'Grey's Anatomy' Welcomes Back a Fourth Fan-Favorite

Ellen Pompeo

Ellen Pompeo

[This story contains spoilers from the April 1 "Breathe" episode of Grey's Anatomy.]

Chyler Leigh wasn't the only familiar face to return to ABC's Grey's Anatomy on Thursday.

Eric Dane, who played Mark "McSteamy" Sloan for more than seven seasons, returned to the Shonda Rhimes-produced medical drama Thursday.

The surprise return reunited Leigh's Lexie Grey with her on-screen love interest, Mark, for the first time since Grey's Anatomy's season eight finale. That episode marked the end of the love affair between Lexie and Mark as the former perished from injuries sustained in a plane crash.

Dane's Mark would be killed off in the season nine premiere as the actor went on to star in TNT's The Last Ship. Thursday's reunion comes after series creator Rhimes previously said that killing off Mark was the only way to guarantee that he and Lexie would be together.

Dane and Leigh become the latest former Grey's stars to return to the series in season 17 as showrunner Krista Vernoff puts the COVID-19 pandemic at the top of the call sheet. Meredith is currently battling covid and is seeing people from her past on the show's magical beach that Vernoff has described as "an in-between place where Meredith can hang out and the dead people she loves can visit her."

Dane and Leigh join T.R. Knight (George) and Patrick Dempsey (Derek) as blasts from the past to return this season.

Check back to The Hollywood Reporter after Grey's Anatomy ends on the East Coast for an interview with Eric Dane about the episode. Until then, here's Mark's last breath on Grey's.