‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Did Derek’s Death Make Meredith a Better Character?

Shonda Rhimes’ Grey’s Anatomy might be the most recognizable television medical drama of all time.  First airing on ABC in 2005, the long-running excitement of the doctors at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital keep fans coming back week after week to see what new problem will befall show front-runner Meredith Grey.

While the name of the show would seem to indicate it would be about the career of Meredith, for years the female lead seemed to lack the power to move her career and her life forward. From the very first episode, viewers watched as Meredith Grey’s life and career were more and more entwined with that of Derek Shepherd. 

Fans loved the Mer-Der relationship

RELATED: ‘Grey’s Anatomy’: How Many Times Has Meredith Almost Died?

Fans watched with bated breath as Meredith learned the hard lesson that one shouldn’t sleep with their boss, but we also secretly cheered on their romance. There was something so swoon-worthy in the allure of McDreamy that viewers couldn’t help but be a little envious of the fun new romance of Meredith and Derek. 

Their on again-off again relationship kept viewers hoping that their rocky romance would get off the ground and fans grew accustomed to the idea that everything would just work out for the pair who seemed destined to be together. 

The one caveat seemed to be that Meredith was completely wrapped up in her emotions for Shepherd, and some wished she’d have the backbone to stand up for herself and her career. 

While fans have gotten used to their favorite characters leaving the show, in 2015, a shocking twist resulted in Derek’s death.

While fans protested and even petitioned to have his role reinstated, the character’s fate was sealed. Show creator Shonda Rhimes told People that the show needed to move forward and this was an avenue to allow that change to happen.

“Now, Meredith and the entire Grey’s Anatomy family are about to enter uncharted territory as we head into this new chapter of her life.” Rhimes continued, “…the possibilities for what may come are endless.”

Shepherd’s death may have paved the way for Meredith’s growth

Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey)
Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) | Craig Sjodin/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

If there were ever a case of co-dependence it was in the relationship of Meredith and Derek.  Fans noted that her career growth was completely stunted by Derek’s need to succeed and Mere’s need to make him happy. In fact, there were multiple instances where Derek’s career took center stage and Meredith had to put her plans and dreams on hold.   

In the seasons since Derek’s death, Meredith has taken the reins of her life and experienced unprecedented career and personal growth.  In fact, reddit users have debated how much Meredith’s character improves after his death; they’ve called her a better mother, friend and doctor since his departure. Meredith seems to thrive on grief, without Derek and his career holding her back she is able to publish her research and hone her skills. 

Other Reddit users agreed, comparing the loss of Derek to the departure of male leads on other popular TV dramas. For instance, one user claims it is similar to the departure of Elliot Stabler on SVU. Stabler’s partner Olivia Benson became the head of her department once she was no longer co-starring with the popular male lead.

“It’s like when Eliot Stabler left,” Reddit user Ponyyyyyy claimed, “…and Olivia Benson made her way to captain. Often female characters can flourish when they don’t have to be beholden to a man!”

Their reunion is bittersweet

In perhaps the series’ biggest twist of all time, Season 17 brings back Patrick Dempsey. As Meredith Grey appears on a beach, Dempsey can be seen in the distance. Just after Meredith collapsed in the parking lot of Grey Sloan Memorial, she’s transported to a beautiful scene where her late husband is awaiting her arrival.

The dream sequence fulfills fans’ wishes for a reunion while also tackling the difficult nuances surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The scene, perhaps indicates the end of an era. But, it likely indicates more than just the end of Meredith’s character development, it might hint at the end of her character all together.

Speculations ensue about wether Meredith will survive her battle with Covid. Whether the scene gives viewers a clue that the series is coming to a close or not, it has given fans a little joy during an otherwise unsettling time.