Spoilers ahead for the winter finale of Grey's Anatomy Season 17, called "No Time for Despair."
Meredith Grey has spent most of Grey's Anatomy Season 17 bedridden in the hospital due to COVID-19, with most of Ellen Pompeo's work happening on a beach during scenes set in Meredith's mind. Although she seemed to be getting better thanks to the new medication, she pushed herself too far in "No Time to Despair," leaving her lungs "at a breaking point" and pushing Richard Webber to make the difficult decision to put her on a ventilator. Meredith dying has never seemed more possible, but "No Time for Despair" actually convinced me that she'll recover despite everything.
Contrary to the winter finale's title, "No Time for Despair" was pretty much an hour of despair in which everything kept getting worse due to a COVID surge. The doctors had to convert the cafeteria into a treatment zone, and everybody seemed to be operating on fumes. Bailey was trying to work through her pain at losing her mom, while Maggie had to leave the hospital after seeing a stark reminder of how racial biases are resulting in disproportionate deaths, and Tom was... well, misery and sickness aside, Tom was actually more likable than he's been for a while in his interactions with Meredith outside of Teddy's mess.
It was after the frenzy of the surge finally somewhat died down that Richard Webber said something that leads me to believe that Grey's Anatomy won't kill off Meredith. Speaking to Bailey in the cafeteria/treatment zone, Richard said:
I mean COVID. We're doing our best, but this is the first time in my career I'm not sure that's enough. Pretty soon, we're gonna start losing our own. Not to the disease but to the toll it's taking. I fear this will hurt us in a way we can't even begin to understand.
Considering this little speech was immediately followed by Bailey and Richard getting the news that Meredith had collapsed again and was worse than ever, my initial reaction was that Richard's words were to prepare viewers for Meredith's coming death. I've actually been seriously considering that she could die all season, considering she would be getting a pretty grand farewell, and it's possible that Ellen Pompeo is looking to move on after the better part of two decades as one character.
Then I remembered that this is Grey's Anatomy, and Grey's Anatomy isn't a show that deals out nothing but gloom and doom on a weekly basis. Sure, bad things happen, people die heartbreaking deaths, and tear-jerking twists go down, but I feel like Grey's Anatomy went too hard on building the misery and hopelessness to the point that Richard is afraid of losing people. There was so much despair in the first half of the season culminating with the winter finale that maybe the worst won't actually happen in the second half. It's always darkest before the dawn, right?
Grey's Anatomy might leave Meredith permanently altered from her illness, and things might get worse, and Tom might die from COVID, but everything going so bad in the winter finale makes me think that the show is going to have to give fans something good. From a medical perspective, Meredith seems on death's door. From a story perspective, I'm starting to feel better about her chances.
And honestly, depending on the state of Meredith's health if she does recover, she could have a reason to leave her work at the hospital without being killed off, in case Ellen Pompeo does decide it's time to leave. We can only wait and see. Grey's Anatomy will return with new episodes in 2021 on Thursday, March 4 on ABC. For some viewing options between now and more Grey's Anatomy, check out our 2021 winter and spring premiere schedule.