‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Is Richard Webber Safe After the Season 16 Finale?

Grey’s Anatomy Season 16 gave fans quite the scare when Richard Webber’s (James Picken Jr.) health started to decline. The ABC medical drama already bid a tearful farewell to Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) this year. So of course, viewers would be devastated if another original character left the show. Luckily, the last episode of the season ended on a hopeful note. But is Richard really safe after the Grey’s Anatomy finale? As we have seen for 16 seasons, no one is ever truly safe in Shondaland. 

What happened to Richard Webber in the ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Season 16 finale?

In Grey’s Anatomy Season 16, Richard gave away his stethoscope after fans learned the character had a hand tremor. Later, the former chief of surgery had hallucinations and displayed dementia-like symptoms. 

For the most part, viewers theorized Richard had either Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Both of which do not have a cure. So fans believed Richard would either die or end his career by the end of Grey’s Anatomy Season 16. 

Regardless, the mystery behind Richard’s illness continued until the finale on April 9. Our favorites at Grey Sloan Memorial worked together to find a diagnosis. Then finally, Andrew DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti) had a breakthrough. DeLuca revealed Richard had cobalt poisoning from a hip replacement he had in Boston.

After everything that happened, it was a simple fix. Atticus “Link” Lincoln (Chris Carmack) cleaned out all the cobalt and repaired Richard’s hip. Now the character is on the road to recovery.

Krista Vernoff explains Richard Webber’s cobalt poisoning on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

Following the Grey’s Anatomy Season 16 finale, a few fans weren’t entirely convinced Richard would fully recover. But in an interview with Deadline, Vernoff confirmed the character was in the clear.

“Yes,” the showrunner said when asked whether Richard is in the “safe zone.” Vernoff also explained that knowing Richard was going to be OK was the reason why the Grey’s Anatomy writers chose this particular storyline. Vernoff said:

I thought that that was one of the most amazing things about this diagnosis was that the cobalt poisoning thing is real and it really can cause all of those symptoms. It can cause dementia-like symptoms. It can cause Parkinson’s-like symptoms —  tremors, hallucinations. And the amazing thing about it is that once you diagnose it and you get the leaky hip out of your body, you can recover, totally. That felt, just as the storyteller, an amazing thing because it let us give James Pickens this really rich, rich material, without us having to permanently disable his character. 

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Vernoff then shared she wanted to give Grey’s Anatomy fans a satisfying story to really mull over. “I think that that was an amazing ride for the fans, because the outcry of we’re showing symptoms that don’t feel like they have cures,” she said. “There’s not really a cure for Parkinson’s. There’s not a cure for Alzheimer’s.”

Vernoff continued: “I know everyone was in a panic. And so, we got to tell this really satisfying story, and we got to let people know that sometimes, there’s another diagnosis for those symptoms, which we found fascinating, as a group of writers who write medicine, that it’s so rare to see something this satisfying.”

Krista Vernoff teases what’s next for Richard Webber in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Season 17

James Pickens Jr. as Richard Webber on 'Grey's Anatomy' - Season Sixteen
James Pickens Jr. as Richard Webber on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ | Bonnie Osborne via Getty Images

Now we know Richard will be just fine as Grey’s Anatomy moves on to its 17th season. Nevertheless, it appears the character still has some drama ahead with his wife, Catherine Fox (Debbie Allen). 

“The real fracture in Catherine and Richard’s relationship predated the cobalt poisoning,” Vernoff told Deadline. “So the way we imagined it was that, with the depression, everyone thought it was related to his divorce, and it was actually a symptom of cobalt poisoning. And then the tremors were a symptom of cobalt poisoning and then the hallucinations.”

Then as we saw in the Grey’s Anatomy finale, Richard hasn’t forgiven Catherine yet. So that’s a journey fans will have to venture when the Shondaland series returns. But even so, Vernoff has hope for the couple.

“The reason that I hold out most for that couple is that Catherine rediscovered her deep and profound love for Richard when she almost lost him,” Vernoff said. “I think that that may enable her to apologize in the way that Richard will need to hear.”

Read more: ‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Krista Vernoff Reveals Why Alex Karev Didn’t Die in Season 16