Grey’s Anatomy: The 10 Worst Character Exits

These are the Grey's Anatomy character departures we’re still mad about.

Justin Chambers as Alex Karev on Grey's Anatomy
Photo: ABC

Grey’s Anatomy has broken many hearts over its 20 seasons (and counting), but it’s also angered fans with how certain characters were written off. Realistically, no one wants to see their favorite character leave a show, but if it’s handled the right way, a good departure allows the legacy of the character to remain untouched. 

While there are many factors that go into planning and handling a character’s exit, the final product can be hit or miss. Here are what we consider to be the worst and most unnecessary exits from TV’s longest-running primetime medical drama.

10. April Kepner

While April’s (Sarah Drew) departure in season 14 could be considered a “happy ending” for the character, it was deeply unsatisfying for viewers. She had apparently been dating Matthew (Justin Bruening), who she left at the altar, for months and didn’t tell anyone. That itself is surprising but what makes it feel even more like an out-of-nowhere and rushed ending is Matthew proposing and the pair getting married after Alex and Jo’s wedding is forced to move venues. Thankfully, the show rectified this by having April and Jackson get back together, which is revealed during her return in the finale of season 18. Let’s be honest, we all knew she and Matthew weren’t going to last. 

9. Dahlia Qadri

Dahlia’s (Sophia Ali) exit was an extremely frustrating one, whether you liked her character or not. Miranda (Chandra Wilson) fired her for mouthing off and defending Meredith (Ellen Pompeo), who had also been fired. There’s no sort of closure or goodbye scene for the character, and honestly, we’ve seen others do (and say) much worse, so the treatment was pretty uncalled for. Hopefully, she’s thriving at another hospital. 

Ad – content continues below

8. Heather Brooks

Heather (Tina Majorino) had an unfortunate ending after searching for Richard (James Pickens Jr.), who she does successfully find. The intern gets electrocuted and collapses, bumping her head hard. She doesn’t make it due to swelling in her brain. This is entirely Shane’s (Gaius Charles) fault as he was the one who was supposed to find Richard, but instead passes the task off to Heather and takes her page from Derek. 

7. Izzie Stevens

After Izzie (Katherine Heigl) gets fired for making a mistake that puts a patient’s life in danger, she basically runs away, cutting off contact and leaving Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) to pay all of her medical bills. She only comes back when Meredith tells her that Alex is moving on. She wants to get back together but Alex knows he deserves better than how she’s treated him. He’s on the other side now and while he’s happy she’s okay, he wants her to go and not come back. Rather than having these random appearances in season 6 until she leaves, wouldn’t it have made more sense for Izzie to have been killed off in the season premiere? At least then her character would’ve been remembered in a good light. However, due to how she treated Alex, any fond memories of the character are left soured. 

6. Lexie Grey

Lexie’s death is probably one of the most known and talked about deaths on the show. In the season 8 finale, we lose the character about 15 minutes after a plane crash and it is painful. Mark (Eric Dane), Meredith, and Cristina (Sandra Oh) discover that she is trapped under part of the plane. While Meredith goes to find Derek (Patrick Dempsey), Mark and Cristina try to lift it off of her, but it’s no use. Due to her injuries, nothing is going to help. Cristina leaves her and Mark alone to say goodbye but Mark is still in denial, insisting she’ll be fine.

Lexie (Chyler Leigh) tells him that she’s dying and eventually, he gets down to the floor and holds her hand, saying that he loves her and has always been in love with her. The more he continues, mentioning how she has to stay alive because they’re going to get married and have two or three kids, the harder it gets to stop crying. Her last words echo his sentiment that they are “meant to be.” It was impossible to come out of the plane crash with zero casualties but we’ll never be over this loss. 

5. Mark Sloan

They were definitely meant to be and while we can have some peace knowing that Mark (Eric Dane) and Lexie are together, that doesn’t make his death in the season 9 premiere any easier. We’re now 30 days after the plane crash and he is still unconscious in bed, which means it is time to let go per his directive. Throughout, he is honored with flashbacks highlighting his friendship with Derek, how he took Jackson (Jesse Williams) under his wing, his love for his daughter, and more. The following episode even fills in the gaps and we get a proper goodbye thanks to “the surge,” referencing Mark’s final surge of energy before he gets worse. However, that goodbye makes the whole experience even rougher for the fans. 

4. Callie Torres

Callie (Sara Ramirez) wants to move to New York with her girlfriend, Penny (Samantha Sloyan), who received a grant, which sounds like a pretty great ending for the character. However, the problem isn’t the decision or even the ending itself but what comes with it and how she goes about it. She wants to bring Sofia with her, not considering Arizona’s (Jessica Capshaw) feelings on the matter. This leads to a horrible custody battle, which is especially difficult to watch if you loved the previous fan-favorite couple. Arizona wins and being the bigger person, she tells Callie to still go and that they’ll figure out a custody schedule that will ensure everyone is happy. The entire storyline paints Callie in a really bad light and the whole thing was handled poorly. 

Ad – content continues below

3. Derek Shepherd

Derek’s death came out of nowhere and had fans actually mourning the loss. While he at least died after saving lives, his death was unnecessary for multiple reasons. The first was that he only got in the car crash because he was reaching for his buzzing phone, which had seemingly fallen off the seat, while in the middle of a U-turn. That being said, it is certainly a gut punch to watch as a viewer and makes you hold your breath. The next is how despite him being stable, a head C.T. was skipped over in favor of going straight to the operating room. This is actually a debate between two of the doctors, but the wrong one wins out and it costs Derek everything. What makes this worse is the narration done by Dempsey, who repeatedly asks them to look at his head and states he has a head lac.

So every time the doctors don’t listen to him, it makes viewers realize just how badly and quickly this has gone downhill. As he said, “I’m going to die because these people aren’t properly trained.” It’s Derek’s warning to fans to prepare themselves and grab their tissues. Finally, the last reason is that the neurosurgeon was at dinner, taking an hour and a half to respond instead of twenty. Overall, the fact that they were a teaching hospital and not a trauma center ended up being a recipe for disaster, and Meredith had to make the call to pull the plug. 

2. Andrew DeLuca

Andrew’s (Giacomo Gianniotti) death is a close second for one specific reason: he got stabbed on Station 19, shocking fans who tuned into Grey’s Anatomy only to discover his life was hanging in the balance. It wouldn’t have been as brutal if the incident happened on Grey’s or he ended up surviving the wound, but he doesn’t. They make it seem like he will, previously showing how he’s been turning his life around and began to take care of himself after his bipolar diagnosis, even deeming him a hero for chasing Opal, but in the end, he goes into DIC. There’s no real reason for his death, it feels as unnecessary as it could possibly get and leaves viewers disappointed that this is how they chose to handle such a valuable mental health story. Not to mention, the reason he died was because he wanted to stop a sex trafficker, what kind of message is that? 

1. Alex Karev

Alex (Justin Chambers) continues to have the worst Grey’s Anatomy exit to date after he left his wife to be with Izzie, who secretly had his children. Yes, you read that right. Despite promise after promise to Jo (Camilla Luddington) that he wasn’t going anywhere, he leaves her and only explains his departure in a letter. It’s hard to throw 16 seasons of character development out the window, but this storyline did it flawlessly and served as a slap in the face to fans who have loved the character and have cheered him on this whole time. 

The Grey’s Anatomy season 20 finale airs May 30 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC and you can stream on Hulu. The series has already been renewed for season 21.