The Grey's Anatomy binge guide: 25 of the most essential episodes
Grey's Anatomy is about to embark on its landmark 15th season, meaning audiences have spent a decade-and-a-half immersed in medical mysteries and workplace drama that only Shonda Rhimes could dream up. It's a little too late to start from scratch and binge right on through to current-day (although we commend anyone who wants to give it a try), so we've chosen 25 episodes that mean the most.
“Bring the Pain” (Season 2, Episode 5)
This episode featured two of the show's most iconic moments: First, George and Alex get stuck on an elevator together and wind up pouring their hearts out to each other. And, more importantly, Meredith Grey delivers her "Pick me. Choose me. Love me." monologue to Derek Shepherd in hopes he'll leave his wife for her.
“Into You Like a Train” (Season 2, Episode 6)
On a macro level, this is the episode that featured one of several large-scale disasters (a train crash, duh). On a micro level, it's the one with two strangers impaled by a pole. That's exactly what it sounds like, and the doctors were forced to choose one of them to save.
"As We Know It" (Season 2, Episode 17)
Y'all, this was the bomb in the body cavity. It was one of the show's first truly shocking and tense events (something fans have come to love and expect on Grey's), and also featured legendary guest star Kyle Chandler.
"Losing My Religion" (Season 2, Episode 27)
Quite possibly the most tragic hour of the show involved the deaths of both Denny Duquette (Izzy's beloved) and Doc the dog. It hurts so good, Shonda!
"Walk on Water" (Season 3, Episode 15)
The Ferry Episode: The doctors of Seattle Grey's conquer their first off-site mass casualty (a container ship that crashed into a ferry boat and exploded) while Cristina and Dr. Burke try to find a non-awkward time to tell everyone they're engaged. It ends on one of the show's most extreme cliffhangers — Meredith falling into the water near the ferry crash, possibly for dead.
"Drowning on Dry Land" (Season 3, Episode 16)
It's not Grey's Anatomy without a strong two-parter — the ferry crash continues into a second hour and the doctors are confronted with grieving families en masse, proving to be a pivotal learning moment for the cast.
"Some Kind of Miracle" (Season 3, Episode 17)
Feb. 2007 proved to be a banner month for this show. This was a polarizing episode, with Meredith fighting for her life post-near-ferry-drowning and experiencing some wild side effects of her mini coma. In short, she sees the afterlife, kind of.
"The Other Side of This Life" (Season 3, Episode 23)
Grey's Anatomy goes on the road! Addison takes off for Los Angeles to figure out WTF is going on with her life while things crumble back in Seattle.
"Didn't We Almost Have It All?" (Season 3, Episode 25)
If it wasn't clear enough from the photo, Cristina's wedding to Preston doesn't go...as planned. It's (obviously) a major turning point for her character.
"Freedom: Part 2" (Season 4, Episode 17)
As a season finale, this was chock-a-block full of plot. But the episode was most important for all of the relationship milestones (and anti-milestones?) that went down: Callie and Erica share a kiss, Chief Webber goes back to his wife Adele, and Derek and Meredith decide to rekindle their romance.
"Elevator Love Letter" (Season 5, Episode 19)
Grey's Anatomy doesn't always draw inspiration from world events the way Scandal preferred, but this portrayal of Owen's PTSD (which aired in 2009) was decidedly prescient.
"Now or Never" (Season 5, Episode 24)
The finale of season 5 marked the end of one iteration of Grey's Anatomy — starting the following season, new characters enter the show and new stories about the hospital begin to be told. Oh, and also George O'Malley is killed and Izzy is battling cancer.
"Sanctuary" (Season 6, Episode 23)
This is the shooter episode. Just. Watch.
"Death and All His Friends" (Season 6, Episode 24)
The second half of the shooter episode, and this hour is focused on the critical injuries of the hospital staff.
"Dark Was the Night" (Season 8, Episode 9)
This show loves to build you up just in time to tear you down (or is it the reverse? One can never really tell) and sometimes it tears you down just to tear you down some more. “Dark Was the Night” was the perfect example of the latter, one of those devastating where the hits (like the news that Derek and Meredith wouldn’t be regaining custody of their daughter) just keep on coming (like the death of Teddy’s husband, Henry).
"Flight" (Season 8, Episode 24)
Of all the medical disasters on Grey's Anatomy, the plane crash episode is the one that haunts most fans' dreams: From the actual crash footage to the fact that Cristina, Meredith, and Derek were forced to wait for their rescue in the middle of nowhere, it's exactly why they serve alcohol on planes.
"Remember the Time" (Season 9, Episode 12)
Just when you thought our long national plane crash nightmare is over, Shondaland delivered a crushing flashback episode! This one is a deep dive into the horrifying emotional side effects of being the victim of an aviation disaster.
"Get Up, Stand Up" (Season 10, Episode 12)
OMG it's the day of April and Matthew's wedding! Everyone thinks April is going to follow Grey Sloan Memorial tradition and bail on the nuptials, but — spoiler alert! — Jackson doesn't forever hold his peace, if you know what we mean.
"Fear (of the Unknown)" (Season 10, Episode 24)
Get your tissues ready because Cristina Yang is leaving. Her departure was the biggest the show faced at that point, and it also meant the dissolution of the most important relationship (sorry, Derek and Meredith).
"All I Could Do Was Cry" (Season 11, Episode 11)
Remember all those Japril haters we talked about before? Let's see them try to argue with the couple after watching them make a devastating decision about their unborn child.
"How to Save a Life" (Season 11, Episode 21)
There's no easy way to say this: Derek spends most of the episode saving four victims of a car accident and then gets hit by a semi as he's driving away. Don't tell Shonda Rhimes she can't write a death scene.
"She's Leaving Home: Part 1" (Season 11, Episode 22)
The fallout of Derek's death gets an entire episode, so do we need to explain why that's important?
"The Sound of Silence" (Season 12, Episode 9)
Denzel Washington directed this episode. If you somehow need to know any more about its importance, we leave you with this quote from Meredith (who is brutally attacked by a patient, with her subsequent treatment and recovery serving as the episode's main story line):
"In group settings, men are 75 percent more likely to speak up than women. And when a woman does speak up, it's statistically probable her male counterparts will either interrupt her, or speak over her. It's not because they're rude, it's science. The female voice is scientifically proven to be more difficult for a male brain to register. What does this mean? It means, in this world, where men are bigger, stronger, faster, if you're not ready to fight, the silence will kill you. Don't let fear keep you quiet. You have a voice. So use it. Speak up. Raise your hands. Shout your answers. Make yourself heard. Whatever it takes. Just find your voice and when you do, fill the damn silence."
"Unbreak My Heart" (Season 12, Episode 11)
This is as close to a standalone episode as Grey's is likely to get. It followed the evolution of Jackson and April's relationship (that's Japril to you) through a series of flashbacks and pivotal moments. "Unbreak My Heart" is also responsible for convincing fans — who were weary of her feelings toward Derek Shepherd and his history with Lexie — to full-on ship Japril.
"Be Still, My Soul" (Season 13, episode 18)
This episode marked the directorial debut of one Ellen Pompeo, as well as a landmark moment for Dr. Maggie Pearce. In short, audiences meet Maggie's mom and then she, well, dies. (This is Grey's Anatomy after all.)