Randy Holmes/ABC
Sandra Gonzalez
May 10, 2012 AT 11:14 PM EDT

UPDATE: Read the recap from last night’s episode here.

Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes doesn’t want this article to torture fans. But how could it not?

The uncertainties that swirl around the residents as the show heads into its season finale are numerous — and delicious — to contemplate. Last week, they took their boards, cheered when they passed (well, most of them did), and now face decisions about the future. Luckily, off screen, the recent contract talks with the major cast members give a little hint as to what the future holds for some hallmark characters.

But where’s it all really headed? Prior to the news about cast contracts (Rhimes is not allowed to comment) EW took a call with executive producer and creator Rhimes to chat about what’s to come:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I know this finale caused you a lot of strife, so tell me about that.

SHONDA RHIMES: We’ve been working with a lot of uncertainty this season. And part of working with that uncertainty was figuring out how we were going to tell the story in an interesting way. What was really natural and lovely was the idea that our residents are sort of ‘graduating’ to become attendings. And in the episode right before the finale, you’re really finding out what people are choosing to do — what jobs they’re choosing to take and how they’re choosing to spend the next year of their lives. That was a really interesting and fun and ultimately, for me, really nostalgic story to tell, watching these people who started off as little baby interns becoming attendings and surgical fellows.

Chandra Wilson [who plays Dr. Bailey] said something similar, that it was like watching ducklings growing up.

It really is. Throughout the episode, there’s this very overwhelming sense of nostalgia. The babies are leaving the nest and that’s amazing. And in the penultimate episode, you discover what everyone’s fate is going to be in terms of what jobs they’re taking and whether they’re going to stay or go. And then the finale happens, and everything gets turned on its ear a little bit.

So, speaking of the finale, we know there’s a death…

I almost regret saying anything about it at all, but when I did those [first] interviews, I’d literally just finished writing the script the day before, and the [Grey’s] writers sat around and did a writers’ table read the day before. I was very much in it. But my feeling is, it was really hard to write. I knew we were coming to this place and to this story and to this episode, and I had been dreading it for months, literally. I’d been putting it off and getting to the point where it was like, ‘You have four days to write the episode. You’ve got to write the episode.’ But I didn’t want to do it or face it in a lot of ways. I was kind of hoping that there could be a different outcome. If I waited long enough, maybe the outcome would be different, and yet, it wasn’t. We had to write the episode. If I step back and look at it from the outside, I think it’s going to be a very painful and shocking episode for people. From the inside, it’s a very painful and shocking episode. It’s not anything that you expect, and it doesn’t have any of the resolutions that you expect. And the reason why I wanted to say something about it before it came out is because I wanted people to be prepared. I felt like it was unnecessarily cruel for you to think that everything was going to move along happily. I wanted people to be prepared for the idea that something bad is going to happen.

Since you did compare it to the shooting, is it more of the emotional equivalent or the bloodshed equivalent?

I think both.

Let’s talk Derek and Meredith. Patrick has said that he feels they can survive anything at this point. Accurate?

I do feel like they’re a very grown-up couple in the sense that they’ve been through more than enough dark times. And definitely are in a place where they’re committed to one another. Their relationship is not the question — at all. I always think it’s interesting, I get these tweets from people asking if I’m going to break them up. And I keep saying their relationship and love for one another is not going to be the question.

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