The 15 Most Shocking Moments in Grey's Anatomy's First 15 Years

Grey's Anatomy has delivered some truly shocking moments since its premiere 15 years ago on March 27, 2005. These are the 15 that stand above the rest.

By Billy Nilles Mar 27, 2020 2:00 PMTags
Watch: "Grey's Anatomy": By The Numbers

There's nothing on TV quite like Grey's Anatomy.

The medical soap from creator Shonda Rhimes officially became the longest-running of its kind on primetime television in February 2019. And at a time when shows struggle to even see seasons three or four, we're celebrating the 15th anniversary of its debut. With a (sadly) revolutionary colorblind approach to casting and nary a star in its original cast (unless you count Patrick Dempsey, who, at the time, many didn't), the saucy little show premiered on ABC on March 27, 2005 in what would be a landmark season for the network, having already launched hits Desperate Housewives and Lost in the fall.

In the years since, the show, currently in its 16th season with an order for a 17th already handed out, has turned star Ellen Pompeo into not just a household name, but a powerhouse producer in her own right, boosted the careers of actors like Kate Walsh, Chyler Leigh, Jesse Williams, and Jason George, to name but a few, launched not one, but two spin-offs (Private Practice and the currently airing Station 19) and brought so much calamity upon its sprawling cast of characters. Seriously, so much.

photos
Grey's Anatomy's Departed Doctors: Where Are They Now?

In honor of the show's 15th anniversary, we thought we'd take a walk down memory lane and recount 15 of the most shocking moments Shonda & Co--including current showrunner Krista Vernoff--have given us over the years. 

From Booty Call to Boss

Incoming surgical intern Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) was thrown for quite a loop in Grey's Anatomy's series premiere when she learned that the hunky one-night-stand she picked up at the bar played by Patrick Dempsey was actually her new boss, renowned surgeon Dr. Derek Shepherd. Oops.

Addison's Arrival

Fans were just as stunned as poor Meredith in the season one finale when Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh) waltzed into Seattle Grace and right up to Mer and Derek, introducing herself with the now iconic "You must be the woman who's been screwing my husband."

Bombs Away

When Grey's Anatomy was given the plum post-Super Bowl slot in its second season, fans watched tensely as Meredith decided to shove her hand into a body cavity containing a live explosive to keep it from detonating. And just as we began to breathe a sigh of relief when bomb squad chief Dylan (guest star Kyle Chandler) began to walk away with the removed explosive, it blew, taking the poor guy out in the process. 

Denny's Demise

Fans watched as Izzie (Katherine Heigl) fell in love with the effortlessly charming Denny Duquette (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) as he awaited a much-needed heart transplant throughout the second half of season two, falling for him right along with her. And when her wild plan to cut his LVAD wire to move him up the transplant list failed spectacularly, resulting in his death in the season finale, it was confirmed that Grey's Anatomy was not here to give us the happy endings we wanted.

Meredith's Near-Death Experience

What was more surprising during season three's big ferry accident: Meredith nearly drowning after being knocked into freezing cold waters at the accident site or her later admission that she'd given up trying to survive?

Lexie's Arrival

At the end of season three, a surgical intern named Lexie (Chyler Leigh) arrived at Seattle Grace, first meeting Derek the night prior to starting at the hospital in a moment that mirrored his first interaction with Mer two seasons prior (but, thankfully, did not end with them sleeping together) and then introducing herself to George O'Malley (T.R. Knight) in the intern locker room. Oh, and her last name? Why, Grey, of course. And just like that, Meredith's younger half-sister, one of two daughters raised by her father Thatcher and his second wife Susan, was added to the mix.

Ghost Denny

Two and a half seasons after he'd perished, Denny was back and his ghost was...having sex with Izzie. In one of the most ludicrous moments in the show's history, Ghost Denny was used to signal to viewers and to Izzie herself that something was wrong. That something was ultimately proven to be stage IV metastatic melanoma, which had spread to, among other places, her brain.

It's George

While fans were expecting Izzie to bite the bullet in the season five finale, the fact that no one could find George should've clued us into the fact that something was up with poor O'Malley. When Meredith finally realized what the John Doe who'd been hit by a bus while trying to save a woman on the street was writing in her hand--007, his cruel nickname in earlier seasons--she tried to alert the surgeons working on him, but it was too late. He flatlined and died.

The Shooting

File this one under: The mist disturbing episode in Grey's history. In the season six finale, the grieving husband of a deceased patient arrived at the hospital, fresh off its merger with neighboring Mercy West, with a loaded gun and nothing left to live for. A few doctors were murdered, several more injured, and the image of Bailey (Chandra Wilson) being dragged by her feet out from under a patient's bed will forever haunt us. Thankfully, she survived. Mer and Derek's baby wasn't so lucky. After he was shot, she believed he'd died and had a traumatic miscarriage.

The Plane Crash

Two seasons after the horrific hospital shooting, Shonda Rhimes decided it was time to torture a handful of docs yet again. In the eighth season finale, a plane carrying Meredith, Derek, Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), Lexie, Mark Sloan (Eric Dane) and Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw), traveling to Boise, Idaho to perform surgery on conjoined twins, crashed in the wilderness, leaving them stranded and wounded, with no one at home even knowing they'd gone down. The accident claimed Mark and Lexie's lives and Arizona's leg, while nearly leaving Derek's hand permanently injured.

Burke's Return

How would Grey's send off Mer's person Cristina at the end of season 10 after Sandra Oh decided to move on? Why, by having ex Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington) pop back up after leaving her at the altar in season three to offer her his hospital in Switzerland. That the show brought Washington back after his highly contentious exit, which involved him referring to co-star T.R. Knight by a heinous gay slur, was truly surprising.

Maggie's Arrival

As the show said goodbye to Cristina in the season 10 finale, it welcomed her replacement as the head of cardio-thoracic surgery, Dr. Maggie Pierce. And when the character, played by Kelly McCreary, revealed to Richard (James Pickens Jr.) in the episode's final moments that she was Dr. Ellis Grey's daughter, asking if he knew the legendary doctor, he wasn't the only one stunned to learn that he had a daughter and that Mer had another sister.

Derek's Departure

Literally no one saw it coming when, with a handful of episodes left to air in season 11, Derek was killed off, the victim of a head-on collision just after rescuing a family on the side of the road involved in a car crash of their own. Patrick Dempsey had just recently extended his contract on the show, making his departure truly unexpected. Killing off Mer's husband may have been Shonda Rhimes' only feasible option to get rid of the character in a way that didn't render an 11-year love story completely worthless, but that didn't mean it hurt any less.

Meredith's Attack

As if Mer hadn't been through enough up to this point, in the ninth episode of season 12, she was violently attacked by a patient in a brutal episode that saw her jaw broken and then wired shut in order to restore her hearing. Her panic attack when her kids won't see her during her recovery was a stunning moment of acting from Ellen Pompeo.

Alex's Departure

How would the show explain Alex Karev's sudden absence after original star Justin Chambers walked away from his role midway through season 16? By having him write letters to wife Jo (Camilla Luddington), Mer and Bailey explaining that he'd gotten in contact with Izzie years after she ghosted and sent him divorce papers, only to learn that she'd been raising their twins all these years on a farm somewhere and he'd chosen his newfound family over his life in Seattle. If anyone tells you they saw that coming, we'll show you a liar.

Here's to another 15 years!

Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.