Justin Chambers' time on Grey's Anatomy may already have come to a close, but that doesn't mean that the presence of his on-screen counterpart, Dr. Alex Karev, wasn't felt. As the ABC medical drama returned Thursday with the Season 16 midseason premiere, the long-running series addressed Chambers' exit and Dr. Karev's absence.
As fans will recall, Chambers' character had notably been missing from the midseason finale in November, during which it was revealed that he had flown to Iowa to care for his ailing mother, just after he had been hired as Chief of Staff and Chief of Surgery at Pacific Northwest General Hospital. It turns out that not much has changed.
During Thursday night's episode, Alex's wife, Jo Wilson Karev, explained that he was still out of state after Ellen Pompeo's Meredith Grey arrived at his apartment only to discover that he wasn't there.
"You're not Alex," Meredith said.
"He's visiting his mom," Jo explained, according to PEOPLE.
The newest Grey's episode came just two weeks after Chambers announced that he would be leaving the series on which he had starred for 15 years.
"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," he 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."
"As I move on from Grey's Anatomy, I want to thank the ABC family, Shonda Rhimes, 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," he added.
Later opening up about his exit to Page Six, the actor said that he was "very excited" for what's to come, adding that he was looking forward to "life, family, love and friendship." Chambers also explained that "Grey's has been very supportive of me and I'm very grateful and it's been a great ride."
Chambers had first been introduced as Dr. Alex Karev during the Grey's pilot episode on March, 27, 2005. His exit from the series leaves only three original cast members – Pompeo, Wilson, and Pickens Jr.
New episodes of Grey's Anatomy air Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.