Ellen Pompeo says Derek Shepherd's death on Grey's Anatomy actually helped the show continue.
The 45-year-old actress revisited the character's surprising demise with reporters at the TCA summer press tour party Tuesday. Derek, aka McDreamy, died of his injuries following a car accident on the season 11 finale.
"In order for a one-hour drama to continue, there has to be big upheavals," she opined. "You think, 'How can the show go on?' But that's exactly how the writers find inspiration. So the loss of the big characters is exactly how the show does go on."
"You're excited about the stories, because the writers really do get inspired," she told Us Weekly. "It's literally like turning over dead, dusty soil. It's like digging that pitchfork in and turning over the dirt and it's new and fresh and you have to see what's gonna grow."
Pompeo portrays protagonist Meredith Grey, who was engaged to Derek at the time of his death. The actress agreed with series creator Shonda Rhimes that the fatal plot twist was "the only way" to preserve Meredith and Derek's love.
"There's only certain ways you can do that," Pompeo told E! News of the decision to permanently end Derek's story. "You can't have [fans holding on to hope]. And you can't have his character, like [Rhimes] said, to be a bad guy. You don't want him to be a bad guy and leave his family."
Grey's Anatomy debuted in 2005, and premieres its 12th season Sept. 24. Rhimes has denied Katherine Heigl will reprise Izzie Stevens on the series, but Pompeo, Justin Chambers, Chandra Wilson and James Pickens, Jr. are confirmed to return.