How ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ (Sort Of) Said Goodbye to Meredith Grey
When Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith Grey first entered the halls of Seattle Grace Hospital as a surgical intern back in 2005, no one could have foreseen the 19 seasons of literal blood, sweat, and tears that she’d shed on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy—least of all the actor herself. “I was like, ‘I’m not going to be stuck on a medical show for five years,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. “‘Are you out of your fuckin’ mind?’”
Yet Thursday night’s midseason premiere marked Pompeo’s 18th year as Meredith, now chief of surgery at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. It was also her last episode as a series regular. But the character’s farewell was a surprisingly mellow experience—not infused with the well-documented trauma she has faced for nearly two decadesc. Nor was the episode particularly nostalgi—no flashbacks, starry guest appearances, or even a refrain of “Chasing Cars.”
Titled “I’ll Follow the Sun,” the episode, written by departing Grey’s Anatomy executive producer and showrunner Krista Vernoff and directed by the series’ executive producer and director Debbie Allen, largely focused on the show’s future. A new class of interns, played by Midori Francis, Alexis Floyd, Niko Terho, and Harry Shum Jr., among others, battle to scrub in and stay afloat in their personal lives. In that way, things feel like a reset—each character a spiritual successor to those played by Sandra Oh, Katherine Heigl, T.R. Knight, and Justin Chambers at the show’s start.
Meanwhile, Meredith is at a romantic standstill with fellow surgeon Nick Marsh (Scott Speedman), who wasn’t included in her decision to move from Seattle to Boston. Later in the episode, she makes clear her refusal to plead, as she did for Patrick Dempsey’s Derek Shepherd to “pick me, choose me, love me” all those years ago. “I’m a grown woman with a big life and big career and three kids. This move is what my daughter needs. I want you in my life if you want to be in my life,” Meredith tells him. “But if I have to choose, I pick me, I pick my kids, and I pick what is best for us. And I’m not going to beg you to love me.”
After her final surgery at Grey Sloan goes sideways, Meredith comforts Floyd’s intern Simone, telling her: “Be sorry when you stop feeling the losses,” before insisting, “I don’t work here anymore, so you can call me Meredith.” During a rather low-key celebration at the hospital, the show’s only two remaining original cast members, Chandra Wilson and James Pickens Jr., pay tribute. “You know, once upon a time, you were the bane of my existence,” Wilson’s Miranda Bailey says. “But you grew up to become one of my greatest points of pride.” She becomes visibly emotional before Richard Webber steps in: “Dr. Grey, what Dr. Bailey is trying to say is this place won’t be the same without you.”
Meredith downplays the sendoff, telling her staff that the festivities are “very thoughtful and ridiculous because I’m only going to Boston and, you know, I’ll probably be here next week.”
Perhaps a viewer’s enjoyment of the episode will hinge on whether or not they truly believe her exit will stick. Pompeo recently told Entertainment Tonight, “For the record, it’s not really my final [episode]. It’s a little bit of a trick they’re playing on people.” Instead, her departure is being framed as a temporary one, during which Pompeo will star in a Hulu show and continue to executive produce and narrate Grey’s. Meredith is also expected to pop up in at least one more episode before season 19 is through. Even series creator Shonda Rhimes indicated that this farewell isn’t forever, writing on Instagram Thursday, “See you later, Dr. Grey.”