This article contains details about Thursday's episode of "Grey's Anatomy." If you haven't watched it yet, read on at your own peril.
"Grey's Anatomy" fans were shocked when Thursday's episode of the long-running medical drama ended with the death of Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd, the hunky doctor played by Patrick Dempsey and a central figure on the series since its very first episode in 2005. In the show's pilot, Ellen Pompeo's Meredith Grey has a one-night stand with Derek, only to discover that he's her new boss; several seasons and many twists and turns later, the two wed.
In Thursday's episode, titled "How to Save a Life," neurosurgeon Derek stops to help the victims of a car accident, gets hit by a tractor-trailer, and dies of a brain injury when doctors at the hospital fail to treat him properly. (Irony duly noted.)
The death prompted a widespread gnashing of teeth and rending of garments on social media, where "Grey's Anatomy" became a trending topic around the globe. Series creator Shonda Rhimes, who was unusually mum Thursday night on Twitter, released a statement about the decision to kill off Derek:
"Derek Shepherd is and will always be an incredibly important character -- for Meredith, for me and for the fans. I absolutely never imagined saying goodbye to our 'McDreamy.' Patrick Dempsey's performance shaped Derek in a way that I know we both hope became a meaningful example -- happy, sad, romantic, painful and always true -- of what young women should demand from modern love. His loss will be felt by all. Now, Meredith and the entire 'Grey's Anatomy' family are about to enter uncharted territory as we head into this new chapter of her life. The possibilities for what may come are endless. As Ellis Grey would say: the carousel never stops turning."
For some viewers, the sense of loss was heightened by the fact that news of the character's impending death began to leak online Thursday afternoon. Thanks to an unusually fast mail delivery -- and how often does that happen? -- some copies of Entertainment Weekly featuring a story about Dempsey's departure arrived in readers' mailboxes before the episode had aired.
ABC also weighed in on the fictional tragedy:
"After 11 seasons on 'Grey's Anatomy,' Patrick Dempsey is moving on to pursue other interests. Dr. Derek Shepherd is an iconic character and we've been proud to be the home of 'McDreamy' and the 'Mer/Der' love story. The devotion of Grey's fans throughout the years has been a testament to the creative mind of Shonda Rhimes and Dempsey's talent. 'McDreamy' will be greatly missed and we wish Patrick the very best in his future endeavors."