Grey’s Anatomy: The Reasons Alex Karev’s Resignation Was So Divisive

Many well-liked characters have left Grey’s Anatomy over the years, but Alex Karev’s departure in season 16 sparked controversy. One of the most popular TV series in this category is medical dramas, and one of the most successful examples is Shonda Rhimes’ Grey’s Anatomy.

When Grey’s Anatomy debuted on ABC in 2005, Ellen Pompeo’s character Meredith Grey led the show until its most recent seasons. Meredith began her career as an intern at Seattle Grace Hospital with other well-known characters.

Alumni from Grey’s Anatomy include Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) and Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh). Meredith and company have faced many challenges in their personal and professional lives during the series, which have allowed them to grow.

Grey's Anatomy
Grey’s Anatomy (Credits: ABC)

However, in many circumstances, all of that growth is lost when the characters are forced to leave the program. As one of the last remaining original characters on Grey’s Anatomy, Alex Karev’s departure left viewers with a bad taste in their mouths.

Why did Alex leave Grey’s Anatomy?

Alex Karev, portrayed by Justin Chambers, began as a man hiding behind an aggressive persona before developing into one of Grey’s Anatomy’s most endearing and kind characters. A scene from Grey’s Anatomy season sixteen featured Alex Karev leaving the hospital.

Although the program started to hint at his impending departure—telling Jo and his mother that he was “going through something”—his exit was harshly criticized for a different reason than that it still felt sudden: he had relocated out of Seattle.

Speaking with the media in 2020, Justin Chambers, star of Grey’s Anatomy, explained why he quit the show after fifteen years:

Saying farewell to a show and character that has shaped so much of my life over the past 15 years is never a smart idea. However, I’ve been hoping to broaden my acting jobs and professional options for a while. And now is that moment, as I approach 50 years old and am fortunate to have five amazing children and a beautiful, supporting wife.”

Alex Karev never even came back to explain his departure; instead, Grey’s Anatomy used letters he wrote to Jo, Meredith, Miranda Bailey, and Richard Webber to do so. He revealed in them that he discovered Izzie (Katherine Heigl), a mother of twins, utilized the embryos they had frozen years before.

After seeing his kids, Alex decided to stay with them and Izzie to ensure that the kids wouldn’t grow up without a father the way he had. He also acknowledged that he had always loved Izzie. During his tenure on Grey’s Anatomy, he underwent significant character growth; however, when Alex Karev left the program to concentrate on the past, all of that was lost.

The audience was sad because they knew and loved a different Alex Karev, one who would never have abandoned Jo for someone who had harmed him so deeply years earlier.

Many who watched Grey’s Anatomy stated their preference for Alex to die rather than divorce his wife and go back to his ex-partner without even having the guts to tell her what was going on.

Grey's Anatomy
Grey’s Anatomy (Credit: NBC)

Although viewers don’t forgive and forget that easily, especially since this isn’t the first time the show has had an unsatisfactory departure—though the Alex Karev exit was one of the worst—the writers and showrunners of Grey’s Anatomy, as well as Ellen Pompeo herself, defended the way Alex Karev left the show.

Though many viewers believe that killing Alex Karev would have been preferable to his conclusion, Grey’s Anatomy has come under fire for taking the simple route and killing off its characters.

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