Running for 17 seasons with multiple spinoffs, Grey’s Anatomy has dominated the medical drama space since 2005. And a key part of this has been the charismatic lead character, Derek Sheperd. Portrayed by Patrick Dempsey, Derek is a fan favorite and one of the focal characters for a large portion of the show’s run. The character debuted in the show’s pilot episode as the Chief of Surgery at Seattle Grace Mercy West.
But after 11 seasons, it was time for Grey’s Anatomy to move on from its most famous character.
What episode does Derek Sheperd die in?
Derek Sheperd’s fate was ultimately be decided in Season 11 Episode 21 “How to Save a Life.”
After arriving at the scene of a car crash, Derek provides as much assistance to the victims as possible before emergency services can arrive at the scene. He manages to save a total of four people before returning to his car. As he pulls out onto the road his phone begins to ring. While reaching down to grab it, his car is struck by a semi-trailer. He’s rushed to the hospital.
The audience hears Derek’s internal narration as he’s taken to the hospital. Fully conscious but unable to speak, he begs for the doctors to run a CT scan. He knows it’s what he needs, but the doctor in charge, Paul Castello, focuses instead on his internal bleeding. It’s a tragic death—Derek knows what needs to be done, but can only watch after mistake after mistake is made. By the time the doctors working on him realize he needs a CT scan, it’s too late. He’s brain dead.
Soon after, his wife, Meredith Gray—played by Ellen Pompeo—is brought to the hospital by police. She signs the papers for Derek to be taken off life support and sits by his side as he slowly passes away.
Although this was when Derek died in Grey’s Anatomy, the character has appeared in later episodes via visions that Meredith has had for a variety of different reasons—most recently when suffering from COVID-19 in season 17.