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Jesse Williams Exits ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Ahead of Season 17 Finale

Warning: This story contains spoilers from the Thursday, May 6, episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

End of an era! Jesse Williams won’t be returning to Grey’s Anatomy after this season, with his final episode, titled “Tradition,” set to air on May 20.

Related: Grey’s Anatomy’s Exits: Who Quit? Who Was Fired? Who Is Down to Come Back?

“Jesse Williams is an extraordinary artist and activist. Watching his evolution these past 11 years both on screen and off has been a true gift,” showrunner Krista Vernoff said in a statement to Deadline on Thursday. “Jesse brings so much heart, such depth of care, and so much intelligence to his work. We will miss Jesse terribly and we will miss Jackson Avery — played to perfection for so many years.”

The Little Fires Everywhere star, 39, also shared some thoughts on his exit.

“I will forever be grateful for the boundless opportunities provided me by Shonda, the network, studio, fellow castmates, our incredible crew, Krista, Ellen and Debbie,” he told Deadline. “As an actor, director and person, I have been obscenely lucky to learn so much from so many and I thank our beautiful fans, who breathe so much energy and appreciation into our shared worlds. The experience and endurance born of creating nearly 300 hours of leading global television is a gift I’ll carry always. I am immensely proud of our work, our impact and to be moving forward with so many tools, opportunities, allies and dear friends.”

Jesse Williams Exits Grey’s Anatomy Ahead of Season 17 Finale
Jesse Williams ABC/Craig Sjodin

The Chicago native’s character Dr. Jackson Avery’s exit was first hinted at in the Thursday episode of Grey’s Anatomy. In the episode, Jackson decides he wants to leave Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital to take over his family’s foundation in order to create “real racial equity in medicine.” To do this, he will have to move to Boston.

After making his decision, Jackson had a meaningful conversation with his ex, Dr. April Kepner (Sarah Drew), asking her and their daughter, Harriet, to move with him. At the end of the conversation, April noted that she’d split with her husband — leaving fans to hope there was a future for the pair, dubbed “Japril.”

Drew, 40, who exited the series after season 14, returned to the beloved drama this year to the delight of many. Likely, the pair’s reunion was a way to offer both of their characters some closure.

Related: April and Jackson’s Best ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Moments of All Time

After Williams’ exit came to light, fans were quick to share their thoughts on the subject.

“Can we now please get a #Japril in Boston taking over the world spin off?!” one Twitter user wrote after the episode aired. The Cruel Summer actress replied:​​ “I mean… not a bad idea.”

Drew teased the pair’s “beautifully written” reunion to Us Weekly in April.

“I had an absolute ball getting to work with Jesse [Williams] again. We have such a great working relationship and such a wonderful friendship, and it’s so easy. It’s so easy to act with him. We just had so many years to pull from,” the New York native said. “We know how one another works. We know how to support one another in a scene. We know how to talk through something. We know how to be each other’s cheerleaders. … I think Japril fans will just be excited to see the two of us sharing time together in front of the camera.”

Jesse Williams Exits Grey’s Anatomy Ahead of Season 17 Finale Sarah Drew
Jesse Williams and Sarah Drew in ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ ABC/Richard Cartwright

Earlier this season, another regular cast member, Giacomo Gianniotti, exited the show after his character, Dr. Andrew DeLuca, died. The actor told Us exclusively in March 2020 that he thinks the series will end for good after this season.

“At the moment, we have one more season locked in and I feel pretty confident that that’s where it’ll end, I think, from the conversations that I’ve had with people,” Gianniotti said. “Then again, the studio and the creatives love the show and want it to go on forever.”

Throughout season 17, a number of former characters including Derek Sheperd (Patrick Dempsey), Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh), George O’Malley (T.R. Knight) and Mark Sloan (Eric Dane) made guest appearances on the show. Grey’s Anatomy hasn’t yet been renewed for season 18, and Vernoff noted that she’s planning a season 17 finale that could function as a series finale if the renewal doesn’t happen.

Related: When Is 'Grey’s Anatomy' Ending? Everything Ellen Pompeo Has Said

“I’m planning for both contingencies and it’s hard and it’s not ideal. It’s not where I wish we were,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in March.

Grey’s Anatomy airs on ABC Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET.

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