Thursday’s “Grey’s Anatomy” finally resolved the mystery of Alex Karev’s abrupt departure from Grey Sloan Memorial after star Justin Chambers left the show after 16 seasons.
While his sudden exit was previously explained away by characters noting he was going to Iowa to be with his ailing mother, the truth was revealed — and it was a sweet blast from the past.
While Chambers didn’t appear in the episode, Karev did offer a voiceover to explain that he left Seattle — and his apparently soon-to-be-ex wife Jo (Camilla Luddington) — to reunite with his previous spouse, Izzie (Katherine Heigl). Heigl also didn’t appear in the episode, which shouldn’t be surprising given the actress left the show years ago under less than amicable circumstances.
Viewers learned that after Izzie’s departure, she secretly gave birth to Karev’s offspring, twins Eli and Alexis, whom she’s been raising on a farm in Kansas. According to the show, after Meredith’s (Ellen Pompeo) trial at the beginning of this season, Alex visited Izzie for the first time since she left, and met his children for the first time. He decided that was where he wanted to be.
“It is nearly impossible to say goodbye to Alex Karev,” said “Grey’s Anatomy” showrunner Krista Vernoff in a statement.
“That is as true for me and for all of the writers at ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ as it is for the fans. We have loved writing Alex. And we have loved watching Justin Chambers’ nuanced portrayal of him,” she added.
“For 16 seasons, 16 years, we have grown up alongside Alex Karev,” she conclude. “We have been frustrated by his limitations and we have been inspired by his growth and we have come to love him deeply and to think of him as one of our very best friends. We will miss him terribly. And we will always be grateful for his impact, on our show, on our hearts, on our fans, on the world.”
After the episode aired, “Grey’s” star Ellen Pompeo took to Instagram to share an emotional tribute to Chambers, and applauded the show’s creative team for crafting a memorable exit.
“For me personally for Karev to go back to the beginning…. was the best possible storyline. It pays homage to those incredible first years and the incredible cast… that created a foundation so strong that the show is still standing,” Pompeo wrote.
“So let’s not be sad. As our fearless leader [episode director Debbie Allen] always says let’s PULL UP and celebrate the actors, the writers and the fantastic crew who make this show come to life every week,” she continued, concluding, “No matter what the challenge or how tired we all are in the end… you keep us going…..That is worth dancing it out over!”
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Hi here I go again … Thank YOU! You are truly the best most passionate most loyal fans anyone could ever ask for. Because of you we got to make great tv… because of you we got to make television history! I say often life is hard and thank God it is because like I tell my kids… it shows us what we are made …of how strong we really are and let’s face it… without the lows there would be no dancing it out or celebrating this incredible experience we call life. Thanks to our national treasure @therealdebbieallen and the writers for giving Alex Karev the best send off. Thanks to @shondarhimes for creating the most amazing character. For me personally for Karev to go back to the beginning…. was the best possible storyline. It pays homage to those incredible first years and the incredible cast …that created a foundation so strong that the show is still standing. So let’s not be sad. As our fearless leader DA always says let’s PULL UP and celebrate the actors the writers and the fantastic crew who make this show come to life every week. No matter what the challenge or how tired we all are in the end… you keep us going…..That is worth dancing it out over! So much love and gratitude to you all. Xo E
Also paying tribute to Chamber’s was “Grey’s” star Chris Carmack, who plays Dr. Atticus Lincoln.
“[Chambers’] contributions to the story over the years was one that was difficult to say goodbye to,” Carmack told People. “The ‘Grey’s’ community is definitely a family and supportive of one another. There was an emotional fallout amongst cast and crew when we found out.”
Carmack said he was “drenched in tears” after watching the emotional episode.
“It was really kind of beautiful to look back on Alex Karev and his 16 years of life on the show,” he added. “Watching him and Meredith and their first go around, and him and Izzie. How incredible to see a flashback of 16 years ago that was actually shot as part of the television show. It was very tangible and emotional. It wasn’t just a flashback from that episode. Those were scenes that fans had invested in so long ago. To see them all back to back was very powerful.”