Why Amelia Can't Die On 'Grey's Anatomy,' No Matter How Big Her Tumor Is
Grey's Anatomy kicked off its fourteenth season with a very consequential bombshell: Amelia Shepherd has a brain tumor. The symbolism is a little heavy-handed — a brain surgeon whose baby was born with an underdeveloped brain and died now has a brain tumor of her own? But the show acknowledged it with a weak attempt at tongue-in-cheek humor from Amelia. It's early in the season to be setting up potential cast losses, but there are objectively reasonable conclusions we can draw as to why Amelia can't die on Grey's Anatomy.
First of all, her tumor is benign and has been growing for years. It's not like we're about to watch Dr. Shepherd begin wasting away from brain cancer with a long and arduous treatment plan. Her surgery, although obviously complex, is relatively straightforward as a cure. And with her own mentor performing it, she seems pretty confident that the removal will go as well as it possibly could. Of course, this is Grey's Anatomy, so anywhere there could be a complication, there likely will be. Also, as fans were reminded in the third episode of the season, Dr. Webber had a (teeny) benign brain tumor earlier in the series and, with Derek wielding the scalpel, he sailed right through surgery. So we do have a precedent for Seattle Grace-Mercy West Grey-Sloane-Memorial doctors surviving their scary brain tumors.
Aside from the (relatively speaking) low medical risk of death, think of the plot. There's so much good material to be mined from Amelia's recovery. It's been established that her grapefruit-sized (yikes!) tumor is pressing down on her frontal lobe, affecting the "personality control" area of the brain. The frontal lobe is responsible for emotional expression, problem solving, memory, language, judgment, and sexual behavior. In other words, all of Amelia's psychological issues could be explained by it. Is she really an addict? Is she really suffering from PTSD after witnessing her dad's murder with Derek as a small child? Is she really indifferent about her relationship with Owen? The size and location of the tumor throws into question pretty much everything we know about Amelia.
Kevin McKidd, who plays Dr. Hunt, directed the tumor reveal episode and he underscored what a big deal it is for their relationship that he basically married tumor-Amelia and not real Amelia. He said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly:
It’s a tough one for Owen because he’s left with dealing with this person who, going forward, if they manage to remove the tumor, could potentially have a very different personality to the one that he married. She has a lot of questions about, 'Who actually will I be when this thing is taken away from me?' So it’s going to impact everything.
I just think that the writing and acting potential of crafting a whole new (but still familiar) Amelia in a grounded and truthful way will be too exciting for the show to pass up. And then there's Meredith. She is, after all, still the show's protagonist, so whatever happens to Amelia is really about how it affects Meredith. It would be naive at this point to assume or even hope that the writers are above traumatizing her any further. She's survived drowning, a bomb scare, a plane crash, two blazes, a gunman, giving birth in a blackout, getting violently assaulted by a patient, and the deaths of her husband, sister Lexi, and both her parents. Killing off another family member doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility.
But at this point, Meredith is actually further challenged by Amelia staying alive than Amelia dying. She knows how to grieve death efficiently by now. But continuing to work through her relationship with an often frustrating sibling-in-law presents Meredith with an opportunity for continued growth. Grey's Anatomy will snatch any opportunity to shock fans, but in this case, I think Amelia Shepherd is safe from Shonda Rhimes' scythe.
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