Ever since the news broke this past summer that Ellen Pompeo would only be appearing in a handful of episodes of Grey’s Anatomy this season, a segment of the audience has been planning a funeral for the long-running ABC drama. The show, these viewers argue, won’t be the show anymore, not without Meredith Grey.
But it ain’t necessarily so. When Sandra Oh’s Cristina Yang checked out of Grey Sloan all the way back in Season 10’s finale, she told her person that husband Derek Shepherd (R.I.P.) wasn’t the sun, Meredith was. And while that’s certainly true in her life and career, it isn’t remotely true of the series that shares her surname. Even Pompeo knows that. Grey’s Anatomy is “going to be just fine without me,” she told our sister site Deadline in September.
With the leading lady’s exit in Season 19’s winter premiere on Thursday, Feb. 23, the show will be down to just two remaining original cast members, Chandra Wilson and James Pickens Jr., who play Drs. Miranda Bailey and Richard Webber, respectively. Showrunner Krista Vernoff is departing, too, at the end of the season. However, we have if not every reason to believe that Grey’s Anatomy will continue to thrive, at least 10. If you keep scrolling, we’ll reveal what they are.
Hello? It's a Group Effort
As Meredith, Pompeo has been front and center since the series’ 2005 premiere (even when the character was chillin’ on her COVID beach). But Grey’s Anatomy has never been a one-woman show. “It’s always had a tremendous cast of actors who can carry any amount of the story,” Vernoff reminded TVLine this fall. “So while we will desperately miss Ellen and Meredith… there’s a lot of story to tell” with the others.
We've Been Through This Before
When Oh scrubbed out, there were viewers who said, “That’s it. Show’s over.” The same thing happened when Patrick Dempsey was killed off and when Justin Chambers took his leave. And guess what? It wasn’t ever the end of the road, it was just a fork in it. So will the vibe be different without Meredith making the rounds? Absolutely. But that could prove to be a jolt from the defibrillator paddles, considering that…
Sometimes Change Is Good
We get it. Grey’s Anatomy is comfort food that’s always kept us coming back for seconds. We, too, like knowing what we’re getting when we tune in: relationship drama with a dash of wit and a case-of-the-week that will tug at our hearts. But an alteration of a tried-and-true recipe — think: gruyere instead of cheddar in your mac and cheese — can enhance the taste of the dish without diminishing the comfort it provides.
Pompeo is hardly the first lead to leave a series — and leave it in excellent shape. The Conners is doing just fine, thank you, without Roseanne Barr and the character whose name gave the hitcom its original title. ER remained a smash for years after George Clooney departed. And Sherry Stringfield. And Julianna Margulies. Valerie ran for longer without Valerie Harper than with her (as Valerie’s Family, then The Hogan Family). Need we go on?
It's Hard to Catch Lightning in a Bottle Twice
No one needs a partner. Let’s just state that upfront. However, since Grey’s Anatomy is as much about love lives as saving lives, we kinda want Mer to have one. And since “MerDer” expired with Derek, Cupid’s aim has been iffy at best. The widow sparked nicely with younger man Andrew DeLuca, but her slow-burn romance with Cormac Hayes never caught fire, and she as often seems to dislike Nick Marsh as love him.
The Newbies Are Full of Potential
Early on in Season 19, TVLine took note of the shot of adrenaline that was being pumped into Grey’s Anatomy by the new class of surgical residents. Months later, we’re still high on the first-years, to the point that every other episode, we’ve found that we have a different favorite. Our latest: Harry Shum Jr.’s “Blue” Kwan, who so far appears to be sneaky, snarky and self-aware in equal measure.
The Second Bananas Might Finally Have Their Day
Once Meredith is discharged, a great deal of airtime will be freed up to showcase other characters — and perhaps get some bench warmers in the game. So maybe we’ll finally spend enough time with Maggie and Winston to care whether their marriage flatlines. Maybe we’ll find out if chief resident Levi has dated at all since his split from Nico. Hell, maybe we’ll finally see Helm go on a date at all!
There's Always Another Doctor in the House
Ever since Meredith’s stay on COVID beach in Season 17, Grey’s Anatomy has brought back one blast from the past after another — often in corporeal form. Already in Season 19, we’ve been reunited with Jesse Williams’ Jackson Avery, Greg Germann’s Tom Koracick and Kate Walsh’s Addison Montgomery. So if Pompeo’s exit means more former cast members making entrances, please, allow us to hold the door.
There Is Such a Thing as a Never-Ending Story
As far back as 2021, Pompeo admitted that she’d been “trying to focus on convincing everybody that [Grey’s Anatomy] should end. I feel like I’m the super naïve one who keeps saying, ‘But what’s the story going to be?’” We’re pretty sure the show’s crackerjack team of writers will take care of that. And should they need inspiration, they might be reminded that General Hospital turns 60 on April Fool’s Day.
Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
As much as anyone, we’ll hate to see Pompeo and Meredith leave Grey’s Anatomy. But if the actress is eager to do other things — and she has said that she is — we can only wish her well and look forward to the returns that she has already teased we are destined to get. Heck, after she’s been gone for a spell, we’re likely to be extra excited to have Mer swing through for a consult!