By Alyssa Gautieri
By now, most people have heard of the beloved television drama “Grey’s Anatomy.” However, new fans, who may have been able to avoid the frequent social media outbursts of shock and sadness throughout the show’s 12 seasons, should stop reading now due to spoilers. For the few who may be unaware, “Grey’s Anatomy” is a medical drama series that focuses on a group of surgeons, but this ABC series has been so much more than just a show.
After 12 seasons, fans have developed strong relationships with the show’s characters. Unfortunately, since it began in 2005, “Grey’s Anatomy” has been known to keep fans on the edge of their seats in constant fear that their favorite character may die. Writer Shonda Rhimes has been known for killing off main cast members with little warning.
We have grieved many lives, such as George (T.R. Knight), Lexie (Chyler Leigh) and Mark (Eric Dane), but no one expected that we would one day mourn the death of the beloved surgeon Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey).
When the 12th season — the first season without Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd — aired in September, there was debate and worry from fans about what the season would entail. Fans wondered if the show would be a success without Derek, whether the characters would move on from his death and how his wife, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), would manage in her deceased husband’s absence.
When any show drops a main star, there is a risk of losing fans dedicated to that character. After Derek’s death, the “Grey’s Anatomy” writers were faced with the extreme challenge of how to rewrite the show. The writers needed to keep the show fresh and fill in the space once occupied by Derek without changing the show so much that it would be unrecognizable.
So did Rhimes succeed with writing a new season of “Grey’s Anatomy” or was Derek’s death the breaking point for fans that have already lost so many amazing characters? Although the latter may have been true for some fans, the new approach to the 12th season was impressive.
The season introduced a half-sister Meredith never knew she had, who Meredith then moved in with — along with her sister-in-law, Derek’s sister Amelia. With the loss of Derek, as well as the previous losses of Meredith’s mother, step-mother and half-sister, her children were the only family she had left, so it made sense that writers would bring an added focus to Meredith’s remaining family. The beginning of this season focused on Meredith’s growing relationship with her two unconventional sisters, which was an inspiring portrayal of the non-nuclear family.
There was originally concern that Meredith would be a lesser character without Derek, but this was proven untrue throughout the season. The writers highlighted Meredith’s strength by giving an inside view of her struggle with loss. After 12 years, it had seemed as though fans had learned everything they thought they could about Meredith, but she was reinvented from the “dark and twisty” character she once was to the open character that she becomes through therapy sessions and growing relationships with her family and friends. Meredith accepts that she needs her friends and family to cope with her loss and “Grey’s Anatomy” continued to establish Meredith’s new character realistically, despite the many tragedies she has experienced.
The writers did Derek’s death justice by representing Meredith’s pain and incorporating his death throughout the entire season. Some shows completely ignore the death of a character after it has occurred, but for “Grey’s Anatomy,” this was definitely not the case. Throughout the 12th season, we were reminded of Derek’s death in subtle ways.
When Meredith considered pursuing a new love interest in the show, she had a mental breakdown. As sad as it was to watch, the writers dealt with Derek’s death in the most realistic way possible. Fans were not over his death, so the characters should not have been ready to move on, either. Viewers were relieved to see Meredith still struggling with Derek’s death, too.
Besides an occasional reminder of Derek’s death, the show has attempted to take on a new, fun and humorous attitude. With Meredith and her sisters all living together, the 12th season has taken fans back to the first few seasons, when Meredith’s house had an open door policy to any intern or doctor who needed a place to stay. The attitude of the show has changed and the show has gone on successfully, continuing to grow without Derek. Hopefully, “Grey’s Anatomy” will continue to follow the show’s current happy plotline because fans will unlikely be able to handle much more grief down the show’s road.