In 2005, along with Dr. Meredith Grey, we visited Seattle Grace for the first time. Nineteen seasons have passed, the hospital has gone through not one but two title changes, staff has rotated, been written off, killed off, and so much more making up only the best episodes “Grey’s Anatomy” has to offer. With a talented array of actors making up the doctors at the fictional Washington hospital and a brilliant group of writers led by Shonda Rhimes, it’s no wonder “Grey’s Anatomy” has been able to keep its longevity in the TV world.
On top of its writing and cast, “Grey’s Anatomy” holds a quality all its own that makes it popular among fans. A recent poll showed that 51 percent of people think the things you watch affect your mood, noting “Grey’s Anatomy” as one that makes you feel particularly emotional. Though feeling emotional may not seem like a good thing, when consuming media, if it’s making you feel emotions, that typically means it’s doing a good job.
“Grey’s Anatomy” also has a history of compelling backstories, often coupled with phenomenal guest stars. The first few seasons alone featured show-stoppers such as Christina Ricci, Mandy Moore, Geena Davis, Sarah Paulson, Demi Lovato, and, well, you get the picture. It seems every quality that would make a show successful, “Grey’s” had. Thrilling two-parters, cliff-hanger finales, jaw-dropping premieres, the list of what makes “Grey’s Anatomy” great is as long as the list of episodes itself.
Although it’s hard to pick just a few, we have thoroughly researched to bring you the top five best episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy.” Now with 400 episodes under its belt, narrowing it down was no easy task, so if you don’t see your favorite on the list, please comment below!
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
The List: Best Grey’s Anatomy Episodes, Per Experts
1. “Sanctuary/Death and All His Friends” (Season 6, Episodes 23 & 24)
Our first spot goes to the iconic two-part finale, which is hard to forget among fans and casual watchers alike. “When it comes to season finales, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ always has huge surprises up its sleeve — and Rhimes’ talent for writing intense, dramatic finales has never been better than the two-part Season 6 closer ‘Sanctuary’ and ‘Death and All His Friends.’ Written by Rhimes herself, the episode begins with Meredith finding out that she and her husband, Dr. Derek Shepherd, are expecting a baby. It starts off on a cheerful note… until things quickly devolve”, says Looper.
“This two-part season finale tells a story with so many ups and downs, it feels impossible to follow the journey without some whiplash,” MovieWeb describes. “A widower comes back to the hospital to avenge his late wife. He proceeds to target Derek Shepherd, who operated on his wife. He finds Derek and shoots him, alongside more than 18 people, of which 11 died because of the injuries. The hospital goes into lockdown.”
“The episode is frightening, heartbreaking, and urgent, especially given the endemic nature of gun violence in the United States. Because viewers can’t help but sense the characters’ overwhelming terror and helplessness, it has the best acting in the entire show. It also defends the episode’s antagonist, who uses grief to make sense of his crime, yet neither the antagonist nor the victims are treated fairly by this,” adds Collider.
2. “Now or Never” (Season 5, Episode 24)
“An episode no fan will ever forget, ‘Now or Never’ had to be on this list. The doctors spend the episode taking care of a man who saved a woman he didn’t know from being hit by a bus. He had so many injuries it’s impossible to see his face clearly, and he had no documentation, so the doctors treat him as a John Doe. At the end of the episode, Meredith finds out he is someone they know pretty well. A plot twist no one saw coming with a tragic ending, this episode made people weep and scream while blaming themselves for not realizing who would be so noble as to sacrifice himself for someone he didn’t know,” says MovieWeb.
[Grey's Anatomy Season 5 Episode 24: "Now or Never"]
Meredith learns that the John Doe is 007. pic.twitter.com/VT9VwE9X6B
— Pranav Hundekari (@PranavHundekari) June 17, 2023
Buzzfeed describes the episode as “toeing the line between romantic and tragic, this episode begins with Izzie slowly losing her memory after her cancer surgery and everyone realizing that the terribly injured patient, 007, is George. However, things take a turn for the best when Meredith and Derek get married on a post-it note.”
“The fifth season finale ends with an unforgettable shot of Izzie in her season two prom dress and George in his army uniform. Both step into an elevator to head to what can be interpreted as the great hereafter,” adds Stacker. While having to sit through painfully sad deaths is nothing new to the world of Seattle Grace, this episode particularly pulls at fans’ heartstrings and remains a go-to watch to this day.
3. “Silent All These Years” (Season 15, Episode 19)
“There’s no denying that keeping a show’s momentum going across seemingly countless seasons and episodes can be a huge challenge, but the team behind ‘Grey’s’ proved that they could still shock and surprise audiences well into the series’ fifteenth season. In the gripping, difficult episode ‘Silent All These Years,’ resident Jo Wilson and cardio chief Dr. Teddy Altman are confronted with a traumatized patient who, despite initially denying it, eventually admits that she was sexually assaulted at a bar the night before. Afraid to tell her husband or be around any men, the patient clings to Jo and Teddy, who tenderly walk her through a process that can put her on a path to justice and help her heal,” describes Looper.
I can't stop crying in this scene of Grey's Anatomy.
S15:E19 "Silent all these years" pic.twitter.com/dU8rGlBkHN
— Bel (@Forgettabelle_) August 25, 2021
“A very intense and sad episode to watch, so much that Shonda Rhimes herself had to fight to keep a few scenes. The network didn’t want to show what a sexual assault victim goes through to do a rape kit, but Rhimes argued that explicit sexual violence can be shown on television, but the outcomes are too much? Needless to say, the scenes are in the episode,” says MovieWeb. “One of the most emotional scenes in the series history features the episode’s victim heading to surgery when all women that were working (on the set that day) in the hospital stand in the hallway, to symbolize that she is not alone.”
“The episode stands as one of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’s’ most significant and influential episodes because of its blunt honesty regarding rape kits, and intrusive procedures survivors must go through, and directly and frankly addresses the alarming rape culture that is so prevalent not only in the United States but globally,” adds Collider.
4. “It’s The End of the World/As We Know It” (Season 2, Episodes 16 & 17)
Another two-part episode, which initially aired following the Super Bowl, was meant to be the event of the season; with some of those aforementioned guest stars stepping in and a storyline that will blow your mind, it’s no wonder this one made the list. “In the first of a two-part episode arc, a patient who accidentally shot himself with a bazooka arrives at Seattle Grace with a rookie paramedic attached to him—literally, as her hand is inside his body, keeping him from bleeding out. Alex, who is caring for the man’s shocked wife, deduces that the ammunition never left the body, meaning there’s a live bomb in the patient,” describes IndieWire.
— Emmy Episodes (@EmmyEpisodes) September 21, 2022
“This two-parter gave us Meredith’s first brush with death in the series, as she ended up holding onto an undetonated bomb inside a patient’s chest. Christina Ricci guest starred as the paramedic who left Meredith in that predicament, with Kyle Chandler appearing as the bomb squad leader. Elsewhere in the hospital, Bailey went into labor, and her husband got in an accident on the way there, requiring surgery. Derek had to operate on Bailey’s husband next door to the bomb, as George helped Bailey through labor. It was a tense episode with an explosive ending,” raves CinemaBlend.
MovieWeb adds that the final part of the story “is as intense as it gets inside an operating room. When the patient is taken to an OR, Dr. Karev realizes something extremely important: there was no exit wound. In a race against time, he has to go to the OR before they cut him: the hospital would be blown to pieces, causing a lot of casualties — including the intern Meredith Grey, as well as Dr. Shepherd, who is in another OR doing difficult neurosurgery on Dr. Bailey’s husband. The ending of this episode is as nerve-wracking as Grey’s Anatomy can get.”
5. “A Hard Day’s Night” (Season 1, Episode 1)
“Ah, the pilot episode never gets old. The show begins by introducing viewers to Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), a brand-new surgical intern at Seattle Grace Hospital. After an impromptu one-night stand, she arrives on her first day of work only to discover that her ‘random’ fling just so happens to be Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), the chief of neurosurgery,” PureWow describes.
— a hard day's night (1.01) | 𝐌𝐚𝐫𝐜𝐡 𝟐𝟕𝐭𝐡, 𝟐𝟎𝟎𝟓
Grey's Anatomy pilot aired 16 years ago today. pic.twitter.com/b8fSAHjacj
— YANG (@cinnamongiirI) March 27, 2021
“This episode quickly and succinctly introduces its characters, the setting, and the tone of the show: a quirky, sex-positive medical drama with an informative voiceover from its lead, Meredith Grey. It’s still one of the best episodes, and it reminds us of much simpler times, both in our own reality and on ‘Grey’s Anatomy'”, raves Insider.
“What happens when you sleep with a guy, then show up to work and find out he’s your boss? That kicks off the entire series and a love story for the pop culture ages — and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’s’ initial outing is a near-perfect example of how to start a show. The first hour gave us inaugural patient Katie Bryce, Rilo Kiley music, the burgeoning friendship of surgical interns Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), and the first glimpse of the tumultuous romance between Meredith and Derek, aka McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey),” adds Netflix. Needless to say, if you plan on starting a binge on this medical drama, it best to start from the beginning, where it all started with a bang… wink-wink.
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