By Sandra Gonzalez
Updated May 10, 2012 at 11:14 PM EDT
Randy Holmes/ABC

UPDATE: Read the recap from last night’s episode here.

Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes doesn’t want this article to torture fans. But how could it not?

The uncertainties that swirl around the residents as the show heads into its season finale are numerous — and delicious — to contemplate. Last week, they took their boards, cheered when they passed (well, most of them did), and now face decisions about the future. Luckily, off screen, the recent contract talks with the major cast members give a little hint as to what the future holds for some hallmark characters.

But where’s it all really headed? Prior to the news about cast contracts (Rhimes is not allowed to comment) EW took a call with executive producer and creator Rhimes to chat about what’s to come:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I know this finale caused you a lot of strife, so tell me about that.

SHONDA RHIMES: We’ve been working with a lot of uncertainty this season. And part of working with that uncertainty was figuring out how we were going to tell the story in an interesting way. What was really natural and lovely was the idea that our residents are sort of ‘graduating’ to become attendings. And in the episode right before the finale, you’re really finding out what people are choosing to do — what jobs they’re choosing to take and how they’re choosing to spend the next year of their lives. That was a really interesting and fun and ultimately, for me, really nostalgic story to tell, watching these people who started off as little baby interns becoming attendings and surgical fellows.

Chandra Wilson [who plays Dr. Bailey] said something similar, that it was like watching ducklings growing up.

It really is. Throughout the episode, there’s this very overwhelming sense of nostalgia. The babies are leaving the nest and that’s amazing. And in the penultimate episode, you discover what everyone’s fate is going to be in terms of what jobs they’re taking and whether they’re going to stay or go. And then the finale happens, and everything gets turned on its ear a little bit.

So, speaking of the finale, we know there’s a death…

I almost regret saying anything about it at all, but when I did those [first] interviews, I’d literally just finished writing the script the day before, and the [Grey’s] writers sat around and did a writers’ table read the day before. I was very much in it. But my feeling is, it was really hard to write. I knew we were coming to this place and to this story and to this episode, and I had been dreading it for months, literally. I’d been putting it off and getting to the point where it was like, ‘You have four days to write the episode. You’ve got to write the episode.’ But I didn’t want to do it or face it in a lot of ways. I was kind of hoping that there could be a different outcome. If I waited long enough, maybe the outcome would be different, and yet, it wasn’t. We had to write the episode. If I step back and look at it from the outside, I think it’s going to be a very painful and shocking episode for people. From the inside, it’s a very painful and shocking episode. It’s not anything that you expect, and it doesn’t have any of the resolutions that you expect. And the reason why I wanted to say something about it before it came out is because I wanted people to be prepared. I felt like it was unnecessarily cruel for you to think that everything was going to move along happily. I wanted people to be prepared for the idea that something bad is going to happen.

Since you did compare it to the shooting, is it more of the emotional equivalent or the bloodshed equivalent?

I think both.

Let’s talk Derek and Meredith. Patrick has said that he feels they can survive anything at this point. Accurate?

I do feel like they’re a very grown-up couple in the sense that they’ve been through more than enough dark times. And definitely are in a place where they’re committed to one another. Their relationship is not the question — at all. I always think it’s interesting, I get these tweets from people asking if I’m going to break them up. And I keep saying their relationship and love for one another is not going to be the question.

Owen and Cristina is a different story, though. What can you preview about them?

I think it’s very complex. To me — Sandra [Oh], Kevin [McKidd] and I have talked about this a lot — it’s very simple to say a guy cheats on you and therefore, the relationship is over and everything is done. But it’s very childlike and naïve to be in that place where everything is black and white. And what I love about what’s happening with them is that it really is all these interesting shades of gray. We understand why he cheated and how he got there. We understand her outrage and her feelings about it completely. I feel compassion for Owen even though I think he did a horrible thing, and I feel compassion for Cristina even though she hasn’t handled her relationship in the best possible way all along. I feel like we’re watching them come to a better place.

Will that happen by the end of the season?

Sandra and I talked a lot and we were both very adamant that this journey needed to continue in a way that felt true to what was happening. So we’re not going to wrap everything up with a big happy bow at the end of the season. That’s just not where we’re headed with this couple. And the finale, I’ve said this before, if the finale works the way it should, that won’t be the thing you’re thinking about anyway. There’s so many more complex and dark things going on. And no matter what you see happen between the two of them in these last two episodes, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re finished or the story’s finished or everything’s happy or everything’s sad.

Giant happy bows aren’t your style anyway.

No, they really aren’t. They’re boring.

I heard there’s happy stuff for Bailey coming up.

Yeah. There are some really funny things that happen in these final two episodes. There’s some really great, amazing, funny things. And also just lovely and romantic.

It’s nice to have some of that to break up the darker story lines.

The second-to-the-last episode is not dark. It’s actually one of the funniest episodes we’ve ever done and very moving and lovely. The final episode is dark. And the way it’s going to work — here’s a thing I can tell you: There are some people who don’t even know the dark thing is going on for the entirety of the episode. So it’s like two worlds happening. There’s this dark world and there’s the regular world of our people happening. And I don’t mean worlds. I don’t want people to think we’re doing something weird. There are two locations. One where things are happening, and one location where everything is moving along as usual.

What about Callie and Arizona in the finale?

In the second-to-the-last episode, you get to see them working as a couple in a way that’s really lovely. And then in the finale, there’s nothing I can say.

At all?

Nope.

How about Mark and Lexie?

We’ve been watching Lexie realize her feelings for Mark and start to really get a little crazy about them. And then what happens in the final two episodes is the aftermath [of her declaration of love to Mark] and then some dark stuff. But, yes, the aftermath.

So final warning to fans about the finale?

I think it’s going to be hard to watch. I think there are going to be some aspects of this that are going to be very hard to watch, and I think there are going to be some moments that are fairly stunning in terms of people wanting to throw things at their television set or at me. But I did what I had to do. I did what was necessary in order to tell the story that we needed to tell and tell it in the way we needed to tell us and to take us into next season the way we needed to be led there. I really hope the fans recognize what we were trying to do with this episode. These articles end up torturing the fans and this episode is not intended to torture the fans. This episode is intended to tell a specific kind of story in a specific kind of way.

Related:

‘Grey’s Anatomy’ actors near deal to return

‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Jesse Williams on April and Jackson’s tricky situation, the upcoming season finale

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