Grey's Anatomy: What We Know About Ellen Pompeo Leaving As A Series Regular

Ahead of Grey’s Anatomy’s 19th season, it was announced that Ellen Pompeo’s role would be severely reduced. The process to transition away from Meredith Grey as the heart of the show began with the introduction of five new interns in the season premiere — one with a connection to the late, great Derek Shepherd — and continued up until the November 10 fall finale, which really hammered home the fact that the end of an era is upon us. Meredith’s house went up in flames, destroying 19 seasons’ worth of memories, save for Meredith and Derek’s blue Post-It.

What Ellen Pompeo has done is quite an accomplishment; she is one of just three main actors (along with Chandra Wilson and James Pickens Jr.) to have stayed with the show since 2005. So with her final episode as a series regular on Grey’s Anatomy approaching, let’s take a look at everything we know about her exit: 

Ellen Pompeo and Jesse Williams on Grey's Anatomy.

(Image credit: ABC)

Ellen Pompeo’s Final Episode As A Series Regular 

When news broke that Ellen Pompeo was taking a step back from Grey’s Anatomy this season, it was reported that she’d appear in eight episodes. The November 10 fall finale was the sixth episode of Season 19, and it was confirmed in the preview that aired at the end of “Thunderstruck” that we will say goodbye to Meredith Grey when the series returns on Thursday, February 23, 2023

Although we'll say goodbye to Meredith in the midseason premiere, titled "I'll Follow the Sun," Ellen Pompeo will reportedly return for the Season 19 finale, per Deadline, making eight episode appearances for the season. 

Ellen Pompeo and Aniela Gumbs on Grey's Anatomy.

(Image credit: ABC)

How Meredith Grey Is Being Written Off Of Grey’s Anatomy 

Early in the season, it was established that Meredith’s oldest daughter Zola (Aniela Gumbs) was having panic attacks over the fear that her mother would develop Alzheimer’s and die. When the other surgeons discovered that Zola has genius abilities, it was decided that putting her in a gifted school would help to stimulate her brain and, with continued therapy, alleviate some of her anxiety. Zola fell in love with a school in Boston, where Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams) offered Meredith a job doing Alzheimer’s research with funding from the Catherine Fox Foundation. To Boston it is, then!

Ellen Pompeo plays Meredith Grey on Grey's Anatomy.

(Image credit: ABC)

Ellen Pompeo Has Her Next Project Already Lined Up 

Ellen Pompeo has signed on to executive produce and star in a limited series based on the 2019 news story that echoed the horror movie Orphan. Pompeo will portray Kristine Barnett, who, along with husband Michael Barnett, adopted Ukrainian-born Natalia Grace (played by Imogen Reid) when she was supposedly 6 years old. The Barnetts were charged with neglect after allegedly abandoning Natalia; however, they claimed their adopted daughter was actually a mentally disturbed adult suffering from a rare form of dwarfism. The eight-episode series does not yet have a title, but will eventually be available for streaming with a Hulu subscription

Ellen Pompeo as Meredith Grey

(Image credit: ABC)

Why Is She Leaving Now, In The Middle Of Season 19? 

Aside from her commitment to the production of her upcoming Hulu series, Ellen Pompeo’s willingness to continue on Grey’s Anatomy has been in question for the past couple of years. In Season 17, the actress pointed to the fact that her contract was expiring and said it “could very well be” the final season. She ended up signing a single-season contract to continue, but during Season 18 said she’d been focusing on “convincing everybody that it should end.” On her podcast Tell Me (opens in new tab) she said multiple times that she never planned to stay on the medical drama for so many years and felt she had been doing it for too long.

The situation even seemed to be written into Meredith’s storyline on Grey’s Anatomy, with the character wanting to move to Minnesota. Meredith pointed out in an epic rant to love interest Nick Marsh (Scott Speedman) that she was the only one who wasn’t allowed to leave, just because it was her name on the building. As Meredith argued in the episode: 

I have the right to leave. I've earned the right to leave. Other people from my residency class, they left and took other opportunities. I stayed. I worked. I researched. I won awards for that place. I did everything that was expected of me and then some. And now if I want to leave, it's considered disloyal? It's ridiculous. It's absurd.

Grey’s Anatomy also continues to be a big moneymaker for ABC, and the network says they’ll take as many seasons as they can get. So, Ellen Pompeo signed on for another season, citing the inspiration that the series has provided to multiple generations of health care workers, and began conversations with creator Shonda Rhimes about how to reinvent Grey’s Anatomy to continue without her.

Grey's Anatomy.

(Image credit: ABC)

Will Ellen Pompeo Return In Future Seasons? 

Is there a chance Ellen Pompeo could return as Meredith full time once her Hulu series wraps? The actress seemed to shoot that possibility down when she spoke to CinemaBlend at the 2022 D23 Expo, saying:  

Not in a full-time capacity, no.

However, that doesn’t mean we’ll never see Meredith Grey in the halls of Grey Sloan Memorial ever again. Grey’s Anatomy is known for bringing back its fan favorite characters, and in Ellen Pompeo's official exit post on Instagram, she said she'll "definitely be back to visit." It’s also reported (via Deadline in the article linked earlier) that she may continue to do the episodes’ voiceovers past this season. 

Already in Season 19, we’ve been reunited with former series regulars Jesse Williams as Jackson Avery, Kate Walsh as Addison Montgomery and Greg Germann as Tom Koracick. Showrunner Krista Vernoff promises some more “delightful surprises” are planned to help fill the Meredith-Grey-sized void.

It’s definitely a time of transition for the fans and the actors of Grey’s Anatomy, but many longtime viewers are excited about Season 19 and how it is leaning into the nostalgia that made us fall in love with the show back in 2005, with the first-year residents breathing new life into the drama. We’ve got a couple of months before the time comes to bid farewell (or "see you later") to Meredith Grey. If you want to relive some of Grey’s Anatomy’s best episodes, the first 18 seasons are available for streaming with a Netflix subscription, and Season 19 can be streamed on Hulu. 

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.