It’s officially been more than two years since Dr. Derek Shepherd was tragically killed on Season 11 of Grey’s Anatomy and, frankly, we’re still not over it. All Grey’s deaths are heartbreaking, of course, but Derek’s was especially tough to bear because he was — and continues to be — one of the most beloved characters on the long-running series. So, to pay tribute to McDreamy’s epic run on Grey’s, let’s take a trip down memory lane to revisit Derek’s unfortunate exit from the show.
Meredith and Derek on Grey’s Anatomy. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
After 10 years and 11 seasons on the hit medical drama, Patrick Dempsey made the tough decision to leave Grey’s and Derek behind to pursue other acting projects. At the time, showrunner Shonda Rhimes struggled with how to appropriately remove Derek from the cast. “Either Derek was going to walk out on [his wife Meredith Grey], and leave her high and dry, and what was that going to mean? That was going to suggest that the love was not true, the thing we had said for 11 years was a lie and McDreamy wasn’t McDreamy. For me, that was untenable,” Shonda previously explained to E! Online.
“Meredith and Derek’s love had to remain Meredith and Derek’s love. As painful as it was for me as a storyteller, because I had never really thought that was going to happen, it preserved what felt true to me, was that Derek was going to have to die in order for that love to remain honest,” Shonda continued. “Because I really couldn’t have the idea that he just turned out to be a bad guy who walked out on his wife and kids be a true story. To me, it felt like that was the only way to make Meredith and Derek’s magic remain true and forever frozen in time.”
So, towards the end of Season 11, Derek was killed after suffering traumatic injuries in a roadside car accident during the emotional episode “How to Save a Life.” While on his way to the Seattle airport, Derek witnessed a car crash and pulled over to help the victims. After stabilizing the patients, Derek returned to his vehicle and was about to pull away when his car was struck by a semi-truck. He was then rushed to the nearest hospital — which was sadly not Grey Sloan Memorial — and treated for his injuries. Because he is a neurosurgeon himself, Derek could he heard subconsciously telling the doctors to order a head CT, but he is unable to talk and is instead taken into surgery.
By the time the doctors realize his traumatic head injury, it’s too late and Derek is soon pronounced brain dead. Several hours after his wife Meredith arrived at the hospital, she made the tragic decision to remove Derek from life support. Just before a nurse turned off the machines, Meredith looked back on her life with Derek and their family. Derek then took his last breath as the episode ends. Heartbreaking, right?! Now you know why Grey’s fans still aren’t over Derek’s death.
Click through the gallery to see more of the most heartbreaking Grey’s deaths over the years.