The wait is finally over! To mark the return of "Grey's Anatomy" on March 11, 2021, Wonderwall.com is looking back at some of the biggest moments on the hit medical drama… starting with this bittersweet reunion. During season 17, the show reflected the global coronavirus pandemic and Ellen Pompeo's Dr. Meredith Grey contracts COVID-19. In the episode entitled "You'll Never Walk Alone," which follows an emotional reunion between Meredith and her late husband, Dr. Derek Shepherd, Meredith sees another familiar face during a dreamy beach sequence that plays out as she's fighting for her life — George O'Malley. In an emotional conversation, George, as cheerful as ever, reassures Meredith that despite not being with her in person, he still checks in on her. He goes on to tell her that even though she thinks people will be fine without her, in reality, grief is more complex than that — it has the capacity to stay with you and weigh you down, causing irreparable damage. We're not crying — you are! Keep reading for more major moments from the show… but be warned, if you haven't watched the entire series (what are you waiting for?), there might be a spoiler or two.
In this emotional scene from the season 2 episode "Bring the Pain," Dr. Meredith Grey tells Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) how absolutely still-in-love-with-him she is (despite denying it earlier), saying, "Pick me. Choose me. Love me." Refusing to give Derek a chance to respond, Meredith ends her tearful plea with an invitation to meet her later that night at their favorite bar, if he decides to end his marriage to Addison. Even today, that scene manages to make us cry.
From making us believe in true love to absolutely crushing our souls, "Grey's Anatomy" always leaves us in our feelings. One episode we still haven't recovered from is season 2's "Losing My Religion" where Dr. Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) discovers the man she loves, Denny (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), has died from a stroke just an hour after he proposed to her from his hospital bed. Dressed in a fuchsia ball gown for a hospital prom, Izzie tearfully climbs into bed with Denny and cradles his body, holding on until her friend and co-worker Alex lifts her into his arms and holds her while she cries.
Why does "Grey's Anatomy" keep breaking our hearts? On the season 3 episode "Didn't We Almost Have it All?," Dr. Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington) and Dr. Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) were supposed to get married, but when she didn't walk down the aisle to greet her groom on time, he knew their love story was over. Walking out to find her in the hallway, Preston tells Cristina that if he really loved her, he would accept that she wasn't ready to marry him and let her go. Later that day, she returns to their apartment to find his things gone. Ripping off her dress, she cries out, "I'm free," before crumbling into a heap of tears in BFF Meredith's arms.
On the season 6 episode "Invasion," Dr. Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) faces off with her unsupportive dad (Hector Elizondo), who arrives at Seattle Grace with their family priest to convince his daughter she's not a lesbian. As soon as Callie realizes her dad's scheme, she doesn't hesitate to yell in a crowded hospital waiting room, "You can't pray away the gay!" Although Callie later decides to sit down and talk with her dad and Father Kevin, she's not about to let him shame her or her lifestyle. As he begins to quote the Bible to his daughter, she interrupts him with her own memorized biblical verses that reflect a loving, kind God before tearfully saying, "Jesus is my savior, Daddy, not you. And Jesus would be ashamed of you for judging me. He would be ashamed of you for turning your back on me…" before walking out the door and leaving every viewer sobbing.
One episode of "Grey's Anatomy" we'd love to pretend never happened is season 11's "How to Save a Life" where (grab your tissues) Derek Shepherd, aka McDreamy, aka the heart and soul of the show, dies. The painful end to the Meredith-Derek love story happened after Derek was fatally injured in a car crash, leaving him officially and irreparably brain dead. Realizing Derek will never wake up again, Meredith makes the heartbreaking decision to remove her husband from life support. Before his breathing tube is removed, Meredith speaks to him one last time, telling him, "Derek, it's OK. You go. We'll be fine." As soon as Derek actually died, we realized Meredith was wrong and we will never, ever, be fine again.
While "Grey's Anatomy" is known to make us bawl, it also makes us laugh so hard we cry. Case in point? The season 1 episode "Who's Zoomin' Who?" when lovable and notoriously shy Dr. George O'Malley (T.R. Knight) discovers he's got a nasty case of syphilis. After embarrassingly confirming his STD diagnosis with Dr. Alex Karev, George decides to get immediate treatment by way of an antibiotic injection in his buttocks, only to have several of his co-workers, like Izzie, Meredith and Cristina, interrupt him while his pants are down. The cherry on top? George later learns the source of his sexually transmitted disease is none other than Alex, a known romeo who'd previously romanced the woman George was dating.
At this point, "Grey's Anatomy" fans have grown accustomed to watching their favorite characters leave. On the season 16 episode "Leave a Light On," Justin Chambers' Dr. Alex Karev officially leaves Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. Prior to his departure, Alex sends out handwritten letters to four crucial people — his wife, Jo (Camilla Luddington), Meredith, Miranda and Richard. In the letters, he explains that he's decided to leave Jo — who was under the impression that her husband had gone to visit his mother in Iowa — for his former love, Dr. Izzie Stevens, and that the couple also share twins they conceived via frozen embryos after her (season 6) departure. Unfortunately, this particular moment in "Grey's Anatomy" history was memorable for a not-so-great reason — many fans were absolutely outraged that the reformed bad boy of the hospital would make such a decision, adding that his departure also seemed unrealistically abrupt.
The on-again, off-again love story on "Grey's Anatomy" between Derek and Meredith made us sigh, laugh, cry and, sometimes, it made us want to pull our hair out. Thankfully, the two lovebirds finally got their act together on the season 4 finale episode "Freedom" (part two) when Meredith reminds Derek of why she's the only one he could ever really love. Her grand gesture? A life-sized floor plan of their future house, romantically built out of candles. As Meredith half-berates Derek for being late while telling him she's willing to trust him again, he passionately kisses her and says, "I have to go. In order to kiss you where I want to kiss you, in order to do more than kiss you, I need to speak to Rose. I want my conscience clear, so I can do more than kiss you" — indicating he was going to dump his current girlfriend to get back with Meredith. Cheating aside, we still get serious goosebumps whenever we watch that scene.
On the season 8 finale episode of "Grey's Anatomy," we watched in horror as Derek, Meredith, Cristina, Arizona, Mark and Lexie were involved in a plane crash in the woods, leaving several members severely injured and struggling to survive. With Arizona's leg severely damaged, Mark barely holding on to life, Lexie stuck under the plane and Derek suffering a gushing arm wound, it was up to Meredith and Cristina to stay alert and save everyone's lives. Making matters worse, there was a pack of hungry wolves surrounding their emergency encampment, eager to feast on a vulnerable passenger.
One of the most painful moments during the "Grey's Anatomy" season 8 plane crash episode was watching Meredith's little sister, Lexie (Chyler Leigh), tell her on-again, off-again love Mark (Eric Dane) that she was dying as she was trapped under the plane. Begging for Mark to hold her hand in her final moments, he first refused, telling her she was wrong and that they would get her stabilized. Realizing she may not make it, Mark reached out to hold her hand and admitted that he'd always loved her and planned on spending the rest of his life with her. As tears welled in Lexie's eyes, Mark pleaded with her not to die, saying, "We're supposed to end up together. We're meant to be." Lexie struggled to breathe and quietly repeated "meant to be" before she finally succumbed to her injuries and died, leaving Mark (and viewers) devastated. Following Lexie's death, Mark seemed to sit in silence mourning the loss, but Cristina later discovered he was suffering from massive internal bleeding, leaving his life hanging in the balance as well.
After the surviving passengers from the plane crash were rescued, Dr. Arizona Robbins' injuries proved far worse than she knew. Her broken, exposed femur was also dangerously infected and the only way to save her was to amputate her leg. On the season 9 premiere episode of "Grey's Anatomy," Arizona pleaded with her wife, Callie, to not let surgeons take her leg and Callie agreed, knowing all along she was going to break that promise. At the same time, Callie was also trying to save Mark's life after his internal injuries following the crash proved too great. Sadly, Mark, who was the father of Callie and Arizona's daughter, succumbed to his injuries and died, leaving his friends and colleagues devastated. When Arizona woke up following her surgery, she was hit with a double whammy of hurt, learning her friend had died and her wife had betrayed her wishes.
Like warm cookies and hot cocoa, the season 5 finale episode of "Grey's Anatomy" managed to swoop us up in its sweetness. While Meredith and Derek are busy trying to track Izzie's brain tumor and treat a mysterious John Doe with a brain bleed (who they don't yet realize is their friend George), they're also trying to find a moment to run to City Hall and get married. Unfortunately, their plans are thwarted each time due to their patients. While Meredith tries to anxiously orchestrate a quickie wedding, Derek calms her down by asking her for a piece of paper, but all Meredith has are blue Post-it Notes Cristina gave her. Smiling, Derek reminds Meredith that in order to spend their lives together, they have to make vows. Standing in the hospital locker room, the two promise to love each other even when they hate each other, to never run away from one another and to always be there for each other until they're "old, senile and smelly," marking the beginning of their lives together as husband and wife and starting their long tradition of calling "Post-it!" to one another throughout the series.
On the "Grey's Anatomy" season 5 finale episode "Now or Never," we learn that the mysterious John Doe whose body is unrecognizable after being hit by a burning bus is actually Dr. George O'Malley. Near death and unable to speak or barely move, George is able to trace the numbers 0-0-7 (his nickname) into Meredith's hand, causing her to gasp in recognition. Rushing to get the team into the OR to save George's life, the episode ends with George flatlining on the operating table and a vision of him in the afterlife, leaving us all to face the possibility that he was truly gone for good. When Season 6 premiered, we learned George did indeed die, which only served to prolong the heartbreak even more.
On the same episode of "Grey's Anatomy" in which George O'Malley dies, we watched in horror as his friend and fellow physician Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) also flatlines shortly after her brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. What makes the moment so incredibly gut-wrenching is watching Alex (Justin Chambers), her longtime friend and recent husband, desperately try to save her, even though she'd previously signed a DNR forbidding anyone to resuscitate her. While her colleagues perform life-saving measures, we get a supernatural glimpse of Izzie in her fuchsia prom dress, the same one she wore the night Denny died, traveling in the elevator (presumably to heaven) where she sees her buddy George, dressed in a military uniform, also on his way to the afterlife. By the season 6 premiere, we learn that Izzie comes back to life, giving us a chance to mourn just one character's death.
On the season 3 episode "I Am a Tree," Derek (Patrick Dempsey) is struggling with guilt after his wife, Dr. Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh), discovers a pair of Meredith's panties in her husband's jacket pocket following the hospital prom. Recognizing their marriage is over, Derek finds his wife in a hotel where he apologizes, claiming their demise was "all his fault." As Addison sits with a glass of champagne in her hand, awkwardly listening to her soon-to-be-ex-husband take all the blame, McSteamy, aka Dr. Mark Sloan (Eric Dane), steps out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a towel, revealing she'd also been having an affair. Derek smiles, takes a drink from her glass and exclaims, "I feel so much better now," before walking out the door and out of her life for good.
When a beloved series regular jumps ship, it's never easy for viewers. Such was the case on the season 10 finale episode "Fear (of the Unknown)" in which our favorite snarky doctor, Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), says goodbye to Seattle Grace Hospital to take over for Preston Burke (yeah, that guy) at his hospital in Switzerland. Between tears, "Grey's Anatomy" gave us something to smile about when Cristina and her bestie, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), say goodbye the only way they can: by dancing it out to Tegan and Sara's "Where Does the Good Go." Of course, before they can gyrate the tears away, Cristina reminds Meredith not to be a hero in her absence, saying, "You're my person. I need you alive. You make me brave," which only made us sniffle and cry even more.
On the season 6 finale episode "Death and All His Friends," Derek (Patrick Dempsey) is targeted by a crazed gunman who blames him for his wife's death. Going on a shooting spree throughout the hospital, injuring some and killing others, the gunman finally finds Derek, who attempts to calmly talk the man down. As Meredith and Cristina frantically watch from afar, the gunman lowers his weapon, only to raise it again and shoot Derek in the chest. Working to save Derek's life, the team manages to stave off the gunman's return while bringing Derek back from the brink of death. Sadly, the trauma proved too much for a newly pregnant Meredith, who suffered a miscarriage while helping fellow doctor Owen Hunt recover from a gunshot wound to the shoulder.
Throughout the life of "Grey's Anatomy," friends Dr. Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.) and Dr. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) have always shown up for each other through the good and bad. They proved their dedication to one another in the heartbreaking season 9 episode "Things We Said Today" when Bailey delays her own wedding ceremony to help operate on Webber's wife, Adele, after she has an aneurysm. Once Adele is stable, the bride rushes to her wedding while Webber takes over Adele's care. Sadly, Adele suffers a fatal heart attack shortly after her surgery, leaving her husband bereft. Rather than stay and mourn, he decides to show up to his dear friend's wedding, but, not wanting to ruin Bailey's big day, doesn't tell her the news. Instead, he watches her enjoy her first dance with her new husband and remembers when he and Adele once did the same, making the scene impossible to watch without sobbing.
The season 7 episode "Song Beneath the Song" was memorable for many reasons, including that it was the first musical episode of the series in which characters sang popular songs from the show. Along with surprising musical numbers, the episode also followed Callie after her horrific car accident from the previous episode immediately following Arizona's proposal to her. The accident left Callie and her unborn baby's life in peril, with doctors at Seattle Grace uncertain they could save either one. Forced to deliver her baby prematurely, Arizona pleads with Callie to wake up and tells her that their daughter is strong, saying, "She can't open her eyes yet, but I can tell she's looking for you." Jolted by her maternal instinct, Callie opens her eyes and, responding to the question Arizona asked her right before they crashed, says, "Yes. Yes. I'll marry you."
Do "Grey's Anatomy" doctors ever get a day off from drama? On the season 3 episode "Drowning on Dry Land," Meredith and Derek are at the harbor assisting injured passengers following a tragic ferry accident. While tending to a convulsing patient, Meredith is accidentally pushed over the ledge into freezing cold water that causes her to go into hypothermia and start to drown. Minutes later, Derek realizes what's happened to Meredith and jumps in to save her, emerging from the water with her lifeless, blue body. Fighting to keep her alive, Derek performs CPR en route to the hospital and refuses to give up hope, even when Meredith flatlines. Finally stable, her friends wait to see if she'll ever wake up. Thankfully, with her best friend Cristina in the room, Meredith finally opens her eyes and says "ouch," letting everyone know she'll be OK.
Since joining "Grey's Anatomy" in 2009, Dr. Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams) has had many dramatic storylines. One of the most profound happened during the season 9 episode "Perfect Storm," which saw Jackson rushing into a crashed bus outside the hospital to save trapped passengers. Although there's a known fuel leak, Jackson can't leave without rescuing a little girl who's trapped inside. As the seconds tick by, patients and hospital staff are evacuated from the crash site, but Jackson's nowhere to be found. Callie recognizes Jackson under the bus and, along with other doctors, begins screaming for him to run before a sudden explosion causes the bus to go up in flames. Certain Jackson's dead, the team breaks down, but miraculously, through the smoke and flames, a shadowy figure emerges: It's Jackson, and he's carrying the little girl to safety.