Ranking Grey's Anatomy finales from most to least shocking
The dramatic days of Greys
So much happens in a single episode of Grey's Anatomy, but the Shondaland OG always saves the best for last — literally. The drama's season finales pack in the twists, turns, and cliffhangers, and remind us why we watch in the first place: The simultaneous and frustration of the OMG moment. Ahead, EW ranks each of the finales in order of just how well they delivered on that unspoken promise.
1. Season 1
In the grand scheme of Grey's Anatomy twists, this one seems rather simple, but nothing will ever top the sublte shock of the season 1 finale when fans realized that the dreamy love story they'd fallen for was a lie because McDreamy himself... WAS MARRIED. The moment Addison walked through the hospital doors, everything changed. Everything.
2. Season 5
"IT'S GEORGE." Those words will forever be burned into the brains of Grey's fans. Just when we thought the season 5 finale was all about Izzie's struggle to stay alive, George decides to have a hero moment that results in him laying in the ER, unrecognizable. And the moment Meredith realizes who he is? Talk about chill-inducing. By the end of the hour, George is gone, and Izzie's fate is questionable as well.
3. Season 2
If we're being honest, we probably all knew deep down that Denny Duquette wasn't long for this world, but that didn't make his death any easier to watch. Couple that with Izzie quitting and Derek and Meredith sleeping together, and you have one of the show's strongest hours. The plot itself wasn't full of twists, but what was shocking was just HOW MUCH the show could make you feel.
4. Season 6
After a weaker season, this two-part finale proved that the show hadn't lost its ability to deliver some shocking, high-quality drama. When a shooter entered the hospital, he didn't hold back. The hospital would lose many lives, with the action climaxing in the moment he pulled the trigger and shot Derek, thereby ruining Meredith's "sanctuary" forever.
5. Season 8
When the penultimate episode featured a plane crash, fans knew they were in for a big finale, and this one held nothing back: Arizona broke her leg, Derek broke his arm, and Mark said his final "I love you" as Lexie took her last breath. And if that's not enough, the hour ended with everyone still stranded in the woods, their fates unknown.
6. Season 3
Cristina Yang was free. Meredith and Derek were "so over." And George failed his intern exam. That's how season 3 said farewell, but the thing fans will remember most about the hour is the fact that, when Preston Burke walked out of his wedding to Cristina, he walked out of our lives too.
7. Season 10
Cristina's exit was surprisingly undramatic for Grey's Anatomy — she lived! — but the simple fact that she actually left deserves its own shock factor. And let's not forget that this hour gave us the Maggie twist: When she revealed that her mother was none other than Ellis Grey.
8. Season 9
If we're being literal, season 9's finale was the MOST shocking seeing as how it ended with an electrocuted Richard Webber. (Get it?) But the hour also held a few other twists, namely Jackson's near-death experience saving a child from an exploding bus and Meredith's C-section without power.
9. Season 15
On paper, this finale would seem VERY shocking: DeLuca's in jail and Meredith intends to take his place, not to mention that Bailey fired Meredith, Alex, and Webber. But with central characters on a long-running show, those twists lose a bit of their power by the very fact that it's hard to imagine they'll stick. And then there's the final cliffhanger of the episode: Jackson walking into the fog and not returning, which felt like a B- as far as nail-biting cliffhangers go.
10. Season 4
This hour was less about shock than it was a long-awaited reunion as Meredith finally got all "whole and healed" and built Derek a house of candles. Although, if we're being honest, a grand romantic gesture from "dark and twisty" Meredith Grey is the very definition of shocking. (Bonus shock factor: The first half of this two-part finale featured a boy who was trapped in concrete!)
11. Season 12
The real shock of this hour was Alex beating DeLuca to a pulp, but even that was only slightly surprising. Elsewhere, Amelia and Owen made it down the aisle while April had an emergency C-section at Meredith's house. And yet despite all that, the cliffhanger of the year was that — gasp! — Maggie likes Riggs!
12. Season 13
This season's big twist came in the penultimate episode when Owen found out that his sister was actually alive. As for the finale, it focused on Stephanie's last act: Surviving the hospital fire. Was the hour action-packed? Yes. Did it pack any major twists? Not really.
13. Season 14
Alex and Jo's wedding was an absolute disaster, but considering their history, that wasn't much of a shock. And seeing as how the exits of both Arizona and April were known beforehand, the most surprising thing about this finale was the fact that it contained three weddings — Alex and Jo, Matthew and April, and some strangers — and then Teddy's return. Oh, and Teddy's pregnant (with probably Owen's baby). Did we mention that?
14. Season 16
Although episode 21 wasn't originally written to be the season 16 finale, it worked on many levels: The mystery of Richard's illness was solved, Amelia gave birth, and Owen found out about Teddy sleeping with Tom via a truly uncomfortable voicemail. The hour wasn't particularly shocking, though who would've guess "cobalt poisoning" as Richard's diagnosis?
15. Season 7
Season 7 ended not so much with a bang as with a baby... and a lot of couples fighting and sleeping in separate places. Cristina ended up at Meredith's house after her fight with Owen, and Derek ended up, well, not at Meredith's house after her decision to help Adele put their clinical trial in jeopardy. That left Meredith to take Zola home on her own.
16. Season 17
Collectively, season 17 might just go down as Grey’s Anatomy’s most shocking, filled with major returns — McDreamy! George! Lexie! Mark! April! — and major exits — DeLuca! Jackson! But by finale time, the show had used up all of its shocks. Instead, the finale gave us Maggie and Winston’s wedding, Meredith’s return to surgery post-COVID-19, and Link’s failed proposal. It was a twist-free conclusion to a rollercoaster of a season.
17. Season 11
The season's shocking moment came halfway through, when McDreamy died — R.I.P. — so the finale was much more focused on Meredith's ability to finally be happy again. Catherine and Richard got married, Amelia listened to Derek's final voicemail, and then they all danced it out.