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Spoiler Alert: Grey’s Anatomy kills off a major character out of the blue

Last night, you could hear a collective gasp from the  Grey’s Anatomy fanbase around the world as the ABC show — Major Spoiler Alert! – killed off its leading man, Patrick Dempsey.

Known as Dr. Derek Shepherd on the show — and McDreamy to faithful viewers — Dempsey’s character saw his end as the result of a dramatic car accident, leaving Meredith, played by Ellen Pompeo, a widow. What was most shocking about the departure, however, was that many didn’t even see it coming (except for those who caught wind of a leaked Entertainment Weekly interview before the episode aired.)

In shows like The Walking Dead, you are on the edge of your seat each week, just hoping that it isn’t your favorite who bites the dust. And while creator Shonda Rhimes has been known to knock off a major character or two when you least see it coming (Scandal, anyone?) Dempsey is sort of like the Rick Grimes of Grey’s Anatomy – he just can’t leave. Or so we thought.

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While Dempsey signed a two-year contract in 2014, there has been much speculation about his desire to move on from the show, for which he has been an integral part of since it debuted a decade ago. Several reports suggest that he had been difficult to work with over the past few months. One can only assume it was his way of hoping that Rhimes would pen his departure, despite contractual obligations. That said, there’s no official word on why he was given the ultimate TV pink slip, and ended up handing over his stethoscope.

In the episode (and if you’ve read this far, you might as well find out) Dempsey stops to help victims of a a bad car accident, but ends up getting pummeled by a truck as he gets back into his own car to leave the scene. He’s taken to the hospital, but staff don’t follow proper procedures, and he ends up brain dead and on life support.

The way he goes out is interesting given that, in real life, Dempsey is a well-known race car driver and enthusiast. Might that have been Rhimes way of giving Dempsey a fitting goodbye? Following the crash, meanwhile, his wife Meredith makes the difficult decision to pull the plug on him. And, as if willing viewers to ball their eyes out even more than they already were, she does this to the tune of Snow Patrol’s How to Save a Life. It’s enough to give you chills, even if you hadn’t watched.

A two-hour episode will air next Thursday, and will undoubtedly deal with the aftermath of McDreamy’s demise, and will probably add a lot of flashbacks — he is still under contract after all. More interesting will be whether the show itself can actually survive without him. It’s such a big event, in fact, that Scandal, another Shonda Rhimes show that airs on ABC, will be pre-empted  to make room for the extra hour. Both Rhimes shows will air their season finales on May 14.

As for Dempsey, according to Deadline, he has a development deal with ABC Studios that will likely result in some new projects, and is working on a racing drama with Sundance. Bye, bye, Dr. Shepherd. You’ll always be McDreamy to us.