Shonda Rhimes Explains Why Derek Had to Die on Grey’s Anatomy

Shonda Rhimes and Patrick Dempsey
"Grey's Anatomy" creator Shonda Rhimes said Patrick Dempsey's McDreamy had to die to preserve Derek and Meredith's love. Bob D'Amico/ABC via Getty Images; Mireya Acierto/FilmMagic

The only way out! Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes defended her decision to kill off Patrick Dempsey's Derek Shepherd to a roomful of reporters on Tuesday, Aug. 4, saying it was the only way to preserve Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek's love.

"What were the options? Either Der was going to walk out on Mer and leave her high and dry, and what was that going to mean?" Rhimes said on a panel at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. "That would suggest the love wasn't true, the thing we had said for 11 years was a lie."

Rhimes explained that the only way for McDreamy to leave his wife was through death. "Meredith and Derek's love had to remain Meredith and Derek's love. As painful as it was for me as a storyteller, the only way to preserve what felt true to me was Derek was going to have to die for that love to remain honest."

Grey's Anatomy
Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek (Patrick Dempsey) in much happier, pre-shocking-death times on Grey's Anatomy ABC/SCOTT GARFIELD

On a brighter note, Rhimes teased that Season 12 of the long-running ABC hit will feature Meredith as a single woman again — although this will be a much different experience than she'd had before Derek. "We do have this world in which Meredith is single, and she is living this life that she hadn't thought she was going to be living again."

Meredith is living in a house with her sister "surrounded by women who are dating and having a whole life and she's not interested in any of that. … You start to wonder if there's a second life … or are those years behind you?"

The Season 12 theme is "rebirth," Rhimes spilled.

Pompeo is happy to tell the latest chapter in Meredith's life as a widow, "which is just a very important human story to tell. So many people lose their spouses," the actress told reporters. "A lot of people feel like they can't get up again. If we give anybody, even one person, a little bit of comfort, that's a story worth telling."

Grey's Anatomy returns Thursday, Sept. 24, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Sign up now for the Us Weekly newsletter to get breaking celebrity news, hot pics and more delivered straight to your inbox!

Want stories like these delivered straight to your phone? Download the Us Weekly iPhone app now!