Pompeo agreed to a reduced role for Season 19, only appearing in eight episodes -- with this mid-season finale marking her sixth.
The clock is ticking on Meredith Grey as the beating heart of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, with a fiery fall finale that sets the stage for a dramatic departure.
Ellen Pompeo had already made it clear ahead of this 19th season of "Grey's Anatomy" that she was looking at a reduced workload, to accommodate her work on an upcoming Hulu limited series. She and producers settled on eight episodes.
So far this season, Pompeo has continued as the series lead and in a series regular capacity, meaning she's been burning through those episodes pretty quickly. Thursday night's marked her sixth.
The next will be her last -- at least as a series regular. It's going to be a while, too, with the teaser for the winter premiere revealing that "Grey's" won't be back until February 23. When it does return, it's to say goodbye.
All season long, a big move to Boston has been teased on the show, with Meredith and family settling on this as the best place for Zola, who's been struggling with anxiety attacks due to her being gifted.
Zola was drawn to Boston's Brookline STEAM Academy, while Jackson came through with an offer for Meredith to work toward an Alzheimer's cure at the Catherine Fox Foundation.
Then, with this dramatic fall finale, the decision of when to take the plunge was all but made for them as a dramatic lightning storm enguifed Meredith's home in flames. Everyone got out safely, but that was just about all that survived the fire.
In a teaser for the upcoming February 23 mid-season premiere, Meredith is surprised with a touching farewell from what looks like everyone who works at the hospital.
"This is very thoughtful," she tells her colleagues. "And ridiculous."
Pompeo is scheduled to make her penultimate appearance in that mid-season premiere and then won't return again until the season finale. She will continue to provide voiceover narration for the remainder of this season.
As for the future of "Grey's Anatomy," Shonda Rhimes has always said that has to do with Pompeo, suggesting that there is no "Grey's" without Meredith. However, she appears to be testing that theory right now, returning to the roots of the show with a new batch of medical interns.
The ensemble will continue even after Meredith's departure, so it could well be that the back half of this season will test how audiences feel about "Grey's" minus Grey?
If it works and Pompeo does decide to step away, the show could always continue under a new name, or just lean into the fact that Grey is in the hospital's name, now. Or Pompeo could opt to return once her Hulu commitment is fulfilled, though that would be awkward with Meredith building a new life in Boston.
Maybe they both continue with "Grey's Anatomy" and "Grey's Anatomy: Boston" following Meredith's new adventure (with Jackson). Why not? Everything else is a franchise these days!