Blasts from the past! Grey’s Anatomy pulled off a stunner for its its Season 17 premiere, getting Patrick Dempsey to make a McDreamy return to the long-running hospital drama five-and-a-half years after his character, Derek Shepherd, was killed off. And earlier in the series, another character reentered the plot after nearly seven years away.
From those two docs to a superhero sidekick to a certain paper company manager, here are the TV characters who made memorable reprise performances after their characters died or otherwise left the narrative. (Spoilers ahead for the shows mentioned!)
Derek Shepherd, Grey’s Anatomy
Patrick Dempsey made his first live appearance on Grey’s since 2015 in Season 17’s premiere, greeting wife Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) in a dream after she suffered an undisclosed ailment and passed out in the hospital parking lot.
Preston Burke, Grey’s Anatomy
Isaiah Washington, who hadn’t appeared on the ABC show since its third season, guest-starred as Dr. Preston Burke in a Season 10 episode to help close out the storyline of his ex-fiancée, Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh).
Audrey Boudreau, 24
As played by Kim Raver (who also returned to Grey’s as Teddy Altman after several years away), government official Audrey Boudreau recovered from her Season 6 catatonia and came to the fore of the Fox action drama’s storyline in Season 9 a.k.a. Live Another Day.
Sam Seaborn, The West Wing
Rob Lowe’s deputy White House communications director character departed the NBC drama in Season 4 to run for Congress, but he came back to D.C. at the end of the final season after Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) asked him to be the deputy chief of staff for the next president.
Will Tippin, Alias
Bradley Cooper played the lovelorn college best friend of Jennifer Garner’s Sydney Bristow in the first two seasons of the ABC spy drama, and he got roped back into the action in the show’s 100th episode after longtime villain Anna Espinosa (Gina Torres) injected a bomb into his neck.
Pete Ross, Smallville
Speaking of best friends, Clark Kent’s childhood pal — played by Sam Jones III — moved out of Smallville to protect the future Superman (Tom Welling) at the end this WB drama’s third season. But he comes back in a product placement-heavy Season 7 episode that turned out to be one big Stride gum commercial.
Michael Scott, The Office
After leaving the NBC comedy in Season 7, Steve Carell brought his dunderhead Dunder Mifflin manager back to Scranton to be the best man at Dwight’s (Rainn Wilson) wedding… and to sneak in one last “That’s what she said.”
Doug Ross and Carol Hathaway, ER
George Clooney hung up Dr. Ross’ stethoscope in the NBC medical drama’s fifth season, and Julianna Margulies did the same for Nurse Hathaway a season later, but both actors guest-starred in the show’s final season to help with a transplant case.
Elena Gilbert, The Vampire Diaries
After skipping two seasons of the CW teen drama, Nina Dobrev returned in the show’s series finale to resurrect Elena from a magical spell and to give her a happily-ever-ever with Damon (Ian Somerhalder)—both in their lives and in the hereafter!