'Grey's Anatomy': Ranking the show's most memorable exits

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Image Credit: Scott Garfield/ABC

Here’s what we know: In two days, Grey’s Anatomy fans will be forced to say goodbye to Cristina Yang. But what we don’t know is exactly how her exit will play out. Will Grey’s pull a George and decide to kill her? Will she simply walk away from the hospital like Erica Hahn did years ago?

Although we can’t answer those questions, we are preparing for Cristina’s exit in other ways. And today, we’ve ranked some of Grey’s Anatomy’s most memorable exits. But before we start talking about what makes an exit “good” or “bad,” let’s clarify something. We ranked these based on three factors: Dramatic impact to the show as a whole, the actual physical exit, and whether said exit was on par with what the character deserved.

Full disclosure: We elected not to include parents of our doctors who only appeared in a few episodes (George’s dad, etc.). And Thatcher? Well, we’re still waiting for the day he comes back.

Here’s how they ranked:

17. Heather Brooks: I’m sorry, but there’s no way it gets worse than getting killed off by being an idiot. Brooks saw Richard lying on the ground electrocuted, then she saw sparks, and decided to step into a puddle? Even Brooks wasn’t that dumb. Plus, dramatic impact on the show was minimal, because let’s be honest, who really noticed she was gone? (Other than Shane.)

16. Erica Hahn: Hahn was a talented heart surgeon, and yet the thing that drove her away from the hospital was romance? I was not a fan of this one. After Hahn’s “You can’t be kind of a lesbian” speech to Callie, she literally just walked away from everything. And dramatically, I didn’t miss her much.

15. McVet: Finn’s exit was great for Mer-Der fans, because it was the moment that Meredith finally chose Derek, but in general, it wasn’t all that exciting. We all knew Mer was going to choose McDreamy, and poor Finn had to walk away and never look back.

14. Rebecca Pope: For me, this story just went too far. I liked it when Alex pulled “Jane Doe” out of the ferry debris and fell in love. And I liked it when she became “Ava.” But having her go crazy, slit her wrists, and end up in a psych ward? Eh, you lost me. Sure, it was great for Alex, because it brought up old mom issues, but other than that, it was just OK.

13. Izzie: Originally, Izzie walked away after she thought that Alex got her fired, but she later returned to tell him about her new job and to show him she was cancer free. I will admit that it was a great moment to watch Alex stick up for himself and tell her that he deserved someone who would stay, but I hated how this show made me dislike Izzie toward the end. I liked liking Izzie! And her final comment to Mer about this not being home but just some place she worked? Harsh, and very unlike Izzie.

12. Lexie: Lexie’s death certainly carried an emotional punch, but aside from Mark’s speech, it didn’t sit well with me. For starters, there wasn’t much of a shock factor because we knew she was leaving the show, but even putting that aside, I thought her death was a little too violent. There are a number of ways you can kill someone via plane crash. Did she really have to be pinned down and spitting up blood when Mark confessed his love?

11. Addison: Addison’s original departure didn’t have much flare, other than the convertible she was driving, but what I enjoyed more was what I call her secondary departure. After returning to Seattle for the first time post-L.A., she gave Meredith a speech about fighting for Derek that remains one of my favorite Addison moments of all time.

10. Ellis: Ellis’ death had a large impact on the scope of the show. With Meredith also dead — at the time — Ellis was finally able to tell her daughter, “You are anything but ordinary,” which we know would change Meredith forever. Honestly, how Ellis went didn’t matter much to me. It was more about that moment with Mer.

9. Henry: Henry! Poor beautiful Henry was so lovable, and yet as soon as Teddy started really loving him, he went and died. And in terms of the death itself, this was a big one. Teddy asked Owen not to tell Cristina that her patient was Henry so that she’d go into “robot Cristina” mode and save the day. And when Henry died and Cristina realized what she’d done? I get chills just thinking about it.

8. Teddy: Teddy never fully recovered from losing Henry, but I loved that she was going to turn down a new job in order to stay with Owen, who was going through Cristina troubles. But instead, Owen decided to put his friend first, and he fired Teddy. There were tears. There was a hug. And Teddy told Owen to fight for Cristina.

7. Adele: I’m still not sure how I feel about the show giving Adele Alzheimer’s after Meredith’s mom dealt with it, but I will say that her death made for great drama. First, there was Bailey basically performing surgery in her wedding dress, and then there was the moment at the wedding when Mer realized that Adele hadn’t made it. She then stood with her surrogate father as they both watched Bailey enjoy the happiest day of her life.

6. Dillon: Charming bomb squad guy gets blown up? Yeah, I’d say that was character-appropriate. But more than anything, it gave a (literally) explosive end to two of the show’s best episodes ever. Plus, it propelled Meredith’s character to a new place, one that was fascinating to watch. #darkandtwisty

5. Burke: Did Burke deserve a little more of a goodbye? I think there’s an argument to be made there, but I at least felt his goodbye was true to his character. Burke would’ve just walked away. Not to mention that his final speech was one of the show’s greatest, and it gave us this moment, which is another Grey’s classic.

4. Reed, Charles: Ah yes, the shooting victims. First up, Reed’s death was sudden and shocking, and I won’t say she deserved it, but I will say that the shock gave her death more impact than it would’ve otherwise had. And Charlie’s farewell allowed us to watch Bailey break down in a way we’d never seen before. I can’t fault this shooting for anything but good drama.

3. Mark: I hated to see Mark go, but at least he got an entire episode dedicated to his farewell. We got to spend a little time walking down memory lane, and then we got to cry with Derek and Callie as they sat by his bedside. Plus, I won’t ever stop loving that they let him wake up and be McSteamy one last time before saying goodbye.

2. George: Did George deserve to be dragged under a bus? Hell no. But I understand why they did it, and it did create one of the single most shocking moments in TV history. As much as I feel George deserved more, the chills I feel when I think about that “007″ moment reminds me what a great impact it had. And seeing him in uniform meeting Izzie at the elevator? I loved that. Confession: I would’ve been happier with both George’s exit and Izzie’s had they died together.

1. Denny: As sad as it is to say, we knew Denny was a goner from the beginning, but that didn’t keep us from hoping and praying that he’d pull through. But he went out fairly painlessly — a stroke — all the while knowing that Izzie had agreed to marry him, so there’s that. And the aftermath of his death is something no Grey’s fan will ever forget.

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