Grey's Anatomy Boss Shonda Rhimes Talks Shocking Finale and Cast Departures: Don’t Assume Everyone Else Will Live

Exclusive! Postmortem interview with the the ABC showrunner on the devastating finale death

By Kristin Dos Santos May 18, 2012 9:06 PMTags
Eric Dane, Chyler Leigh, Grey's AnatomyABC/RANDY HOLMES


If you're a Grey's Anatomy fan, you probably found yourself screaming this at your TV last night, as creator Shonda Rhimes killed off a fan favorite and sent yet another one packing off the show. It's the most talked-about (and sobbed-over) finale of the season.

I just spoke exclusively with Shonda Rhimes herself, and she revealed secrets about this intense season finale, why things went down the way they did, and the cast departures. Plus, wait a minute, are there going to be more deaths?!

Below is the full interview, but first, five things you must know:

  1. There are no plans to see Chyler Leigh (Lexie) on the show again.
  2. Kim Raver (Teddy) might be back as a guest star or get her own series some day.
  3. Shonda had "other plans" for Mark and Lexie and finds it "heartbreaking" we'll never get to see them. They were "meant to be."
  4. We should not assume everyone in the forest survives when the show returns.
  5. One of the stars did this episode with real broken bones.

Read on to find out what else Shonda revealed about the hardest episode she's ever written…

What kind of reaction have you seen today about the finale, and is it what you were expecting?
I haven't really seen anything. I knew that I had really strong feelings about the finale, and I knew people would too. I decided I was just going to be off of Twitter. I know that there was a large reaction. The one thing that I wanted to know is if everybody got the point of the episode. Everyone is still so immersed in ‘Who died?' and no one is talking about the thing that I actually think is important and was the point of the episode.

Which is?
Which is they are still out there. They're still out there in the forest, and we don't know if they are going to be OK. We left it open for a reason because…I hate to say this, but just because you saw people alive at the end of the finale doesn't mean they're going to be alive when the season starts up. We are completely jumping off into the unknown next season.

Did you know who was going to be back next season when you wrote the finale?
I had another cliffhanger planned and written, two actually, that reflected me not knowing what was going to happen next season. And literally up until the day before the table read, I was taking this whole thing apart and putting it back together. But by the time we got to the day before the table read, I then knew what was going to be happening with the contract negotiations, which turned the tables.

I know you put the statement out on Twitter, but is there anything more you can say about why Chyler is leaving the show?
I think that's…Stuff that happens inside our family is stuff that happens inside our family. I have so much respect for Chyler, and the decision was really, it was very hard for everybody involved and I want to respect her privacy on that.

When did you know for sure Chyler was going to leave?
The only thing I knew when I started writing the finale was that Chyler was leaving the finale. That was the only information I knew.

How did the cast find out Chyler was getting killed off?
At the table read. It was really, really emotional. Chyler Leigh and I were the only people who knew what was coming for her character. Kim Raver and I were the only ones who knew what was coming for that character. Chyler and I had been discussing it for months.

Fans have been asking this morning if there's any way Lexie (Chyler) could still come back. They don't even care if it's totally implausible. "Can't she come back as a ghost? Or it was a dream?"
We saw Denny as a ghost, and people didn't really like that, did they? It was a really hard decision to let that character die versus send her off into the sunset somewhere. It was really difficult. It was not made lightly. I don't think we're going to see Lexie Grey ever again. That's not the intention, to see her again. It's a big loss. It's a big loss for the characters and it's a big loss for the show. We're busy feeling that loss.

Did you have other plans for Mark and Lexie? Is that why their final words to each other were "meant to be?"
Yes. Honestly, I always felt like Mark and Lexie were meant to be together. If things had not turned out the way they had this season, I had a completely different thing planned for them. I was one of the people who loved Mark and Lexie together; I had a completely different thing planned for them. The introduction of Julie was part of planning a completely different storyline for them. So for me, there was a lot of heartbreak in that. There were so many moments and so many things that I had wanted to happen with those characters that we're never going to get to see. When Mark and Lexie say "meant to be," it wasn't about servicing the fans. That's how I felt. That's what was supposed to happen, and that's what I wanted to see. It was heartbreaking.


So when Mark tells Lexie as she's dying that they are supposed to get married and have kids and be happy together, were those your thoughts, too?
Those absolutely were my thoughts. I loved the idea of them together. They played really well together. They were very charming and funny and great. We did the scene where Lexie confesses to Mark that she's still in love with him. That was bittersweet to me because it was like, "Look, they're so close, so close! And yet so far."

Any chance Kim Raver will be back at some point?
I don't think that's a possibility that has been ruled out. At least not by me. I love Kim. I say to my partner Betsy [Beers] every once in a while, "We could do a series that's just Med Com." It could just be a Med Com series. I love Kim; she's amazing. I don't know. I think maybe it'd be cool one day if she could come back. We'll see.

Is this episode the hardest thing you've ever written?
Yes, in a weird way, because of several things. One, I didn't like it, in the sense that right up until the last minute I kept saying, "Maybe they shouldn't get in a plane." I kept trying to come up with something different. My writers were so great, and they were like, "We're all 100 percent behind the idea!" They will tell you I say that every year at finale time. I turn around and say we should do something different. And then I write it and it's fine. Usually I question it right up to the table read, but then I'm fine. This one, I questioned it while we were shooting it and I questioned it once I saw the edit for it. And then once we got to the soundstage, literally Tuesday, I'm watching the show and I'm changing music at the last minute.

Because it's so unsettling at the end. I think there's something very unsatisfying about the way that it ends for everyone. I like the ride. Doing the shooting episode was really great because while it was gut-wrenching and hard to do, I knew who was OK. And in this, we don't know who's OK. We still don't totally know who's OK. There's still choices to be made. It is very unsettling for me, and the idea of leaving my Meredith and my Cristina in the wilderness without a match, chewing half a stick of gum each, having each other, while beautiful, was really painful.

Ellen Pompeo and Sandra Oh did incredible work in this episode.
The things that those two women did were amazing. I would like to point out that Ellen Pompeo had like three broken toes while running through that forest! Some silly home accident and she broke her foot like two days before we started shooting that finale. She had three broken toes, and Sandra Oh had to run around in really cold weather with one shoe. And Jessica Capshaw is nine months pregnant. It was not an easy shoot. I thought that Sandra and Ellen were amazing. I mean, I thought they all were, but they did great work.

Do you know where the show will pick up next season?
I do know where we are going to pick up next season. But I'm not going to talk about it.

Any final words to the fans before you go on radio silence again?
I don't know. I feel like everyone has the right to have the reaction that they want to have. I think part of the reason why I am staying away from the reaction is I fully get that this is an unsatisfying finale. And it was unsatisfying for me, too. I enjoyed the boldness of it. I enjoyed saying yeah, we are going to put our doctors on a plane, and yeah, we're going to crash the plane. Which is insane and makes no sense. And yeah, we're going to have them in the forest, and we're going to kill Lexie in act two because that's not what you do in a finale. I enjoyed subverting expectation. Everyone was watching to see where everyone ended up, and we're not going to tell you where everyone ends up. I really thought that that was great. I have to focus on what happens next, and paying attention to fan reaction or going online to see what everyone has to say about it is pretty much paying attention to what happened before, and that does not actually help me at this point.

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