The Entire Grey's Anatomy Timeline Explained

Grey's Anatomy became the longest-running medical drama on television in March 2019 when it aired its 332nd episode (via CNN). As fans of the ABC medical drama can attest, since first premiering in 2005, Grey's Anatomy and its iconic characters have been through quite a bit while saving lives and falling in love against the backdrop of Seattle Grace Hospital. 

The show's wild storylines are what makes it can't-miss TV, but when the actual timeline of the show is taken into consideration, some of the stuff that happens in the world of Grey's Anatomy becomes downright unbelievable. 

As noted by Glamour, an incredible amount of life-changing events occur over the course of the first three seasons — but that's nothing compared to what comes later. As fans of Grey's Anatomy know, the Grey's Anatomy cast only grows larger with each passing season, the storylines only get crazier, and the timeline of events is pretty much impossible to understand. If you need a guide, you're in luck. Here's the entire Grey's Anatomy timeline explained.

Grey's Anatomy characters Richard Webber and Ellis Grey begin their affair in the early 80s

Grey's Anatomy begins long before Meredith Grey (played by Ellen Pompeo) even steps foot in Seattle Grace Hospital. In fact, it begins in the '80s, when Meredith's surgeon mother, Ellis Grey, meets Richard Webber when the two begin working together. While the entire series slowly unravels the relationship between Ellis and Richard, two particular episodes serve to provide a clear timeline of their affair.

In the Season 6 episode, "The Time Warp," Richard gives a lecture at the hospital about a case he and Ellis worked on together in 1982 (via The Los Angeles Times). In a series of flashbacks, fans get an in-depth look at the dynamic of their relationship and how they bonded over their shared experience as minorities in a white male-dominated program.

Later, in the Season 11 episode, "Only Mama Knows," Meredith asks Richard for her mother's journal from early 1983, per Entertainment Weekly. That's when she learns the full story of Ellis and Richard's relationship, which includes Ellis discovering she was pregnant with Richard's child in the spring of 1983. However, Richard refused to leave his wife, leaving Ellis devastated.

Grey's Anatomy favorite Miranda Bailey is an intern at Seattle Grace Hospital in early 2003

Grey's Anatomy has a bevy of memorable characters, but Miranda Bailey — known simply as "Bailey" — stands out from the rest. Fans met Bailey in the first episode of the show, when she intimidated the interns as the tough-as-nails Seattle Grace resident she was. Of course, before she became perhaps the most respected resident in hospital history, Bailey was an intern herself — but the tough-as-nails part of her personality didn't come until a hallmark case in the early years of her career (via the Los Angeles Times).

In the Season 6 episode, "The Time Warp," Bailey tells an assembly of doctors about the time she went head-to-head with her superior to save a patient's life. While Bailey's speech to the doctors taught the medical importance of patient history, the flashbacks in the episode revealed a conversation with Richard Webber that helped her find her voice. 

As noted by the Los Angeles Times, in 2003, Richard told Bailey, "Make sure you're a shark and not a minnow." These words inspired Bailey to speak up for her patient then, and have continued to inspire her throughout the series. 

Derek Shepherd moves to Seattle shortly before the first episode of Grey's Anatomy

The Grey's Anatomy pilot, which aired in 2005, opens with Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd saying goodbye the morning after a one-night stand (via TV Fanatic). Little do they know, they're both heading to Seattle Grace Hospital; Meredith is starting her first day as an intern and Derek is the new attending neurosurgeon. But how did Derek find his way to Seattle anyway?

According to Vulture, Derek was married his first wife, Addison Forbes-Montgomery (played by Kate Walsh), for 11 years before meeting Meredith — meaning the two got married sometime around 1994. However, Derek conveniently keeps this information to himself — so when Addison shows up during the Season 1 finale, Meredith is understandably shocked. After all, considering Derek confirms in the second episode of Season 1 that he's only been in Seattle for six weeks, Addison obviously hasn't been out of his life for long. 

Throughout Season 2, McDreamy's personal history is explored even more. In the episode "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," Derek finally explains to Meredith that he left Addison and came to Seattle after finding her in bed with his best friend. Ouch.

Fans think the first three seasons of Grey's Anatomy take place over one year ... but could they be wrong?

Many Grey's Anatomy fans subscribe to the idea that Seasons 1-3 of Grey's Anatomy (and their many heartbreaking moments) take place over just one calendar year (via Glamour). After all, the interns take their first-year medical exams in the Season 3 episode "Testing 1-2-3," which seems to indicate only one year has passed since Season 1. However, other clues from these three seasons make the one-year timeline seem impossible. 

Grey's Anatomy starts in July 2005, as July is when medical students typically begin training for residency (via CNN). Season 2 features the show's first New Year's episode, "Begin the Begin," which takes place in January 2006 — and ends that May with the death of Denny Duquette (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan). 

Season 3 begins where Season 2 ended; however, in the Season 3 episode "Great Expectations," Dr. Callie Torres says the year is 2007. This would indicate that the first three seasons of Grey's Anatomy unfold over not one, but nearly two years. However, it's probably best to not overthink things too much.

Grey's Anatomy lovebirds Derek Shepherd and Meredith Grey get back together in 2008

During Grey's Anatomy's Season 4 finale, Meredith Grey has a breakthrough in therapy that leads her to tell on-again/off-again beau Derek Shepherd she's ready to be with him for real (via Entertainment Weekly). 

In a touching moment during the season finale — which served as the 17th episode of Season 4 — Meredith uses votive candles to construct the outline of their dream house on Derek's plot of land, and the two share a loving embrace when he sees what she's done. After four long, dramatic seasons of will-they-or-won't-they, the couple finally decided they would.

Season 4 begins by welcoming a new batch of interns to Seattle Grace, making it July 2007. However, in the 14th episode of Season 4 — just a few episodes prior to the season finale — a newspaper clipping reveals Preston Burke has recently won the 2008 Harper Avery Award. So, judging by the outerwear Meredith and Derek are sporting during the finale episode's romantic moment, it's safe to say their reunion takes places in the early, chilly months of 2008 — roughly two and a half years after their first encounter.

Grey's Anatomy sees Derek Shepherd and Meredith Grey get married in 2009 ... sort of

In Grey's Anatomy's Season 5 finale episode, "Now or Never," Meredith Grey and Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd finally tie the knot. 

Derek and Meredith get engaged in "Elevator Love Letter" — the 19th episode of Season 5 — which takes place just three episodes before their wedding is supposed to happen. However, the couple ultimately decide to gift their wedding day to Izzie Stevens (played by Katherine Heigl) and Alex Karev (played by Justin Chambers), as Izzie is battling cancer. In the 24th episode of the season, Izzie mentions that it's 2009 — which means Meredith and Derek's engagement, wedding planning, and wedding-that-never-was all take place within that year. 

Meredith and Derek do end up exchanging vows in Season 5, though they wouldn't exactly hold up in court. In the Season 5 finale episode, "Now or Never," the lovebirds write and exchange their wedding vows using Post-it notes — nearly four years after they first met. Needless to say, it was about time!

The Grey's Anatomy hospital shooting takes place in 2010

Grey's Anatomy Season 6 begins directly after George O' Malley's shocking death, which was revealed at the end of Season 5. And since Lexi Grey's first year as an intern draws to a close shortly after he dies, it's safe to say George's death occurs in June 2009.

Season 6 takes place throughout 2009 and ends in 2010 with one of the most gripping season finale episodes in television history. As if George's death wasn't tragic enough, the 24th episode of the show's sixth season — titled "Death and All His Friends" — follows the doctors and patients at the newly-named Seattle Grace Mercy West as they fight to survive an active shooter situation.

Earlier in Season 6, the episode "Sympathy for the Parents" saw Richard Webber and Derek make the decision to honor a patient's DNR and turn off her ventilator, despite her husband's wishes. In "Death and All His Friends," the patient's husband returns to the hospital to get revenge on the doctors he believes killed his wife — leaving two doctors dead, several severely injured, and Meredith suffering a miscarriage (via TV Fanatic).

That tragic Grey's Anatomy plane crash takes place in 2012

Grey's Anatomy Season 7 primarily features the doctors dealing with the aftermath of the shooting. Additionally, as noted by Elle, the season sees Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd struggle to start a family of their own, while Callie Torres, Arizona Robinson, and Mark Sloan attempt to co-parent Mark and Callie's baby.

As proven by the Christmas episode, "Adrift and at Peace," Season 7 welcomes the year 2011. As usual, the next season picks up where the previous season ended, meaning Season 8 covers the remainder of 2011, as well as the first half of 2012. However, in true Shonda Rhimes fashion, Season 8 ends in yet another tragedy for the doctors at Seattle Grace Mercy West. 

The Season 8 finale episode ends with six doctors fighting for their lives and awaiting rescue following a plane crash (via Entertainment Weekly). In the episode, Cristina Yang comments on the unlikely series of tragedies the group has faced throughout their five years working together: a bomb scare, a bus running over George O'Malley, a shooting, and, of course, a plane crash. These doctors just can't catch a break!

In Grey's Anatomy Season 9, the plane crash survivors buy the hospital in 2013

In Grey's Anatomy's ninth season, Meredith Grey, Cristina Yang, Alex Karev, Jackson Avery, and April Kepner) complete their training and become the teachers themselves. And considering the show makes it clear that the residency program lasts five years, this means Season 9 of Grey's Anatomy starts in 2012.

The season largely centers around the aftermath of the fatal plane crash from Season 8, as well as the ensuing lawsuit that nearly gets the hospital shut down for good. What follows is a Hail Mary attempt to save the hospital from having to pay a hefty settlement and closing down.

In order to prevent Seattle Grace Mercy West from falling into the wrong hands, the plane crash survivors come together at the last minute (with help from the Harper Avery Foundation) to buy the hospital and run it themselves (via Entertainment Weekly). Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital — named for Mark Sloan and Lexi Grey, who died in the plane crash — is established in 2013, which means Meredith Grey went from lowly intern to hospital-owning surgeon in just under eight years. Talk about a glow up!

Cristina Yang leaves Seattle (and Grey's Anatomy) in 2014

Some of Grey's Anatomy's most beloved characters have seemed untouchable throughout the years, including Meredith Grey, Derek Shepherd, Richard Webber, Miranda Bailey, and Cristina Yang. Of course, nothing good lasts forever — and in Season 10, Cristina became the first of the aforementioned group to leave the show. 

Season 10 picks up in 2013 — and considering the seventh episode of the 24-episode season is a Halloween episode — by the time the season comes to an end, the year is 2014. This means it's 2014 when Cristina Yang leaves Seattle to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity in Switzerland, ultimately sharing an emotional goodbye with Meredith (as well as one last dance party) in the season finale, Fear (of the Unknown).

Cristina's last words to Meredith call back to everything they've experienced in the last seven years. Per The Hollywood Reporter, Cristina tells Meredith, "Don't get on any little tiny planes that can crash or stick your hand in a body cavity that has a bomb in it or get in the way of a gunman [...] You're my person and I need you alive." 

Grey's Anatomy jumps a year ahead following Derek Shepherd's 2015 death

Grey's Anatomy is absolutely no stranger to tragic and dramatic goodbyes. However, perhaps the most tragic death (and most controversial episode) of all comes in Season 11, Episode 21 when Derek Shepherd is hit by a semi-truck after helping victims of a separate vehicular accident.

According to the date seen on his car stereo as he's driving, Derek is hit by the truck on March 26, 2015, and later dies during surgery. While the episode, titled "How to Save a Life," aired on April 23, 2015, the date of March 26 is quite significant; after all, "Elevator Love Letter" — the episode in which Derek proposed to Meredith — aired on March 26, 2009. 

According to Entertainment Weekly, the episode following Derek's death follows his friends and colleagues as they grieve his absence over the next several months — with one exception. Meredith, pregnant with Derek's baby and distraught over his death, flees Seattle and only returns at the end of the episode, ready to try to rebuild her life. By that point, almost a year has passed since Derek's death in 2015, putting the show in 2016.

2017 and 2018 are big years in the Grey's Anatomy universe

Any Grey's Anatomy fan is undoubtedly familiar with the most prestigious award in the show: The Harper Avery Award.  And in Season 14, Meredith finally wins the coveted award herself (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Seasons 12 and 13 span across 2016 and 2017, with Season 14 taking place in 2017 and 2018 — around three years after Derek Shepherd's death. Of course, Meredith winning a Harper Avery Award wasn't the only major event to happen during this time. April Kepner and Matthew Taylor, who almost wed in Season 10, finally get married in the show's 14th season finale — titled "All of Me" — and they're not the only ones. Alex Karev and Jo Wilson get married the same day in an impromptu ceremony officiated by Meredith. 

Unfortunately, the end of Season 14 also marks the end of April Kepner and pediatric surgeon Arizona Robbins' time at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, with April resigning to help the homeless community, and Arizona moving to New York to be with Callie Torres and their daughter, Sofia (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Grey's Anatomy sees Meredith Grey begin a serious relationship with another doctor in 2018

Grey's Anatomy placed most of its focus on the love story between Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd throughout its first 11 seasons love story formed the center of the plot. After Derek's death in Season 11, the question itched at the back of fans' minds: what would Meredith do without Derek?

As fans witness throughout the following seasons, Meredith continues being a top-notch surgeon who's so skilled at her job that she ends up winning the most prestigious award in the show's universe (via The Hollywood Reporter). But what about romance? 

As noted by E! News, Meredith dates a couple of men after Derek's death but most of them aren't very serious. However, at the end of Season 14, resident Andrew DeLuca kisses Meredith (who's technically his boss) while drunk. Season 15, which takes place over 2018 and 2019, Meredith becomes involved in a love triangle between DeLuca and another doctor, Atticus Lincoln (via Refinery 29). Ultimately, however, Meredith accepts her feelings for DeLuca and begins her first major relationship since Derek's death.

In 2019, Grey's Anatomy shows Meredith Grey fighting to keep her medical license after committing insurance fraud

Grey's Anatomy Season 15, Episode 23 — titled "What I Did For Love" — shows one of the best (and worst) things Meredith Grey has ever done when the superstar surgeon commits insurance fraud by writing her daughter's name on the forms of a child who doesn't have insurance (via Vulture)

While her crime was committed in an effort to save a little girl's life, it eventually comes back to haunt her. And in Season 16, Meredith is forced to take full responsibility for her actions (via Entertainment Weekly).

"My Shot," the eighth episode of Season 16, sees Meredith successfully defend her medical license and win permission to return to work. However, she doesn't do it without a little help from her friends. In a touching moment during her hearing, Alex Karev rounds up patients and former colleagues from Meredith's past — including a heartfelt letter from Cristina Yang — to persuade panel deciding her fate. Once again, in true Grey's Anatomy fashion, Meredith defies the odds and goes on to continue being the world-class surgeon she is. We love to see it!