Why Is Ellen Pompeo Leaving ‘Grey’s Anatomy’? Everything We Know About Her Future With The Show

Meredith Grey is bidding farewell to Seattle in the February 23 episode. So, why is she leaving? Here's what we know.

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Grey’s Anatomy is about to undergo a massive change. Ellen Pompeo’s final episode as a Grey’s Anatomy series regular will be the season 19 winter premiere, which airs February 23 on ABC. Ellen has been the show’s true north, having played Dr. Meredith Grey since the show’s premiere in 2005.

Ellen’s exit has sparked many questions amongst Grey’s Anatomy fans. Is she leaving for good? Will she be back? Why is she leaving? HollywoodLife has rounded up all the news about Ellen and her future as Dr. Meredith Grey.

Ellen Pompeo
Ellen Pompeo in her final episode as a series regular. (ABC)

Why Is Ellen Pompeo Leaving Grey’s Anatomy Now?

Ellen is stepping back from Grey’s Anatomy to star in a new Hulu limited series, which was announced back in August 2022. It was revealed that the actress would appear in only 8 episodes of the show’s nineteenth season. She is expected to continue narrating every episode and still serve as an executive producer.

“I’m so excited. I feel really happy and grateful that the company gave me an opportunity to do something different with my new limited series,” Ellen told HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY at the D23 Expo in September 2022.

The limited series is inspired by the true story of Ukrainian-born Natalia Grace and her U.S. adoptive parents, who claimed that she was an adult “sociopath” pretending to be a child. Ellen will also executive produce the series. “It’s a real-life story of a couple in Indiana who adopted a child, and it didn’t go exactly as they had expected,” Ellen revealed to HollywoodLife. “I think we’ve all been in situations like that, where things don’t go as we plan or as we expect, and I think that’s an interesting story.”

Is Ellen Leaving Grey’s Anatomy Forever?

No, Ellen is not leaving Grey’s Anatomy for good. Ellen made sure to clarify what this “goodbye” episode really means. “For the record, it’s not really my final,” Ellen told ET. “It’s a little bit of a trick they’re playing on people.” She added, “It is my final episode for a while.”

Meredith Grey will be back sooner than you think, so don’t expect some crazy twist to leave you hanging. Meredith is leaving Seattle for Boston. She has decided to relocate her family for the time being and take a new job at the Catherine Fox Foundation so Zola can attend the Brookline STEAM Academy.

Ellen Pompeo
Ellen Pompeo in the first season of ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ (ABC/Everett Collection)

“It’s still Grey’s, she’s still there in spirit and that’s the house that Grey built, so she’s always there,” Ellen previously told ET. “She just has to step away for a little bit to do a Hulu show. It’s a great company to work for and I’m really, really lucky that they’ve given me the opportunity to do both, and so I had to take it.”

The actress told Deadline that the show is “gonna be just fine without me… And I’ll be back at Grey’s for the finale, and we’ll see if we can keep it going. I’m gonna always be a part of that show – I’m an exec producer on that show, I’ve spent two decades of my career on that show, it’s my heart and soul, and I’ll never truly be gone as long as that show’s on the air.”

She also shared a heartfelt note to fans after the fall finale aired in November 2022. “I am eternally grateful and humbled by the love and support you have all shown me, Meredith GREY and the show for 19 seasons!” she wrote on Instagram. “Through it all….none of it …would have been possible without the best fans in the world. You all are RIDERS and you all have made the ride so fun and ICONIC!! I love you madly and appreciate you right back. This isn’t your first time on the rollercoaster… you know the show must go on and I’ll definitely be back to visit. With a lot of love and immense gratitude.”

The 53-year-old stressed during her appearance on The Drew Barrymore Show that she just wanted to “mix it up a little bit.” She continued, “I gotta do something new or I’m literally gonna turn into like, you can’t do the New York Times crossword puzzle every single day. I mean, 19 years, that’s more than people keep their kids in their house, like people keep their kids in their house until they’re 18 and then they send them off to college. So this is like me like going away to college.”

Cast Reaction To Ellen Pompeo’s Exit

Following the news of Ellen’s reduced Grey’s Anatomy role, her co-stars have been incredible supportive of her decision. “Ellen has been the captain of this ship all these years, and she’s about to start producing, so she needed to make room in her schedule for that,” Kevin McKidd, who plays Dr. Owen Hunt, told E! News’ Daily Pop. “The fact that she’s not leaving the show and is just gonna scale it back a bit—what I think is beautiful about it is that it shows her love for the show still.”

Chandra Wilson, a.k.a. Dr. Miranda Bailey and one of only three original cast members still on the show, also revealed her thoughts on Ellen’s exit and the overall theme of the show.

“It’s always about the life of this hospital and all of the personalities that come through — from our series regular characters to our guest characters, the medical event or events of the episode. If anything evolves it’s that, but the housing of it is the same,” Chandra told ET. “We still will always have the overall theme of Meredith Grey — her eyes, that experience, sort of that intern experience. Always. It’s always there and always peppered through, but in the midst of that is the life of the show that continues through each of the characters. And each time we bring on new personalities, our audience, they gravitate to that personality. They find somebody that they really [connect with].”

Ellen Pompeo
Ellen Pompeo as Dr. Meredith Grey. (ABC)

Jesse Williams, who returned as Dr. Jackson Avery in season 19 offer Meredith a job in Boston, noted that he’s fully behind Ellen’s decision. “That woman has worked so hard all year, every year for 20 years for that franchise,” Jesse told E! News’ Daily Pop. “Whatever time she takes off is well-earned, and I’m sure they have a master plan.”

Sarah Drew, who played Dr. April Kepner on the show, told Us Weekly that it “makes sense that she wants to take a breather and pursue some other things — and still keep her foot in the door. I think that’s great for [Pompeo]. I wish her the best.”

What We Know About Ellen Pompeo’s ‘Last’ Episode

Ellen’s last episode as a series regular is titled “I’ll Follow The Sun.” The episode title is a callback to Dr. Cristina Yang’s words to Meredith in season 10 — “Don’t let what he wants eclipse what you need. He’s very dreamy, but he’s not the sun. You are.”

The official synopsis for the episode reads: “On Meredith’s last day at Grey Sloan, the doctors plan a goodbye surprise and Nick confronts her about the future of their relationship. The interns compete to scrub in on a groundbreaking procedure, and Richard asks Teddy an important question.”