The Real Reason Justin Chambers Left Grey's Anatomy

Actor Justin Chambers is best known as Dr. Alex Karev on ABC's Grey's Anatomy, starring on the hit series from 2005 to 2020. Fans got to witness Chambers' character evolve from a guarded medical intern to the big-hearted Chief of Pediatric Surgery at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, effectively making him one of television's most successful underdogs. Karev also advanced his personal relationships as the seasons progressed, all the way from becoming Dr. Meredith Grey's (Ellen Pompeo) best friend to marrying attending general surgeon Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington) in Season 14. 

Considering Karev was one of the most complicated, well-drawn, and lovable characters on the show, it makes sense many viewers were disappointed to learn Chambers will not reprise his role for Season 17. "There's no good time to say goodbye to a show and character that's defined so much of my life for the past 15 years," the Ohio native said in January 2020 statement to Deadline, while also thanking the "amazing cast and crew, both past and present, and, of course, the fans for an extraordinary ride." 

As Chambers noted, it isn't easy to say goodbye, and some viewers still have unanswered questions surrounding his exit. Join us as we scrub in and dissect the latest mystery surrounding Grey's Anatomy

Justin Chambers was ready to move on

When Justin Chambers announced his exit from Grey's Anatomy, he expressed a desire to start anew after 16 years of playing the same character. "I have hoped to diversify my acting roles and career choices," he told Deadline. "And, as I turn 50 and am blessed with my remarkable, supportive wife and five wonderful children, now is that time." Chambers hasn't announced any new roles as of this writing, although it seems he has been focused on the latter part of his statement in recent years. In June 2019, for instance, the actor promoted his 20-year-old daughter Eva's band, Pinky Pinky, a venture he said he's "so proud of." In addition to Eva, Chambers has three other daughters and a son with his longtime wife, Keisha Chambers.

It appears there are no hard feelings between Chambers and the folks at Grey's Anatomy, as showrunner Krista Vernoff released a gushing statement on March 5, 2020, after the episode finalizing Dr. Alex Karev's storyline aired. "We have loved writing Alex. And we have loved watching Justin Chambers' nuanced portrayal of him," Vernoff said, per Variety. "For 16 seasons, 16 years, we have grown up alongside Alex Karev ... We will miss him terribly. And we will always be grateful for his impact, on our show, on our hearts, on our fans, on the world."

Fans aren't thrilled with Dr. Alex Karev's exit

(Spoiler alert: details from the March 5, 2020 episode of Grey's Anatomy ahead). Considering Dr. Alex Karev was a beloved character, it's not surprising fans had high hopes for the end of his storyline. The verdict? Karev's decision to leave Jo Wilson for his first wife, Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl), wasn't well-received. The surgeon's choice was revealed through a series of letters he wrote his co-workers and friends, which explained that Stevens had given birth to their twins and that he moved to Kansas so they could be a family. "There was a part of me that always wondered, that always wanted to know, that always felt like we left things unresolved — unfinished," he wrote of Stevens, who had frozen her and Karev's fertilized embryos while undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, per Variety. "I reached out to Izzie and we started talking and it scared the crap out of me because it felt like no time had passed — like Izzie and I were kind of frozen together in time. And now, now we're not." Although Karev professed his love to Wilson in the same breath, he broke it off so he could give his kids the family they "never had."

In response to the twist, one fan tweeted, "Alex Karev would NEVER have done this. Never." Another person wrote, "I am gonna pretend Alex Karev is dead and DID NOT abandon his entire family for Izzie Stevens."

Ellen Pompeo defends Alex Karev's final storyline

Dr. Alex Karev's decision to leave everything behind for Izzie Stevens in Kansas didn't sit well with many viewers, but Ellen Pompeo had a different opinion about the controversial ending. "For me personally for Karev to go back to the beginning.... was the best possible storyline," Dr. Meredith Grey said on Instagram. "It pays homage to those incredible first years and the incredible cast ...that created a foundation so strong that the show is still standing. So let's not be sad." 

Reactions to Pompeo's opinion were mixed, with one person commenting on her post, "I am actually very upset with how they wrong his exit. I feel like him leaving like that was a slap to the face. Alex has grown so much as a character and to just up and leave Jo like that ?! I just don't see it." However, another fan saw the silver lining in her take, sharing, "I didn't like his ending, but it was the best one for his happy ending! It would have destroyed me if he was sad or/and dead."

Although fans remain divided on this ending, we think it's safe to say everyone will miss Dr. Alex Karev, aka Justin Chambers.