‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Jesse Williams’ Final Episode as Jackson Might Be Fans’ Favorite Character Exit in Years

Since it first debuted in 2005, ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy has said goodbye to nearly two dozen major and minor characters. These include many of its fan favorites, like Sandra Oh’s Dr. Cristina Yang and Katherine Heigl’s Dr. Izzie Stevens.

Some of these characters were written off the show in shocking or controversial ways, with the Grey’s Anatomy writers using everything from a crashing airplane to an exploding bazooka to end a character’s storyline. But when actor Jesse Williams‘ character was written off of Grey’s Anatomy, some fans said it was actually one of the best character exits in years.

Many well-loved characters had shocking character exits

JESSE WILLIAMS | Eric McCandless/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images via via Getty Images

Grey’s Anatomy is currently the longest-running primetime show in ABC history, with its 17th season hitting the airwaves in the winter of 2020. With nearly 400 episodes under its belt, it’s no surprise that the show has experienced a revolving door of characters. Depending on who is counting and how you define “major,” Entertainment Weekly reports that 17 major characters have been written off of the show in the past 15 years.

Many of these characters exits shocked and saddened fans. Some of the most surprising or controversial exits, according to Variety, include Dr. Derek Shepherd in season 11, who died of brain injuries due to a car accident; the shocking reveal in season five that Dr. George O’Malley was the anonymous patient who got hit by a bus; bomb squad member Dylan Young, who was taken out by an exploding bazooka in season three.

Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, has previously said that she’s not immune to fan feedback when it comes to plot lines. Shortly after the finale of season six aired, which saw several characters written off, she told Entertainment Weekly: “I was very nervous because I felt like what was coming wasn’t territory that we’d ever covered before, and I didn’t know how the audience was going to take it. […] I feel like it was an emotional ride for everybody.”

Williams’ character first appeared in the sixth season of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

American actor and producer Williams first appeared on the fifth episode of Grey’s Anatomy‘s sixth season, which debuted on October 15, 2009. His character, surgical resident Dr. Jackson Avery, MD, joins the fictitious Seattle Grace hospital after there’s an administrative merger with Mercy-West. Williams’ character soon became a fan favorite among audiences.

“Dr. Avery wasn’t quite clicking as part of the ensemble when Jesse Williams first joined the cast,” noted TV critic Margaret Lyons at Entertainment Weekly. “But now? Oh, mama. He’s flirty — to a fault — but he’s also a decent dude, and the show was in need of a seriously single male character.”

Dr. Avery became a series regular the next year, going on to become the chief of plastic surgery. In 2021, the show said goodbye to the character after a 12-season arc. Dr. Avery convinces Dr. April Kepner (Sarah Drew), who is also the mother of his daughter, to move to Boston with him where he’s taken on a new position to oversee a foundation. There are a few emotional goodbyes, then fans see Dr. Avery drive past the hospital for the very last time.

“Grey’s writers had long conversations about how to end Jackson’s story to make sure it was satisfying for fans,” explains Deadline. “In the end, the idea everyone got behind is to bring back Sarah Drew as April Kepner for a proper sendoff, giving one of the show’s most popular couples, ‘Japril,’ closure.”

It appears that strategy worked, with fans saying it was an emotionally appealing end to Dr. Avery.

Fans say Dr. Avery’s exit is one of their all-time favorites

“Who had the best character exit after Cristina?,” asked Reddit user bookworm6879 in a post on the social media platform. 

“If we’re talking about most fulfilling, probably Jackson,” replied Reddit user CapablePerformance. “This season seems to have really opened him up to viewing the changes he would like to make to the medical community, so while it seems sudden to leave, it’s been a season of dropping hints.”

Many other Reddit community members agreed. “Jackson’s exit was absolutely phenomenal and everything I could’ve hoped for,” replied one person.

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