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Meredith's Exit From Grey's Anatomy Was a Passing of the Torch Instead of a Tearful Goodbye

But the new class of interns is moving into her old house!
  • Ellen Pompeo says goodbye to Grey's Anatomy (photo: ABC)
    Ellen Pompeo says goodbye to Grey's Anatomy (photo: ABC)

    Thursday night's Grey's Anatomy was a landmark one for the 19-year-old series, as its namesake character, Meredith Grey, exited the show as a series regular. Ellen Pompeo announced her official exit from Grey’s in November 2022, around the time that episodes in which Meredith flirted with leaving Seattle for Boston were airing. That move became official in the February 23 episode, directed by Debbie Allen, called "I'll Follow the Sun." But what was most striking was how the episode was less about Meredith's swan song and more about definitively passing the torch on to this season's young cast of interns.

    It's been evident since the Season 19 premiere that Grey's is looking to recapture the magic of that first class of interns, when Meredith, Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl), Alex Karev (Justin Chambers), and George O'Malley (T.R. Knight) were all fresh-faced and ambitious. This year's new class showed promise back in the fall. Dr. Lucas Adams (Niko Terho) is the secret Shepherd family member who's trying to prove himself all on his own. Dr. Simone Griffith (Alexis Floyd) has a lot of Meredith tendencies, including a family member with dementia. Dr. Jules Millin (Adelaide Kane) slept with an attending before her first day on the job (another Meredith hallmark). Dr. Mika Yasuda (Midori Francis) is the prototypical Cristina Yang, talented but callous. Dr. Benson "Blue" Kwan (Harry Shum, Jr.) is cocky in the Alex Karev mold.

    Thursday's episode pushed this back-home-again theme even further, as Adams, Griffith, and Yasuda all moved into the old Grey homestead. (Yes, there's a hole in the roof from a fire earlier this season, but they can work together to patch that up.)

    Meredith's house has always been a thematic focal point for the series. She inherited it from her own mother, with all the complicated emotions that entailed. She lived there with George and Izzie in the show's earliest seasons. Through the years, the structure has housed Alex, Cristina, Callie (Sara Ramirez), Arizona (Jessica Capshaw), April (Sarah Drew), Jackson (Jesse Williams), and Lexie (Chyler Leigh), before Meredith and Derek (Patrick Dempsey) raised their kids there. And then after Derek died, Meredith's sisters Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) and Maggie (Kelly McCreary) ended up moving in. The continuum of the ever-evolving Grey's Anatomy cast tends to flow through this house. Placing three of the show's five next-generation cast members there in the same episode where Meredith exits the canvas is an explicit and intentional passing of the baton.

    That move ended up being the most significant moment of the episode, because otherwise, Meredith's exit was conspicuously low-key. She didn't even fully settle things with her love interest, Nick (Scott Speedman), whose attempts to chase Meredith down as she was headed out of town ended with an underwhelming phone call where he professed his love for her and she… pretended the cell reception was bad and hung up.

    This isn't exactly the last we ever see of Meredith — in her original goodbye post on Instagram, Pompeo promised she'd be "back to visit," and she's expected to appear in the season finale later this year — so maybe this was the show's way of kicking one last relationship arc a little further down the road.

    Elsewhere, we got a small reception at Grey Sloan Memorial with a cake, a few nice words from Bailey (Chandra Wilson) and Webber (James Pickens Jr.), some warm smiles from Amelia and Maggie, and then a bunch of well-wishers who weren't the people we'd really want to see Meredith off. No surprise appearance by Cristina, to say the least. It was a quiet, dignified, no-frills exit — certainly what Meredith Grey the character would have preferred. For longtime fans of the show looking for a reason to shed some big tears over the 19-year journey, it was a bit of a letdown.

    Of course, Grey's Anatomy and ABC would prefer to look ahead to the new generation currently patching up the roof in Meredith's old house, hoping one day we'll be half as attached to them as we were to the departing Dr. Grey.

    Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9:00PM on ABC. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Grey's Anatomy