Spoilers ahead for Grey’s Anatomy Season 17. Over the course of their relationship, Meredith and Derek have been through so much that it’s sometimes easy to forget the pivotal moments that defined their time together on Grey’s — from when they didn’t even know each other’s names to the cycle of fights and resolutions that set a precedent for their sometimes-rocky romance. After their emotional reunion on the beach in Season 17, MerDer is on viewers’ minds more than ever. As ABC teases what her fate will be, here are the essential Meredith and Derek episodes to watch.
Season 1, Episode 1: “A Hard Day’s Night”
Meredith and Derek’s long-running romance began in Grey’s Anatomy’s first episode. Of course, back then, she was “just a girl in a bar,” and it wasn’t until the next morning at Meredith’s house that they even exchanged names. Early on, Derek was cocky and sure of himself, but not in the “you ruined my trial” or “you’re holding me back in my career” attitude he takes on as the show progresses. Instead, it started playfully, and watching him flirt with Meredith after they realized they work at the same hospital is a necessary trip down memory lane.
Eventually, as their relationship became more serious, Meredith and Derek would often butt heads when their work and personal lives intersected. That tension began to fester when Derek chose Meredith for the Katie Bryce surgery, which led to problems with Cristina. However, this episode also introduced fans — and more importantly, Derek — to Meredith’s first surgical eye. The way he looks at her, affectionately and awestruck, earns him the McDreamy mantle he soon takes on.
Season 1, Episode 9: “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?”
Meredith and Derek’s relationship through Season 1 is simple, charming perfection. By the season finale, she opened up to him about her mother’s Alzheimer’s, making him the first person she ever told. It’s clear that she was finally learning to trust, but that changed as soon as Addison arrived. As Addison uttered, “You must be the woman who’s been screwing my husband!” the trust evaporated. It never really came back after this blindsiding, either, marking a turning point in their relationship.
Season 2, Episode 27: “Losing My Religion”
One whole season later, Meredith and Derek’s tension boiled over in a fight after they both attended the hospital prom with different people. She tried to move on with a veterinarian named Finn, but Derek continued to consume her thoughts and wouldn’t stop looking at her. “I would give anything not to be looking at you,” he said at one point, reflecting their mutual understanding that they aren’t good for each other but can’t help their attraction. They hook up right after, Meredith loses her underwear, and Denny dies while it’s all going down. Overall, it was a mess in the way the best Grey’s episodes and relationships are.
Season 3, Episode 11: “Six Days: Part 1”
On its face, the two-episode arc where George’s dad dies is not a very suitable setting for cute MerDer moments. But this saga offers some levity in their rebuilding relationship. The storyline opened with Derek watching Meredith sleep, which seemed adorable until it was revealed that her snoring drove him from the bed each night. Later on, she told him, “I’m a girl with abandonment issues. You have to sleep with me from now on.” Derek simply replied, “OK.”
It’s a minor issue in a much more serious episode but is an example of Meredith expressing her emotional needs (a big feat for her... and anyone, really), and Derek acknowledging them. For someone who is known for an occasional selfish streak, it’s nice to see him at his best in moments like these.
Season 4, Episode 17: “Freedom: Part 2”
It’s not often that Meredith puts on a big, emotional display. She doesn’t seem to like it, and she scolded herself for the effort (“stupid, corny, idiotic, I cannot believe I did this... stupid loser,” she muttered) when Derek found her at the site of their future home, outlined by glowing candles in the night. To him, she expressed, “I want to trust you, but I don’t know if I do, so I’m just gonna try ... because I believe that we can be extraordinary together, rather than ordinary apart.” He interrupted with a kiss, but we get the message: Meredith, after her fear of commitment forced the pair to break up, is ready to go all-in. It’s a cathartic moment — maybe not quite a proposal, but it might as well be.
Season 5, Episode 24: “Now Or Never”
Meredith and Derek gave up their beautifully planned wedding so Izzie and Alex could take their slot instead. Then, they skipped their plan-b courthouse wedding and instead exchanged their vows via Post-it note right at the hospital. It was an emotional, lighthearted moment against the backdrop of some serious character arcs — a very ill Izzie and soon-to-be-dead George — and served as a reminder that Meredith and Derek did things on their own terms. Neither of them is particularly great at the whole relationship thing, but their vows were as good as any “legal” wedding could be.
Season 8, Episode 13: “If/Then”
Every show needs a good “what if?” episode and Season 8 of Grey’s delivered a delightfully weird one. In this imaginary life, Meredith was perfect, preppy, and in love with a nerdy Alex; Cristina’s rough edges were not softened by friendship; and Bailey was shy, even scared to speak up during surgery. But even amid all the wackiness, some moments spoke to MerDer’s inevitability. Their respective alternate-universe relationships fell apart, and they both found themselves at a bar. There, she told him that everyone calls him “McDreary” (he’s moody and insufferable without Meredith in this world) but suggested that, for tonight, he can be “just a guy in a bar.” Remind you of a certain Season 1 episode?
Season 11, Episode 17: “With Or Without You”
After sharing a kiss with another woman while working in D.C., Derek immediately came home and fought for his relationship. “I’m calling Post-it,” he said. “Zola, and Bailey, and tumors on the walls, and ferry-boat scrub caps. “I can’t live without you.” This season was all about Meredith learning who she is apart from Derek (pretty great, to be honest), so her response didn’t exactly match his feelings. “I can live without you,” she replied. “But I don’t want to. I don’t ever want to.” Sadly, a few episodes later, Meredith has to do exactly that, when Derek was hit by a truck after saving four people from a major accident. But that made this exchange even more poignant because at least MerDer could end on a beautiful (Post-it) note.
Of course, that only seemed like their ended because Derek showed up in his best beach linens, greeting Meredith as she slipped into her subconscious COVID state in Season 17. This time around, Derek’s been happy, playful, and embracing his love of fishing once more. Still, all this comes with the sobering realization: As much as we love to see the two together, their reunion is more bitter than it is sweet considering Meredith’s current state. Hopefully, this storyline will end with him saying, “It’s a beautiful day to save lives,” right before Meredith makes a major recovery.