As Grey’s Anatomy heads into season 13, the ABC medical drama is shifting focus back to the remaining original characters, Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Alex (Justin Chambers) included. The duo are the last of the Fab Five, with their friendship only strengthening over time — so much so that many viewers have rooted for the pair to actually get together, especially in the wake of Derek’s death.
“I was not surprised,” executive producer Shonda Rhimes tells EW of fans wanting to see an Alex and Mer relationship. “We did the dinner party episode, and Meredith and Alex sat on the floor in her bedroom, and they had that great, amazing scene together, and I watched that scene and I thought, ‘Oh, people are going to start ‘shipping Meredith and Alex,’ because there’s such a sense of comfort and nostalgia. They’re easy and wonderful together.”
But Rhimes recognizes that not everyone would want to see the friends together. “If you talk to Ellen and Justin they’ll go, ‘Ew!’ because they’re like brother and sister,” Rhimes says. “But I think it’s because those two actual people have 13 years of history together. They’re very, very much intertwined; they’re family. So it feels really easy like family, and there’s something beautiful about that.”
Chambers concurs: “It did surprise me, because I never saw that happening. I know we did an episode where it was like ‘What if?’ so we got to see a little bit of it, but yeah, it’s surprising. It’s interesting. Hey, this is Shondaland, you know? Anything’s possible!”
With that in mind, season 13 will shine a light on Meredith and Alex’s friendship in the wake of Alex shockingly beating DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti) within an inch of his life, believing the intern was making a move on Jo (Camilla Luddington) in the finale. “Anytime someone who you’re very close to does something really out of character it rocks your whole world, because you think you know someone so well,” Pompeo says. “It’s really damaging on so many levels. An interesting storyline to play this year is not really knowing who Alex is. You think people have come so far. There’s that adage that people don’t change, but people do change. I believe people change — some people can change, some people can’t, and then some people change and then revert back, so there’s all different shades of gray. It’ll be fun to play.”
For Alex, he will regress to the gruff character of the early days. “People who are hurt revert to their less mature selves a lot of the time, and I think that he is hurt and he doesn’t quite know how to cope with that,” Rhimes says. “What I love is that he and Meredith are trying to get through it together, and she’s trying to take care of him, and he’s trying to take care of her, and at times they don’t appreciate each other’s methods.”
“She’s covering for him,” Chambers adds. “Blood’s thicker than water, but they’re not even blood, they are like siblings. I think she’ll do the right thing, but if Alex does, that’s another question. Alex is pretty complicated at times.”
All that said, would Rhimes ever consider pairing Meredith and Alex on a romantic level? “I’ve learned to never say never at this point,” Rhimes says. “I always thought the show would end at season 2, 3, 4 or 5. So every time I would say, ‘This is definitely going to be what’s happening,’ then we keep going and the story grows. Then everyone gets mad because I said something was definitely going to happen. So I’m never going to say never at this point.”
Grey’s Anatomy returns Thursday, Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.