Even after all the devastating and shocking deaths on Grey’s Anatomy, it never gets easier to say goodbye.
On Thursday, audiences watched yet another emotional episode — “The Winner Takes It All” — which revolved around two different characters with cancer: Meredith Grey’s (Ellen Pompeo) father, Thatcher Grey (Jeff Perry), and Catherine Avery (Debbie Allen).
In an exclusive chat with PEOPLE following his character’s passing, the actor spoke about Thatcher’s emotional death, the father and daughter reconnecting, and his experience returning to the Grey’s set.
“Actors are weird creatures. Unlike more sane humans, we seem to enjoy going into the territory that is shaky and most vulnerable,” the Scandal alum tells PEOPLE of what it was like returning for his final scenes. “So, I was really excited by the thought to get to the unresolved.”
The actor also approved of the imperfect farewell between Thatcher and Meredith and enjoyed mending their on-screen relationship, which he describes as having been “fraught by estrangement and regret and some abandonment.”
“Meredith’s final response to me and speaking with such love in my last moments, describing her motherly love, was beautiful,” says Perry, 63. “I thought it was sentimental in the best way. Never a perfect closure, we humans never do that, but it was the best they authentically could have come up with.”
He also admitted that dipping back into Shondaland was “great and deeply comfortably.”
While the characters have had a complicated relationship due to their 20-year estrangement, the talented surgeon decided to visit him during his final moments.
It took former Chief of Surgery at Seattle Grace Hospital Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.) to convince Meredith to go to her father’s side in his final days and support his choice to die comfortably at home.
At first, as teased in an exclusive clip from the medical drama, Meredith was reluctant to enter her dad’s home because of their fractured relationship. After sitting in awkward silence, Thatcher informed his daughter that since the death of her half-sister, Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh), he became devoted to his sobriety and built schools in Zimbabwe.
Thatcher’s life updates triggered Meredith, who responded with anger about how he could stay absent after the pain she had endured in her drama-filled world.
Since the last time he made an appearance in her life, she was almost killed in a plane crash, her husband had died and the hospital almost burned down. “You went and got a whole new life, halfway across the world this time,” she said. “But you didn’t give a damn about the people you left behind.”
Still raw from McDreamy’s death, Meredith confronted Thatcher for never supporting her.
He eventually shocked her by revealing he flew to be by her side after he learned about Derek Shepherd’s car crash, but she was so lost in grief that she didn’t see him at the funeral.
Before Thatcher’s death, the pair shared some great laughs and stories about her three kids. Thatcher admitted he wished he got to be a better grandfather and bought a box full of gifts for her children.
Meredith eventually found closure and he died as she held his head in her hands.
After the heart-wrenching scene aired, Pompeo, 49, revealed her feelings about the death and survival of Catherine Avery, who underwent a very successful surgery.
“This episode is one of our best this year.. so grateful to have this incredible cast our crew our writers… this show is a monster to make and they all bring it every day!” she wrote on Instagram alongside a video of of the cast celebrating from the episode.
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