'Grey's Anatomy': Has Meredith Found Her New McDreamy?

Grey's Anatomy S12E23 Still 3 - Publicity - H 2016
Kelsey McNeal/ABC

Grey's Anatomy S12E23 Still 3 - Publicity - H 2016

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from "At Last," the penultimate episode of Grey's Anatomy's 12th season.]

Has Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) found her new McDreamy on ABC's Grey's Anatomy?

After months of speculation that Martin Henderson's Dr. Nathan Riggs was brought in to be Meredith's new love interest following the death of her husband, Derek "McDreamy" Shepard (Patrick Dempsey), the Shondaland medical drama may have reignited that debate during Thursday's episode.

The penultimate episode of season 12 ended with a massive twist when a jealous Meredith hooked up with Nathan in her car. The surprising reveal came after an episode in which Meredith was routinely annoyed with Derek's sister, Amelia (Caterina Scorsone), and her suddenly fast-tracked romance with Owen (Kevin McKidd). During a surgery, Owen tells Amelia that he just bought a house and the couple jokingly discuss getting married and having children — with onlookers including Amelia's sister Maggie (Kelly McCreary) seemingly shocked that the couple may have just cemented their future.

For Meredith, the irritation comes after she sees Amelia (finally) happy and moving forward with her life — including getting Derek's surgeries and scoring her own dream home with Owen and their (future) children. Meredith is bitter about Derek's kid sister having the life that was meant for her late husband and winds up taking her anger out on her colleagues (and family).

What's more, everyone in the hospital is calling her on her behavior — including Alex (Justin Chambers), who inspired by Amelia and Owen decides to propose to Jo (Camilla Luddington) a third time. As it turned out, Alex wasn't the only one proposing during the episode as Amelia — inspired by Stephanie (Jerrika Hinton) losing Kyle (Wilmer Valderrama) during a "hail mary" surgery — proposes to Owen, setting up a wedding in next week's season finale. (Click here for more from McKidd and Scorsone about the wedding-centric finale.)

Upset, Meredith turns to Riggs — who also calls her on her baggage and encourages her to to be happy and accept what's happening around her instead of being jealous. It's then that they wind up sleeping together in Meredith's car.

So is Nathan being set up to become Meredith's new McDreamy?

"It's unfair to Patrick and Martin to call Riggs the new McDreamy," Pompeo told The Hollywood Reporter during a recent visit to the show's L.A. set. "There will never be another McDreamy; there is not another Patrick Dempsey. It was a huge loss. No one will ever replace him. We can only move forward and change. Right now, thematically, you get one great love in your life. You don't get two. You get other people that you like but you get one great love of your lifetime. And if you're lucky enough to marry that person, you can't be too greedy. You get one great love in your life. … When someone dies, there's another element to that. The guilt — there's no replacing them. I'm not sure where that storyline is going but it'll make for some juicy drama."

While it's unclear what the nature of Meredith and Nathan's relationship will be like post-hookup, Pompeo thinks Riggs has one thing that her last fling, Will, didn't.

"Meredith felt so guilty about Will because she liked him so much and her night with him was so amazing that she really felt something and she felt incredibly guilty about liking someone that much — someone new, the first person she dates she actually fell for," Pompeo said of Meredith's first post-McDreamy love connection this season. "That really scared her. Maybe because she's afraid to have another love — she feels guilty about that. So Riggs is a super-safe guy because everyone hates him; no one can ever know about it and she knows she's never going to fall in love with him. She can't date him; it can never be anything serious, so he's safe to just scratch an itch."

For his part, Henderson — who, like Pompeo, is unsure where their storyline is headed — admits he has big shoes to fill for diehard Grey's Anatomy fans who are still mourning McDreamy's death.

"I don't think anyone could ever be the new McDreamy," he told THR on set. "Those are some pretty big shoes to fill. I hope my dynamic with Ellen will be quite different. If they try to make the dynamics of their relationship too similar to what Meredith and Derek had, it's going to feel like rehashing something and that's going to do the audience a disservice."

While Henderson and the rest of Grey Sloan are still waiting to see Nathan's true colors, the actor is happy to fulfill whatever function Riggs is meant to serve on the veteran medical soap.

"Riggs and Meredith's personalities together are really nice and combative and I think it's going to be interesting to see how they negotiate the power struggle of that," Henderson said. "It's that battle of wits, it's a turn-on and it's sexy and fun. It's that Moonlighting way."

Although Meredith was easily able to dismiss Will after their night together, Riggs' position at the hospital will make it hard for the two to ignore their steamy romp — giving the duo an opportunity to explore what is perhaps their biggest shared experience.

"What I imagine is the common bond [between Nathan and Meredith is] they both lost somebody," Henderson said, pointing to the death of Nathan's girlfriend (and Owen's sister) Megan. "That is probably going to be the fertile ground for some kind of intimacy where we will more than likely start to see a little more of the real Riggs and what's underneath all the bravado and charm that they're writing in and his cavalier jokester [personality]. Within Riggs and Meredith's relationship, as the guards come down, that's the kind of color of the character I think we'll start to see. "

As for what's to come in next week's season 12 finale, Pompeo kept her cards close to the vest. "We have a scene in the finale where Meredith lays out what [the hookup] was and he's like, 'OK, I got it.' But it's going to be interesting to see if Riggs remains a bad guy or if they bring him over to the good side."

Further complicating things, Meredith's recently single again sister Maggie has developed a crush on Nathan and confides to Alex that she has feelings for the guy who cheated on Owen's presumed dead sister.

"Maggie and Meredith started out as polar opposites, came together this season and really learned to love and care for each other and understand each other and this is going to be something that I think pushes them apart a bit," McCreary tells THR. Adds Henderson: "It's pretty inevitable that there's going to be some fallout there. Meredith is possibly going to jump to her own conclusions and maybe think that there's more between Maggie and Nathan and maybe be offended that Nathan is jumping around the hospital supposedly with everybody. She may start to view Nathan as that. But there's going to be some explaining to do."

No matter what happens, Henderson is prepared for any potential backlash from the Grey's Anatomy faithful. "To step in and inevitably have people who are going to resist this relationship [with Nathan and Meredith] — and they make themselves pretty vocal about it — I see that as a testament to the love of the show and the passion for it," he said. "So to be part of that conversation is also a real privilege."

What do you think of Nathan and Meredith as a couple? Sound off in the comments section, below. The season 12 finale airs Thursday at 8 p.m. on ABC. Stay tuned to THR's The Live Feed for more coverage.