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    15 Ways TV Shows Handled Actor Exits Ranked From "I'm Not Totally Mad At This" To "I'll Never Get Over This"

    You bet I'm still hurt over the way Alex Karev left!

    I'm sure you've all heard the saying, "All good things must come to an end," and that saying stands correct especially when your favorite actor is leaving a show you deeply love.

    NBC / Via giphy.com

    And while it may seem inevitable, it still stings. Sometimes the pain can be eased a bit (or become worse) depending on how the show decides to write out said character.

    @brittany_broski/TikTok / Via giphy.com

    So, here are 15 ways actors left TV shows and how it was written into the show ranked from super well to less than average.

    1. First, when Sandra Oh was ready to leave Grey's Anatomy in 2014, Shonda Rhimes decided to make Cristina Yang leave Grey-Sloan Memorial and become the director of cardiothoracic surgery at an institute Burke founded in Zurich.

    Cristina saying her goodbye to Meredith on "Grey's Anatomy"
    ABC

    When talking to the Hollywood Reporter about Cristina's journey and telling Rhimes that she was leaving the show, Oh said, "I told her I was going to go at the end of season nine, and we didn’t really talk about [how Cristina would exit] until the back-half of season 10. She had an idea, but I don’t think that idea really happened. I don’t remember at what point she said, 'How would you feel if we brought Burke back?' because she and the writers were trying to come up with an exit, which is tricky. There were a lot of things to consider on Shonda’s part, but for me, I thought it was a great idea." On her final day, Oh even gave out 250 gifts to the cast and crew to personally say thank you to everyone. 

    Thoughts: Although I've probably never cried harder at a TV show than when I watched her leave, her story was wrapped up pretty nicely. For those who don't remember the details, Cristina left because since being in the plane crash and buying part of the hospital, she was now connected to the Harper Avery Foundation, which meant she could never win the prestigious award she's always wanted. So she basically left for a higher position at an institute with better opportunities. Given this reason, it made perfect sense since that's what she always strived for. Her final scene with Meredith was also not at all out of character for Cristina and was super heartwarming.

    Grade: A+

    Watch her goodbye here:

    View this video on YouTube

    ABC

    2. When Steve Carell left The Office after Season 7, Michael Scott decided to move to Colorado with his fiancé, Holly, to help her take care of her ailing parents. In the finale, it's revealed that they eventually had children.

    Jim asking Michael if he's leaving today forever
    NBC

    For a long time, it wasn't known why exactly Carell left the show. It was believed that he left to spend more time with his wife and children. People also believed that he might've left because he was becoming a big movie star, and wanted to do more movies. But recently, in the oral history The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, crew members revealed that NBC executives never made an offer to keep him around after his original contract ended. Casting director Allison Jones stated, "As I recall, he was going to do another season, and then NBC, for whatever reason, wouldn’t make a deal with him. Somebody didn’t pay him enough. It was absolutely asinine. I don’t know what else to say about that. Just asinine.”

    Thoughts: Michael leaving The Office definitely left a huge Michael-shaped hole in my heart, but his departure was executed very well, in my opinion. He left to start a family finally with a woman he really cared about, and that was super heartwarming to see, mainly because he's always wanted that. So, while it hurt seeing Steve Carell no longer play the hilarious Michael Scott, it made me feel better knowing he was moving onto a future he dreamed about.

    Grade: A

    Watch his goodbye here:

    View this video on YouTube

    NBC

    BTW, I know this isn't his FINAL FINAL scene since Michael does make an appearance at Dwight and Angela's wedding in the finale, but you know what I mean. 

    3. When Jesse Williams left Grey's Anatomy, after playing Jackson Avery for 12 seasons, showrunner Krista Vernoff decided to lean into the character's activism by having him move to Boston to take over the family's foundation to "create real racial equity in medicine."

    Jackson from "Grey's Anatomy" telling his mom he's leaving and wants to take over the foundation
    ABC

    On top of that, Avery even reunited with his ex-wife, April Kepner (played by Sarah Drew), and she later agreed to join him on his journey to be closer to her and their daughter, Harriet. When talking about his departure, Williams shared his appreciation for the show and everyone involved. “As an actor, director and person, I have been obscenely lucky to learn so much from so many, and I thank our beautiful fans, who breathe so much energy and appreciation into our shared worlds," he stated. "The experience and endurance born of creating nearly 300 hours of leading global television is a gift I’ll carry always. I am immensely proud of our work, our impact, and to be moving forward with so many tools, opportunities, allies, and dear friends.”

    Thoughts: Jackson is the newest character to join the "former Grey-Sloan Memorial employee list," and while I'm superrrrr sad to see Jesse Williams leave, the reason why Jackson left worked well and actually made sense. He left to go to Boston to be the head of the Catherine Fox Foundation after he became more and more frustrated by the inequities in the health-care system during the coronavirus pandemic. It did seem a bit weird at first because, for years, Jackson swore he didn't want to work for the foundation. Still, I think him going was actually good for his character growth because while he's a great surgeon, he knows he can save more lives by working behind the scene, which is totally something Jackson would do and cares about. Along with Cristina, this is definitely in the "top tier" category for Grey's Anatomy exits. 

    Grade: A

    Watch his final scene here:

    View this video on YouTube

    ABC

    4. When Nina Dobrev left The Vampire Diaries after playing Elena Gilbert for six seasons, her character was put into a magical coma that she couldn't come out of until her best friend, Bonnie, died.

    Elena and Damon saying goodbye and having their last dance on "The Vampire Diaries"
    The CW

    When talking about her departure, Dobrev says, "That was the plan from the get-go. If anything, the fact that [leaving] terrified me drove me even more. She continued with, "I always knew I wanted Elena's story to be a six-season adventure, and within those six years, I got the journey of a lifetime." 

    Thoughts: Even though Elena leaving the show totally changed the vibe, I am glad they didn't just simply kill her off. Despite ongoing debates on the likability of her character, Elena brought a ton to the show, and it just wasn't the same after she left. That said, the way she was written off was executed well in the way that it gave the audience a lot of drama and wasn't completely far off from something Elena would do. It was definitely an absolute martyr-esque behavior that she would exhibit to protect her best friend. 

    Grade: B+

    Watch her last scene here:

    View this video on YouTube

    The CW

    5. After 11 years of playing Derek Shepherd on Grey's Anatomy, Patrick Dempsey was ready to call it quits on the "long hours" the show required in order to spend more time with his family. After coming to a mutual decision on his exit, Shonda decided to kill him off in Season 11 after having Derek save a bunch of people from a car accident.

    Meredith saying goodbye to Derek as he gets unplugged on "Grey's Anatomy"
    ABC

    When talking about his exit from the show, Dempsey shared, "I'm very grateful for Grey's Anatomy. It's given me the opportunity to do everything. But at the same time, there was a cost," he said. "I think after a certain period of time, no matter how much money you make, you want control out of your own schedule." 

    Thoughts: Yes, here is another Grey's Anatomy character but anyways. Derek's death has me in absolute shambles every single time I rewatch. It was super heartbreaking and happened at a pretty lousy time since Derek and Meredith were finally getting their relationship back on track. With all of that said, I do think his departure was executed very well. It's super hard to kill off a main character, and I think they did a pretty good job. Despite it being super sad, I do believe that things kind of got better after he left. Hear me out! Meredith finally got to start growing more as a doctor after he left, and she no longer had to live in his shadow. Same with Amelia. So while it breaks my heart each time, I think this was the best way for his character to go. 

    Grade: B+

    Watch his final scene here:

    View this video on YouTube

    ABC

    6. After deciding that Season 8 would be her last season on Grey's Anatomy, Chyler Leigh worked closely with Shonda Rhimes to come up with a good way to close Lexie's story.

    Lexie saying her final goodbye to Mark before she dies on "Grey's Anatomy"
    ABC

    For those who don't know, Lexie Grey's story came to a close after being involved in a tragic plane crash with Meredith, Derek, Cristina, Arizona, and Mark, where she ended up dying. When discussing how they came to a way to end her story on the show, Rhimes explained that killing off Lexie "was not an easy decision. But it was a decision the Chyler and I came to together. We had a thoughtful discussion about it, and ultimately, we both decided this was the right time for her character's journey to end."

    Thoughts: I know I've mentioned other Grey's Anatomy departures scattered throughout this post, and I've said for each one that they hurt more than the next, but this one takes the cake. I was emotionally destroyed watching Lexie's death. In terms of character write-offs, I think it was done in a pretty standard way. It's not always easy to kill off a character, and just the level of emotion that is felt when watching her death shows how well it came together. I wouldn't consider it as a totally genius move just because it's a pretty standard way of getting rid of a character when the actor leaves. However, I do appreciate how they did it (despite me still not recovering from her sad demise). 

    Grade: B

    Watch her final scene here:

    View this video on YouTube

    ABC

    7. When America Ferrera decided to leave Superstore after Season 5, her character Amy decided to move to California after accepting a new corporate job.

    Amy and Jonah breaking up before Amy leaves for California on "Superstore"
    NBC

    On top of moving away, Amy and Jonah ended their long-term relationship. In a heartfelt post about her departure, Ferrera said, "The last five years on Superstore have been some of the most rewarding, enriching, and enjoyable years of my career." During the series finale, Ferrera returned to the show as Amy and got back together with Jonah. 

    Thoughts: So this isn't a complete write-off since she did return for the ending, but I'll include it still. I think it makes total sense why she left because Amy always strived for more from her jobs. She never wanted just to do good, but she wanted to do good, and then more so, it makes sense that she would take the job. Even though she was scared to lose him, that didn't hold her back from still going to California. It's nice to see a woman on TV chose her job over a man because we usually see the very opposite way more. And even though she eventually came back and married Jonah, she didn't give up everything for him. She left, tried the new job, and went back home despite it not working, and usually, we don't even get that from some female characters. 

    Grade: B

    Watch her final scene here:

    View this video on YouTube

    NBC

    Again, not her very last scene since she came back for the finale, but you get the point. 

    8. In 2016, the creator of Orange Is the New Black decided to write off Samira Wiley's character, Poussey, resulting in her tragic death, which inspired actions throughout the rest of the show.

    Taystee laying on the floor with Poussey's body surrounded by guards and inmates on "Orange is the New Black"
    Netflix

    While it wasn't Wiley's decision to leave the show, she was honored and delighted with the way things ended. "it was not my decision. When I first found out, I was devastated. I was shocked, I was confused. I knew about it for over a year," she stated. "But it happens a lot with actors whose characters end up dying. It’s just something I’m shouldered with. I eventually felt pretty honored to have them pick my character to tell the story. There’s no hard feelings or anything like that. I’m happy with what I made with [creator] Jenji [Kohan] and the relationship I have with her. I’m totally grateful."

    Even the show's creator felt heartbroken about losing such a great character. "I hated losing Samira," Kohan said. "But her death would have the greatest impact. And she was fantastic about it. She said, 'I get it, I understand.'"

    Thoughts: Her death did seem kind of unnecessary at first and like an attempt to throw in a last-minute shock at the end of the season, but looking more into it, I can understand the creative decision that was made. It was definitely tough to watch and not even close to my "favorite" way a character left the show, but they did it in a way that inspired a meaningful conversation. Her character definitely deserved much, much better, especially since she seemed so inspired to get her life back on track. 

    Grade: B-

    Watch her final scene here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Netflix

    9. When Emmy Rossum left Shameless, her character Fiona Gallagher — who she played for nine seasons — packed up her bags and left her family behind to start anew.

    Fiona and Frank saying goodbye on "Shameless"
    Showtime

    While Rossum never stated her reason for leaving the show, she hinted at how her TV family gave her the support to "stretch and grow creatively." When speaking on her departure, she said, "This business is always an adventure, full of travel and opportunities to tell stories. Usually, as an actor, every few months, you travel to a new place, start a new project, build a new character, learn new rhythms, new inside jokes with your crew, make new friends," she continued. "Until Shameless came into my life eight years ago, I led that kind of transient wonderful life of an actor. And I never realized how much I actually craved the kind of continuity that this show has given me. The opportunity to play Fiona has been a gift. There are few characters — female or otherwise — as layered and dynamic. She is brave. I knew it the second I read the pilot script, this was different, this was special."

    Thoughts: Fiona left to go to Chicago to try and start a new life. While it felt somewhat random for her character because she literally gave up so much to take care of her siblings, it was nice to see her put herself first for once. I think it was also something that was long-awaited. It's one of the few departures that is actually satisfying because after all Fiona had been through, she finally put herself first, and she deserved that. Although at first it did feel a bit out of character for her because she was always there, it was ultimately something she needed to do. 

    Grade: B-

    Watch her final scene her:

    View this video on YouTube

    Showtime

    10. When Alfred Enoch left How to Get Away With Murder after playing Wes Gibbins in 2016, his character was brutally killed on orders from the dad of his girlfriend, Laurel.

    Wes being killed on "How to Get Away with Murder"
    ABC

    After three long seasons on the show, Enoch stated that "The decision was creative" when talking to Entertainment Weekly. "I didn’t become an actor to have a steady job, but that’s one of the nice things about this show thus far as well. In my experience on it, we don’t do 22 or 24 episodes, which must be difficult," he said. "I’ve always enjoyed being able to go and do something else in the hiatus if you can find something that fits in or if anyone will give you a job. It’s nice from that perspective, but it’s not like the show, and its schedule don’t allow that to be the case."

    Thoughts: I loved Wes so much and was utterly heartbroken when he died. That said, I understand why they ended his storyline in the way that they did. How to Get Away With Murder was such a dramatic show that always had you on the edge of your seat, and killing off one of the main characters didn't feel unfamiliar to this show. While it hurt to see him die (especially in the brutal way it happened), I'm glad that we at least got to see Enoch finish out the season. 

    Grade: C+

    Watch his last scene here:

    View this video on YouTube

    ABC

    11. In 2006, when Ryan Cooley, who played J.T. Yorke on Degrassi: The Next Generation, was written off the show, the writers decided to kill his character seconds after he realized he was in love with Liberty.

    J.T. getting stabbed in the back and Liberty finding him wounded
    TeenNick

    When talking to TheTVaddict.com, Cooley was ultimately surprised when he found out the writer's decided to write J.T. off the show. He stated, "At the time, I was contemplating going to University and leaving the show, so it kind of came together nicely. My last episode was in August, and knowing that I wasn't coming back made it easier for me to decide to go to university." Despite finding out his fate on the show in April, he also had to keep it a secret from his castmates for a while. 

    Thoughts: They went with the old "kill him off right as the character is making huge growths in their character development," move and nothing breaks my heart more. J.T. was just about to get it together and tell Liberty that he loved her, but no. His death didn't even seem to bring A TON to the plot. It just kinda happened, and over a few episodes, they mourned, and that was about it. I do understand why they thought this was the best way to write him off, though. I mean, what's Degrassi without making us all sob, amirite? 

    Grade: C

    Watch his final scene here:

    View this video on YouTube

    CTV??

    12. After playing Prue on the hit show Charmed for three seasons, Shannen Doherty left in 2001, resulting in her character dying after a brutal demon attack.

    Prue lying on the ground after being attacked by a demon on "Charmed"
    The WB

    Apparently, there was behind-the-scenes tension between her and another co-star, which contributed to her departure. Once her character died, her absence was filled when long-lost sister Paige appeared and became the newest member of "the power of three." 

    Thoughts: This departure was definitely a surprise. They went with the classic "kill the character off" trick, which works especially in a show like this where they are fighting deadly creatures. So, while it worked fine, it was kind of underwhelming. Mainly because it felt like it happened so quickly, and there wasn't much closure. But then again, I'm not totally mad by it because that's how death IRL works. 

    Grade: C-

    Watch her final scene here:

    View this video on YouTube

    The WB

    13. When Jessica Szohr, who played Vanessa Abrams on Gossip Girl, left the show, her character moved to Spain following a fight with Dan at the end of Season 4.

    Vanessa selling Dan's book behind his back before she moves to Spain on "Gossip Girl"
    The CW

    According to Szohr, when she left the show, it was on good terms, and there were never any hard feelings. "When I originally went, I was only supposed to go and do three episodes. So on the third one, when they asked me to be a series regular, I didn’t know if that meant I was going to be there for a year if the show would go two years or three years, so I was just blessed to be a part of it," she said. "Sometimes after you get a fourth, fifth season with TV, because you’re playing the same character, sometimes you’ll hear actors be like, 'I’m ready for it to be done.' And then a year or two when it’s done, you’re like, 'Oh, that was such a good gig, it was so fun.'"

    Thoughts: Understanding that everything must come to an end eventually, I wasn't too surprised by her departure. Watching the show, you could kind of tell her character's storyline was coming to an end because the plots with her got smaller and smaller. She did leave on a bit of a bang though; I'll give her that. I do wish it was a bit of a bigger deal because she has been in the show since Season 1, but it is what it is, right?

    Grade: D

    Watch her last scene here:

    View this video on YouTube

    The CW

    This isn't exactly her LAST scene because she is seen selling Dan's book before she leaves and she appears in the series finale, but this is the last conversation she has with Dan onscreen. 

    14. After playing Dave Rygalski on Gilmore Girls for a short time, Adam Brody left the show to play Seth Cohen on The O.C., and to write his character off; the writers gave the explanation that he was now going to school in California.

    The WB/ The CW

    When talking about his time on the show, Brody says, “It was a joy. It was phenomenally well written. In hindsight, almost 20 years later, I realize that’s still some of the best-written stuff I’ve ever gotten to do.”

    Thoughts: There isn't really much to analyze here because his character didn't even get a proper goodbye. He was there one minute and gone the next, which is exactly why this has the grade it does. I get the circumstances and him not being able to appear on the show again, most likely due to conflicting schedules, but I just wish we got a proper send-off because I really enjoyed Dave's character. There's nothing wrong with this; it was just kind of boring and left me wanting more. 

    Grade: D-

    Watch his last scene here:

    View this video on YouTube

    The WB/The CW

    While this isn't a goodbye, it's the last time we saw him on the show. 

    15. And finally, after 15 years of being on Grey's Anatomy, Justin Chambers decided to leave after Season 16 to "diversify his actor roles and career choices," resulting in Dr. Alex Karev packing up his bags and leaving too.

    Jo reading the goodbye letter Alex left her
    ABC

    In order to fulfill Chambers leaving the show, the Grey's Anatomy team decided to have Alex leave his new wife, Jo, behind without notice so that he could reunite with his ex-wife, Izzie, and help raise their kids together. Since Chambers filmed his last episode in November 2019, he wasn't present during the episode where Jo, Meridith, Richard, and Miranda receive their goodbye letter from him. Fans weren't particularly happy with this ending. Showrunner Krista Vernoff even spoke about the negative reactions to Karev's departure. 

    "I believe that there would’ve been at least as big an outcry if we had killed that character off-camera, and those were our choices. It was kill the character off-camera, or come up with some believable way that he gets his happily ever after," she stated in an interview with Deadline

    Thoughts: I know Justin Chambers was ready to leave the show, and obviously, it wasn't expected for him to be on it FOREVER, but the way he was written off just hurt years of character development, IMO. Season 16 Alex loved Jo so so much, and his exit just seemed like something Season 5 Alex would do. While it was noble for him to leave to raise his kids (that he just found out about, BTW), I still wish things played out differently. He would've never left Jo (and Meredith) like that without even saying goodbye (face-to-face), but for some reason, that's exactly what he ended up doing. 

    Grade: F

    Watch his goodbye here:

    View this video on YouTube

    ABC

    While it's not exactly his final scene because he wasn't in his goodbye episode, it is the moment Jo found out he was gone. 

    If you wanted an extra cry, here's his goodbye to Meredith:

    View this video on YouTube

    ABC

    Clearly, I couldn't rank every single TV character departure, or else this post would never end, but I want to know if there's any you believe should've made this list? So, feel free to drop them in the comments below!

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