Warning: SPOILERS for Grey’s Anatomy season 18 episode 16 ahead.
Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital had always been Meredith Grey’s happy place, but Grey’s Anatomy season 18 effectively transformed the hospital into Meredith’s prison. Grey Sloan wasn’t just the place where Meredith grew as a surgeon through her residency or where she performed the surgery that won her the Harper Avery. Because her mother Ellis also worked there, Meredith had always seen Grey Sloan Memorial as her happy place, where nothing could go wrong, although it often did, as proven by Derek being shot in the chest in season 6 or Meredith herself almost dying from Covid in season 17. Despite all that, Meredith always came back to Grey Sloan, but Grey’s Anatomy season 18, episode 16 showed how Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital might have become Meredith’s prison.
While Grey’s Anatomy season 18 started with Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) choosing to work at the Grey Center with David Hamilton (Peter Gallagher) in Minnesota, this was mostly due to the fact that she couldn’t have missed the chance to work on a Parkinson’s trial. However, Meredith’s loyalty to Grey Sloan was never in doubt. Even when Hamilton offered Meredith a permanent position in Grey’s Anatomy season 18, episode 13, Meredith was ambivalent towards the offer because she didn’t like how Hamilton surprised her with it and because she was still very sure she would’ve returned to Grey Sloan Memorial after the trial. Things changed for Meredith on Grey’s Anatomy in episodes 15 and 16, when she realized that since Grey Sloan was the place where she did her residency, people at Grey Sloan would never see the person she became but only who she was when she first started.
What definitely pushed Meredith over the edge to accept Hamilton’s offer was everyone’s hostility towards her at Grey Sloan. In Grey’s Anatomy season 18 episode 15, Miranda (Chandra Wilson) berated her as she saw Meredith leaving as a betrayal. Instead, Richard (James Pickens Jr.) preferred to give her the silent treatment, and even Maggie (Kelly McCreary) dubbed Meredith disloyal for accepting Hamilton’s offer when Grey Sloan’s residency program was put on probation. How people close to Meredith took the news or tried to dissuade her, with Nick even going to Seattle to convince Meredith to remain there just for a little while, effectively made Grey Sloan Memorial Meredith’s prison.
Meredith’s decision to accept Nick’s offer to stay for a while with her in Seattle won’t change her feelings towards Grey Sloan. Meredith’s speech to him in Grey’s Anatomy season 18, episode 16 clearly showed how she’s fed up with talks of loyalty to the hospital that raised her. While it took some time for the realization to dawn on her, Meredith finally recognized her right to leave Grey Sloan, and everybody’s attempts to stop her very much appear as Grey’s Anatomy trying to keep Meredith trapped there. After all, Meredith’s absence from Grey Sloan could also be felt in season 17, when she might have been inside the hospital but was unconscious. While Grey’s Anatomy seasons 17 and 18 had Meredith formally at Grey Sloan Memorial, she wasn’t as much a part of the fabric of the hospital as she was in the past, and being at Grey Sloan hindered her career, not letting Meredith be in charge of it but rather having her stay there out of habit.
Grey’s Anatomy season 18, episode 16 guaranteed Meredith would stay for the time needed to save Grey Sloan’s residency program from being shut down. It’s unknown whether Grey’s Anatomy season 19 will be the final one, but if it were, saving Grey Sloan’s residency program would work perfectly as a final season storyline. Whether Grey’s Anatomy will continue past season 19 or not, though, it shouldn’t have Meredith at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, as having her there would only mean keeping her captive prisoner, an unwilling participant of everything happening at the hospital.