Derek Had To Die On Grey's Anatomy Because The Alternative Was Worse (Yep)

Derek Had To Die On Grey's Anatomy Because The Alternative Was Worse (Yep)
Image credit: ABC

Shonda Rhimes had no choice when it came to McDreamy's arc.


  • The death of Derek Shepherd in Season 11 was a real tragedy for the characters and fans of Grey's Anatomy.
  • Many criticized Shonda Rhimes for making this devastating creative decision.
  • However, the showrunner explained why keeping Derek alive was not really an option, and after listening to her, you can't help but agree.

Hands down, we've seen a lot of shocking twists and turns over the course of Grey's Anatomy's 20-season run. But to this day, one of the most memorable mind-blowing moments remains the death of Derek 'McDreamy' Shepherd, which occurred in S11E21, How to Save a Life.

In the episode, Derek witnesses a car accident and rushes to help the victims. After doing everything he can for them, he steps away and is suddenly crushed by a semi truck. This results in a severe head injury and a painful death at a nearby hospital. The irony is that Derek, being a genius neurosurgeon, knows exactly what his doctors should do to save his life, but can't utter a word. A medical error occurs and his journey in the show ends.

This incredibly tragic episode seems to have changed the course of the medical show forever. The death of the beloved character who had been the heart and center of the previous seasons hit fans hard. Many dropped the series altogether. Even more say it was the beginning of the end for Grey's Anatomy.

But it looks like showrunner Shonda Rhimes didn't have many options when it came to Derek's fate.

Patrick Dempsey's Exit

By the time Grey's Anatomy Season 11 started filming, the departure of Derek's actor Patrick Dempsey was inevitable. Lynette Rice's book about the medical drama, How to Save A Life, revealed that Dempsey was burned out by the tight work schedule and difficult to be around on set. His fellow cast members and crew felt 'terrorized' by him.

More than that, he was reportedly at odds with the creators. So even though there was a full year left on his contract, Dempsey's exit was imminent and Rhimes had to come up with a storyline that would believably wrap up McDreamy's arc.

Two Options

The showrunner had two creative paths to go: kill Derek off, or let him leave the hospital and his life with Meredith behind. But after eleven seasons of build-up, Shonda didn't even consider the second storyline.

'The decision to have the character die the way that he did was not a difficult one in the sense of what were the options?' Rhimes said at the 2015 Summer TCA press tour (via E! News). 'Either Derek was going to walk out on Meredith, 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.'

When you think about it, this explanation actually makes a lot of sense. MerDer, as fans affectionately call the couple, was the safe haven for true love believers. After all they went through, Derek leaving his wife and kids would be a real betrayal to Meredith and the fans, and would hurt the show much more than his death.

So it looks like no matter how much we suffered to see Derek die, Shonda Rhimes made the best decision possible given the situation.

'To me, it felt like that was the only way to make Meredith and Derek's magic remain true and forever frozen in time,' Rhimes said, and we couldn't agree more.

Source: E! News.

What would you choose if you were the showrunner of Grey's Anatomy?