Grey's Anatomy threw us all for a loop with the first half of season 17, but there's one question that is still on our minds: what's going on with Meredith Grey? At the beginning of the season, Meredith is grappling with the harsh reality of being a front-line healthcare worker during the COVID-19 pandemic. She's tired, heartsick from seeing her patients die, and anxious to finally help save someone. By the end of the premiere episode, she needs to be convinced to leave the hospital — and when she does, she winds up collapsing in the parking lot.
The good thing is, Meredith's collapse leads to several visions where she reunites with the late Derek Shepherd, who is as dreamy as ever, and former Seattle Grace resident George O'Malley. Derek reveals that the beachside vision is a sort of limbo and Meredith won't be able to join him on the other side because she's worried about their three children. In her conversations with George, Meredith contemplates how her kids would cope if she were to die. In response, George explains how his death affected his mother, likening it to the loss that the kids and everyone at Grey Sloan Memorial will feel if Meredith were to pass away.
In the episode titled "My Happy Ending," it's revealed that Meredith has contracted COVID-19 and the doctors at Grey Sloan are struggling to save her. As she copes with her symptoms in the real world, she eventually lists Dr. Richard Webber as her power of attorney, instructing him not to put her on a ventilator if worse comes to worst. In the midseason finale, Meredith briefly wakes up, seemingly on the mend, before slipping back into unconsciousness. As her stats drop, Richard instructs the doctors to put her on a ventilator, signaling that the worst has come and Meredith's life is in grave danger.
Showrunner Krista Vernoff said that Derek's return is a "joyful" one, so we're going to assume that this storyline doesn't lead to Meredith's death — regardless of how dire the situation seems right now. Even though her circumstances have worsened, we still expect that the danger will lessen when Patrick Dempsey's exit comes up (along with all her other late visitors). For reference, Vernoff previously confirmed that Dempsey appears "three more times" this season, and by the Dec. 17 episode, he has at least one more episode left.
"The truth is if I get too aggravated and I'm no longer grateful there, I should not be there."
So, there's hardly any reason to worry that Meredith will die this season because the severity of her sickness isn't likely to last. But that doesn't mean this isn't the end of Ellen Pompeo's time on the medical drama, as the actress has spoken out about being excited to move on to new things before. In August 2020, she appeared on an episode of Dax Shepard's Armchair Expert podcast, where she reiterated the idea that she would leave the show sooner rather than later. "I do not want to be the grapes dying on the vine," she said. "I think to dip out sooner rather than later, at this point, having done what we've done, to leave when the show is still on top, is definitely a goal. I'm not trying to stay on the show forever. No way. The truth is if I get too aggravated and I'm no longer grateful there, I should not be there."
The actress added that having control over her storyline and being able to use such a large platform to "impart some ideas," helps to keep her in a place of gratitude that allows her to stay on. But she admitted that she often wonders what other challenges she can give herself. If season 17 is Pompeo's last hurrah, it's holding true to how she envisioned her final episodes back in September 2019. The actress told James Corden her dream finale would have all of the original cast members return and since it seems as if this season is shaping up to be a Grey's reunion, we might actually be seeing the last season of Meredith Grey!