Every season of Grey's Anatomy holds plenty of shockers for fans, but few recent ones have been as big as the reveal that original cast member Justin Chambers had decided to leave his role as Alex Karev behind during Season 16. The news meant that the writers had to hurry up and find a way to write Alex off of the series, and seeing as how many main characters have simply been pushed off of the fictional mortal coil, viewers thought he'd be killed. But, that wasn't the case, and now the showrunner has let us in on why they didn't kill Alex when Chambers exited.
Alex had grown tremendously as a character over his 15 and a half seasons on Grey's Anatomy, which included what seemed like a strong marriage to Jo. But, when Justin Chambers decided to leave the medical drama, showrunner Krista Vernoff and her team decided to have Alex abandon Jo (totally off screen) for his former love, Izzie, which pissed many fans off to no end. Vernoff spoke to Variety recently about the decision to let Alex live, and said this:
In addition to not wanting to put the actors through sustained grief, I didn’t want to put the characters through another sustained grief. And that was probably the more significant thing. I don’t want Meredith Grey to lose Alex Karev to death. I don’t want to see it! I can’t take it!
OK, I happen to be in the less annoyed camp about how Alex was written off of Grey's Anatomy. Sure, watching all of the characters who were most important to him read the letters he wrote to them explaining that he wasn't coming back to Seattle felt incredibly shitty at the time, but I also realized that death didn't seem like a satisfying solution to the Justin Chambers problem, either.
Alex and Jo had only been married for a short time, but their romance began several seasons prior. The two had been through some serious ups and downs, but had managed, fans thought, to come out of the other side with a combined hope for their future. Alex's farewell episode saw him tell his wife, via letter, that he was leaving her for Izzie, whom he'd recently found out had their children with the help of their frozen embryos. And, this came after Alex had left town, claiming to be visiting his mother, several episodes earlier and not made contact with Jo before sending that letter.
According to Krista Vernoff, this option allowed the show to let the characters have sadness, confusion, and even anger over Alex leaving so abruptly and finally, without raining more prolonged grief upon them or the actors who play them. Jo has had her share of grief, having even returned from an extended stay in a mental health facility not long before Alex left town. And, Meredith and Alex were best friends, but she'd already lost her husband, mother, father, sister and other beloved co-workers to death by then. It does make some sense that Vernoff and her team didn't feel right doing that to her again.
Vernoff said that the writers were also thinking about the audience when making the choice to leave Alex alive, seeing as how his storylines and growth had become so important to the show and viewers, noting:
And I didn’t want the audience to go through it. That character was so sacred. He was so sacred. And the collective grief in this world and in this country right now is pretty fucking intense.
Honestly, wouldn't you have been way more bummed if Alex went to visit his mom and died suddenly off camera in a senseless accident or was having his own mental health issues, didn't tell Jo or Meredith, and committed suicide without us seeing any of that play out? Having him leave to be with Izzie and their growing children didn't feel good, but it did bring him full circle to his first love and the life he'd wanted to have since he was a child himself.
The Alex Karev-less and pandemic-focused new season of Grey's Anatomy begins this Thursday, November 12, at 9 p.m. EST on ABC. For more on what to watch right now, check out our fall TV premiere guide!