‘Grey’s Anatomy’: When Was the Last Time Fans Saw Kate Burton as Dr. Ellis Grey?

Grey’s Anatomy killed off many major characters over the years, but ABC’s medical drama often finds creative ways to bring them back into the fold. That’s especially true of Meredith Grey’s (Ellen Pompeo) loved ones, many of whom communicate with her through dreams. This scenario was especially prevalent during Grey’s Anatomy Season 17, which saw Meredith in a coma after contracting COVID-19. While unconscious, she communicated with several former Grey’s Anatomy characters — but not her mother, Dr. Ellis Grey (Kate Burton).

Kate Burton will return as Dr. Ellis Grey in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Season 18

Kate Burton, who plays Meredith Grey's mother on Greys Anatomy, wearing a black blazer and smiling at the camera. Her hair is down and she's standing in front of a white wall.
Kate Burton | Donna Ward/Getty Images

Although Burton’s character doesn’t appear in Grey’s Anatomy Season 17, Meredith’s mother will apparently show up when the series returns this fall. Season 18 kicks off on Sept. 30, and Deadline reports Burton will reprise her role in several of the upcoming episodes.

It’s unclear how the series plans to bring back Dr. Ellis Grey, but if there’s one thing viewers can count on, it’s that the writers have experience coming up with creative ideas. They’ve gone beyond dream communications with the dead before, even exploring an alternate reality where Dr. Ellis Grey’s life turned out differently in the season 8 episode “If/Then.”

When was the last time ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ fans saw Dr. Ellis Grey?

The return of Burton’s character may leave longtime fans wondering when they last saw Dr. Ellis Grey. Despite having a rocky relationship with her daughter, Meredith’s mother plays a significant role in her character trajectory. For one, it’s obvious her own medical career pushed Meredith in the same direction back in Grey’s Anatomy Season 1.

Even with their unideal relationship, Ellis’ death heavily impacted Meredith back in season 3 — so much so that the character has appeared numerous times even after departing the material world. Meredith also named her youngest daughter after her mom, highlighting that things weren’t completely antagonistic between the two.

The last time fans saw Burton as Dr. Ellis Grey was back in Grey’s Anatomy Season 15, when she appeared to Meredith in a dream. The episode “Blood and Water” sees Ellis presenting Meredith with the answer to a question. When Meredith wakes up, she’s determined to figure out what that question is. She spends much of her time attempting to unravel her mom’s message — “the light in the blood” — eventually realizing Ellis was pointing her to a less invasive means of diagnosing patients.

Will season 18 be the ABC medical drama’s final outing?

RELATED: ‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Ellen Pompeo Went Through the ‘Panic-Inducing’ Process of Creating a Meredith Doll for Season 17

Fans have speculated about whether or not Grey’s Anatomy Season 18 will be the show’s final outing, and the return of Dr. Ellis Grey could support the argument that it is. After all, long-running series like this tend to bring back major players during their final go-rounds. Additionally, with Meredith starting her career because of her mother, it’s fitting she’d end her story arc with Ellis present in some way.

During an appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden, Pompeo admitted she’d like to see old characters return before the show comes to an end.

“I’d love to have some of the old cast come back, like the original cast,” she said. “But that probably won’t happen. That would be the most amazing way [to end it].”

Could Burton’s return to Grey’s Anatomy be part of Pompeo’s vision? Fans won’t know for sure until season 18 begins to unravel. Grey’s Anatomy Season 18 premieres on ABC on Sept. 30 at 9 p.m. ET.