With 15 seasons that aired from 1994 to 2009, ER stood as television’s longest-running medical drama for a decade after its grand finale. It wasn’t until 2019 that the 16th season of Grey’s Anatomy would dethrone ER, which is now the second longest-running TV drama surrounding fictional doctors.
Created by Michael Crichton, who wrote novels such as Jurassic Park, The Lost World and films such as Westworld (1973) and Twister (1996)—among many other notable works–ER is one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed series in the history of television. Read below to explore which episode stood out in every season of the show, as well as how they rank against one another.
15 Season 14 - "The War Comes Home"
“The War Comes Home” opened season 14 of ER with a bang. Several casualties from an anti-war rally in Chicago bring many patients to County General Hospital, causing Abby, Morris, and Pratt to struggle to tend to everyone. What’s more, Gates ends up with a patient that he suspects started the explosion that set off these casualties.
The first episode of ER season 14 is by far the highlight of that season, which would go on to become the show’s second-to-last year on TV.
14 Season 12 - "Twenty-One Guns"
There’s a shootout in the County General Hospital, and the gunmen start getting more and more anxious. To make matters worse, Kovac unintentionally puts himself in the middle of the action.
The season 12 finale “Twenty-One Guns” is a riveting and gut-wrenching episode that introduced an oft-imitated storyline for medical dramas on TV: gunmen in the hospital. This was not only innovative storytelling for TV, but it also raised the stakes for ER after 12 years on the air.
13 Season 9 - "Kisangani"
“Kisangani,” the finale for ER season 9, shows Carter volunteering in Africa and treating victims of a Civil War in the Congo. During that episode, the show completely stepped out of Chicago—as it only sometimes did and focused on Carter struggling to treat patients in a country with very few resources.
After Carter reunites with Kovac in Congo, the two of them find themselves in the middle of a conflict between opposing Congolese tribes. All in all, “Kisangani” is undoubtedly the standout episode of season 9.
12 Season 7 - "The Crossing"
On season 7, ER aired its 150th episode, “The Crossing.” Besides the fact that this episode commemorated a very important achievement for the series, it was also a really good episode that placed Carter, Kovac, and Corday in the middle of a literal train wreck.
In “The Crossing,” we see Kovac struggling with his past and his faith, as well as Carter struggling to perform a difficult procedure on the train. To make matters worse, then-pregnant Corday starts feeling contractions.
11 Season 5 - "The Storm"
In hindsight, many fans remember season 5 as George Clooney’s (Dr. Doug Ross) last year on ER. More specifically, however, the highlight of that season was the two-parter “The Storm” episode. All in all, “The Storm (Part 2)” garnered 35.7 million viewers, making it the most-watched episode of that season.
It was very hard saying goodbye to Dr. Ross on ER, and “The Storm” certainly made fans cry their hearts out as they watched him make the decision to leave County General Hospital. Thankfully, George Clooney did appear as a special guest on ER twice more in season 6 episode 21 (“Such Sweet Sorrow”), as well as in season 15 episode 19 (“Old Times”).
10 Season 3 - "Night Shift"
Season 3’s “Night Shift” shows the County General doctors facing what is an otherwise slow night at the hospital. However, that is not to say that these characters don’t face their fair share of conflicts that make this episode the highlight of that season.
Overall, “Night Shift” places a focus on the behind-the-scenes of the life of a doctor, rather than showcasing more complicated medical cases in the form of new patients. For instance, Greene is faced with a legal matter. Moreover, Carter must come to grips with the ongoing tension between Benton and Grant.
9 Season 10 - "Freefall"
“Freefall” is remembered by many fans as the episode where Dr. Robert Romano (Paul McCrane) dies, which comes as the result of a helicopter crash. After ten years on air, this episode proved that ER could still surprise its audience and take chances as it furthered its storytelling.
With so much hanging in the balance, it comes as no surprise that “Freefall” was one of the most-watched episodes of season 10, bringing in 23.4 million viewers.
8 Season 2 - "Hell and High Water"
Dr. Doug Ross (portrayed by George Clooney) was certainly one of the standout characters from the very beginning of ER, but one might argue that season 2’s “Hell and High Water” episode really solidified his importance on the series. What’s more, this episode definitively showcased the types of stories that ER could tell, many of which did not have to take place inside a hospital.
“Hell and High Water” is ER’s most-watched episode ever, bringing in 48 million viewers. In it, Dr. Ross tries to rescue a boy who is trapped in a storm drain.
7 Season 13 - "Bloodline"
The plot of season 13 premiere “Bloodline” immediately followed the season 12 finale (“Twenty-One Guns”) shootout that changed County General Hospital forever. During this episode, the doctors are trying to treat Markovic and Lockhart (who is pregnant), both of whom were injured during the shooting.
All in all, the County General doctors on ER struggle to deal with the aftermath of the events that took place on the season 12 finale, making this a high-stakes and incredibly compelling episode to watch.
6 Season 11 - "The Show Must Go On"
Dr. Carter’s exit from ER is marked by various surprise appearances and many moments that caused fans to worry and cry. In true ER fashion, Carter’s farewell party is paralleled by crazy circumstances that the County General doctors must face. Moreover, four interns start working at the hospital, signaling that there’ll be new blood substituting Carter.
5 Season 15 - "And In The End"
One does not have to argue too hard about how “And In The End…” was the highlight of season 15. After all, it was the grand finale to the then-longest-running medical drama on primetime TV. The episode also brought back many fan-favorite characters such as Carter, Stringfield, Lewis, Benton, and La Salle.
4 Season 6 - "All In The Family"
Saying goodbye to Dr. Lucky Knight (Kellie Martin) was one of the most challenging and memorable moments ever for ER fans. The Valentine’s Day-themed “All in the Family” episode follows the stabbing of Dr. Knight that leads to her death. It is a gut-wrenching episode that had fans upset at how unfair it was to lose this character in such a tragic way.
3 Season 1 - "Love's Labor Lost"
Episode 19 of ER season 1, “Love’s Labor Lost,” is one of the most unanimously beloved episodes in the history of the show. In it, we see Dr. Greene misdiagnosing a pregnant woman, causing the County General doctors to scramble to save her and her baby’s lives.
During that awards season, “Love’s Labor Lost” won five Emmy awards. It is safe to say that this episode solidified ER’s place on TV, turning it into a primetime ratings juggernaut that also garnered wide critical acclaim.
2 Season 4 - "Exodus"
A chemical spill causes several patients to end up on the County General Hospital, making “Exodus” one of the most exciting event episodes in the history of ER. During this episode, we see Dr. Carter taking charge of the emergency room, along with Ross, Hathaway, and Corday facing obstacles of their own.
1 Season 8 - "On the Beach"
Season 8’s “On the Beach” marks the death of Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards), which is an unforgettable moment in the history of the show. Throughout the episode, we see Greene on his final days, as he visits Hawaii and reconciles with his family.
“On the Beach” is one of those episodes where ER had little to do with medicine and more to do with the lives of the characters that existed on the show. It stands out as one of the very best moments in the entire series.