The Best 'Grey's Anatomy' Episode From Every Season
Grey’s Anatomy has been an ABC primetime staple for 17 seasons, airing more than 300 episodes. That makes binge-watching the Shonda Rhimes-created medical drama quite a formidable task.
However, watching the series’ best episodes can make for a fun weekend marathon. With that in mind, here’s our list of the best Grey’s Anatomy episodes from each season.
Season 1, Episode 1 — ‘A Hard Day’s Night’
Original airdate: March 27, 2005
The best episode of the first season is the pilot, where fans meet the new surgical interns at Seattle Grace Hospital — Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl), Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) and George O’Malley (T.R. Knight).
After a random one-night stand, Meredith arrives at the hospital for her first 48-hour shift. That’s when she discovers that her hookup from the previous night is Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), the chief of neurosurgery.
There’s also the introduction of “the nazi,” Dr. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson), Dr. Richard Webber (James Picken Jr.), and Dr. Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington).
Season 2, Episodes 26/27 — ‘Deterioration of the Fight or Flight Response/Losing My Religion’
Original airdate: May 15, 2006
Season 2 is when Grey’s Anatomy became a TV juggernaut, and it led up to one of the most unforgettable finales in the show’s lengthy history. All diehard fans have to hear about this episode are three words — Denny Duquette’s death.
The two-part finale began with the episode “Deterioration of the Fight or Flight Response,” which set up every domino that would fall in the second hour, titled “Losing My Religion.”
It opens with Izzie recently cutting Denny’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) LVAD wire, with hopes he would be moved up on the transplant list. The interns argue about helping Izzie break the law. But as they wait for Dr. Burke to arrive so he can perform the transplant, Christina finds out he’s been shot.
By the second hour, Denny has proposed to Izzie, there’s an after-hours prom at the hospital, and Meredith and Derek have rekindled their romance. But it’s those final heartbreaking moments that require an entire box of Puffs.
Season 3, Episode 25 — ‘Didn’t We Almost Have It All?’
Original airdate: May 17, 2007
Speaking of tear-jerking season finales, Grey’s Anatomy fans couldn’t hardly take it in season 3 when Dr. Burke left Cristina at the altar. This episode marks the exit of Dr. Burke. And when Cristina discovers he’s moved out of the apartment, Oh’s performance is nothing short of breathtaking.
To this day, many fans can’t hear Ingrid Michaelson’s Keep Breathing without thinking about Mer cutting Cristina out of her wedding dress.
Season 4, Episode 17 — ‘Freedom, Part 2’
Original airdate: May 22, 2008
Season 4 was a short one due to the writer’s strike. But, the second half of the finale still made for a memorable hour of television. Meredith and Derek are at odds over their clinical trial. At the same time, George decides to retake his intern test when he learns he failed by one point, and the doctors try to free a young man who decided to lay down in fresh cement.
The episode ends with Izzie and Alex kissing, while Meredith and Derek reunite in a house made of candles after achieving the first success of their groundbreaking trial.
Season 5, Episode 24 — ‘Now or Never’
Original airdate: May 14, 2009
Yes, we have a lot of season finales on our list during the early seasons, but that’s because the episodes were incredible. The season 5 finale titled “Now or Never” is considered one of the saddest and most shocking in Grey’s Anatomy history.
The episode begins in the aftermath of Izzie’s surgery to remove her brain tumor, with her memory in terrible shape. Meanwhile, George decides to enlist in the army with the help of former military medic Dr. Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd).
George doesn’t get any support from his friends and colleagues about his decision because they’re afraid he’ll be killed right away. But their attention quickly shifts to a severely injured John Doe who’s been brought into the ER after he saved a woman from an oncoming bus.
The jaw-dropping moment comes when Meredith figures out that the mystery man is actually George, who signs 007 on her hand. The episode ends with Izzie crashing and her team ignoring her Do Not Resuscitate order, while George’s team heads into surgery.
Season 6, Episode 15 —’The Time Warp’
Original airdate: February 18, 2010
When Derek takes over the role of the hospital’s chief of surgery from Dr. Webber, he reinstates a lecture series. Several of the doctors at Seattle Grace take the stage to detail some of the most memorable cases from their respective careers, which allows the series to flashback so fans can see where they came from.
This is a great episode that gives fans some backstory on some of their favorite characters. But, we have to give an honorable mention to the thrilling two-part season 6 finale “Sanctuary/Death and All His Friends” because it’s a near-perfect episode of Grey’s Anatomy.
Season 7, Episode 15 — ‘Golden Hour’
Original airdate: February 17, 2011
This episode takes place in real-time to show fans what can happen in the hospital in just one hour. This is Meredith’s chance to prove that she should be Chief Resident. But, she quickly discovers that she’s in over her head when everything goes wrong all at once.
Season 8, Episode 9 — ‘Dark Was the Night’
Original airdate: November 10, 2011
The midseason finale in season 8 was hard for many fans to watch because it was an emotional gut punch. This episode featured several different plotlines overlapping at once, but the main focus is Teddy (Kim Raver) and her new husband Henry (Scott Foley).
Teddy married Henry because he needed health insurance, but they ended up falling in love. When he needs a relatively simple cardiac surgery, Teddy requests that Cristina perform it without letting her know who she was operating on. Because this is Grey’s Anatomy, there are complications in Henry’s simple surgery and he dies on Cristina’s table.
There’s also the ambulance accident with Meredith, Alex, and a newborn. Derek and Meredith are struggling to regain custody of their adopted daughter, Zola. And, there’s a massive cliffhanger that has Grey’s Anatomy fans on the edge of their seat no matter how many times they’ve seen it.
Season 9, Episode 5 — ‘Beautiful Doom’
Original airdate: November 8, 2012
We chose this episode as the best of Grey’s Anatomy season 9 because it focuses on the central relationship of the show’s first decade — Meredith and Cristina’s friendship. It comes in the aftermath of the plane crash that killed Mer’s half-sister Lexie (Chyler Leigh) in the season 8 finale.
When a patient with similar injuries to Lexie comes into the hospital, Meredith relives the memories of her half-sister. At the same time, Cristina is in Minnesota dealing with the death of her mentor. Even half a country apart, they are still each other’s person.
Season 10, Episode 24 — ‘Fear (Of the Unknown)’
This episode was Oh’s goodbye to Grey’s Anatomy and Cristina’s farewell to Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. Fans hated to see her go, but they did get to see the best friends dance it out one final time.
They also got to hear Cristina utter the now-iconic line about McDreamy — “He’s very dreamy, but he is not the sun. You are.”
Season 11, Episode 11 — ‘All I Could Do Was Cry’
Original airdate: February 12, 2015
Proceed with caution when watching this soul-crushing episode. The title speaks for itself, as the episode follows newlyweds April Kepner (Sarah Drew) and Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams) as they are forced to make an impossible decision about their unborn child.
An honorable mention for season 11 is episode 21 “How To Save a Life.” This is the end of the show’s most iconic romance, as Meredith decides to take Derek off of life support after a horrific car accident. The end of MerDer was an important turning point in Grey’s Anatomy.
Season 12, Episode 11 — ‘Unbreak My Heart’
Original airdate: February 25, 2016
One of the most common themes in Grey’s Anatomy is that love isn’t always enough to make a relationship work. Following their son’s death, Jackson and April’s marriage is quickly crumbling despite their deep love for one another.
The episode jumps back and forth in time to show how they became each other’s person during their early days at Mercy West, while cutting it with scenes in the present day of their relationship slowly falling apart. The episode ends with a classic Grey’s Anatomy twist after their divorce papers have been signed.
Season 13, Episode 23 — ‘True Colors’
Original airdate: May 11, 2017
Directed by McKidd — who stars as Dr. Owen Hunt — the season 13 episode “True Colors” features Alex discovering the identity of Jo’s (Camilla Luddington) abusive ex-husband while attending a medical conference. Back at Grey Sloan, the doctors treat a couple from a car accident who turn out to be a rapist and his victim.
Season 14, Episode7 — ‘Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story’
Original airdate: November 9, 2017
To celebrate their landmark 300th episode, the season 14 Grey’s Anatomy episode “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” is a special tribute to the medical drama’s legacy. Meredith is planning to attend the Harper Avery award ceremony when a derailed roller coaster car changes her plans.
The three patients who visit the ER look like former Seattle Grace doctors Cristina Yang, George O’Malley, and Izzie Stevens.
Season 15, Episode 6 — ‘Flowers Grow Out Of My Grave’
Original airdate: November 1, 2018
This episode shows a patient’s Day of the Dead celebration at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, which causes Meredith to think about the people in her life who she has lost. “Flowers Grow Out Of My Grave” features characters who were killed off the show in previous seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. Fans see the return of George O’Malley, Lexie Grey, Ellis Grey, Derek Shepherd, Mark Sloan, and Doc the dog.
Season 16, Episode 8 — ‘My Shot’
Original airdate: November 14, 2019
Things aren’t looking good for Meredith when she goes in front of the medical board after committing insurance fraud. A number of witnesses are called to testify, including past patients who bring back a lot of memories for Dr. Grey and the Grey’s Anatomy audience.
Season 17, Episode 2 — ‘The Center Won’t Hold’
Original airdate: November 12, 2020
Of course, season 17 was all about the pandemic as it hit Grey Sloan Memorial. Meredith spends countless hours in the COVID-19 ward, which results in her contracting the virus. When she faints in the parking lot, she wakes up in a dream sequence that sees the surprising return of Dempsey as Mer’s late husband, Dr. Derek Shepherd.
Season 18 of Grey’s Anatomy premieres Thursday, September 30 on ABC.
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