This article contains references to miscarriage and death.
Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd's love story had quite a tumultuous timeline on Grey's Anatomy — here's the Meredith and Derek relationship timeline explained. Beginning in season 1, Meredith and Derek were at the heart of the drama as their on-off relationship managed to involve every main character in some way or another. Although it did seem like the couple would never get their act together, "MerDer" defied their critics by overcoming several obstacles, including break-ups, new relationships, and major secrets.
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Unfortunately, Meredith and Derek cannot be together anymore since the neurosurgeon was killed off in season 11. However, that doesn't mean that the writers forgot about this romance. While Meredith may have moved on, becoming an empowering role model for her children as well as a Catherine Fox award-winning surgeon (formerly known as a Harper Avery), there have been moments where the writers paid tribute to Derek and their relationship by alluding to specific moments they shared.
Season 1, Episode 1 - Episode 8: Meredith and Derek Have A One-Night Stand & Casually Begin Dating
While most pilot episodes introduce the main protagonist, Grey's Anatomy season 1, episode 1, "A Hard Day's Night" took things a step further by setting up the Meredith and Derek relationship, which started with a one-night stand. Although Meredith had no intention of seeing him again, the writers hinted that this fling would be revisited — especially since the chemistry was too strong to waste.
However, what no one expected was that Derek would turn up at the hospital where she worked, revealing himself to be one of Seattle Grace's new attendings. In a moment, this random one-night stand became the captivating hook the show hinged on, as viewers watched Meredith and Derek struggle to keep their professional and personal lives separate for weeks. Their hookup is one of the many ways Grey's Anatomy season 19 has been referencing season 1.
Season 1, Episode 9 - Season 2, Episode 4: After Meredith Discovers Derek Is Married To Addison, She Puts Their Romance On Hold
At the beginning of season 1, episode 9, "Who's Zoomin' Who?," Meredith and Derek's iconic Grey's Anatomy romance got more serious after Meredith confided in Derek about her mother's health. However, their relationship soon faced its first obstacle when this episode revealed that Derek had been married to Addison the entire time. It was a heartbreaking twist since Meredith had been so reticent to open up to Derek in the first place.
However, it did heighten the drama overall between the Meredith and Derek relationship as Addison announced in season 2, episode 1, "Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head" that she was here to stay. While Meredith was willing to date Derek again once she learned the two were separated, she changed her mind after he revealed he was reconsidering ending his marriage in season 2, episode 4, "Deny, Deny, Deny".
Season 2, Episode 5 - 26: Derek Chooses Addison Over Meredith, And The Two Begin A Dysfunctional Friendship
Although episode 5, "Bring the Pain," saw Meredith beg Derek to choose her in the iconic "Love me" scene (a scene Ellen Pompeo had a strong reaction to) over Addison and the neurosurgeon debating whether to end his marriage, Meredith got her heart broken in episode 6, "Into You Like a Train," as Derek refused to sign the divorce papers. While fans were shocked that he made this choice, the split proved to be for the best since it meant fans got to see Meredith grow more as an individual.
However, Meredith and Derek did end up reaching a truce in episode 20, "Band-Aid Covers the Bullet Hole," where they decided to try and be friends. Unfortunately, this peace didn't last very long since Derek began to get jealous over Meredith's romance with Finn Dandrige, leading him to fall out with her in episode 24, "Damage Case" and episode 25, "17 Seconds" and have a major argument with Addison in episode 26, "Deterioration of the Fight or Flight Response".
Season 2, Episode 27 - Season 3, Episode 7: Derek Sleeps With Meredith & They Get Back Together
With Derek now admitting to himself that he still had feelings for Meredith, it didn't take long before the romantic spark between Meredith and Derek ignited again as the two ended up sleeping together at the hospital's prom in season 2, episode 27. Given that they had strengthened their emotional compatibility, the writers hinted the characters would eventually give in to their passion again. The fans had to wait until season 3 to see what happened with this iconic Meredith and Derek's Grey's Anatomy storyline as Meredith wasn't sure if she was ready, but in season 3, episode 7, "Where the Boys Are," she agrees to start dating Derek again.
Season 3, Episode 8 - Season 3, Episode 25: Derek And Meredith Date & Break Up Again
Although Meredith and Derek continue dating again in episode 8, "Staring at the Sun," it didn't take long before the drama set in as the couple realized they had different plans for their future. When Derek made it clear to Meredith that he wanted them to build a life together, Meredith wasn't ready to be thinking about that since she was really struggling in the aftermath of her mother's death in episode 17, "Some Kind of Miracle."
While the break-up in episode 25, "Didn't We Almost Have It All," felt inevitable since it helped prolong the will-they, won't-they drama, it did benefit their characters in the long run since the beginning of season 4 allowed Meredith and Derek to grow as individuals and work on several internal issues that kept holding them back. Either way, it was a small bump in the Meredith and Derek relationship timeline that did work itself out by season 4.
Season 4, Episode 1 - Season 4, Episode 17: Meredith & Derek Start A No Strings Attached Relationship But Eventually Reunite
With season 4's first episode "A Change Is Gone" picking up three weeks after the Meredith and Derek break up, their relationship took an awkward turn as they spent most of the episode avoiding each other. While they decided they should go back to their no-strings relationship, Meredith eventually realized that she did want to spend her life with him after he began dating Rose (which resulted in Meredith making a house of candles in episode 17, "Freedom"). It was a gesture that meant a lot to Derek as it showed him Meredith was done shutting him out and was willing to work on their issues instead of ignoring them.
Season 5, Episode 1 - Episode 18: Meredith & Derek Struggle To Live Together But They Make It Work
While her friends had been more skeptical about her decision, Meredith asked Derek to move in during episode 1, "Dream a Little Dream Of Me (Part 1)" so they didn't waste any more time. It wasn't the easiest of transitions as the couple struggled to live under the same roof as Meredith's roommates. However, unlike the other times, Meredith and Derek showed huge growth when they decided that they should take things slowly.
This proved to be one of the best decisions Meredith and Derek made (as one of the best Grey's Anatomy couples) since there were a few brief instances where it looked like they might have broken up, especially after he threw her engagement ring away in a fight (episode 17, I Will Follow You Into The Dark"), but Meredith refused to quit, leading to them quickly reuniting in episode 18, "Stand By Me". It was great to see that their communication skills had improved, as well as their understanding of each other.
Season 5, Episode 19 - Episode 24: Derek Proposes To Meredith, Leading To Them Getting 'Married'
With the Meredith and Derek relationship is in a much healthier place after the couple took things slowly, Derek eventually proposed to Meredith in episode 19, "Elevator Love Letter," decorating an elevator with shared mementos and memories. Since Derek and Meredith's relationship was built on a love for surgery and medicine, many fans felt that the setting suited the couple perfectly and was very much in line with their characters.
There were also some light-hearted moments in the post-proposal wedding episodes, particularly since Meredith and Derek took a back seat and allowed Izzie Stevens to organize the day (episode 22, "Sweet Surrender"). However, the couple never made it down the aisle since they ended up giving their venue to Alex Karev and Izzie, leading them to make their own personal wedding in episode 24, "Now Or Never".
Season 6, Episode 1 - Season 7, Episode 20: Meredith & Derek Begin Married Life Together & Start A Family After Meeting Zola
After Meredith and Derek decided to have their own personal Grey's Anatomy wedding via Post-It note (which also felt like the writers' personal love letter to fans), season 6's two-part premiere, "Good Mourning/Goodbye" saw the two begin married life together as their roommates moved out. The viewers were also delighted to see Meredith and Derek agree to start a family (episode 19 "Sympathy for the Parents").
However, that didn't mean they didn't face some obstacles. At the end of season 6 and most of season 7, Meredith and Derek's relationship faced several tests as they struggled to conceive; fans, in particular, were especially heartbroken to see Meredith miscarry in the season 6 finale ("Death and All His Friends") since she had been so excited to tell Derek the news. It was an extremely emotional time, but Meredith and Derek didn't have to wait long since they ended up meeting their first daughter, Zola, in season 7, episode 20, "White Wedding."
Season 7, Episode 21 - Season 8, Episode 24: Meredith And Derek Adjust To Being Parents But Are Almost Killed In A Plane Crash
After meeting Zola, Meredith and Derek worked quickly to meet her social worker, so they could start their new lives together (season 7, episode 21, "I Will Survive"). Zola proved to be a great addition to the family as her presence allowed writers to bring new depths to Meredith and Derek's characters. The writers added a bit of drama as Meredith tried her best to avoid repeating the same mistakes her mother made when raising her.
However, there were plenty of light-hearted moments, too, as Meredith and Derek made a disaster with Zola's birthday cake (season 8, episode 12, "Hope For The Hopeless"). It was certainly one of their more enjoyable arcs since it allowed the viewers to see Meredith and Derek at their happiest. Unfortunately, this happiness didn't last as they lost part of their family in a traumatic plane crash in the Grey's Anatomy season 8 finale ("Flight").
Season 9, Episode 1 - Season 10, Episode 7: Meredith & Derek Deal With The Aftermath Of The Crash By Spending More Time With Their Family
While the season 9 two-part premiere "Going, Going, Gone/Remember The Time" showed Meredith and Derek coming out with physical and emotional injuries, "MerDer's" relationship was seen to be stronger than ever. Not only were they communicating their thoughts and feelings more, but Meredith announced in episode 7's "I Was Made For Lovin' You" that she was three weeks pregnant with their son, Bailey. Meredith and Derek's family life also continued to bring much happiness to the fans in season 9 and 10 as well, as the couple hosted tea parties (season 9, episode 22, "Do You Believe In Magic") and went trick-or-treating as a family (season 10, episode 7, "Thriller").
Season 10, Episode 8 - Season 11, Episode 17: Meredith & Derek's Are Happy With Their Careers Until He Takes A Job Offer In Washington D.C.
Meredith and Derek were happy with their newfound rhythm, and both their careers blossomed after starting new and innovative projects (season 10, episode 8 "Two Against One"). Unfortunately, the couple faced another obstacle when Derek was offered a position working under the President, and he was contemplating taking the offer (season 10, episode 13, "Take It Back"). For weeks, the couple argued the positives and negatives.
However, in the end, Meredith refused to leave Seattle, leading Derek to take the offer and leave without them (season 11, episode 8, "Risk"). It was certainly a catalyst in Derek and Meredith almost splitting up, as the two proceeded to go weeks without talking. However, it was needed since the distance helped Derek realize he wanted to be at Grey-Sloan (formerly Seattle Grace), leading to him coming back in season 11, episode 17, "With or Without You."
Season 11, Episode 18 - Season 11, Episode 21: Meredith And Derek Reunite, But It Ends In Tragedy As Derek Dies
With Derek and Meredith starting fresh in "When I Grow Up," their happiness didn't last long as Derek died in Grey's Anatomy season 11, episode 21, "How To Save A Life." While this was a shocking twist, what made the death even more devastating was that the writers lured fans into a false sense of security when they insinuated he got out of the accident unscathed. It may have been a cruel trick, but it was also an effective one since it provided insight into the pain Meredith must have been experiencing at the moment. Unfortunately, it didn't get much better for Meredith in the aftermath.
What's Happened Next In Terms Of Meredith & Derek's Love Story After Season 11?
Even though Meredith has slowly learned to love again through her relationships with Nathan Riggs, Andrew DeLuca, and Nick Marsh, it's still clear that the love she has for Derek is as strong as ever. Not only has Derek come to Meredith through her dreams on the beach (as seen in season 17), but the writers have also paid homage to their love story by bringing back several important mementos, such as Derek's favorite ferry boat scrub cap or the framed Post-It note. Derek may not be on Grey's Anatomy anymore, but Meredith (and the writers) have ensured that his presence has always been felt.
Derek's Nephew Has Joined The Grey's Anatomy Cast
The Meredith and Derek relationship came back around in Grey's Anatomy season 19 as his nephew Lucas Adams (Niko Terho) is hired at the hospital. In Grey's Anatomy season 19, episode 1, "Everything Has Changed," audiences are introduced to a new set of interns, one of them being Lucas. The series didn't let on that the two were related, and Meredith described the intern as both charming, and a little bit different. It wasn't until Lucas said, "It's a beautiful day to save lives," that viewers became privy to the fact that he and Derek just might know one another.
According to Amelia, Lucas looked up to Derek in a major way, and in turn, he was Derek's favorite nephew. The fact that Derek even had a nephew was foreshadowed very early on in the series, as he said in Grey's Anatomy season 1, episode 2, "The First Cut is the Deepest," that he had four sisters, and they all had "tons of kids." All in all, Lucas will be a major character to keep track of during season 19. For now, the Derek nephew twist was enough to turn heads in general, and it's one of the many Grey's Anatomy twists that keeps audiences on their toes.
New episodes of Grey's Anatomy air Thursdays on ABC.