Grey’s Anatomy has been on television since the dawn of time, and has had many characters come and go. The exits have ranged from sweet goodbyes to pure garbage, with many straddling the line. With the exit of Jesse Williams’s character Dr. Jackson Avery in last Thursday’s episode, I decided to rank some of the character exits the show has seen over the past 2 decades. Get ready because, just like Grey’s, this list goes on for a little too long.
Lexie Grey, Seasons 3 – 8
The plane crash storyline in Grey’s will go down in history (history here being my own head) as one of the worst things to ever happen to the show, namely because it involved killing Lexie. Lexie was one of the greatest characters on the show; sweet, incredibly intelligent, goofy, funny, and an actually kind and gentle person, unlike everyone else. So, naturally, she was crushed to death in a plane crash. Grey’s has a penchant for tragically killing off its characters and this is easily the worst. Chyler Leigh planned to leave the show in season 8, after being on the show for 5 years. Lexie was in her final year of residency at the time of the plane crash; why couldn’t she have survived the crash and taken a fellowship at a different hospital? Or decided to leave Seattle for another reason? Or literally any other storyline!? I’ll never forgive Shonda for this.
Heather Brooks, Seasons 9 – 10
Heather was one of the five new interns who started in season 9 post-plane crash. She was a huge weirdo who had serious self-confidence issues and often covered up her insecurities by talking about something random. She was dubbed “Mousey” by Cristina, and it stuck. She was a lovable goofball who quickly showed her talent in neurosurgery and was taken under the wing of McDreamy himself. Unfortunately, she was another victim of Shonda Rhimes and was electrocuted in season 10. Because Shonda loves irony, Brooks’s mentor Derek was the surgeon to operate on her when she died. While Heather was only on the show for a short time, I’m putting her death as one of the worst for following the evil and cruel pattern of tragically killing a promising and well-liked character.
Alex Karev, Seasons 1 – 16
RIP Alex. He’s not dead, but honestly I wish he was. Alex’s exit is probably the worst of the non-death exits. After 16 years, sixteen years, Alex’s exit played out through a voiceover as actor Justin Chambers did not return to the Grey’s set for a final episode. As such, after over a decade of character growth from insufferable asshole to a sweet, nurturing, well-adjusted adult, Alex departed without any fanfare, leaving several letters to the remaining characters. He left his wife Jo and his job to be with Izzie, who we hadn’t seen or heard from in 10 years. Apparently Izzie was living in Kansas or something and had secretly given birth to his children, and was just now telling him about it. And after we watched years and years of Alex getting over Izzie, realizing he could have happiness without her, he up and leaves his entire life to return to her and only leaves a couple of letters? 16 years of character growth flushed down the toilet in less than an hour. It felt like a slap in the face. I understand not having Chambers to film a final scene made it difficult, but this was handled so poorly it’s almost comical. Almost.
Mark Sloan, Seasons 2 – 9
Mark was also critically injured in season 8’s plane crash and died 2 episodes after Lexie. His return to the show for those episodes allowed for a bit more closure. Unlike Lexie, he didn’t die alone in the middle of the woods and was able to say his goodbyes to his friends and family back at the hospital. However, like I’ve already stated, the plane crash was one of the worst things ever, and that includes its inevitable killing of Mark. Mark is in every Grey’s fan’s top 5 characters because he’s just so damn awesome. He’s easily one of the funniest characters, and despite coming on the show as a sort of antithesis of Derek, he quickly grew on both the audience and the characters. Mark was a great friend and a great dad, and he deserved better.
Andrew DeLuca, Seasons 11 – 17
I’ll be honest, I don’t like DeLuca. He’s always been such an afterthought for me; boring storylines, boring character development. The most interesting thing about him was how in his first episode he tricks everyone into thinking he’s a hotshot doctor when really he’s just an intern. The reason he’s so far down on this list isn’t because I found his death sad. It’s because ABC has made some of the stupidest storytelling decisions I’ve ever seen in my life. In an attempt to get Grey’s viewers to watch spin-off Station 19, they’ve begun putting crucial plotlines in one show and leaving them out of the other. DeLuca GETS STABBED in Station 19, and the aftermath is shown on Grey’s. How does it make sense to put a major plot point for a main character in a different show? I don’t watch Station 19, and when I watched the episode where DeLuca comes to the hospital with a stab wound and then DIES, I thought I missed an episode. The episode begins with him being wheeled into the hospital, clinging to dear life. Like…huh? How? What happened? Oh, the entire ordeal happened in another show? Other storylines have involved characters getting hurt off screen, but this was done purposely to force you to watch a completely different show. God, I hate capitalism.
Izzie Stevens, Seasons 1 – 6
Izzie is a contentious character; people either love her or hate her. I’ve always been lukewarm about Izzie, and can lean either way. And while I don’t have strong feelings about her, I do think her exit was done poorly. We all know about the on-set drama with Katherine Heigl, so an exit for Izzie was never going to go down easy. Izzie nearly dies at the end of season 5, and I feel like that would’ve been a more suitable end for her (and would also mean we wouldn’t have gotten Alex’s much, much worse exit 10 years later). Instead, she survives and sticks around for 5 more episodes in season 6, gets fired from the hospital, disappears for a few weeks, comes back for 1 episode, disappears again, comes back again, and then is gone for good. It was so wishy-washy, and I’m sure there were behind-the-scenes negotiations that led this, but it was such an unceremonious end for an OG Grey’s character.
Leah Murphy, Seasons 9 – 10, 13
Easily one of the most hated characters on the show, Leah’s exit was honestly pretty good and made sense. She got fired because she sucked at surgery. However, 3 years after being fired, she came back, to everyone’s dismay. However, she only lasted an additional 6 episodes and then disappeared. Why bring her back, only for her to just randomly disappear? Because Shonda loves torturing us, that’s why.
Derek Shepherd, Seasons 1 – 11
Derek sucks. He’s so arrogant and pretentious, he speaks down to everyone including his own wife, and his holier-than-thou attitude is one of the worst parts of the show. Meredith said it best: “You don’t give people any room. Flaws are unacceptable to McDreamy.” However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I cry every time I watch Derek’s death episode. It’s so incredibly sad, and also makes absolutely no sense. The whole premise is Derek helps victims of a car crash on a remote road. He doesn’t have any cell service, so he can’t call an ambulance. With the road being so remote, there’s also no other cars coming by. He saves the car crash victims, gets in his car, inexplicably gets a phone call, and then out of nowhere is hit by an 18-wheeler. From there, he’s brought to a shitty hospital where the doctors don’t know how to be doctors, and ends up brain dead. Get it? Because he’s a neurosurgeon!? And ends up brain dead!!!! Why, Shonda, W H Y.
Casey Parker, Seasons 14 – 16
Parker was Grey’s first trans doctor, and he was a huge step up from a 2006 episode featuring some transphobic dialogue when a trans patient comes to the hospital. Parker was cool as hell; he was a secret computer genius who saved the hospital from getting hacked (lol) and a military veteran. He had a super interesting backstory and was one of the more interesting interns. After yet another accident in season 16, he kinda just disappeared. According to fan wikis, he left to work with veterans, which would’ve been a fine exit, but he never got any kind of sendoff and instead just never showed up again, at least as of now. It’s a shame, because he was such a fresh, new character with a lot of potential, only to vanish without a trace, like many characters before him.
Dahlia Qadri, Seasons 14 – 16
Qadri was Grey’s first Muslim doctor character, and for the most part she was pretty cool. She had a lot of moments where she stood up for her patients and for herself. However, she got a little lost in the shuffle and soon her defining characteristic became being mad that Meredith had gotten fired. She cried and complained about wanting Meredith back, and was subsequently fired herself. It was rather abrupt, and ruined the chances of developing Qadri any further. Not to mention, it seemed a little random and unfair. Yeah she was being annoying, but almost every other doctor in the show has done way worse and most of them weren’t fired.
Sam Bello, Season 14
Bello’s exit was pretty sad. She was being threatened with deportation and it was unsettling watching ICE agents walk through the hospital. Eventually, Meredith got her a job in Switzerland with Cristina and she had a tearful goodbye in a cab. At least she didn’t get deported, that would’ve been way worse. And it truly just seemed like the show wanted to get rid of the season 14 interns.
Tom Koracick, Seasons 14 – 17
Tom’s last episode was also this past episode, and was pretty abrupt and weird. In a blog post I will almost certainly write in the future, post-Shonda Rhimes Grey’s has so much dialogue ripped from woke Twitter that comes off as cringey and literally unbelievable. Tom’s exit was essentially just piggybacking off Jackson’s exit; he asked Jackson if he could join him at the Fox Foundation and, I don’t know, fix racism? It was so weird and out of left field.
Shane Ross, Seasons 9 – 10
Shane’s exit was the exact same as Koracick’s exit, but it gets a slightly higher spot because at least it was the original one. He begged Cristina to take him with her during her exit from the show. It made a little more sense because at least Shane and Cristina had a semblance of a relationship. Still, it was stilted and weird.
Callie Torres, Seasons 2 – 12
Oh Callie. My dear, sweet, love of my life Calliope Torres. Callie is my favorite Grey’s Anatomy character. Bisexual badass, ortho goddess, musical episode scene-stealer. Callie is easily the best. However. Shonda Rhimes has a personal vendetta against me and one of her more vicious attacks was making Callie into a completely different character in her last season on the show. Season 12 had one of the show’s dumbest plotlines, with Callie and Arizona fighting for custody of their daughter Sofia because Callie wanted to move since her new girlfriend of 15 seconds got a job in New York. After Callie loses in court, Arizona agrees to let Sofia move with her, even though losing custody of her daughter made her break up with her girlfriend, meaning there’s now no reason to go to New York or for the custody battle a all? At the end to it all, Arizona and Callie hug it out, so at least there’s no hard feelings (even though Callie’s lawyer tried to insinuate that Arizona wasn’t Sofia’s mom because they’re not blood related???? No hands were thrown, shockingly). Anyway. To the shock of everyone, right after the episode aired actress Sara Ramirez then posted a surprise message on Twitter saying they were leaving the show. Again, it seemed like the exit was poorly planned because the actor didn’t give enough notice. That doesn’t excuse an entire season of completely out of character decisions that led to this stupid ass storyline in the first place. In my mind, season 12 was just a group hallucination.
Honestly, Who Cares
Vikram Roy, Seasons 14 – 15
Roy was a disaster of a character. He was definitely written onto the show as a character we’re supposed to hate and, again, they succeeded. He was arrogant, incompetent, and worst of all, contributed absolutely nothing to the show. He lied about being high and operated on a patient, and was later fired. Then, he tried to sue the hospital for wrongful termination and said he’d drop the suit if he was hired back, which he was. Then he was fired again for ignoring and subsequently killing a patient. There hadn’t been a “villain” character in a long time, and it seemed that Roy was written to fill that role, but ended up just being deadweight who everyone wanted gone.
Nathan Riggs, Seasons 12 – 14
Imma keep it real with you chief, I barely remember this character. I know he was brought on to be a new potential love interest for Meredith post-Derek, but it didn’t work out because…Owen’s long lost sister Megan came back from being a POW for 10 years? Am I reading this Wikipedia page right? Well, ok. Anyway, he left with Megan, I guess. Maybe his exit was good, maybe it was dumb. I don’t know, man. All I know was one time he sucker punched Owen in the face, and that was cool cus Owen sucks. Good job, Riggs.
Megan Hunt, Seasons 13 – 15
I also barely remember this character. She’s Owen’s sister and is married to Riggs now, I guess? They both left to go live happily ever after with a kid she took from Iraq after being captured for 10 years????? What even is this show.
Eliza Minnick, Season 11
Again, I don’t remember her at all. I mean, I do, but I don’t. You know? I stopped actively paying attention to the show years ago, unfortunately. I remember Minnick was annoying and was always trying to catch all our favs doing something shady. And wasn’t she like trying to take down Bailey? I literally have no idea. And she was a lesbian! They paired her with Arizona, the resident lesbian, and that was a tragedy. Or a success? I don’t know, I literally do not remember.
Penny Blake, Season 12
Penny was Callie’s girlfriend who wanted to move to New York, prompting Callie’s custody battle that I continue to pretend does not exist. She also was one of the doctors who did a shitty job and killed Derek because she didn’t advocate for him. She was intentionally brought on the show to be hated, and they succeeded! She was awful, whiny, yelled a lot for no reason, and overall was annoying as hell. The reason she’s so high up on the list is because they mercifully kicked her off the show after a season. The reason she’s so low on the list is because she never should’ve been on the show in the first place.
Sadie Harris, Season 5
Sadie was a waste of a character. She was only on the show for 8 episodes and brought on to rival Cristina as Meredith’s best friend from college. When that storyline didn’t work, she was shoehorned into being the renegade intern with the rest of the new intern class. When that storyline didn’t work, she was hinted at being a romantic interest for Callie. When that didn’t work, it turned out she was a huge dumbass who didn’t know anything about medicine and quit the program after she was found out. She tried to take Meredith with her, but, shockingly, that didn’t work either.
Erica Hahn, Seasons 2 – 5
Erica and Callie both discovered new things about their sexualities with each other. Erica discovered she was gay, and Callie began to realize she was bisexual. Then, Erica disappeared into a parking lot after arguing with Callie, never to be seen again. It was pretty stupid, but no one was sad about it.
Nurse Rose, Seasons 4 – 5
Nurse Rose was brought onto the show simply to be an obstacle between Derek and Meredith’s tumultuous relationship. After Derek broke up with her, because of course he did, she got kinda weird and it was clear her time on the show was quickly coming to an end. She accidentally stabs Derek in the hand with a scalpel in one of his surgeries, and then decided to switch specialities and take a job in pediatrics. At least a reason was given for her exit, but it was still dumb.
April Kepner, Seasons 6 – 14
I’ve always thought April was hella annoying, but was happy that she got a good send off. After surviving a near-death accident, April wakes up and is whisked away from medicine by her ex-fiancee/on-again-off-again love interest Matthew. The two get married in a sweet ceremony (that is not interrupted by a declaration of love from Jackson this time) and they ride off in the proverbial sunset. This would’ve been a fitting ending for April, who has always been a bit naive, but in order to end Jackson’s tenure on the show, actress Sarah Drew was brought back for a few episodes where she reveals that she conveniently broke up with Matthew again, just in time to suggest a happy ending for her and Jackson. I’ve never been a fan of them as a couple, and the constant whiplash from them breaking up and getting back together was ridiculous. But it makes sense for the show to throw us one last curveball to make it seem like they’re together, I guess.
Jackson Avery, Seasons 6 – 17
The last few seasons of Grey’s have been…interesting. It’s difficult to critique much of any show that came out in 2020; I can’t imagine how much nonsense was involved in making a television show during COVID. That being said, a lot of the recent seasons have been so excessively on the nose, it’s hard not to think dialogue is being ripped straight from woke Twitter. A lot of that dialogue has been given to Jesse Williams’s Jackson Avery. Preachy monologues about racism in medicine are played out and annoying, especially since the past few years Grey’s has done a lot more “telling” than “showing.” So why is Jackson so high up on this list? Honestly, because I made this list days before I started writing about it and it just seemed right. When examining a bit more, Jackson’s exit this season seemed pretty great, if a season or two too late. A lot of Grey’s characters are made more interesting by the relationships they enter into, and it was fitting that his ending was endcapped by bringing April back and having Jackson realize his space in his family business. I was never a huge fan of his, or his relationship with April, but I think it makes a lot of sense for his character.
Preston Burke, Seasons 1 – 3
I have a lot of mixed feelings about Burke, and they’re mostly tied up in the fact that Isaiah Washington is a piece of shit. But Burke was such a good character, and his ending was ok. On the day of his wedding to Cristina, he realized he’d been slowly transforming her into a different person in order for them to fit together and he leaves her at the altar. It was super dramatic, but what is Grey’s if not super dramatic? Afterwards, Burke leaves the hospital, never to return. I ranked it this high because it was noble of Burke to realize that he’d tried so hard to change Cristina into someone she wasn’t. However, like a lot of these dumb character exits, it was so sudden and out of nowhere.
Reed Adamson and Charles Percy, Season 6
Season 6 is the best season of Grey’s Anatomy, in part due to its absolutely harrowing two part finale, featuring Gary Clark, who was made a widow by his wife’s death in Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital. The foreshadowing throughout the season is subtle, and it’s easy to think Clark was simply a grieving husband–up until he returns to the hospital and shoots Reed in the face point blank. Like April and Jackson, Reed and Percy were both Mercy West residents who were added into the mix when the hospitals merged. They weren’t around long, and were played as the enemy at the top of the season, but by the end had started to become more integrated into the cast. Reed’s death was shocking and quick, but Percy’s was slow and absolutely heartbreaking. Bailey tried her hardest to keep him alive, and her inability to save him stayed with her. The season 6 finale is still such iconic television, as distressing and scary as it still is. I think, despite both Reed and Percy’s deaths being so traumatic, they were well done and showed two distinct examples of how chaotic and random shootings are.
Arizona Robbins, Seasons 5 – 14
My heart truly breaks for the character Arizona could have been if she were on a show just 5-10 years later. While she was most certainly groundbreaking, a headstrong and stubborn lesbian surgeon who fully embraced her cutesy, Easter-Egg personality, Arizona was marred by what I can only assume is a room of heterosexual writers that didn’t always understand how to write a lesbian. Is biphobia rampant in the LGBTQ+ community? Yes. Should you attribute biphobic traits solely to your ONLY lesbian character in a show featuring 1000+ characters? OBVIOUSLY NOT. It’s hard re-watching Grey’s and rooting for Callie and Arizona when these issues are so glaring. HOWEVER. As a budding lesbian, Arizona and furthermore her groundbreaking relationship and subsequent gay marriage was and still is so iconic to me, so I have no choice but to love her. As I scraped the bottom of the barrel for lesbian representation, Arizona and her goddamn annoying bright and smiley self is at the top of the tiny, tiny bunch. Regardless of what everyone says, I think Arizona was an awesome character who was occasionally a casualty of straight writers. Her exit was pre-planned, unlike so many other characters, and while it was rather ordinary, Shonda dangled the possibility of her reuniting with Callie in front of me, and I ate it UP. She decided to move to New York so that her daughter wouldn’t have to live part-time between her parents across the country, and her last episode featured texts hinting at reconciliation with Callie. All I want is for the OG queer couple on Grey’s to end happily, is that too much to ask?
Stephanie Edwards, Seasons 9 – 14
Not to brag or anything, but I got to meet Jerrika Hinton a few years ago, and she was so overwhelmingly cool, it’s a miracle I didn’t start crying on the spot. But, yeah, ok Stephanie. What a kickass character, and an even better ending. Stephanie, like many an intern before her, was often relegated to the background, or brought to the forefront in order to execute a joke. But the longer she was on the show, the more she was able to shine. And her ending was as dramatic as it comes on Grey’s, featuring Stephanie taking down a rapist in an fiery explosion. At the end of the episode, Stephanie decided that fuck medicine, this shit was not worth it, and left. Honestly, this was the only character exit that made sense. Imagine working somewhere where you and your coworkers had to go up against a bomb inside a body cavity, a ferry crash, an active shooting, a plane crash, a flooding and subsequent electrocutions of your colleagues, several superstorms, an earthquake, multiple gigantic fires, a helicopter crash, a tornado (maybe????), tons of coworkers dying in various other disasters, and now a rapist on the loose while there’s yet another fire? Why does anyone still work here? It made perfect sense for Stephanie to reach her limit and peace the fuck out of that deathtrap, even though there was still so much to explore with her character. Could’ve been worse, she could’ve gotten hit by a bus.
George O’Malley, Seasons 1 – 5
Ok hear me out. George getting hit by a bus was horrible and so sad, and I don’t even like George. Rewatching that episode makes me cry like a goddamn baby every time. It’s embarrassing and I’m not proud of it, but it still happens. The reason I’ve placed George so high, despite the fact that this death was so shocking and crazy, is because it was the first time Shonda broke our hearts in this way. George’s death was shocking and out of nowhere, because that’s what happens when someone is in an accident. It happens without any heads up and is disastrous and heartbreaking. As absurd and outlandish as it was, this kind of character death had not been seen on this show prior to George, and despite the fact that it kicked off some cruel obsession to kill characters off in tragic ways, it was original for its time and changed the tone of the show in an unprecedented way. George had so much promise ahead of him; he was thriving as a budding trauma surgeon and had just signed up to be in the military. His personal life had been placed on the back burner a season before and he slowly faded to the background in that regard, but his surgical strong suits were made apparent. And his death was sad and tragic and fast. It rocked the hospital to its core and ushered in a new feel in the show’s 6th season. And despite being the first major casualty of the show, George’s spirit has remained. He’s still occasionally mentioned in passing, and T.R. Knight even made an appearance on Meredith’s spirit beach in the most current season. Like I said, I never liked George, but his death was novel for its time and changed the show in a way that had never been done before, and truthfully has not been done since.
Addison Montgomery, Seasons 2 – 3
Addison Montgomery is easily a top tier Grey’s character, and she hasn’t been on the show in years. The show did a fantastic job of introducing her as a potential villain to break up Meredith and Derek, then quickly revealing that she was more complex than she seemed on the surface. Addison was a flawed character who’d cheated on her husband and led him to pursue Meredith in Seattle that began this entire mess to begin with. Her arrival in Seattle is one of the most iconic moments on television; just her fur coat alone is so legendary, it’s bringing tears my eyes just thinking about it. As amazing as Addison was on Grey’s, her exit of the show was a sign that Seattle Grace wasn’t where she was meant to be. She wasn’t built to play second fiddle to Meredith and other dumb interns; she was meant to star in her own show. And she did! Addison’s exit from the show was a backdoor pilot to her own spin-off Private Practice, which lasted for 6 seasons and featured Addison getting the happy ending she deserved. And while it was hard to see her leave our beloved and dumb characters on Grey’s, she was too big to be contained to just one show, and clearly popular enough to head a show all her own.
Cristina Yang, Seasons 1 – 10
Cristina Yang is one of the best television characters in history. Nuanced, head-strong, stubborn, arrogant, mean, confident, earnest, sincere. Flawed. Cristina loves surgery more than anything, and she never made excuses for that love. She is excellent in her field, the greatest at what she does, and she knows it. She’s certainly the best character to be on the show, and as such was given the greatest exit. Sandra Oh gave one season’s notice that she would be leaving the show, which allowed Grey’s to devote Season 10 to her. The season was strained, for the first time featuring tensions between best friends Meredith and Cristina. After being attached at the hip for 10 years, the two began showing signs of growing apart. It was hard to watch, but also painfully realistic. Meredith had become a mother and a wife, while Cristina was steadily advancing in cardiothoracic surgery. The two were heading on separate paths, and cracks in their relationship had finally started to show. But despite their divergent paths, they were able to reconcile and come to an understanding, repairing their friendship like adults! It was rough to get through, and I know I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how unrealistic the show is, but this portion of the season was so painfully realistic, I felt like someone was reading my diary. And Cristina’s continued path through her career culminated in being offered the keys to her own cutting edge research center in Switzerland through Burke, the first love interest we saw of hers on the show. It was such a fitting and perfect ending, encapsulating the perfect trajectory for what we’ve seen Cristina strive for for a decade. The cosmic perfection of being given the opportunity by Burke was the perfect cherry on top. Cristina is still the best character to ever be on the show, and it hasn’t been the same since she left. As I wade through the carnage of characters dead from various disasters, fired, and just straight up vanished, the one light in the Past Characters Dungeon is Cristina Yang’s perfect ending.
There have probably been hundreds of characters to walk through the doors of Seattle Grace/Seattle Grace Mercy West/Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital in the nearly two decades the show has been on. Whose exit was your favorite, or made you want to punch your television? Let me know in the comments!