Warning: This post contains spoilers about the March 11 episode of Grey's Anatomy.

In a season where Grey's Anatomy has nearly lost multiple doctors to COVID-19, its latest shocking death had nothing to do with the pandemic. After DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti) followed a sex trafficker out of the hospital, he was stabbed, a wound that Hunt (Kevin McKidd) and Teddy (Kim Raver) thought they'd repaired in surgery. But before the episode ended, Deluca was dead, getting a peaceful farewell with Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) on the beach and a heartwarming reunion with his mother.

EW spoke with Grey's showrunner Krista Vernoff about how his death came together, and where the show goes from here.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did this story come from?

KRISTA VERNOFF: It's like a story that told itself to me at the very beginning. At the very beginning of this season as I took a walk on the beach and asked: "What are the stories? What are we doing?" These episodes came in whole cloth. This is what I came into the writers' room knowing. I didn't like it and it made me mad and it made me cry even as I imagined it, and I will admit that multiple times as we were writing the season and even as we were shooting these episodes, I came into the writers' room shouting and crying like, "Really?! This is what we're doing? I think I'm chickening out! I think we have to save him, you guys!" [Laughs] Me, the fan, wants DeLuca to live but the storyteller, I follow the stories where they want to go.

When you say the stories came in pretty complete, did you all have to decide how you were going to kill DeLuca, or was that part of the initial idea?

There was no decision to kill the character and then discussion of how are we going to kill him. There literally was an entire imagining that came into my head of DeLuca following the sex trafficker out of the hospital, following her through the city, refusing to let up, and being punched in the stomach at a certain point by some colleague of hers who he didn't see coming and him dropping. You think he was punched and then you realized he was stabbed and that moves into Grey's Anatomy and he visits with Meredith on the beach. The whole thing downloaded and I was like, "Oh my God, we're killing DeLuca?" That's how it happened. Nobody wanted to kill DeLuca. I didn't want to kill DeLuca! But when I came in and said, "You guys, this is the story," everyone went, "Oh yeah, that's the story." We wanted to honor the fact that we didn't feel like we had completed the storytelling of the sex trafficking [plot] and this felt like the story.

Grey's Anatomy
Credit: Ron Batzdorff/ABC

It is truly shocking what's going on out there right now with sex trafficking.

It is shocking what is going on out there! And Giacomo is very involved on the frontlines of this situation, so when we first started to tell this story last season, he was so excited and so grateful that we were going to raise awareness in this way. So when I told him this story, he was kind of happy. He was thrilled that DeLuca was going to die in this brave and noble way that is also going to continue to raise consciousness on this subject and also thrilled that we were being very careful that he was not going out as a result of his mental health crisis, that he went out as a result of his courage and his certainty that someone had to stop this woman.

There's also power in having someone die from something completely unrelated to COVID-19 this season.

That's what I was thinking about when these stories came. I was preoccupied with some tragedies that I was reading about that were entirely unrelated to COVID. My whole body was like, "Wait! This isn't fair! COVID is big and bad enough, really, someone's sister just died of cancer? Really this person's house just burnt down?" It felt so wrong and sometimes that's what the world does, sometimes there's tragedy upon tragedy and I think we all experienced that this year.

I also want to touch on the beach of it all. Unlike with some previous Grey's deaths, you all were able to show him a bit in the afterlife, if you will. What was that like for you to get to create those moments?

The opportunity to imagine that with death comes reunion is this thing that we had never done on this show in that way, and to find new ways to say goodbye to characters that allow you to grieve and be devastated and also overwhelmed with your own sense of, "Oh my God, who would be on my beach?" I think it's a gift. I love it and I'm grateful for it. I love that beach. I've had people say to me, "That beach has put me back into therapy, Krista." [Laughs]

Grey's Anatomy
Credit: Ron Batzdorff/ABC

The beach is the place to have all your feelings, especially when DeLuca says something like "I had plans."

I will tell you that it has been therapeutic for me. I wrote all the beach scenes. That's what I did this season. I sat down and I wrote all the beach scenes like a play. And I love it. I love the play. I love the beach. It feels powerful and beautiful and that sandcastle scene, it felt like we're all getting to process our collective grief together through that beach. For me anyway, I'm getting to process my grief, my hopes, my relief. What I said to Giacomo at the table read for this episode I think is the truth. I said, "Thank you for playing this character so beautifully and so powerfully that we all get to feel our collective grief through the loss of him." I think there's a reason we cry as hard as we do when he goes and I don't think it's just DeLuca, I think it's all of it.

What can you say about Carina's (Stefania Spampinato) arc for the rest of the season?

It's a grief arc. That's her baby brother, it's devastating and she plays it, I have full-body chills as I talk about how beautifully she plays it. It's stunning.

I'm also concerned about Teddy. She thought she and Owen finally did something good together, only to have it ripped away. How is DeLuca's death going to impact her?

Powerfully. You are intuiting one of the major stories we're telling going forward, which is everybody has a breaking point and this might just be Teddy's. This story gives us an opportunity to begin to unpack what is untold still in terms of why she's done some of the things she's done in recent seasons.

Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

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