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Ellen Pompeo Reveals Her Pick For Saddest Grey’s Anatomy Death, And Which Character She’d Bring Back If She Could

Meredith Grey looks surprised on Grey's Anatomy
(Image credit: ABC)

We’ve seen a lot of characters come and go over Grey’s Anatomy’s 18 seasons, and just like the loyal fans, Ellen Pompeo has been there to witness them all. While in some instances it was simply time for the character (or the actor playing them) to move on, Grey’s Anatomy has also delivered some pretty shocking deaths that left us a little more broken than before (RIP, 007). The Meredith Grey actress reflected on the series so far, and she didn’t have to think hard about whose demise she thinks was the saddest.

The actress has starred on Grey’s Anatomy since it premiered in 2005, and as Ellen Pompeo prepares to take a step back from the show in Season 19, she opened up on her podcast Tell Me (opens in new tab) about losing her on-screen husband Derek Shepherd in Season 11. It was a serious blow for her character and the fans, as she explained when discussing which of the series’ deaths she found the most heartbreaking: 

I would say it was Derek Shepherd dying, and Mark Sloan a close second. But Derek Shepherd dying was really, really emotional, and I knew how hard it was going to be for the fans. It’s really hard to play that kind of stuff, because you can’t really fake it. You have to put yourself in a dark place and a really sad place, and so it’s always sad when someone dies, but for sure Derek Shepherd dying was the saddest of all sad scenes, for sure.

Ellen Pompeo has spoken before about some of the traumatic events Meredith has suffered alongside Patrick Dempsey’s “McDreamy.” The hospital shooter episode — one of Grey’s Anatomy’s best episodes to date — featured a scene in which Meredith and Cristina see Derek get shot, and Pompeo said the actresses had to “scream and cry and go crazy 30 fucking times,” putting themselves in a dark place for a scene that Pompeo said she wouldn’t do again today. Thinking of it like that, it’s no surprise that Derek’s car crash death would be her saddest, as well as Mark Sloan (Eric Dane’s so-called “McSteamy”), who succumbed in the aftermath of Season 8’s plane crash.

Not all character departures involved such tragic scenarios, however, and Grey’s Anatomy has certainly been known to bring back former cast members to reprise their roles in guest appearances over the seasons. Ellen Pompeo said she had selfish intentions when thinking about who she’d want to return to the show, saying:

Strictly, just selfishly, as a character that I love on the show, I mean, I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but I would probably say Alex Karev, Justin Chambers.

These two actors were friends before and after their time on the hit ABC medical drama together, so this choice makes complete sense. Pompeo expressed her sadness at Chambers’ exit at the time, saying she thought Grey’s Anatomy gave Alex Karev the “best send off.” The TV audience, however, largely disagreed. Fans were livid that Alex ditched his wife Jo via letter, which said that he had decided to move to Kansas and reunite with his ex-wife Izzie and their children he didn’t know existed.

Alas, when characters leave, they’re often replaced by others, and Season 19 has already added some new faces to the hospital. Grey’s Anatomy actress Caterina Scorsone has said the new cast members are “gorgeous” both “inside and out,” and I’m looking forward to that October 6 premiere at 9 p.m. ET on ABC. If you need to catch up or relive any of Grey’s Anatomy’s most heart-breaking moments like the ones mentioned above, all 18 seasons are available for streaming with a Netflix subscription

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.