On Thursday’s episode, March 5, of Grey’s Anatomy, fans finally got the answers they were seeking regarding why Justin Chambers’ beloved character, Dr. Alex Karev, left his job at Grey Sloan Memorial, his wife Jo (Camilla Luddington), and his home he’s lived in for 16 seasons.
In four different letters sent to his wife, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) and Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.), Alex explained – amid flashback sequences spanning across the past 16 seasons – the reason why he suddenly left: He’s moved to Kansas to be with his ex-wife, Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl), and their twin 5-year-old twins.
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The bombshell revelation came in the first letter addressed to Meredith, who Alex thanked for being his “person” and for everything she’s done for him and addressed why he didn’t not to come back home.
“Mer, this is not the way I wanted to do this, but you know me,” Alex wrote. “Any chance to take the easy way out. You know as well as I do, you’d yell or give me guilt or crap or whatever you do that seems to always set me straight. You were always the one to set me straight. When that didn’t work you’d flop in my bed and say the one perfect thing that would make sense. The thing is, I can’t come back. I can’t face you. I deserve the guilt and to be called an ass. I don’t want to be set straight. I don’t want you to say the right thing. Because the one perfect thing isn’t in Seattle. Not anymore. I swear it’s not about you or work or Jo, it’s about me. I left and I’m with Izzie.”
He went on to explain that he had called Izzie during Meredith’s insurance fraud trial to not only get a letter in support of her, but to “hear her voice.”
“She said, ‘Yeah I have kids. Twins.’ It turns out they’re my kids, Mer. Izzie and my kids.”
While Justin Chambers did not appear in new footage for the episode, he did proved the voice-over for the letters he left.
In season 5, Izzie battled stage 4 metastatic melanoma. During her chemotherapy treatment, she and Alex made embryos and got married. However, after her tumor was successfully removed in season 6, she left Seattle while Alex stayed behind.
He explained further that Izzie had used the embryos they created.
In the letter to Jo, he apologized to her.
“You deserve more than a letter,” Alex said. “This right here, this cowardness, it’s officially the worst thing I’ve ever done. It’s about me, it’s not about you. You deserve so much better than this. I love you, Jo. I love that you are brilliant and brave and no matter what you go through you never let it hold you back. It makes you stronger, kinder. You made me kinder. You love me for exactly for who I was and I loved you. I love you. Maybe it’s not fair to say that but it’s true. But this is also true. I’m in love with Izzie.”
He continued, “I imagined this whole life for her where she was happy and had a bunch of kids. I never imagined me in that picture but suddenly I am … There was a part of me that always wondered, always wanted to know, always felt like we left thing unresolved … I reached out to her and we started talking and it scared the crap out of me.”
“She’s here in Kansas on a farm in this incredible place in the middle of nowhere,” Alex added. “Izzie had my kids and I know you get what that really means. You of all people know why I can’t just leave now. I have a chance to make this family whole. I need to give these kids the family you and I never had.”
“I wish getting everything I always wanted didn’t have to hurt you in the process,” he said. “But I can’t lie to you and I can’t come home. I’m not coming home, Jo. I can’t face you. I can’t look you in the eye because I wouldn’t be able to walk away … Thank you for taking care of me when I needed it.”
Alex, then, revealed to Jo that he had signed divorce papers and left behind his share for her in Grey Sloan Memorial.
“You deserve everything good in this life,” he told his now-ex-wife Jo. “I hope you find somebody so much better than me. Thank you I’m sorry.”
When it came to Miranda, the letter addressed to her shocked her.
“You were mean and impatient and knew everything and liked everyone else but me, even when you pretended you didn’t,” Alex said in his letter to Miranda. “Or you were convinced they had ‘it,’ that something that would make them great some day. Hell, you named your kid after O’Malley and Mer named her kid after you and you, you just seemed like all my other teachers before you who took one look at me, decided I was garbage and that was all I’d ever be. But here’s the thing, unlike everyone else, you let me grow the hell up. You gave me crap when I deserved it. you pushed my buttons and my limits when I needed it. Yeah it’s a teaching hospital and all that. But you did more than that. And you know it.”
He continued, “And sure it’d be pretty great if I just stayed there forever and repaid you for everything you did for me, but you and I both know I can’t. I never could. You helped me grow the hell up and you took a bullet out of my stomach. You protected Jo from herself and if I started the whole list of everything I learned from you, I would never stop writing. Just know this, it took me a long time to say it, but I’m a good Peds surgeon. I’m an OK guy. I’m still trying. But I’m a really good damn surgeon … I know who I am. I became the guy you trusted at the hospital to keep your secrets and now, I’m a surgeon. A friend. A father of two incredible kids with Izzie Stevens … I love you Dr. Bailey.”
In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, Grey’s Anatomy showrunner Krista Vernoff said it was “nearly impossible” to say goodbye to Chambers’ character.
“It is nearly impossible to say goodbye to Alex Karev,” she said. “That is as true for me and for all of the writers at Grey’s Anatomy as it is for the fans. We have loved writing Alex. And we have loved watching Justin Chambers’ nuanced portrayal of him. For 16 seasons, 16 years, we have grown up alongside Alex Karev. We have been frustrated by his limitations and we have been inspired by his growth and we have come to love him deeply and to think of him as one of our very best friends. 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.”
In February, ABC confirmed that Chambers was not returning to the medical drama series.
“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,” Chambers said in a statement. “For some time now, however, I have hoped to diversify my acting roles and career choices. And, as I turn 50 and am blessed with my remarkable, supportive wife and five wonderful children, now is that time.”
He added, “As I move on from Grey’s Anatomy, I want to thank the ABC family, Shonda Rimes, original cast members Ellen Pompeo, Chandra Wilson and James Pickens, and the rest of the amazing cast and crew, both past and present, and, of course, the fans for an extraordinary ride.”