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Sorry, But I Fully Believe Derek Shepherd's Grey's Anatomy Death Saved The Show


  • Killing off Derek Shepherd was a risky move that injected new life into Grey’s Anatomy.
  • Derek’s death in season 11 set the stage for fresh storylines and character development.
  • The decision to write out Dempsey’s character was ultimately a smart creative choice for the show’s future.

Grey’s Anatomy is one of the longest-running shows on TV, but I’m starting to think it wouldn’t have thrived as long without killing off Derek Shepherd. The series was starting to show its age before Patrick Dempsey’s exit during Grey’s Anatomy season 11. Due to that big departure, season 11, episode 21 was one of Grey’s Anatomy‘s most important episodes. Before that development, I believed Derek and Meredith were untouchable because of their popularity.

The best way to force a show into a new direction is to eradicate a part of what made it so successful in the first place. Grey’s Anatomy relied on Meredith and Derek’s relationship as the main attraction, so it was difficult for me to watch that dynamic being destroyed. While Derek’s demise shocked me to the core, I’ll never forgive the malpractice at the hospital that led to his death. With time, though, I can admit his death is probably the thing that saved the show.


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Derek Shepherd’s Death Was Haunting

Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) in the afterlife in Grey's Anatomy.

Derek’s final episode started with him saving victims of a road traffic accident, but he was punished for his good deed when a semi-truck knocked him down. The episode was powerful because Derek knew what had to be done to save his life, even though he couldn’t articulate as much to the people at the hospital. Throughout Grey’s Anatomy‘s prior 10 seasons, Derek was a fantastic neurosurgeon who saved many lives, so his inability to say what needed to be done to save his own life was tormenting for me. It was even more hard-hitting that one of the doctors got shut down by her boss while requesting a CT scan.

The tension was at an all-time high for me as I believed an eleventh-hour miracle would save Derek’s life and allow him to reunite with Meredith. The most harrowing part of the aftermath was how Meredith’s first instinct was that a CT scan should have been carried out. It perfectly encapsulated their relationship that, even on his deathbed, Meredith knew what was right for her husband. While the episode was polarizing, it forced the series to switch gears.

Grey’s Anatomy’s Original Cast


Ellen Pompeo

Meredith Grey

Sandra Oh

Christina Yang

Katherine Heigl

Izzy Stevens

Justin Chambers

Alex Karev

T.R. Knight

George O’Malley

Chandra Wilson

Miranda Bailey

James Pickens Jr.

Richard Weber

Isaiah Washington

Preston Burke

Patrick Dempsey

Derek Shepherd

Derek’s Death Changed Grey’s Anatomy Forever

Grey’s Anatomy Was Thrown Into Uncharted Territory

Derek (Patrick Dempsey) looks at Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) at the beach in Grey's Anatomy

Derek’s death ushered in a bold new era of Grey’s Anatomy. Nine years later, the series is still going from strength to strength and is gearing up to premiere Grey’s Anatomy season 21 in the fall. While the show fumbled the bag on Meredith’s dating life in the following seasons, Derek’s death still has a halo effect that’s felt all these years later. I believe Grey’s Anatomy might have fizzled out long before now had Shonda Rhimes not been willing to write out Dempsey. Due to creative choice, the show immediately got a jolt of life.

Grey’s Anatomy staged a return to form in season 12 as everyone felt the after-effects of such a life-changing development. Meredith’s storylines were fresh and engaging, while Amelia’s downward spiral gave Caterina Scorsone some of the best material of her career. Without Derek’s death, many of the plots from season 11 would have carried over to season 12 and likely sent the show further down the wrong path.

Despite Meredith and Derek coming to terms with their past in the former’s dream-like state as she battled COVID-19, I thought it was a great way to give the couple the closure they deserved.

Even though Patrick Dempsey was gone, there were continued demands for his return. While I never thought this was possible, producers brought him back during Grey’s Anatomy season 17 as a recurring guest star. Despite Meredith and Derek coming to terms with their past in the former’s dream-like state as she battled COVID-19, I thought it was a great way to give the couple the closure they deserved. The sad part is that, without Derek’s death, the show could have made a big blunder.

Without Derek’s Demise, The Series Would Probably Have Destroyed His Relationship With Meredith

Derek’s Death Was The Only Option That Made Sense

Patrick Dempsey’s time on Grey’s Anatomy was concluding, so it was best to kill Derek since there would be no other logical way to explain his departure without tarnishing his relationship with Meredith. Despite their issues, Meredith and Derek continually beat the odds because their marriage was built on a strong foundation. Having Derek leave town would have been a disservice to his arc, as he would never leave Meredith.

While Ellen Pompeo has now departed as a series regular, she still pops back in here and there, making me feel like Meredith isn’t truly gone. A similar tactic could have kept Derek and Meredith’s relationship intact if Dempsey was open to becoming a recurring star instead of leaving. That said, I appreciated the big swing since it probably secured the show’s future. Derek was one of Grey’s Anatomy‘s finest characters, but I can’t deny that killing him laid the groundwork for the series’ best future.

Grey’s Anatomy returns for season 21 on ABC in fall 2024.

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