‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Did the Show Get Better After Derek Died?

Killing off a character on a popular drama series is still one of the riskiest plot maneuvers a producer can make, no matter how old the show is. On Grey’s Anatomy, they’ve sometimes learned this lesson the hard way. When they killed off Derek Shepherd, most of the fanbase wasn’t on board, though only because Patrick Dempsey wanted to move on.

Yes, there was some supposed behind-the-scenes drama with Dempsey that led to his departure. Fans speculate to this day whether Shonda Rhimes had an unspoken beef with Dempsey since she’s known to kill off characters if she doesn’t like the actor.

If this rattled many fans, let’s examine whether the show improved after Derek’s death. In many ways, it has by focusing more on the women and their relationships.

The death of Derek was a bit of a test for the cast members

Patrick Dempsey
Patrick Dempsey in Grey’s Anatomy | Michael Desmond/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

One of the longest lasting cast members is Chandra Wilson who’s played Miranda Bailey since the beginning. In a recent interview, she said the sudden death of Derek Shepherd was a big wake-up call for the entire cast. While everyone expected a backlash, it also proved how many fans were truly devoted to these characters.

This is something I’ve discovered myself after receiving equally positive and negative response to a piece about the controversial Maggie and Jackson romance. After 15 seasons, that’s an incredible discovery to realize a show still has legs with its fan base.

At this rate, Grey’s could end up going for another five years or more, even if some fans think a few of the relationships need to be reexamined.

When Derek died, everyone in the cast at least realized they were doing something worthwhile and the public was paying attention. It proves the show continues to explore relationships audiences know could potentially set precedents for other shows.

At the same time, many women in the cast have received far more focus since Dr. Shepherd was becoming a bit of a story crutch.

‘Grey’s’ was smart to make Derek’s death final

We’re already seeing a major trend in TV (and in movies) where death never seems to have any sense of finality. If the biggest violator here is the Marvel franchise, it has a notorious past on dramatic television. It’s only because some stars who were killed off in a show realized they had to come back after career stalls.

You’ll find critics who think Cote de Pablo did the same for her Ziva character on NCIS, even if faking her death has more logic than other TV scenarios.

There wouldn’t have been any good reason for Derek to come back, including in flashbacks. Maybe it’s only because Rhimes had some personal troubles with Dempsey, though the forced finality helped TV in many ways.

Since Derek’s death, we’ve seen a lot of interesting stories delving into favorite characters like Chandra Wilson’s Miranda Bailey. Latter character alone has seen quite the trajectory, with Wilson never complaining about Miranda’s direction.

This is why she’s stuck around, unlike Katherine Heigl who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind about not being pleased with the direction of her Izzie Stevens.

The show will start giving the main characters their own episodes

A recent announcement from the Grey’s team says they’ll give a one-hour episode to Richard Webber (James Pickens, Jr.) in the upcoming season as a chance to dig deeper into the original cast members. Had Derek stayed on the show, these creative directions perhaps never would have happened, if not even Derek dominating the show due to Dempsey’s popularity.

We’re probably going to see more standalone episodes this coming season (or future seasons) if the show is truly winding down. If you can argue Shonda Rhimes made some character mistakes over the years, the ones who’ve stuck around are now being rewarded with deep character explorations they deserve.

Nobody wants to see any of them die, however, no matter if everyone survived the Derek demise.