The Reason Why ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Didn’t Kill Alex Karev in Season 16 Will Break Your Heart
Many Grey’s Anatomy fans thought Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) would get his pancake breakfasts with Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington) until the end of time. But that plan was thwarted when Alex left Seattle for a life with Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) in season 16.
Of course, Grey’s Anatomy viewers had differing opinions about Alex’s exit. Some members of the fandom were relieved the beloved surgeon was still alive. Meanwhile, others thought Alex’s death would have been more fitting. So why did the writers decide against killing Alex on Grey’s Anatomy? Here’s what we know.
How did Alex Karev leave ‘Grey’s Anatomy’?
After Meredith’s medical license hearing in Grey’s Anatomy Season 16, Alex went missing. He ghosted Jo, making her fear the worst. Then in the 16th episode titled “Leave a Light On,” Alex sent letters to Jo, Meredith, Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.), and Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson).
In the letters, Alex revealed he contacted Izzie when he reached out for Meredith’s trial. Then he found out that Izzie used the embryos they made when she had stage IV metastatic cancer. She had his twins, naming them Alexis and Eli. So Alex decided to get back together with Izzie. Meanwhile, Alex broke things off with Jo, leaving her with signed divorce papers.
Krista Vernoff explains why Alex Karev didn’t die in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Season 16
While some Grey’s Anatomy fans were disappointed in Alex’s departure, the writers didn’t want to give the beloved character an off-camera death.
“I believe that there would’ve been at least as big an outcry if we had killed that character off-camera, and those were our choices,” showrunner Krista Vernoff told Deadline in April 2020. “It was kill the character off-camera, or come up with some believable way that he gets his happily ever after.”
Then when speaking with Variety in November 2020, Vernoff revealed why the Grey’s Anatomy writers were so against killing off Alex. And ultimately, it came down to the impact of his death on Meredith and Jo.
“We didn’t want to kill [Alex],” Vernoff said. “Jo had been through just a massive depression in the wake of ‘Silent All These Years.’ She had just emerged. … She had just gotten through it!”
Vernoff later added, “I didn’t want to put the characters through another sustained grief. And that was probably the more significant thing. I don’t want Meredith Grey to lose Alex Karev to death. I don’t want to see it! I can’t take it!”
The showrunner also pointed out that both Luddington and Pompeo have played “so much grief” on Grey’s Anatomy. So it seems the writers also wanted to protect their actors.
“Grief is really, really, really hard on actors,” Vernoff said. “I get that it’s their job. But when you have to play sustained grief for episode after episode after episode — I’ve never met an actor who didn’t go into their own personal depression, because they have to run those chemicals through their system.”
As Vernoff has said before, there was no good time to say goodbye to Alex on Grey’s Anatomy. But given the circumstances, it’s clear the team is satisfied with how the character’s final arc ended.
“It felt OK to our writers, who also grew up with these characters,” Vernoff said. “These people are real to us, too. And that, that felt like the way we could say goodbye to Alex.”