The ABC medical drama, which has been set at Seattle Grace since the show's first season, will split its time between two locations in Season 9.
The harrowing and tragic season finale saw the Stranded Six — Meredith (Ellen Pompeo), Derek (Patrick Dempsey), Cristina (Sandra Oh), Mark (Eric Dane), Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) and Lexie (Chyler Leigh) — crash-land in the mountains, with Lexie subsequently succumbing to her injuries. (Apparently, she might not be the only one to die since Eric Dane is also exiting the series sometime next season). Even though there seemed to be no hope on the horizon in the closing moments of the finale, the doctors will eventually get rescued since the Season 9 premiere will jump ahead two to three months, executive producer Shonda Rhimes tells TVGuide.com. But that doesn't mean we won't see what transpired in those mountains. Get the scoop from Rhimes below, including Derek's new troubles, Bailey's wedding (!) and Calzona's fate:
You left the doctors in the woods without rescue! Will there be a time jump next season or are you picking up right where you left off?
Shonda Rhimes: We're doing something really interesting that we've never really done before. As you know, I try to reinvent every season. When we start the season, we're two to three months in the future and we're well settled into the year for these doctors. We're watching them do what they're going to do. They're located where they're going to be located, things are happening. You see the aftermath of what happened. You're left with some questions as to how this happened and "Why is this the way it is?" and "Why is that the way it is?" Then, in the second episode of the season, we start back in the woods. We go from there and you see what happens. Then ensuing episodes, you're back to regular time and we're back on our timeline.
What can you talk about in regards to the structure of this season? At the end of last season, the doctors planned to take jobs elsewhere, so are we seeing a show that's just set at Seattle Grace or are we seeing a show that is set at many hospitals?
Rhimes: We're seeing a show set at Seattle Grace and someplace else. What's interesting to me is that I didn't want us to feel like you're coming back and magically everyone is back home. You understand why some people stayed and why some people left. There are some very clear reasons what happened. It's very challenging playing an entirely separate story line in another location.
Can you tell us where this location is?
Rhimes: I don't want to say where the location is because that would be too spoilery. It's a hospital. When we come back at the beginning of the season, some of our doctors are in different locations, more than one of them, and some of our doctors are preparing to leave for different locations.
We've seen the doctors deal with PTSD after the shooting. How will this be different from what we saw before?
Rhimes: What's interesting to me about what we're doing this time is that it's not that we've traumatized them by having a plane crash like when they were shot. There are real physical aftereffects for all of our people that they're dealing with. More importantly, we're not coming back to a bunch of traumatized people, though flying is pretty much out of the question for any of them. I would say Meredith is an ultimate survivor. She's been through the shooting, and now she's been through the plane crash. Their attitudes are very different. They already have the coping mechanisms in place, so it's just a very different attitude.
Still, Meredith is dealing with the loss of her sister Lexie. How has Meredith changed?
Rhimes: You're going to find a very different person. We really talked about it a lot and really worked to figure out what she would be like when we came back to her. As importantly, they've gone from being residents to being Attendings. Now they're in charge. They're absolutely in charge of their own destinies and in charge of their own people. They're now on a footing with all these doctors who they used to work under so you're watching what that means for them, all of them.
Surgeons need their hands! We saw Derek severely injure his hand in the accident. How will we see him dealing with that?
Rhimes: Any of the people we saw injured are not going to be A-OK when we come back, that's not what we're doing. What's interesting for me is we really planned the idea that we're going to watch what happens to a doctor who can temporarily no longer perform surgery...When Burke injured his hand, it was very much about keeping it a secret. It's not about that. This is really, very clearly who you blame when your hand is injured like this. And what do you do and how do you overcome this? Derek is being pretty heroic about it, which is interesting.
What can you tell us about Cristina's journey next season? Are she and Owen (Kevin McKidd) really over or are there attempts to reconcile?
Rhimes: I've dubbed this the season of romance purposefully. I feel like one of the things we're going to be seeing this season is Cristina and Owen finding their way back to each other. It's not going to be easy and it's not going to be quick, but I think it's going to be really beautiful. I'm happy because I love them, so I'm excited.
Will Alex (Justin Chambers) feel any sort of guilt over Arizona taking his place on the plane?
Rhimes: Yes, there is some very dark stuff happening for him in terms of that idea. He's trying not to feel guilty and trying not to feel a sense of responsibility, but he does.
You're saying it's the season of romance, so does that mean we'll see more Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona romance? Just hoping Jessica Capshaw is coming back.
Rhimes: I don't want to say anything about that yet. The first episode would have to air and then I'm happy to talk about it, but I don't want to say anything yet.
What can you tell us about the state of Ben and Bailey's (Chandra Wilson) relationship next season since Jason George is on Mistresses?
Rhimes: We're still using Ben. Jason George is still showing up for work. We're very grateful to Mistresses for the loan. They're letting us continue to tell stories about Ben and Bailey. They're having a great deal of fun. A happy Bailey is delightful and very funny. It's interesting because in the finale, we originally shot a scene in which Ben showed up and said, "We're going to City Hall right now and getting married." We played it out, but I cut it from the show because there was something about it that I felt like denied the audience. They're not technically married at this moment, but we'll probably see that happen and really enjoy it.
How does April (Sarah Drew) fit into the world of Grey's Anatomy now?
Rhimes: You won't see April Kepner bartending at Joe's bar. She has a part to play in the world and there are some surprising moments to show us how that happens. April Kepner goes home. How she comes back is pretty charming and interesting and it happens in the first episode.
Grey's Anatomy returns Thursday, Sept. 27 at 9/8c on ABC.