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Shonda Rhimes Explains Why Derek Had To Die On "Grey's Anatomy"

"The only way to preserve what felt true to me is that Derek was going to have to die in order for that love to remain honest."

Kelsey Mcneal / ABC

Four months after Patrick Dempsey's character, Dr. Derek Shepherd, was killed off of ABC's Grey's Anatomy, the show's creator, Shonda Rhimes, addressed the controversial exit at the 2015 Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills.

Rhimes framed it as a foregone conclusion that Dempsey was leaving the show, which left her with a creative choice. "Either Derek was going to walk out on Meredith and leave her, I don't know, high and dry, and what was that going to mean?" she said. "That was going to suggest that the love was not true and the thing that we had said for 11 years was a lie and that McDreamy wasn't McDreamy, so for me, that was untenable. Meredith and Derek's love had to remain Meredith and Derek's love, so as painful as it was for me as a storyteller, because I never really thought that was going to happen, the only way to preserve what felt true to me is that Derek was going to have to die in order for that love to remain honest."

She continued, "I really couldn't have the idea that he turned out to be a bad guy and walked out on his wife and his kids. To me it felt like that was the only way to make Meredith and Derek's magic remain true and forever frozen in time."

Kelsey Mcneal / ABC

Dempsey's character died as the result of a car accident in "How to Save a Life," an April episode of Grey's. "It just sort of unfolded in a very organic way," Dempsey told Entertainment Weekly in April of his exit. "It happened very quickly. There wasn't a lot of discussion. It was just a natural progression. And the way everything was unfolding in a very organic way, it was like, OK! This was obviously the right time."

That was a sentiment Rhimes echoed on the TCA stage. "We had a lot of discussions about it," she said. "It wasn't easy or fun — it's never easy or fun. We've been working really hard for a long time together. We're family. Those choices and those decisions are never easy for any of us."

Ellen Pompeo, who plays Meredith Grey, found the silver lining in her onscreen husband's death. "As difficult as those decisions are, it's really her best writing," she said. "So, as an actor, those are the best scenes to play. That's the meatiest stuff. So as difficult as it is, we have something really juicy."

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