The Most Heartbreaking Grey's Anatomy Episodes, Ranked

If there's one thing we can expect from Shonda Rhimes, it's heartbreak.

Somewhere in the world of Shondaland, she decided that killing off our favorite characters in the most gut-wrenching ways possible was the best way to build a fan base… and unfortunately she was right.

Meredith and Derek

(Grey's Anatomy via ABC)

13 years have gone by and we're still totally obsessed with the drama of Seattle Grace Mercy West hospital, but that doesn't mean we're not bitter about everything this show has done to our emotions.

Because we fully believe that wallowing in our pain is the only successful way to move past it, we've decided to relive the trauma of some of the worst moments in television history.
Keep scrolling for our definitive ranking of the most heartbreaking Grey's Anatomy episodes:

12. 'Into You Like a Train' – Season 2, Episode 6

What happened: While Meredith waits for Derek to tell her whether he wants to be with her or Addison, a train crash brings many victims into the hospital, including two strangers—Bonnie and Tom—who have been impaled by the same metal pole that's bonding them together. Although the doctors do their best to save both of them, Bonnie's chance of survival drops so low that they have to abandon her and focus on saving Tom.

Why we're crushed: This episode really struck a chord with fans everywhere. Not only was it a painful metaphor about Derek leaving Meredith to be with Addison, it was also absolutely heart-wrenching to watch. Bonnie became so lovable so quickly that her death really hurt, and it was the first time we had to watch the doctors make a tough call for the sake of saving someone. It still haunts us to this day.

Meredith, Cristina and Izza

(Grey's Anatomy via ABC)


11. 'Some Kind of Miracle' – Season 3, Episode 17

What happened: After falling into the harbor while trying to rescue victims of a ferry crash, Meredith tries to decide whether she wants to live or die by talking to important characters in the "after life," while the doctors try to revive her in the real world. She is eventually resuscitated, but not before she sees her mother—who passed away during the episode—one last time.

Why we're crushed: This episode was a culmination of Meredith's struggle to survive after falling into the harbor. We never really find out if Meredith allowed herself to drown on purpose, but we do see a glimpse of the complicated internal struggle she often keeps hidden. Plus, she gets a chance to say goodbye to her mom and gain some closure about their relationship, which definitely made us a little misty-eyed. Although she does come back (obviously, there's like ten billion seasons left), watching her own struggle and Derek's despair is still pretty heartbreaking.


(Grey's Anatomy via ABC)


10. 'Fear (of the Unknown)' – Season 10, Episode 24

What happened: Cristina Yang leaves Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital to take over a research hospital in Zurich, marking the end of her appearance on the show.

Why we're crushed: Cristina Yang was an iconic Grey's Anatomy character from episode 1. Not only was it totally painful to know that she would no longer be a part of the Grey's Anatomy universe, it was also the last time we saw Cristina and Meredith's heartwarming friendship on screen. They dance it out one last time, and Yang gives us iconic words to live by, telling Meredith in regards to Derek, "Don't let what he wants eclipse what you need. He's very dreamy, but he's not the sun. You are." It was the end of one of our favorite characters without the signature traumatic death scene Grey'is known for—and we still sobbed. 

Cristina and Meredith Say Goodbye

(Grey's Anatomy via ABC)


9. 'Didn't We Almost Have It All?' – Season 3, Episode 25

What happened: Burke and Cristina's wedding day finally arrives, only for Burke to leave Cristina at the altar.

Why we're crushed: Burke, why?! Cristina spent so much time working through her emotional struggles to be with him and he just leaves her! She finally quelled her fears, stopped avoiding the future and decided that she loved him enough to make things work and he repays her by walking out. The scene where she starts crying and shaking is absolutely gut-wrenching and we'll never be over it. Sure, it was for the best in the long run, but we'll forever hate Burke for breaking Yang's heart.

Meredith Hugs a Crying Cristina

(Grey's Anatomy via ABC)


8. 'All I Could Do Was Cry' – Season 11, Episode 11

What happened: After learning that their baby has a bone disorder that won't allow him to survive once he's born, April and Jackson decide to induce labor and hold their baby boy as he dies.

Why we're crushed: Death is a pretty common occurrence on Grey's Anatomy, but watching two parents lose a child has a whole different feel. April and Jackson have already suffered through so much together, and the loss of their son totally derails their relationship once again. It's heartbreaking for the moment itself, but also for the aftermath of watching the two parents cope with their loss.

Jackson and April

(Grey's Anatomy via ABC)


7. 'Suddenly' – Season 8, Episode 10

What happened: After placing her sickly husband's life in the hands of her colleagues, Teddy learns that Henry has passed away.

Why we're crushed: Teddy and Henry started as a marriage of convenience, but they grew to genuinely love each other, and we grew to love them—only to have it all ripped away. What's more, Henry died under Cristina's care, and Owen kept telling Teddy that Henry was fine because he didn't want to take her focus away from saving the life of another patient.

Owen's heart's in the right place, but his lies allow Teddy to talk to him about her future plans with Henry for hours, even though Owen already knew Henry was dead. Plus, it hurts the relationship between Teddy and Yang. There's nothing good about this episode and we'll probably never get over it.

Teddy Cries Next to Henry

(Grey's Anatomy via ABC)


6. 'Death and All His Friends' – Season 6, Episode 24

What happened: Widower Gary Clark, who's wife died under Derek's care, returns to the hospital with the intent of shooting Derek and the Chief.

Why we're crushed: We're totally traumatized by this episode. Not only do several of the main characters get shot, resulting in two episodes where we watch Derek, Owen and Alex struggle for their lives, but we also have painful moments of watching the other characters try to hold it together in the face of terror. That scene with Bailey and Charles? Heartbreaking. Basically this was just two hours of total stress because that's what Shonda likes to do to us.

Gary Clarke

(Grey's Anatomy via ABC)


5. 'Going, Going, Gone' – Season 9, Episode 1

What happened: We learn about the lives of the characters in the months surviving the plane crash, ending with Mark Sloan being taken off life support.

Why we're crushed: Mark's character growth throughout the course of the season was astounding. He went from a semi-likable homewrecker to one of our all-time favorite characters, and his official death was so drawn out that it just made it more painful. We kept thinking he would make a miraculous recovery—after all, he had a daughter who needed him—but instead we had to watch as all the characters coped with his untimely death.

Mark Sloan Holds Sophia

(Grey's Anatomy via ABC)


4. 'Flight' – Season 8, Episode 24

What happened: On their way to assist with a surgery at another hospital, several doctors get in a plane crash.

Why we're crushed: How can we even begin to explain why this episode was so incredibly terrible? First of all, it basically ruins everyone's life, as it eventually leads to Mark's death, Arizona's amputation and Derek's issues with his injured hand. But also, Lexie. There's nothing more we can say about that, as it was absolutely agonizing to watch this episode. Why, Shonda, why?!

Meredith Sobbing

(Grey's Anatomy via ABC)


3. 'How to Save a Life' – Season 11, Episode 21

What happened: After Derek saves the victim's of a car accident, he is hit by a truck and taken to a hospital, where he ultimately dies due to the incompetence of the doctors there.

Why we're crushed: Seriously, Shonda? You're just going to mess with McDreamy like that? Have we not suffered enough? Meredith was pregnant, Shonda. He moved back from D.C.—they were going to be happy! None of this is fair.

Meredith Lays on Derek's Chest

(Grey's Anatomy via ABC)


2. 'Losing My Religion' – Season 2, Episode 27

What happened: After a successful heart transplant, Denny has a heart attack and dies.

Why we're crushed: Is there one person on earth who doesn't love Denny? He was sweet, kind, positive—everything we needed out of a character. He survived his LVAD wire being cut and found a new heart in time, only to die from a heart attack. Right after Izze agreed to marry him, too! Not only is the entire situation heartbreaking, but Izze's reaction is one of the hardest things we've ever had to watch.

Izze Cries on Denny's Chest

(Grey's Anatomy via ABC)


1. 'Now or Never' – Season 5, Episode 24

What happened: A John Doe is admitted to the hospital after being dragged by a bus that he jumped in front of to save another person. He is unrecognizable, but Meredith eventually discovers that it's George, just in time for him to flatline and die.

Why we're crushed: Truth be told, we will never forgive Shonda for this episode. George was a completely lovable character and easily a fan favorite. He never did anything wrong, and this is what he got? Many of the other characters suffered a long death that at least allowed us to say goodbye, but we didn't even know that this person was George until almost the second he passed away. We're still not over it, and we'll never be over it.

George in His Uniform

(Grey's Anatomy via ABC)


While these episodes might elicit tears, some entertainment doesn't make us want to sob. Click HERE for our definitive ranking of the 30 most notable Harry Potter characters.