'Grey's Anatomy' & the Destruction of Character Development

The following will contain spoilers for the second half of season sixteen of Grey's Anatomy.

Shonda Rhimes’ Grey’s Anatomy is a show that's been a staple to modern television for 16 seasons. Dethroning Scrubs as the longest-lasting medical drama of all time, the show is notorious for killing off its characters — regardless of how notable or important they may be.

Fans joke around that the minute that they hear Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” or The Fray’s “How to Save a Life,” they know to start expecting the worst and that it's time to say goodbye to one of their own. Rhimes has killed off characters with anything from a plane crash, getting hit by a bus, or a truck accident. Fans' only hope with Rhimes is that their favorite character isn’t maimed or brutally murdered when it’s time for their departure — except for that of Alex Karev.

Justin Chambers, the actor who portrays the character, departed the show in the middle of season 16, leaving behind just three original characters from the beginning of the show. Rather than having his character meet his end by being killed off, writers and showrunners took the route of having Alex disappear for a few episodes, under the storyline that he was away taking care of family issues, until there was an episode dedicated to giving a farewell to the character.

The episode reveals that while calling people from their past to write letters for Meredith's trial, he called Izzie and heard kids behind her. Curious, he asked Izzie if she had children, and found out that she took the embryos that they had frozen and gave birth to twins — meaning that Alex was a father. Alex left Jo in the dark and got back together with Izzie to raise their children together.

This sparked outrage from the Grey's Anatomy fandom because Alex ended his marriage with Jo through a letter, which parallels the manner of how his first marriage with Izzie ended when she left him. The seasons after Izzie's departure dealt with Alex moving on from Izzie and his tendency to fall in love with "crazy," as the women in his life typically had mental health issues. When Jo found out that she was the product of rape, she went away to a therapy program — this concerned Alex because of the way she distanced herself from everybody, but she learned how to cope and her marriage with Alex was stronger than ever.

Alex started off on the show as the jerk that none of the interns could stand in the surgical program at Seattle Grace, and he was constantly depicted as a pig. Alex slept with nurses and was incredibly misogynist, but throughout the next 16 seasons, he became a character who stands up for others and fights for what he believes is right.

There's also the emphasis that after the departure of Christina Yang, Meredith tells Alex that he is now "her person," and since they are the last two left of the original interns in their surgical program at the hospital, he can't abandon her. Alex and Meredith develop a close emotional bond with each other and it was out of character for Alex to leave Meredith behind with just a letter as well.


Lately, television shows have been dragged out into many seasons, and storylines are strung along to make the duration of the show much longer than it should be. Many fans argue that despite the fact they love the show, it should come to an end because most of the characters are focused on relationships rather than the medicine behind the show. Alex's character has come full circle and it felt as if his story has come to an end. Rather than having Alex abandon all the people in his life, many argued that they would have preferred Alex being killed off rather than being character assassinated. 

There was a surge of people claiming that this was finally the point where they draw the line and that they are going to quit watching the show. There have been many points where there are talks about a mass boycott of the show, but nonetheless, fans keep tuning in every Thursday night. Who knows, this call for a quitting of the show may actually be a real one — but knowing Rhimes' fans, they will all continue to tune in.