Grey’s Anatomy is undergoing a change.
After nearly two decades and more than 400 episodes of leading the ABC medical drama, star Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith Grey said goodbye to Grey Sloan Memorial for her family’s move to Boston in the season 19 winter premiere, “I’ll Follow the Sun.” The Feb. 23 episode marked Pompeo’s second-to-last appearance this season, with her next onscreen visit not coming until the season finale in May.
The moment brings about a series regular exit for Grey’s resident doctor, Meredith Grey, who has been played by Pompeo since the beloved Shonda Rhimes-created series first launched in 2005. And it begins to test if Grey’s can succeed without its star.
Heading into the midseason finale, it was announced that Pompeo would be scaling back her role on the long-running ABC series for season 19. After signing on to star in and executive produce a limited series for Hulu (also in the Disney family), Pompeo and the Grey’s team revealed that Meredith would only appear onscreen for a total of eight episodes this season.
Now that the winter finale has aired, viewers won’t see Meredith again until the season 19 finale on May 26. However, Pompeo remains an executive producer on Grey’s and continues to be a voice star, as Meredith will keep narrating the show in her signature voiceovers.
Grey’s remains a hit for Disney in its 19th season, ranking as TV’s longest-running primetime medical drama in history. Although Pompeo’s scaling back and the exit of showrunner Krista Vernoff come as the series awaits a renewal for season 20, Pompeo has been open about her desire to do more Grey’s and Rhimes has long said there would be no Grey’s Anatomy without Meredith Grey.
“This isn’t your first time on the rollercoaster… you know the show must go on and I’ll definitely be back to visit,” she said in her Instagram post announcing the decision, amid a grateful message to the fans.
And Meredith’s farewell episode certainly left the door open for the character’s storyline to continue on — signaling that she will loom over the rest of the season — and provided options for her to return to Seattle for a potential 20th season, if the Boston plan falls through.
“I’ll Follow the Sun,” written by Vernoff and directed by co-star Debbie Allen, saw Meredith’s friends and co-workers throwing the beloved surgeon a goodbye party, after Meredith announced her decision to move her family to Boston, where she will continue her groundbreaking work on a cure for Alzheimer’s. The episode committed Meredith to her decision, as viewers watched the plane take off with Meredith and her three children, including the Zola (Aniela Gumbs), whose early genius solidified the family move.
During the goodbye party, however, Meredith made it clear to her fellow doctors that she plans to pop in for visits. “I’m only going to Boston and you know I’ll probably be here next week,” she said.
And the romantic storyline between her and Scott Speedman’s Dr. Nick Marsh also was left open. After the midseason finale’s fire to her home, Meredith and Nick apparently experienced a rift after she told him she loved him, and her words went unreciprocated. Nick couldn’t catch Meredith before her plane took off, but he called her to tell her that he loves her and that he has loved her ever since they met. His words were met with a smile, but Meredith told Nick she couldn’t hear him clearly, as they were taking off, and hung up the phone, leaving their relationship in cliffhanger status.
An answer on that ending could be gleamed from the episode’s title — clearly a nod to Cristina Yang’s (Sandra Oh) prior advice to Meredith about Derek (Patrick Dempsey): “Don’t let what he wants eclipse what you need. He’s very dreamy, but he’s not the sun. You are!”
And, in a full-circle nod for viewers, the episode ended with three young doctors from the show’s new crop of interns (played by Alexis Floyd, Niko Terho and Midori Francis) moving into Meredith’s now-vacated home.
Whatever the future holds, the Grey’s cast treated the episode as a goodbye, paying tribute to Pompeo and Meredith Grey on social media. (See the tributes, below.)
Rhimes herself said in a post, “What a journey these 19 seasons have been! Wouldn’t trade them (or you) for the world. Beyond excited for your next chapter. See you later, Dr. Grey.”
To which Pompeo replied, “Same Queen Same … We certainly did the damn thing!!!”