Thursday marked Ellen Pompeo's last episode appearing in the series.
On Thursday, Grey's Anatomy fans said goodbye to the end of an era as longtime star Pompeo and her beloved character, Meredith Grey, bid farewell in her last episode as a series regular in the emotional winter premiere.
Though Thursday's episode marks Pompeo's final appearance as a regular, this won't be the last time viewers will see the character. The 53-year-old actress is expected to appear at least one more time before the current 19th season is over. She will continue to narrate the rest of the season and fulfill her duties as an executive producer, and the door remains open for her character to drop by in the future.
The actress previously appeared on a December episode of The Drew Barrymore Show, where she directly addressed her decision to depart the ABC medical drama after 19 seasons.
"I feel super happy, but listen, the show has been incredible to me and I’ve loved a lot of the experience," Pompeo told Drew Barrymore during their sit-down interview. "Listen, it’s just, I gotta mix it up a little bit."
"I’m 53. My brain is like scrambled eggs," the actress explained. "I gotta do something new or I’m literally gonna turn into like, you can’t do the New York Times crossword puzzle every single day. I mean, 19 years, that’s more than people keep their kids in their house, like people keep their kids in their house until they’re 18 and then they send them off to college. So this is like me like going away to college."'
It was previously announced that Pompeo, who has played Meredith Grey since the series debuted in 2005, would appear in only eight episodes this season while continuing to provide voiceover narration and fulfilling her executive producer duties. Pompeo will transition to star in and executive produce an eight-episode limited series about orphans for Hulu.
"I have a lot that I’m doing. I have three kids and so I take care of them, and it’s really important for me to be around for them and be more present for them," Pompeo said of her three children with husband Chris Ivery. "I’m gonna do a limited series for Hulu in the spring, which is a very cool, kind of crazy true story."
Pompeo posted on Instagram Nov. 17 about stepping back from Grey's, expressing her gratitude to longtime fans for their support over nearly two decades.
"I am eternally grateful and humbled by the love and support you have all shown me, Meredith GREY and the show for 19 seasons!" she wrote at the time in the caption.
"Through it all….none of it …would have been possible without the best fans in the world. You all are RIDERS and you all have made the ride so fun and ICONIC!!" she continued. "I love you madly and appreciate you right back."
Pompeo's farewell marks her seventh season 19 episode, and she is expected to return once more before the season is over with the possibility for future visits down the line.
Back in September, Pompeo opened up to ET about her decision to step away from Grey's and take on a new project.
"It's still Grey's, she's still there in spirit and that's the house that Grey built, so she's always there," Pompeo said at the time. "She just has to step away for a little bit to do a Hulu show. It's a great company to work for and I'm really, really lucky that they've given me the opportunity to do both, and so I had to take it."
A few months earlier, Pompeo hinted at a Grey's reinvention as she looked ahead to her future beyond the show.
"Trying to reinvent the show and continually trying to reinvent the show is the challenge at this point, and listen, the show speaks to a lot of people, and the young people love the show," she told ET in May. "It's inspired so many generations of healthcare workers, so, I think for the young people, it's a really good piece of content and we're going to try to keep it going for the young people, not necessarily with me, but keep it going beyond me."
Grey's Anatomy returns Thursday, Feb. 23 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.