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Grey's Anatomy fans are suffering a huge blow before the long-running show even returns for the second half of Season 16 later in January thanks to some big news from Justin Chambers. The actor, who has played Alex Karev since way back in the first season, announced his departure from Grey's Anatomy, cutting the list of original cast members down to three. In some good news, Chambers has explained why he's leaving, and his reasons don't necessarily mean no more Alex ever.

In a statement, Justin Chambers shared why he made the decision to leave Grey's Anatomy after 15 years:

There’s no good time to say goodbye to a show and character that’s defined so much of my life for the past 15 years. For some time now, however, I have hoped to diversify my acting roles and career choices. And, as I turn 50 and am blessed with my remarkable, supportive wife and five wonderful children, now is that time. As I move on from Grey’s Anatomy, I want to thank the ABC family, Shonda Rimes, original cast members Ellen Pompeo, Chandra Wilson and James Pickens, and the rest of the amazing cast and crew, both past and present, and, of course, the fans for an extraordinary ride.

In his statement (via TVLine), Justin Chambers was quite clear that he's not leaving Grey's Anatomy because of any bad blood or dislike of the show's direction. In fact, even the most diehard Grey's and Alex Karev fans may be able to accept his reasons for the big departure.

After spending 15 years on one show playing one role, can anybody blame him for wanting to try some new things in his career and perhaps spend more time with his family? And surely I can't be the only one astonished he's on the cusp of turning 50! He did go on to thank the people who made his long run on one of the biggest shows on network television possible. Are his reasons for leaving enough for fans to hope that he could return, at least for a limited arc or guest shot?

A lot may depend on how Grey's Anatomy writes out Justin Chambers' character for good. When he took a break from Seattle in the first half of Season 16, the explanation was that he needed to return home to care for his ailing mom. Now, that episode was reportedly his last.

If his absence is simply explained as Alex needing to stay for a while because his mom was worse than he thought, Grey's may not need to do much to sell why Alex isn't around to start. Interestingly, the lack of an epic goodbye for one of the final remaining original cast members may suggest that Chambers' departure came without a whole lot of notice to the show. Surely Alex deserved a grander sendoff, right?

Still, it might be hard for Grey's Anatomy to really sell Alex being gone for good to care for his mom when he has so many ties to Seattle, so what could happen next? On the one hand, McDreamy's demise (not to mention all those other heartbreakers) proves that Grey's isn't afraid to kill off major characters. On the other hand, characters like Cristina and Izzie got to leave without dying, and there's still talk about reprising their roles, no matter how unlikely at this point. And Alex is technically already gone without dying.

I do have to wonder if Grey's has painted itself into a corner on the Karev front. He is devoted to his loving wife Jo, and they even re-tied their knot in Season 16. If the show doesn't plan on losing Camilla Luddington from Grey's Anatomy, is there any reason short of death that would prompt Alex to leave Jo forever? Or could this mean a goodbye to Jo as well?

The show also doesn't necessarily need him, as he's been working elsewhere than Grey Sloan ever since the end of Season 15, and another doctor is joining the series to fill Alex's place at his original hospital.

Still, Grey's may not want to kill him off when there's such a shortage of old-timers left at this point, so fans shouldn't despair that Justin Chambers will never, ever be back. Anything can happen, and fans should be sure to tune in once the show returns for the second half of Season 16 on Thursday, January 23 at 9 p.m. ET as the second hour of a crossover event on ABC. And hey, at least fans have confirmation another doctor isn't leaving!