For all the world-class surgeons operating within the walls of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, Grey's Anatomy is infamous for the high mortality rate among its staff (remember back when the hospital's nickname was Seattle Grace Mercy Death?), and the hospital is even named for two beloved characters who met a grisly end nine years into the show's run. There's no one on this show who isn't expendable. Sure, Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) seems pretty safe, but at this point, I'm not even willing to place that bet.
Still, when the news broke that Justin Chambers was leaving the show — nay, had already left, announcing after his final episode had already aired that he wasn't coming back — it stung. Dr. Alex Karev was one of the few original characters still on the show, and has had arguably the most compelling and dramatic character arc over the course of the series.
When we first met Alex, he's an arrogant, chauvinistic bully, who cares only for himself and appears to lack even the merest scrap of empathy. Yet somehow, Alex grows into one of the most endearing characters on the show, stepping in as Meredith's designated "person" after Cristina (Sandra Oh) leaves, marrying fellow rockstar surgeon Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington), nabbing the role of Chief of Pediatrics at Grey Sloan, and ultimately taking over as Chief of Surgery for a rival hospital. Over the course of 16 seasons, Alex grows up, leaving behind the pompous jerk he was in the beginning and morphing into a kind, compassionate man who is great with kids, brilliant in the operating room, and a ride-or-die friend.
I love Alex more than any other character still on Grey's Anatomy, and honestly, more than any character on most other currently airing shows as well. When Grey's began, I never would've imagined that Alex would eventually become not only a great doctor, but a legitimately good person as well, the kind of guy who rounds up fifteen years' worth of patients to testify on behalf of his best friend.
This is why Grey's Anatomy has to kill him.
"He's gone, no groundwork has been laid, and Chambers won't be filming any additional footage to help fill in the gaps."
Listen, I'm not any happier about this than you are. I adore Alex, and if Chambers was sticking around for a while, I would ideally prefer that he'd be given a grand, triumphant send-off, similar to how Sandra Oh left the show at the end of season 10. However, Chambers has already filmed his final scenes for Grey's Anatomy, they've aired, and the writers did nothing to set up a permanent exit for Alex.
I'm not going to speculate on the circumstances that led to Chambers's abrupt departure from the show, but the fact remains that he's gone, no groundwork has been laid, and Chambers won't be filming any additional footage to help fill in the gaps. So either Alex has to choose to leave his wife, quit the job he's worked so hard to get, and permanently disappear without saying goodbye to his friends . . . or his exit won't be his choice at all.
The Alex we met in season one may have been willing to ditch his job and ghost all his friends if a better opportunity came along, but the Alex we know by the middle of season 16 would never dream of doing such a thing. Before he "temporarily" leaves to care for his ailing mother in Iowa, he had re-proposed to his wife, doubling down on his commitment to her, and is proud of the program he was building at Pac-North. As of the end of "The Last Supper," he's still actively extending job offers to top-tier surgeons, indicating that he has every intention of coming back. And even if the Catherine Fox Foundation's acquisition of Pac-North goes forward with the intent to shut down the hospital, a ball that started rolling at the end of "The Last Supper," do we really expect that entire transaction to proceed without meeting strong opposition from Alex Karev?
The only way for Alex to leave the show while still remaining true to his character is for him to meet an untimely demise off-screen. Similar to how Patrick Dempsey's decision to depart meant that Derek Shepherd had to die, since the only way Derek would permanently leave his wife and kids was in a body bag, Alex is now in a similar situation. Grey's Anatomy has simply done too good a job of growing Alex into a reliable, loyal, stand-up guy for it to be plausible that he'd simply disappear now. As devastating as it would be, both for the characters and the audience, to have to deal with Alex's death, killing him is the only way to write him off the show without getting Chambers back, while still remaining faithful to his character.
"He doesn't deserve to die . . . but he does deserve to exit in a way that celebrates the person he's become."
But even off-screen, Alex can still meet a fitting end, one that pays off one of the most transformative and satisfying character arcs on TV. The Alex of Season 16 wouldn't hesitate to run into a dangerous situation to save a stranger, or throw his body between a kid and a bullet, or refuse to leave the side of someone who was hurt, even if it meant putting himself in jeopardy. He could die in an accident, as so many characters before him have, but it would be far more satisfying for him to go out a hero. There's any number of ways it could happen, from trying to help out during a natural disaster, to attempting to stop an act of domestic terrorism or aid the victims, to pushing someone out of the way of a speeding car. It would probably need to happen while he's still in Iowa or on his way back, so that the doctors of Grey Sloan aren't on the scene to try to help, but can only learn the truth helplessly from afar and attempt to process.
I'd always envisioned the show ending with Alex becoming a father and living happily ever after with Jo as they both continued to dominate in their respective careers. I wanted him to be an uncle to Meredith's kids until they were grown up, and an honourary grand-uncle to their kids. I wanted him to someday win a Catherine Fox Award. But none of that is going to happen now, and after fifteen years, it would be an injustice for Alex to merely fade away mid-season by choosing to do something completely out of character. He doesn't deserve to die, and the other characters on Grey's Anatomy don't deserve to have to deal with yet another death, but he does deserve to exit in a way that celebrates the person he's become. If we can't keep Alex Karev all the way until the end of the series, we should at least be able to hold on to the untainted memory of who he was. He's earned that much.