"Grey's Anatomy" kicked its midseason premiere off with a bang on Thursday night.
During the episode, the show bid farewell to one of its popular characters, Dr. Andrew DeLuca, played by actor Giacomo Gianniotti.
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After being stabbed during an attempt to stop a sex trafficker, DeLuca was rushed into surgery and seemed to be OK. But his condition worsened and he died as a result of complications during a second surgery to repair the wound.
DeLuca's departure was a shock for many fans, and comes after the actor spent seven seasons on the show. "Grey's Anatomy" showrunner Krista Vernoff spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the plot decision and explained that there was no plan to kill DeLuca at the end of last season.
"I very much did not want to kill DeLuca last season because he'd been through a mental health crisis and he'd come through it. I wanted to show that a person can go through a mental health crisis and come out the other side and be a functional, contributing member of the hospital staff," she said.
Vernoff even admitted that she was hesitant to move forward with her plans.
"Many times after I pitched it to the writers and we designed the season around this story, I started to chicken out and second-guess myself," the showrunner recalled. "Can we save him?! Can he live?! He can't.
"We've done a lot of near-deaths and saved them since I took over the show. So now people are expecting that. This was the story. It was as shocking to me as it was to you."
Still, Vernoff thought that DeLuca's death helped portray a difficult reality that we've all lived through during the coronavirus pandemic.
"As we were going through this shared trauma of COVID together and quarantine and being away from the people we loved, I wanted all the other tragedies in the world to just stop. It didn't seem fair," she said.
"But everything else didn't stop because of COVID and we were all having to process other things, too, and horrible tragedies that come with life. That's part of where this story was born."
When Gianniotti heard the news that his character was going to die, it was a bittersweet moment, but he recognized how poetic the storyline was.
"I've been on the show for seven seasons thought it was a great way to exit. Krista running Station 19 as well had the idea to make it a crossover so we could tell it over two episodes and spend time with DeLuca. I'm a storyteller and the best story always wins and I thought this was the best story," he told THR.
Ellen Pompeo, who plays Dr. Meredith Grey on the show, tweeted about the shocking moment on Thursday night, writing "Thank you for watching @GreysABC sorry for the heartache ...making the show and characters leaving is equally heartbreaking for us."
Looking back on the moment, Vernoff said that watching DeLuca die hit her especially hard.
"I cried harder watching this episode than I cried since George O'Malley died. I thank Giacomo for playing this character so beautifully and powerfully that through the death of DeLuca I believe there is an opportunity for us all to release our collective grief," she said.