Spoilers ahead for Grey's Anatomy Season 17, Episode 5. For the first time since Grey's Anatomy Season 17 premiered, the Dec. 10 episode did not include any new visitors to Meredith's beach. Instead, the episode followed the groundwork laid when Richard and Bailey appeared. This time, the very much alive Bailey joined a coronavirus-stricken Meredith (still unconscious, but steadily improving) alone on the imaginary sand, further fueling theories on what the beach represents.
As Grey's EPs Meg Marinis and Andy Reaser recently explained to Bustle, the beach's meaning has intentionally been left up to interpretation. "The beach exists in this space where, depending on the way you watch the show, you might feel like Meredith's in a magical afterlife kind of place," Reaser said. "If you are a cold and clinical person, you might think this is purely manifesting in her mind ... It's a space that can mean a lot of things. And because she's seeing people and hearing people and talking to people that may or may not be there in reality, we really want to preserve the mystery around it."
What's less of a mystery is that the beach will exist throughout the season, and fans have several theories about what could happen and who might show up next before the truth is revealed. Read them below.
Meredith Chooses To Leave the Beach
The Grey's fall finale preview shows Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) seemingly awaking from her COVID-19 coma, and fans who believe the beach is an entryway to the afterlife think that the decision to return to the land of the living is hers. Some pointed to her conversations with Derek, in which he mentioned she wasn't ready to join him yet, and those with George, when he said that he wouldn't have left his life if given the choice.
The Beach Is All Just a Dream
While speaking about Meredith's diagnosis, Patrick Dempsey referred to his character visiting Meredith in a "COVID dream." Some fans took his words literally, leading them to speculate that Meredith will wake up and it will all have been nothing more significant than a manifestation from her subconscious a la Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. That would also explain why Richard and Bailey appear there as they're speaking to Meredith at her bedside; she's simply seeing them as their voices.
Lexie Will Return
Just prior to George's return in Episode 4, Lexie Grey was a top Twitter trending topic, as fans were convinced she'd be the second deceased character Meredith would reunite with on Grey's. Of course that didn't come to fruition — yet. One viewer spotted two more people further down the beach behind Derek during the Season 17 premiere, and if that was intentional, it stands to reason that there is at least one more visitor awaiting Meredith. Given that another fan noticed that Chyler Leigh recently followed the Grey's cast again on social media, all hope for a sisterly reunion is certainly not lost.
Lexie Will Have Company
It makes sense that Lexie and her love Mark "McSteamy" Sloan (Eric Dane) would be together in the afterlife, and one fan took notice of a particular Twitter exchange between Ellen Pompeo and Dane. After Pompeo wrote that she missed her former costar in May, he replied, "Let's go for a walk — I'll find you." The conversation likely pre-dated showrunner Krista Vernoff's idea for the beach storyline, but anything is possible, and where better to go for a reunion stroll than the magical Grey's beach? Another Reddit user hoped that the recent incorporation of living characters would mean Maggie (Kelly McCreary) will appear, making for "such a powerful combination."
Of course, it's also possible that there are no more returns planned or that Meredith might even die and remain on the "beach" for eternity. Either way, fans will likely have more answers in Grey's upcoming fall finale before beginning the long wait until the spring premiere.