Ellen Pompeo Reveals How ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Decides Which Characters To Kill Off

Bob D’AmicoABC

When you’re a show that’s been on the air as long as Grey’s Anatomy — 14 seasons and counting folks — at some point you’ve got to get imaginative with how you say goodbye to certain characters.

If the Shonda Rhimes-produced series does one thing well, it’s dramatic death scenes. Blood clots, bus accidents, plane crashes – they’ve all been used to bid farewell to some big names on the medical soap opera but as interesting as what forms death takes on the show is, how the writers choose which characters get the ax is even juicier.

Star Ellen Pompeo, who’s already spilled plenty of tea about what goes on behind the scenes of the long-running drama, is here to quench our thirst yet again, revealing that an actor’s personality and work ethic off-screen usually informs how they’re treated on the show.

In an interview with ET, Pompeo spoke about the upcoming departures of Jessica Capshaw, who plays Dr. Arizona Robbins, and Sarah Drew, who plays Dr. April Kepner on the series. Fans have been worried that one or both women might meet tragic ends before their time at Grey Sloan Memorial is done but according to Pompeo, on-screen deaths are reserved for actors who give short-notice.

“You only get killed off when your behavior is bad. If you’re a nice actor, you die nice,” Pompeo said when comparing Capshaw and Drew’s exits to that of former Grey’s star Sandra Oh. “[She] left in the most amazing way. She gave everybody so much notice. She knew 10 seasons was all she wanted to do and they don’t get much classier than Sandra Oh. But yeah, these endings aren’t tragic.”

Ellen Pompeo as Meredith Grey on 'Grey's Anatomy'
Featured image credit: Mitch HaasethABC

As much of a relief as this news may be to fans, we can’t help but wonder what that insight reveals about how other characters left the series. If you’ll recall, Patrick Dempsey’s McDreamy died in a roadside accident, and Pompeo’s been candid about their tense working relationship, saying she had a “nice chuckle” when the show’s ratings spiked after his character’s exit. But Derek Shepherd is just one of many who met gruesome ends on Greys.

George O’Malley (T.R. Knight) got hit by a bus, Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh) and Mark Sloan (Eric Dane) died in a plane crash, and who could forget Denny’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) tragic death from a blood clot after surviving open heart surgery. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean all of these actors had difficult experiences on set.