Being a character in a Shonda Rhimes show is a tough gig. In pretty much all of her “ShondaLand” shows, the odds of falling on hard times — being maimed, cheated on, diagnosed with some sort of terminal illness, going nuts, having a crappy relationship with a parent, etc. — are astronomical. And if you are a ShondaLand character reading this article screaming “holy mackerel, how do I get out of here?” we have awful news for you: nine times out of ten, the only escape hatch is a cosmically tragic death.
Nowhere is this truth more evident than in Rhimes’s first and signature show, Grey’s Anatomy, which over the course of 12 seasons and 264 episodes has taught us that being a medical professional at Seattle Grace Hospital/Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital/Whatever They’re Calling It This Season is pretty much the most dangerous job on Earth. It’s not just life and limb they’re risking, either. The characters on Grey’s are constantly hooking up, breaking up and re-hooking up, getting married and getting divorced, having daddy/mommy issues and surrogate daddy/mommy issues, and dealing with the fallout of finding out they have a sibling they never knew about (this has happened to one character two distinct times).
Watching all of the drama of Grey’s Anatomy unfold over the last 12 years has given its viewers something akin to a 1000-yard stare, because you never know when Rhimes is about to take something that you love away from you. Let’s look at 12 Times Grey’s Anatomy Has Ruined Your Life.
12. Denny’s Death
We promise this won’t just be an article about beloved characters dying, but we can’t get too deep into the list without talking about the original tear-jerker/life-ruiner of Grey’s Anatomy, the death of fan-favorite nice guy Denny Duquette (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
Denny’s death was the tortured culmination of a multi-episode story arc throughout season 2 which ultimately saw him receive a long-awaited, life-saving heart transplant thanks to the incredibly unethical intervention of his fiancée, Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl). He gets his heart and everything seems to be on the up-and-up until he randomly, tragically experiences a clot that kills him.
11. Burke Took Off
Burke’s relationship with Cristina (Sandra Oh) wasn’t without its challenges, but for the most part, they provided a stable alternative to the ballad of Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek (Patrick Dempsey). You could rely on those two. They weren’t going anywhere.
Until Burke randomly decided to leave Cristina at the altar, and the show altogether, that is.
Though rumor has it that off-screen tension (and a dash of homophobia) led to Isaiah Washington’s abrupt exit from the series, Rhimes probably couldn’t help milking the moment for all it was worth, delivering a one-two gut punch to Yang, and fans, that ached well into season 4.
10. Everything In Izzie’s Last Episodes
The death of Denny wasn’t the only tragedy faced by Izzie throughout her almost six-year run on the show. In fact, seasons 5 & 6 were especially cruel to the character, and fans of the character.
She is diagnosed with brain cancer, loses her short-term memory, gets divorced from Karev (despite her attempts to reconcile), and even though she miraculously kept her job after the Denny incident, gets canned for making a mistake that really doesn’t seem as bad as intentionally cutting an LVAD wire, but what do we know.
9. Derek’s Death
Let’s go back to major character deaths for a moment, shall we? The Derek and Meredith soap opera came to an unceremonious close in Season 11 when, in the midst of an existential marital crisis, he gets into an accident and is delivered to a local hospital, practically comatose.
We say “practically,” because he is actually aware of what’s going on and just sort of observes helplessly as professional incompetence and cruel, random chance result in him being declared brain dead and taken off life support by Meredith (who, to add a pinch more tragedy, is pregnant with the couple’s third child).
Rumors suggest that Patrick Dempsey, who played Derek, had wanted out of the show for a while, and Rhimes later said that the only way to write him out while preserving his relationship with Meredith was to kill him. While that explains the rationale, it doesn’t quite amend the pure trauma felt by fans when the unthinkable played out over a long and tortured 42 minutes.
8. George’s Death
Though he was always a fan-favorite, Rhimes had been running out of things to do with George’s character for a few seasons before his untimely and tragic death. Just as George (T.R. Knight) was about to jump the shark and join the Army, a heavily disfigured John Doe was brought to Seattle Grace and ultimately revealed to be…George.
7. Ava Loses Her Marbles
In one of the more disturbing emotional story arcs of Grey’s Anatomy, Karev (Justin Chambers) falls in love with a disfigured patient he names “Ava.” Though Ava gets a new face and discovers that she’s actually a married woman named “Rebecca,” she leaves her husband to pursue a relationship with Karev. All seems well at first, but remember that this is Grey’s Anatomy.
Ava slowly descends into pure, television insanity. Residual trauma from the accident causes her to demand to be called “Ava,” hallucinate a pregnancy, and attempt suicide. All the while, Karev insists everything is just peachy, and it’s not until his friends intervene that he makes the painful decision to commit a sobbing Rebecca to a psychiatric facility.
6. The Plane Crash
Again, we promised not to milk character death in this article, so let’s get a bunch out of the way at once, shall we? Season 8’s finale “Flight” resulted in the abrupt death of Lexie Grey, the eventual death of Mark Sloan, the loss of Arizona Robbins’ leg, and a general reminder to Grey’s Anatomy fans that Shonda Rhimes doesn’t want us to have nice things.
“Flight” not only immediately ruined the lives of Grey’s fans everywhere, it continued to hit them in the feels as Season 9 began and more consequences of the crash (Mark’s death, Robbins’ leg) were revealed.
5. The Mass Shooting
A multi-episode arc at the end of Season 6 saw the husband of a deceased former patient return with a gun and a real mad-on for Derek, Dr. Webber and Lexie. Though it’s debatable whether the losses of Dr. Reed Adamson and Dr. Charles Percy effected fans long-term, Derek’s fake-out death was enough to cause Meredith to miscarry their child, and all of us wrapped these episodes feeling pretty crappy about the whole thing.
4. The Musical Episode
“Song Beneath the Song” was the eighteenth episode of season 7, and by all accounts, the first major confirmation that the show was running out of ideas. Though not exactly in the same league as other entries in this list, Grey’s much-maligned “musical episode” was a sad and tragic affair of a different kind, so preposterous in its execution that many fans were left to wonder why the heck they were still doing tuning in every week.
A poorly executed, desperate attempt at a ratings grab, this particular misfire had many calling for the show’s head.
3. Samuel’s Death
Depending on who you ask, April Kepner (Sarah Drew) is either the show’s stalwart sweetheart or a complete and utter annoyance (if you’re asking us, it’s the latter). Regardless, the tragic death of her son, Samuel, was a close second to Derek’s death in season 11’s life-ruining moments.
2. Owen And Cristina Get A Divorce
They were doomed from the start, but you couldn’t help but root for Owen (Kevin McKidd) and Cristina’s relationship. Though the two struggled through their short marriage — the dissolution of which made perfect sense for both characters — we knew that they’d always love each other and still kind of wish there was a way they could have worked it out.
1. You’re Still Watching The Show
The last and perhaps biggest way Grey’s Anatomy is ruining our lives is that it just keeps going and we just keep watching it. Why are we doing this to ourselves, America?
All kidding aside, the show’s longevity is a testament to Shonda Rhimes’ ability to make us feel stuff, so let’s hope that once the show reaches its conclusion, whenever that may be, she has mercy on her fanbase and gives us something resembling a happy ending.
Did we miss any Grey’s Anatomy moments that ruined your life? Let us know in the comments.