The 10 best episodes of ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ ranked

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The long-running hit medical drama Grey’s Anatomy first debuted on March 27, 2005 on ABC as a mid-season replacement. The show’s plot centers around Dr. Meredith Grey, played by Ellen Pompeo, and her journey at Seattle Grace Hospital from intern to Chief of General Surgery as she balances her career and relationships. It features a large ensemble cast that has naturally changed over the course of its impressive run and is one of many hits created by Shonda Rhimes, who now acts as an executive producer. 

The legacy of Grey’s is impressive and ongoing, as the show is set to enter its 19th season with no end in sight. It is now the longest-running American primetime medical drama, which is quite the accomplishment. This ongoing legacy includes winning multiple awards including five Emmys, 17 NAACP Image Awards, and three Golden Globes. The show helped launch the careers of many of its stars, including Sandra Oh, Katherine Heigl, and Patrick Dempsey, and is able to be both entertaining and thought-provoking, often incorporating relevant issues such as racism, homophobia, and the COVID-19 pandemic into its storyline. It also inspired three spin-off series: Private Practice, Station 19, and Grey’s Anatomy: B-Team.

Because of the show’s longevity, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when planning a Grey’s binge. Where does one even begin? For starters, here are the 10 best episodes of all time, ranked from better to best in an effort to help you kickstart or rekindle your love for Grey’s.

10. “Now or Never” (season five, episode 24)

This episode could also be known by the alternative titles “the post it episode” or “George O’Malley’s last episode.” Meredith Grey began her journey at Seattle Grace Hospital as a lowly intern or as Doctor Miranda Bailey once stated “interns, grunts, nobodies, bottom of the surgical food chain.” Even though Meredith resisted at first she formed deep friendships with her fellow interns George, Izzie, Alex, and Cristina. To see the final moments of the friendship between George and Meredith play out on screen is both powerful and emotional.

Another notable moment in this episode is the marriage of Meredith and Derek, also known as McDreamy. Well, a marriage of sorts. This power couple has been through so much to get to this point. The hustle never stops though as both are so busy at the hospital they cannot make it to the court to legally get married. Instead they write vows on a post-it and call it a day. It works for them.

9. “Bring the Pain” (season two, episode five)

You should seriously watch this “painful” episode because it encapsulates the interns’ friendships and shows a turning point in Derek and Meredith’s early rocky relationship. Both Izzie and Meredith end up in bed platonically with George after frustrating moments with the men in their lives. Alex acts weird on a date with Izzie. Derek has not yet decided whether or not he is going to sign his divorce papers ending his marriage to Addison. He muses to Meredith how difficult the decision is stating: “Look I was married for 11 years. Addison is my family. That is 11 Thanksgivings, 11 birthdays, and 11 Christmases, and in one day I am supposed to sign a piece of paper and end my family? A person doesn’t do that, not without a little hesitation.”

While Meredith initially says she is done with her relationship with Derek, her love for him eventually wins. She asks him to “pick me, choose me, love me” and that if he does she will be waiting for him at Joe’s Pub across the street later that night. George ends up doing a solo heart surgery when he is trapped in an elevator with a patient under a blackout.  

8. “It’s the End of the World” / “As We Know It” (season two, episodes 16 and 17)

These episodes work together to tell the two part story of a bomb stuck inside a patient. Meredith struggles to go to work one morning because she has the awful feeling she is going to die today. When she sticks her hand inside a patient with a bomb inside him that becomes a very real possibility. Kyle Chandler guest stars as Dylan Young, the leader of the bomb squad, as does Christina Ricci, who plays a paramedic named Hannah. George helps deliver Dr. Bailey’s baby.

7. “Fear (of the Unknown)” (season 10, episode 24)

This episode is the finale of season 10 and Cristina Yang’s last episode. As such it fittingly celebrates all things Doctor Yang. It also celebrates the beautiful friendship between Cristina and Meredith. They are truly each other’s person and it is heartwarming to see them dance it out one last time. When Cristina has a hard time leaving Seattle, Meredith helps her on her way. Cristina gives Meredith the advice and encouragement: “He’s very dreamy, but he’s not the sun. You are.”

6. “Silent All These Years” (season 15, episode 19)

This powerful episode deals with sexual assault and rape through the character of Doctor Jo Wilson. Jo Wilson was given up as a young child and had a hard childhood in the foster system. She eventually ran away and lived in her car while finishing high school. She would end up marrying an abusive man largely in part because of the unresolved trauma from her difficult childhood. In this episode she tracks down her birth mother and learns that she was born as a result of her mother’s rape. She also helps a patient who was sexually assaulted collect the needed evidence to one day report her case if she should chose to do so. When Jo takes her patient to the operating room, she lines the hallway with only women to give her patient the needed courage and confidence to face the healing process. It is a powerful image to see.

5. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” (season 17, episode one)

The first episode of season 17 kicks off a heavy season dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the eyes of the newly healed Doctor Richard Webber the audience learns about the new procedures in place to face the pandemic. There are no hierarchies or specialities anymore. All doctors are working on one issue: COVID. There is not enough PPE to go around. Patients are dying alone without family members to help ease their passing. It is a scary new reality with no end in sight.

4. “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” (season two, episode one)

A must-watch episode for its Cristina/Meredith friendship moments and Meredith/Derek origin story moments. Meredith discovers Cristina is sleeping with Doctor Preston Burke even though she gave Meredith grief over her relationship with Derek. Both men are technically the ladies’ bosses. When Cristina finds out she is pregnant, she decides not to have the baby and lists Meredith as her emergency contact because she is her person. Meredith also learns more about Derek’s ex-wife Doctor Addison Montgomery-Shepherd in this episode and why Derek moved to Seattle to begin with.

3. “White Wedding” (season seven, episode 20)

This episode tells the story of Callie and Arizona’s wedding day. It is a beautiful thing to have a lesbian wedding on a primetime network drama reminding audiences that representation matters. This episode does not shy away from the fact that not all people approve of this union. Callie’s own mother refuses to come to her own daughter’s wedding. But as Doctor Bailey reminded Callie she does not need the state, the church, or her mother to make her marriage real if she is willing to commit her life to another person that makes it real. 

2. “Sign O’ the Times” (season 17, episode 12)

This episodes deals with the cultural awakening that came as a result of the tragic murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin and the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. Richard Webber treats a woman named Nell who got injured while protesting. Bailey tries to treat a COVID-19 denier. Maggie fears for Winston who is African-American as he makes the move to Seattle and gets pulled over on the way. Jackson realizes he has never attended a single rally, march, or protest. Meredith continues to be seriously ill with COVID-19.

1. “Personal Jesus” (season 14, episode 10)

The doctors at Grey Sloan have a crisis of faith as they treat a young African-American boy shot by the police, a pregnant woman, a masturbating Christian who tried to cut off his hand, and Jo’s abusive ex-husband. A 12-year old African-American boy is shot by police when he is seen climbing into a house through a window. It was his house and he simply forgot his keys. This makes Bailey and Ben realize it is time to have the talk with their son Tuck about how to calmly handle situations with law enforcement as a young African-American boy. April’s ex-Matthew brings in his pregnant wife. Jo must make a difficult decision regarding her abusive ex-husband.

Grey’s Anatomy is a groundbreaking show that will entertain you but also make you think about important issues. The 10 episodes on this list in particular will help you do just that.