How ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Said Goodbye to Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith

While ABC touted the Feb. 23 episode as a big “farewell,” the iconic character’s last hour as a series regular played more like real life

Ellen Pompeo in "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC)

Meredith Grey performed her “last” surgery at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital during the winter premiere of “Grey’s Anatomy” on Thursday. But Ellen Pompeo’s final episode as a series regular felt more like a “see you later,” leaving plenty of questions unanswered and the door open for her character’s return.

ABC promoted the episode, titled “I’ll Follow the Sun,” as Meredith’s big farewell to Seattle. Previews for the hour paid homage to the many traumatic moments, goodbyes, accomplishments and near-death experiences the doctor has procured across 19 seasons and over 400 episodes, but the hour itself played more like real life — with a dose of romantic comedy frustration.

The installment began as Meredith and her children arrived at the hospital for her last day on the job, in the aftermath of her longtime Seattle home sustaining damage in a fire. In a conversation with love interest Dr. Nick Marsh (Scott Speedman), Meredith revealed the house did not burn down, but would need significant repairs.

The strained relationship between the two doctors took another hit in the winter finale, after Meredith announced her plans to move to Boston so her daughter Zola (Aniela Gumbs) could attend a new school for gifted students. The move will also reunite Meredith with Dr. Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams), as she works with the Catherine Fox Foundation on a new project hoping to find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease.

While Dr. Maggie Pierce (Kelly McCreary) and Dr. Winston Ndugu (Anthony Hill) performed a groundbreaking partial heart transplant on a baby, and juggled their own marital issues, Meredith tended to an emergent patient, a novelist with internal bleeding that she and Nick ultimately aren’t able to save.

Without a “big win” to mark her last day, Meredith finds solace in a conversation with first-year intern Simone Griffith (Alexis Floyd). Griffith, along with season 19 newcomers Jules Millin (Adelaide Kane), Lucas Adams (Niko Terho), Mika Yasuda (Midori Francis) and Benson “Blue” Kwan (Harry Shum Jr.), got plenty of screentime and development during the episode, as the new class of interns picks up the mantle as the show’s leads moving forward.

But Meredith did not leave Seattle without at least a little celebration. The doctors, nurses and workers of Grey Sloan came together near the end of the hour for a surprise party in honor of their fearless leader. She dismissed the celebration as “ridiculous,” claiming she could be back at the hospital next week, but still accepted the compliments and shared a toast with her longtime colleagues.

The hour ended on a hopeful note, as Meredith read a copy of her late patient’s final book to her kids, which mirrored her voiceover on how there’s no such thing as happily ever after as long as a person is still alive; there’s always room for more joy, heartbreak and challenges. On the plane, Meredith takes a call from Nick (who failed to get to her in a last-minute voyage to catch her at the airport) in which he admits his love for her. But she seemingly pretends she can’t hear him and hangs up. There’ll definitely be more to that story later.

As for the interns, the episode left fans watching as Blue and Jules hooked up at the hospital, while Simone, Lucas and Mika arrived separately at Meredith’s old house — the home they will now share as long as they supervise repairs from the fire.

While this week’s episode marked the official end of Pompeo’s time as a regular on the ABC drama, it’s been reported that the actress will continue to perform the voiceover for upcoming episodes and will next appear in the Season 19 finale. Showrunner and executive producer Krista Vernoff also recently announced her plans to step away from both “Grey’s” and spinoff series “Station 19” at the end of their current seasons. So fans should get ready for more big changes ahead for the beloved TV franchise.

“Grey’s Anatomy” airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.