However, most of the Grey-Sloan staff believed he was facing a mental health crisis, and they didn’t believe him. When DeLuca noticed the girl’s captor in the hospital, he went after her. In the “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff, “Station 19,” viewers get a closer look at the altercation in which DeLuca is stabbed. Not long after, he dies at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital. 
  • Carina DeLuca: Grieving the loss of her brother, Andrew, Carina DeLuca is comforted by her fiancée Maya. Even though she was grieving, Carina became Jo Wilson’s mentor as Jo changed specialties.
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Former Cast Members Who Returned

Season 17 of “Grey’s Anatomy” was different from seasons passed, as beloved characters were brought back from the dead. Shonda Rhimes had the unique opportunity to incorporate fan-favorite characters into the script to comfort and talk to Meredith as she drifted between life and death. It’s unclear if Meredith only dreamed she interacted with the characters or if she actually met them in the afterlife — Rhimes left that up for interpretation. 

Here’s everyone that returned to Meredith’s “dream beach”: 

  • Derek Shepherd: McDreamy visited Meredith on episodes two, three, and eight of the season. It was Patrick Dempsey’s first time making an appearance on the show in six years. Laughing as if no time passed, the couple chatted about their kids as they walked the beach. 
  • George O’Malley: George, played by T.R. Knight, returned in episode four, giving Meredith (and fans) the opportunity to say goodbye to him. 
  • Lexie Grey: Meredith’s younger sister, Lexie, returned to the beach with Mark Sloan on episode 10. Lexie Grey, played by Chyler Leigh, pushed Meredith to keep fighting and live. 
  • Mark Sloan: Sloan, otherwise known as McSteamy, visited the beach with Lexie. Eric Dane, who played Mark Sloan, joined Lexie in persuading Meredith to keep fighting. 
  • Andrew DeLuca: DeLuca, played by Giacomo Gianniotti, said goodbye to Meredith on the dream beach. He arrived with his mother Lucia to the beach after passing away earlier in season 17.

What to Know About the Upcoming Season

Season 17 left off at a point that multiple storytelling possibilities could emerge for season 18. You can expect season 18 of “Grey’s Anatomy” to delve into world events and the lives of Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital staff. In this portion of the guide, we’ll get into what you can expect for the new season. 

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When Will the Next Season of “Grey’s Anatomy” Start?

The next season of “Grey’s Anatomy,” season 18, is set to premiere on Sept. 30, 2021. Season 18 will come on air every Thursday at 9 p.m. EST on ABC. 

What Things Could Happen During the Next Season?

Although the COVID-19 pandemic will still be part of the next season, it won’t likely be the focus, as it was for season 17. As many people are getting vaccinated, states are loosening restrictions, and time has passed, it’s likely the virus won’t consume the series. However, since the pandemic is still taking place, especially in health care, it will likely play a role in the upcoming season — especially with the recent delta variant. 

Season 18 will likely focus on Meredith Grey’s new role as residency director, Jo Wilson’s new role as a single mom, Amelia and Link’s tumultuous relationship, Teddy and Owen’s wedding, and Maggie and Winston being married. Viewers should also expect to hear updates on Avery’s plight to revolutionize medicine at the Catherine Fox Foundation in Boston. Additionally, the season will likely touch on Tom Koracick’s recent role as a shareholder of the hospital. 

Since season 17, avid Grey’s fans have been wondering when the final season would happen. It wasn’t until a last-minute deal that season 17 wasn’t the final season. As for season 18, we still don’t know much. Krista Vernoff and Ellen Pompeo have both expressed they’d be OK wrapping up the series; however, neither seem to be jumping to finish the show. Since ABC still seems on board with continuing the series, viewers can expect to keep watching.

Where to Watch the Next Season of “Grey’s Anatomy”

Watch “Grey’s Anatomy” on ABC at 9 p.m. EST on Thursday nights. If you don’t have cable, you can livestream new episodes on Hulu + Live TV or YouTube TV. For those who don’t mind waiting a day to catch up, watch new episodes the day after they premiere on Hulu or eight days after they air on the ABC app. 

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