Battle. Fight. Win. Lose. These are the words we use when someone is diagnosed with an illness or a disease. We use militarized language that implies it's a fair fight. But when it comes to life and death, what does winning really look like? Is a person a loser for dying when the outcome isn't really in their control? When it comes to medicine, who's to say what is winning or losing? There’s just as much value in trying again as there is in letting go. Letting go of suffering, regret, pain, fear. Instead of saying someone we love is battling, beating, fighting, winning or losing, why don't we just tell the truth? We get sick. We take our medicine. Some of us live, some die.

The Winner Takes It All is the eleventh episode of the fifteenth season and the 328th overall episode of Grey's Anatomy.

Short SummaryEdit

Amelia and Koracick tackle a daunting surgery on Catherine, while Richard and Jackson hope for the best. Meanwhile, Richard urges Meredith to visit her father, Thatcher, before his time is up.

Full SummaryEdit

While having a scan taken, Catherine softly sings to herself to calm herself down.

Tom and Amelia study her scans closely.

Richard attends an AA meeting.

Teddy finds Tom on a bench outside playing Operation. He's soaking up sunlight while he still can. She wishes him good luck and assures him that he and Amelia will do great.

Meredith awaits Richard in the lobby. She has coffee for him and cleared her schedule so she can be there for him whenever he needs her. He says he's good. She says it's gonna be a long day. Richard says he has plenty of people looking out for him, but her own father does not. Meredith says she will see him this week. Richard says he may not have a week. The time to reconcile is running out.

Richard apologizes to Catherine for being late for her scans. She doesn't mind. Jackson comes in with Harriet. Jackson asks about her scans. Catherine says she has an excellent team of doctors. She needs them to be her husband and son today. Tom and Amelia come in and they explain their planned approach. They got this. Catherine wants to take a little walk by herself before they get started.

Meredith arrives at her father's house. A nurse opens the door and recognizes her. He invites her in. They walk into the living room and Phillip announces the visitor. Thatcher is surprised to see her. He greets her.

Phillip leaves to give them time to talk. Meredith says she can't stay long. Thatcher has so much to say, but he doesn't know what to say. Meredith says she didn't come here to talk. They can just sit.

Catherine walks into the empty OR. Jackson comes in after her. She was thinking about her very first surgery. It was a simple lipoma, but she was still terrified. She sang "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" in her head until the calm washed over her. Since then, it has been her secret weapon for every stressful situation. He remembers her singing it in the kitchen. Jackson says he also sang a song during his first surgery. She reveals she snuck into the gallery to watch. She bets Harriet will do the same thing one day. They make a deal to sneak into the gallery together. She then gives him papers that declare him leader of the Foundation if she doesn't make it out alive. He says she can still teach and run the Foundation if she's paralyzed. She also included a plan for a big party. She always plans everything. They link arms so Jackson can walk her back to her room.

Meredith's looking around the room. There are a lot of pictures from Zimbabwe. Thatcher tells Meredith that Phillip told him it's supposed to be soothing, but it actually makes him just miss it more. A student once told him about a semester abroad building schools. With Lexie gone, he decided to do something with his grief. It was amazing. Meredith finds pictures of her and her sisters as well as her magazine cover. He got sick there and came back for whatever treatment he might need. She says he got a whole new life, halfway across the world this time. She's glad he found joy but he didn't give a damn about the people he left behind.

Tom and Amelia go over their plan again as they approach the OR. They try to hide their nerves, but even Tom's arrogance is off. They try Amelia's word vomit and feelings. Amelia is nervous because they are operating on a surgical legend, which might end her career if it goes wrong. Tom keeps thinking about all the penises that Catherine won't be able to save anymore if they botch this. And also that he can't lose anyone else. They assume the superhero pose.

Jackson and Richard help wheel Catherine into the OR. She reminds the surgeons to get clean margins. Also, she doesn't want Richard to sit in the gallery all day. Catherine asks for a minute with Richard. They kiss and embrace. She'll see him when she wakes up. Jackson has "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" blasting through the speakers. Catherine and the entire OR staff start dancing.

The surgery has started. Tom is listening to loud music and confidently moving ahead while Amelia is reminding him of obvious things. She says it's going to be a long day.

Maggie joins Richard and Jackson in the gallery. They inform her everything has gone fine. A nervous Jackson can't stay seated. Maggie offers to watch and report back to them so they don't have to sit around, but they're good right there.

Meredith admits to Thatcher that she's mad about his running away. He has never fought for anyone or anything. He just disappears. He just disappeared after she gave him a part of her liver and then again when Lexie died. She lost her sister and her husband and he was nowhere to be found. Thatcher says he was there when Derek died. Richard told him and he made it to the funeral just in time. He stood a few rows in the back. Meredith doesn't remember. Thatcher says she was a ghost. She looked like him when he lost Susan and Lexie. He didn't speak to her because it felt like it would be for him, not for her. He starts coughing and wheezing. She helps him to the bed and hands him his oxygen mask. He says he came home for her.

The surgery and the music continue. The surgeons are in awe of their new microscope. It looks like they are clear to remove the tumor en bloc. However, Amelia finds she can't get it free. Tom says it's time for a suck and pluck: suck out the insides and pluck the skin, like a grape.

Jackson hates Tom for his laid-back attitude. Richard tells him to take a walk, which he does. Maggie thinks it's also not good for Richard. Richard says he and Catherine made the long-distance thing work by promising to show up for each other whenever and however they need. He knows Catherine wants him to be here. Maggie then goes after Jackson. Bailey then comes in to sit down with Richard.

Down in the OR, Amelia finds the tumor is too dense for the suck and pluck. Tom asks to kill the music. He says they need to go in from the front. Amelia says they risk her arm function if they turn her now. Tom says they need to flip her on her side so he can go in from the front and meet her in the middle to decompress the tumor. It's an insanely risky move. Tom asks Amelia what she would want if it were her on the table. She concedes.

Richard decides it's time to shut down the gallery.

Maggie finds Jackson sitting on a gurney. Catherine's always been larger than life. She always inserted herself in every aspect of his life, sometimes even without him knowing, and now he can't imagine how a room would feel like without her taking up all that space. Losing Samuel was different. That felt like his world collapsing around him, but now he feels like a scared little kid. She understands his feeling. Nothing makes sense anymore. She comforts him as he breaks down in tears.

The team prepares Catherine as best as they can for the flip. They then carefully flip her onto her side. Bailey holds Richard's hand while the surgeons secure Catherine in her new position. Richard can't bear to look until Bailey assures him it's okay. The team re-drapes Catherine, re-scrubs, and re-gowns. Tom takes the scalpel, but he freezes. Amelia notices and feigns a problem with her position and asks him to switch. He accepts hiding his relief under arrogance. After the switch, they take scalpels and make new incisions.

Thatcher sits up in his bed. Meredith asks if he and Richard started talking after the funeral. He says he tried calling Meredith to check in on her, but she never returned his calls. He and Richard both had amends to make. He could say sorry for a lot of things, but he only wants to say thank you. For so long, he measured his life as things done to or taken from him, but now he sees his life for exactly what it is. Some people have more pain than others, but nothing was conspiring against him. Meredith gave him precious time by donating that part of her liver. He had an honest, real, painful life because of her. He just wishes they could have shared it. Meredith says he did try this time; she just didn't know. They both miss Lexie. He's sorry he lost her. He knows how much she meant to her. Meredith reveals she has another sister. He thinks she's talking about Molly, with whom she was never close, but Meredith then reveals Maggie's existence. Maggie is the best of Ellis and Richard. Thatcher is happy something good came out of all that.

The surgeons have freed the tumor from the brachial plexus. They want to pull out the tumor when the electrophysiologist warns them that they lost all signal from one arm. Amelia finds there's some tension from her side, which she thinks is stemming from the root. That means there's no way to remove the tumor without risking paralysis.

Richard knows they're going to have to remove the tumor piecemeal. Bailey says that means they are risking leaving tumor behind that way. Richard gets an idea. Through the intercom, he tells the surgeons they can remove the tumor piecemeal and use his PathPen to see if they've got it all. He assures them it works. Amelia agrees to the plan. Richard leaves to get it.

Meredith and Thatcher are laughing over some of Ellis's weirder habits. She was kind of a tyrant at home, but extraordinary nevertheless. Meredith asks if he regrets the marriage. Thatcher says Ellis pretended she wasn't pregnant with Meredith. For nine months, he had to let her do everything herself. The night she went into labor, she came from surgery and told him they were having a baby, as if the idea just hit her right there. She started laughing and kept on doing so all the way to the hospital. He had never heard her laugh so freely and he loved that that was the way Meredith came into the world. They weren't perfect, and unhappy a lot of the times, but for that laugh and Meredith and this moment right here, he'd do it all over again.

Hours later, the Pen is still detecting cancer. Amelia says they need to keep going. They'll hit clear tissue eventually. The signal to Catherine's arm is fading again and the other arm soon follows. It means they risk Catherine's motor function and life as she knows it if they don't stop.

Thatcher tells Meredith she can take stuff from the closet for her kids. He wishes he knew them. He thought of them. Meredith puts her cold hands on his face, which feels good to him. As she keeps her hands on his face, she tells him Zola is so smart. She keeps him on her toes every hour of every day. Bailey starts every sentence with "funny." Ellis is brave and obsessed with hip hop. They are exhausting but amazing. She wishes he knew them too. Thatcher then peacefully passes away. Meredith sighs and folds his hands together as she continues to sit with him.

Catherine wakes up in post-op. Amelia, Tom, Richard, and Jackson rush to her side as she attempts to speak. They urge her to take it easy. She still has all sensory and motory function. Her reflexes are normal. She's relieved, but draws from their faces that they are keeping something. Amelia says the tumor was adherent to the brachial plexus. They say they had to leave a nodule behind. It's likely, even with treatment, that she has to live with this cancer for the rest of her life. Amelia says she's sorry, but Catherine is glad to be alive. She can live with this. She has to get scans every three months, Tom says. Catherine says she'll operate and enjoy time with her family in between. Tom and Amelia have given her her life back. They pulled off a miracle. Miracles aren't always punctuation marks, but they are worth celebrating, so they are still having the party. They just might have to wait a couple of months so she can get on the dance floor.

Tom runs into Teddy in the lobby. She congratulates him on the surgery. He should be proud of what he accomplished. He's a bit down that they don't get it all, but Teddy stresses that he saved Catherine's life and surgical career. She offers to buy him a drink, but he asks for a rain check. He's wiped and smells bad and he wants to smell good when she spends money on him. She smiles and agrees to that.

Richard sits on a bench outside, lost in thought.

Tom talks to his son in the chapel. He saved his friend. He was a badass today.

Maggie sits down with Jackson in Catherine's room. She brought beverages.

At an AA meeting with Richard, Amelia talks about operating on a legend's spine. It was terrifying and exhilarating. And imperfect. Catherine is not just a legend, she also matters a great deal to people she loves. For most of her life, Amelia has been chasing the kind of high she feels right now. She gave a surgeon back her hands, a husband his wife, and a son his mother. And she's so incredibly grateful to be sober to be present enough for every terrifying, exhilarating, imperfect moment of it.

Meredith hands out gifts to her children. She says she got them from their grandfather, who also wanted them to know he cared about them very much. Zola asks Meredith if she's okay. Meredith says she will be fine.


  • Meredith Grey
  • Miranda Bailey
  • Richard Webber
  • Jackson Avery
  • Amelia Shepherd
  • Maggie Pierce
  • Teddy Altman
  • Catherine Fox
  • Tom Koracick
  • Phillip
  • Thatcher Grey
  • Casey Parker
  • Taryn Helm
  • EP Doctor
  • Nurse Gregory
  • Nurse Karen
  • Intern James
  • Zola Grey Shepherd
  • Derek Bailey Shepherd

Main CastEdit

Guest StarsEdit


Medical NotesEdit

Catherine FoxEdit

  • Diagnosis:
    • Grade III chondrosarcoma
  • Treatment:
    • Surgical resection

Catherine was ready to have her surgery. They took her in and started the resection. The plan was to open her back, mark the coordinates of the tumor, do partial laminectomies to expose the tumor, and remove it en bloc. However, when they opened up her spinal column, they realized the tumor wouldn't come in one piece. Tom said to suck out the contents and remove the shell. It didn't work, so Tom said they needed to go through the front and meet in the middle to remove it. They flipped her to remove the tumor, but found the tumor was attached to the brachial plexus. Richard gave them his cancer pen to find the edges of the cancer so they could remove it, but they told her when she woke up that they hadn't been able to remove it all and she'd have to live her life with the cancer.

Thatcher GreyEdit

  • Diagnosis:
    • Acute myeloid leukemia
  • Doctors:
  • Treatment:
    • Supplemental oxygen

Thatcher was in the ending stages of AML. He declined the use of pain medication due to his alcoholism and had only supplemental oxygen. Meredith sat with him throughout the day, until he finally took his last breath.


Song Performer Scene
"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" Cast (Debbie Allen)
  • Catherine sings to herself as she gets a CT.
"Ain't No Moutain High Enough" Diana Ross
  • Jackson, Catherine, Richard, Amelia, Tom, and the OR team dance before Catherine's surgery.
"Mustang Sally" The Commitments
  • Tom operates and sings along with the music, over Amelia's objections.
  • Jackson and Richard watch from the gallery.
  • Maggie comes in to join them.
"This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" Talking Heads
  • Tom continues to operate to music. It's going well.
  • Jackson paces in the gallery.
  • They're ready to remove the tumor, but can't get it free.
  • Maggie leaves Richard in the gallery to go talk to Jackson.
  • Bailey comes in to sit with him.
  • Something goes wrong and Tom has them turn off the music.
"Hold On" The Rescues
  • Tom and Amelia prepare to turn Catherine.
  • The team carefully moves her onto her side and stabilizes her there.
  • Amelia and Tom rescrub and step back up to the table to continue their work.
  • Tom hesitates and Amelia offers to switch places with him to snap him out of it.
"When It Don't Come Easy" Sleeping at Last
  • Tom leaves Teddy.
  • Richard sits on a bench outside.
  • Tom sits in the chapel and tells his son about saving Catherine.
  • Maggie sits by Jackson in Catherine's room.
  • Amelia speaks at an AA meeting about how good she feels after operating on Catherine.
  • She's glad she was sober for it, so she could feel every moment.
  • Richard smiles at her.
  • Meredith shows her kids what Thatcher got for them.

Notes and TriviaEdit

Grey's Anatomy 15x11 Promo "The Winner Takes It All" (HD) Season 15 Episode 11 Promo

Grey's Anatomy 15x11 Promo "The Winner Takes It All" (HD) Season 15 Episode 11 Promo

  • This episode's title originated from the song The Winner Takes It All, originally sung by ABBA.
  • This episode scored 7.27 million viewers.
  • This marks Thatcher Grey's first appearance since the season seven episode P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).
  • This the first episode directed by Allison Liddi-Brown since the season eight episode Support System. She directed at least one episode every season from season five through eight.
  • The final song in the episode, When It Don't Come Easy, was chosen because it was the song writer Elisabeth R. Finch listened to over and over again during chemo to calm her.
  • The baby pictures at Thatcher's house are of Jeff Perry's daughter, Leah Perry.


Episode StillsEdit

Behind the ScenesEdit


Catherine: I appreciate both of you wanting to be a part of this, but I have a crackerjack neuro team. I need you to be my husband and my son today.
Tom: And we need you to be our patient.
Catherine: Thomas, you're getting ready to cut open my spine. I will be whatever I want.
Tom: Oh. Music to my ears.

Jackson: You really think that posteriorly is the way to go?
Tom: Oh, it is fun to have so many surgeons in one family. Remind me, Avery when did you become double board certified in neuro?
Jackson: That's really how you talk to your patient's family?
Tom: It is, actually.
Amelia: We need to go in posteriorly to avoid the carotid and the jugular, and to avoid having to weave through the brachial plexus.
Tom: Look, I know how hard it is to be on the bench, but we are the A-Team. And we don't lose. Just ask Shepherd's tumor. Oh, wait, you can't. Because I removed it. Flawlessly.

Thatcher: A few years back, a student told me about a semester he took abroad building schools. Lexie was gone, and I thought I could either drown my grief in a bottle of Scotch or do something. So I did something.
Meredith: In Zimbabwe.
Thatcher: The sunsets, Meredith, and the quiet. The people that I met, they have this passion for life, loving, learning.
Meredith: And then you got sick.
Thatcher: I thought I'd just come home, do whatever treatment I needed to do, and then go back, but... It was good, coming home. It gave me a chance to... It was the right thing to do.
Meredith: You went and got a whole new life.
Thatcher: I did.
Meredith: I'm glad for you. I'm glad you saw sunsets and built schools for people who needed them and you stayed sober. You went and got a whole new life. Halfway across the world this time. But you didn't give a damn about the people you left behind.

Tom: What if we try your thing? You know, the word-vomit and the feelings? That seems to work. For you.
Amelia: Okay.
Tom: You you first.
Amelia: This is the largest tumor I've ever seen on the biggest legend I've ever known, and if I screw this up, I'm gonna have to live out the rest of my ill-fated surgical career fixing idiot teenagers who get hurt cow-tipping in Lawrence, Kansas, 'cause I can't look Richard in the eye knowing I gorked his legend wife.
Tom: That is specific.
Amelia: Well...
Tom: I'm saying, how do you get hurt cow-tipping?
Amelia: It's a thing. Just... You. Go.
Tom: Catherine Fox is an icon, and a magician, and a giant among men and not just for the reasons you think. She's saved more penises in her OR than any surgeon on the planet. And all I keep imagining are the dozens of men with zero-functioning penises, doomed to live out their sexless lives if I botch this surgery.
Amelia: That's what you're worried about? Men and their junk?
Tom: That, and if I lose her... I've lost enough.
Amelia: So let's keep her alive.
Tom: Let's keep her alive.

Meredith: Fine. I'm mad.
Thatcher: Because I moved away.
Meredith: Because you ran away. Because you have never fought for anyone or anything that you cared for in your life. You just disappear. When I gave you a piece of my liver, you said we would try, right? You said we could get to know each other. You didn't try. You didn't fight. And when Lexie died...
Thatcher: I know. I know.
Meredith: No, you don't know, because you weren't here. I lost my sister. I lost my husband. And you were nowhere to be found.
Thatcher: That's not... Meredith, I was there after Derek died.
Meredith: No, why would you say something like that?
Thatcher: Because it's the truth, Meredith. Richard told me Derek died. I bought a ticket. I flew all day, all night. I got to the funeral just just in time. I stood a few rows back. Next to some of your doctor friends from the hospital.
Meredith: I would remember if you were at his funeral.
Thatcher: I was there, Meredith. But you were barely there. You were a ghost. You looked like me when I lost Susan and Lexie.
Meredith: Are you saying you came to the funeral and didn't speak to me?
Thatcher: I felt like it would would have been for me, not not not For for you.

Maggie: Richard, this can't be good for you either.
Richard: The first year or so Catherine and I were together, we figured out how to make the long distance work because we'd promise to show up whenever we needed, however we needed. It's what you do for the people you love. She may fuss, but I don't need to ask her where she wants me to be. I'm already here.

Jackson: Mom's always been larger than life, you know? Laughs harder, yells louder than anyone. She's the life of the party. Even if it's my birthday party and she's taking over the dance floor.
Maggie: Sounds amazing.
Jackson: I was 16. It was mortifying. She'd always do that. She always inserted herself in every single aspect of my life, you know, whether I wanted her to or not Hell, whether I even knew about it or not. And now I can't imagine what a room would even feel like without her in it taking up all that space. It was different losing Samuel. That was more like like my world collapsing around me, you know? And this, I just... I feel like a scared little kid. Like nothing is safe. Like the world's upside down and nothing makes any sense anymore.

Thatcher: Richard and I started talking about a lot of things. We both had amends to make. There are so many things I could say I'm sorry for, Meredith. But all I really want to say is thank you.
Meredith: Thank you for what?
Thatcher: For so long, I measured my life in the things done to me, taken from me. Now I can see my life for exactly what it is. Some people have more pain than others. But no one, nothing, was conspiring against me. When you gave me a piece of your liver, you gave me time, precious time.
Meredith: Time to get your head out of your own ass?
Thatcher: You could say that. I had a life, Meredith, 'cause of you. My own real, honest, painful, incredible life. I just wish you and I could have shared it.
Meredith: Well, I guess you did try this time. I just didn't know.
Thatcher: I miss Lexie. I miss her so much.
Meredith: Me too.
Thatcher: I'm sorry you lost her. I know how much it it meant to you, having a sister.
Meredith: I have another sister.
Thatcher: But you and Molly, you were never close.
Meredith: Her name is Maggie. She's brilliant. And kind. She's the best of Ellis and Richard.
Thatcher: Your mother and Richard had a baby. At least something good came from all that.

Meredith: Do you regret marrying her?
Thatcher: The entire time she was pregnant with you, she pretended she wasn't. I don't know if it was stubbornness or denial. Maybe both. Nine months, she had to do everything herself. And I had to let her. The night she went into labor, she came home after surgery, and she just stood in the doorway, wide-eyed. "We're having a baby, Thatch. We're having a baby." As if the idea just hit her, right there. She started to laugh. She couldn't stop laughing. Laughed all the way to the hospital. I never heard her laugh like that, so big, so free. And I just thought, "Wow. What a way for you to come into the world." We weren't perfect. We weren't even happy a lot of the time. But I'd marry her all over again for that night, that laugh. And you. And this. I'd do it all again for this.

Amelia: Catherine, when we went in to get the tumor, it was adherent to your brachial plexus.
Tom: We were able to remove about 95% of it, but we had to leave one nodule behind.
Catherine: So radiation? Chemo?
Amelia: They've had some success with proton beam therapy.
Catherine: Some?
Tom: It's likely, even with treatment...
Catherine: I'll have to live with this cancer the rest of my life. I was sure you'd get it all or kill me trying.
Tom: So did we.
Amelia: Catherine, I'm so sorry.
Catherine: Sorry? I'm alive. I can live with this for many years. People live with cancer. We've all seen it happen.
Tom: You're gonna have to get scans every three months to make sure the tumor doesn't grow.
Catherine: And in between, I'll operate. And I'll hug my son. Make love to my husband.
Jackson: Okay.
Catherine: Chase my Harriet, make mistakes, and fight about who gets to pick the movie on date night. You two have given me my life back.
Jackson: Now what? 'Cause we didn't plan on this.
Catherine: These two pulled off a miracle. Miracles aren't always punctuation marks. But they are worth celebrating. So we are gonna have that party. We just might have to wait a couple of months so I can get on the dance floor.

Amelia: I operated on a freaking legend's spine today. And it was terrifying. And exhilarating. And imperfect. Mostly terrifying. Because she's not just a legend. She matters so much to so many people that I love. Most of my life, I have been chasing the kind of high that I feel right now. I gave a surgeon back her hands today. I gave a husband his wife, a son his mother. And I am so incredibly grateful to be sober to be present enough to have felt every terrifying, exhilarating, imperfect moment.

See AlsoEdit

A complete overview of this episode's crew can be found here.

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.