Chyler Leigh’s character in Grey’s Anatomy, Lexie Grey, didn’t make it past season 8, but why did Leigh leave? Here’s what happened.
Grey’s Anatomy has seen many of its most popular and beloved characters leave, among those Chyler Leigh’s Lexie Grey, who didn’t make it past season 8 – but why did she leave? Created by Shonda Rhimes, Grey’s Anatomy debuted on ABC in 2005 as a mid-season replacement, but it was such a hit with critics and viewers, that it has lived on for over 10 seasons and shows no signs of stopping soon.
Grey’s Anatomy follows the basic premise of medical dramas, following the lives of surgical interns, residents, and attendings as they juggle their professional and personal lives, which always end up overlapping, causing a lot of drama between the characters. The series is led by Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), who began as an intern alongside characters like Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) and Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl). Grey’s Anatomy has also followed Meredith’s personal life, with a special focus on her family backstory, which was quite chaotic. Season 3 introduced her half-sister, Lexie (Chyler Leigh), who went on to become part of the main cast, and who said goodbye to the show in season 8.
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Lexie was the daughter of Susan and Thatcher Grey, and thus Meredith’s younger parental half-sister. She made her debut in Grey’s Anatomy in season 3, where she moved to Seattle to care for her father after her mother’s sudden death and took up a surgical internship at Seattle Grace Hospital. Given their problematic family background, Meredith was initially rude to Lexie and didn’t appreciate her presence in the hospital, but she eventually began to care about her. However, the main focus on Lexie’s arc was her on-again-off-again relationship with Mark Sloan (Eric Dane), which only added more drama to her already tragic death. Lexie was on the plane that crashed when she, Meredith, Cristina, Mark, Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw), and Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) were traveling to another hospital to perform surgery to separate conjoined twins. Lexie was crushed by a piece of the plane, severely injuring her pelvis, legs, and left arm. Mark stayed by her side until she died, assuring her that he loved her.
Unlike other cases in Grey’s Anatomy where the actors left due to behind-the-scenes problems, Chyler Leigh decided it was time to close Lexie’s arc as she wanted to spend more time with her family. In an official statement (via TVLine), Leigh shared she made the decision that season 8 was going to be her last, and along with Rhimes, they worked to “give Lexie’s story appropriate closure”. Although Lexie wasn’t originally on the plane, once Rhimes heard about Leigh’s departure, she added “Little Grey” to it, though she initially planned to have her die at Seattle Grace “while other people were dying in the woods”. Thankfully, she changed her mind, and Lexie’s death, although heartbreaking, was much better than having her far from Mark and Meredith.
Lexie Grey’s death in Grey’s Anatomy continues to be one of the most heartbreaking moments of the show and one that Rhimes has said “haunted” her for a long time. Surely, Grey’s Anatomy isn’t the best when handling its actors’ departures, as killing their characters is their go-to solution, but Lexie’s goodbye was so emotionally charged that fans will never forget it, more so as Mark Sloan also left shortly after.
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