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Most Heartbreaking Deaths: 'Grey's Anatomy'

The cast of Grey's Anatomy

I am a sucker for a drama. I am the kind of person who cries at commercials and gets overly attached to television characters without meaning to. However, when it comes to TV shows there is one that stands out the most to me as the mother of all devastating deaths: 'Grey's Anatomy.'

'Grey's Anatomy' creator and writer Shonda Rhimes has this unique ability to make you fall completely in love with the characters in her show. You are introduced, get to know them, learn their quirks, love them -- and then she methodically picks them off one-by-one in a variety of soul-crushingly horrible and sad scenarios. You are left scrambling to put back together the fractured pieces of your heart. Just as soon as you learn to love and trust again, you feel happy and secure in life once more, she pulls the plug on another character and you wonder why you put yourself through all the emotional turmoil. We are like emotional punching bags, and apparently, we can't get enough of it.

Grey's Anatomy routinely has the ability to turn me from this:

A Girl Watching TV

Into a blubbering monster made of 50% tears and 50% tear-soaked Kleenex:

Kim Kardashian Crying

'Grey's Anatomy' is a great drama at the bottom of it all. The humor is there, the characters get under your skin, and the drama (although a little over the top at times) is addicting in a total "guilty-pleasure" kind of way. Let's take a look at the top ten most memorable, and devastating, deaths so far on 'Grey's Anatomy.'

10. Dylan Young

Meredith gives Dylan the bomb

Dylan Young was introduced in the two part special "It's the End of the World" and "As We Know It" from Season 2 of 'Grey's Anatomy.' He was the bomb specialist that came in to the hospital after a "code black" was called because of a piece of unexploded ammunition inside of a man's body. He was not a major character, but his death was sudden and horrible. He was calm and collected the entire time, helping Meredith through the situation and keeping her sane in an overly stressful environment. After two episodes of tension and uncertainty, he walked away with the bomb and everything looked like it was going to be okay. Nope. Not in Shondaland. The bomb exploded at the last second and we were left stunned as an audience at the sudden finality of it all.

9. Jessica Smithson

Jessica Smithson Dying

Here is a patient death that really pulled at my heart strings. Jessica Smithson was the little girl from the season five episode "Sweet Surrender." She was one of Bailey's young paediatric patients, suffering from a rare and incurable disease called Tay-Sachs. Her father, Matt, spent the entire episode desperately trying to pull together the funds and the means to fly her to Mexico for a ditch effort, last resort, experimental treatment to try and prolong her life. All she really needed on that last day was to be close to her father. Bailey spent the day holding this little girl and trying to bring her comfort, and in the end, her father spent her last moments holding her and telling her about the beautiful sandy beaches in Mexico. Cue the waterworks.

8. Charles Percy

Charles Percy's death in 'Grey's Anatomy'

I did not really expect the death of Charles to bother me as much as it did. He was a rude outsider from Mercy West, un-likeable and unexceptional, and he did not really stand out that much as a character I would want to see continue on for more than a single season. In the season six finale, "Death and All His Friends" Percy was shot by the gunman loose in the hospital with a seemingly unending supply of bullets and a vendetta for Derek. Bailey and another patient, Mary Portman, did their best to slow his bleeding and get him to an elevator. Percy seemed to know he was going to die from the very moment he was shot. In that final scene with him, amid all the chaos of the rest of the hospital, there was this quiet moment where Bailey looked in his eyes and told him he was dying. It was horrible and devastating to watch as they just sat there helpless to do anything else to save him. Jeez, Shonda, I didn't even like the guy -- why did you have to make it so sad?

7. Bonnie Crasnoff

Bonnie Crasnoff from Grey's Anatomy

The train crash from the season two episode "Into You Like A Train" brought Bonnie Crasnoff and Tom Maynard into the hospital together basically skewered on a metal pole through their abdomens. Throughout the entire episode, Bonnie was light-hearted and cracking jokes, trying to keep the medical staff and the man she was virtually stuck to calm. The conversation between her and Tom when she finds out she is going to die was the catalyst for a tear-tsunami from me. She seemed to almost calmly welcome death and face it head on with a smile. She knew that she was giving Tom the best chance at survival and she had no regrets. Why couldn't they both just have lived?

6. Mary Portman

Mary Portman and her Husband

Surprisingly enough, Mary did not die alongside Percy in the shooting. No, her death was much more unexpected and even more devastating because it never should have happened. In the season seven episode "These Arms Of Mine" a film crew is at the hospital six months after the shooting to document the lives of the remaining victims. Mary Portman is getting the routine surgery she was supposed to get six months before: a simple colostomy bag removal. She never wakes up from the surgery, and after an extended period spent in a comatose like state, her husband has to pull the plug. It was heart-wrenching to have to see Mary go after everything she survived through.

5. Harold O'Malley

George and his dad from Grey's Anatomy

George O'Malley's big, bumbling and loveable father dies after complications after surgery for his cancer. The episode, "Six Days (2)," was all about what it means to be a father, what it is to have a father, and what it is like to lose one. It was poignant and probably touched very close to home for a lot of people. When George says "I don't know how to exist in a world where my dad doesn't," I transformed from a person into a soppy puddle of tears. George was my favourite character on the show and seeing him so broken up about the death of his father was a bit much for my emotions.

4. Henry Burton

Henry Burton dead

The death of Henry Burton in "Dark Was The Night" was probably the most stressful death of the whole series for me. Teddy didn't know, Cristina was performing the operation, Owen was running around lying to everyone -- I could barely stand it! Henry was incredibly likeable and the relationship between Teddy and Henry was one of my favourite of the whole show. They were a perfect match for each other and their storyline was adorable in all the right ways. Why must you always take away the good ones from us, Shonda?

3. George O'Malley

George O'Malley as John Doe

"007" -- I could just write these words, and those of you who have seen the episode with George's death would know exactly how devastating this is. I never expected the death of George O'Malley, not even for a second. He was my favourite character on the show and his death in "Now or Never" brought all kind of seething rage and resentment from me that almost made me not want to watch the series any more. Why George? Seriously, seriously!? At least he had a heroic ending, risking his life to save that of a woman he had never even met before. The moment when Meredith felt him write "007" on her hands and she realized that the John Doe who had been dragged blocks down the road by a bus was George elicited the loudest gasp noise I have ever made at at TV show -- followed by crying. Lots, and lots of crying.

2. Lexie Grey/Mark Sloan

Lexie and Mark at the scene of the plane crash

I feel like it is only right to include the death of these two in one entry. Shonda always said that the relationship between Mark and Lexie would not have a happy ending -- but by that I didn't realize she meant it would end in a ball of flame, anguish and uncontrollable tears. Lexie's death in "Flight" was sudden and devastating. Crushed under the back part of the plane she lived only long enough to hear Mark tell her he loved her before the sheer extent of her injuries took her life. This all happened in the first half of the episode, so, I of course spent the rest of the show trying to see through a steady stream of tears. Apparently it wasn't enough to rip out our still beating hearts with Lexie -- Shonda had to kick us while we were down and take away Mark as well. His death in "Going, Going, Gone" was less dramatic, but not less devastating. The episode flashbacks shown of him at happier times in his life with his friends, family and daughter were like the final drips in my already overflowing basin of tears.

1. Denny Duquette

Denny Duquette and Izzie

This is the type of character death that you can try and emotionally prepare yourself for, stock up on ice cream, chocolate and tissues like it is the apocalypse, and you will never be prepared enough. The death of Denny Duquette in "Losing My Religion" hit me like a tonne of bricks. It was the first major character death on 'Grey's' and I never saw it coming. I think that Denny was the love of Izzie's life and their storyline together was some of the most powerful television that I have ever seen. The image of her in the pink dress with him in the hospital bed is dangerous for me to think of in public if I don't want to embarrass myself. To this day I still can't watch that episode without ending it in the fetal position, bawling my eyes out. The music, the writing, the characters and the drama all came together in this perfect moment that makes it the most devastating death of 'Grey's Anatomy' for me.

Honourable shout-out to Arizona Robbins' left leg: R.I.P. leg, you are sorely missed.

Arizona Robbins with a prosthetic leg

Let this be a warning to you Shonda: If you take Richard Webber from me I will never watch your show again. Probably. Maybe. Okay, I will still watch, but I won't be happy about it.

- Shonda Rhimes
- Grey's Anatomy

Written by: harrisr
Sep 1st, 2013, 2:38 pm

Images courtesy of ABC


Level 2 (99%)
Since: 23/Nov/09
Message Posted On Sep 8th, 2013, 6:33 am

excellent article, I agree with you wholeheartedly.  I've watched Grey's from the beginning, (I used to watch it whilst doing my ironing, but had to stop doing that as I couldn't see to iron through my tears...).  Keep up the good work Shonda



Level 1 (67%)
Mood: aggravated
Since: 01/Feb/13
Message Posted On Sep 1st, 2013, 7:14 pm

Great article! :)


Don't know how I got to watch the first few episodes of this show, but I was never able to let it go afterwards, despite not being my genre at all.


Must say that I miss Sloan the most in the series. He did quite good with that role. And damn am I jealous of them adopting such a cute girl as Zola. As to the deaths "Into You Like a Train" is definitely one of the episodes I remember the most and one of the best episodes of the show in my opinion - but darn are there many good ones :)


Level 2 (71%)
Since: 02/Mar/10
Message Posted On Sep 1st, 2013, 4:38 pm

Indeed, Denny's death is the one I remember the most, maybe cause it was early on (before we really knew everybody was fair game) and so pivotal for other characters (namely, Izzie).

Bonnie's death gets to me. I don't know why. It was quick, but there was something about her that zapped my sense of hope when they realized that they couldn't save her.

George's death was a real surprise, and it seemed to be a bit political. If I remember correctly, at the time it was believed that Katherine Heigl was leaving the show, but it turned out she wasn't (until the next season). It seemed like they were just covering up a change in decisions. Or maybe that's the way it felt because we didn't really get to say goodbye. I guess it might just be me: after all, he had enlisted, he was leaving, people were saying his goodbyes, it just seemed so final that he didn't even get deployed, he just got killed outside the hospital. 

One death you're  missing is Meredidth's mother. It is defining for her character. She identifies with Bonnie, and with Dylan Young, they're both placeholders for her emotional being, and the devastation that follows their deaths. Ellis Grey's sickness and death shapes much of Meredith's current personality (under the surface). In a way, it brought her closure, and made her more estable (in addition to adopting Zola) - also, the show is focusing on other characters more, guessing people were growing bored with the screwed up Meredith and McDreamy trying to get together in spite of her self-destructive tendencies.

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