Ellen Pompeo Reflects on McDreamy’s Death: “There Has to Be Big Upheavals” on Grey’s Anatomy

ellen pompeo
Ellen Pompeo shared her thoughts about McDreamy's death on Grey's Anatomy while speaking to Us Weekly and other reporters at the 2015 TCAs on Tuesday, Aug. 4. Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Meredith, post-McDreamy. Ellen Pompeo opened up to Us Weekly and other reporters on Tuesday, Aug. 4, about Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey)'s shocking death during the last season of Grey's Anatomy, and explained why it was necessary.

"In order for a one-hour drama to continue, there has to be big upheavals," said Pompeo, who plays Meredith Grey on Shonda Rhimes' beloved series. "Every time we've lost a major character — we've had such amazing characters on the show and every time we've lost one, it's been devastating and sad. You think, 'How can the show go on?' But that's how the writers find inspiration. So the loss of the big characters is exactly how the show does go on."

Pompeo, following the Television Critics Association summer press tour panel for ABC, told Us that she and the rest of the crew were excited to turn the page. "You're excited about the stories, because the writers really do get inspired," she noted. "It's literally like turning over dead, dusty soil. It's like digging that pitchfork in and turning over the dirt and it's new and fresh and you have to see what's gonna grow."

Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey
Ellen Pompeo as Dr. Meredith Grey and Patrick Dempsey as Dr. Derek Shepherd on Grey's Anatomy Bob D'Amico/ABC via Getty Images

Now a veteran in her 12th season of Grey's, Pompeo said costars' departures usually pave the path for fresh beginnings.

"It always feels completely new, which is why it's easy to keep going," she dished. "We just started the second episode today. The first episode has been focused on Meredith's career and her new living situation, who she's going to live with. So we're not so far in, and I know the focus this year is going to be how do you move on in the face of tragedy? And she's got three kids, so I guess to dive into her kids and work is the most logical place. But I've only seen two scripts."

While she doesn't know exactly what's in store for Mer this season, Pompeo told Us she wholeheartedly trusts Rhimes. "I never question Shonda, ever. What she's doing is clearly working," the pro told Us about potential new love interests on the series. "As long as Shonda comes up with it, I'm down for whatever idea she comes up with. She always comes up with great ideas, so as long as it's her idea, I'll love it."

According to Pompeo, expect a lighter season. "I think re-airing the pilot also inspired Rhimes, in a way, to sort of get back to our roots," she told Us. "We have some cute interns and some fresh blood. I think you have to mix it up. We were dark, now we have to go light. You have to keep changing to keep the audience engaged. We definitely can't do the same thing over and over and over. Within the guidelines of we're doing the same show, I think we have to change it from season to season as much as we can, so I welcome any change."

With that, Pompeo said she's also thinking about her own personal future on Grey's. "I have thought about it. I haven't decided anything yet. I don't know," she told Us. Earlier, during a Shondaland separate panel, the star noted that this was a reality for people daily. "So many people lose their spouses," she dished. "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."

Naturally, Rhimes also defended her choice to kill off McDreamy last fall, much to the distress of millions of Grey's fans.

"What were the options?" she said during the TCAs singular panel. "Either Der was going to walk out on Mer and leave her high and dry, and what was that going to mean?" Rhimes said. "That would suggest the love wasn't true, the thing we had said for 11 years was a lie… The only way to preserve what felt true to me was Derek was going to have to die for that love to remain honest."

Tune in to the season premiere on 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!