"[Justin's] contributions to the story over the years was one that was difficult to say goodbye to," Carmack exclusively told PEOPLE

By Christina Dugan
March 06, 2020 10:45 PM
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Like most, Chris Carmack is still trying to process last night’s emotional episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

One day after the show bid farewell to Justin Chambers’ character Alex Karev, Carmack — who portrays Dr. Atticus Lincoln on the ABC medical drama — shared his thoughts on how Chambers’ exit affected the cast, how Alex’s storyline played out, what’s in store for Alex’s wife Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington) will get through the heartbreak, and the personal tie he has to the episode.

“[Chambers’] contributions to the story over the years was one that was difficult to say goodbye to,” Carmack, 39, exclusively told PEOPLE. “The Grey’s community is definitely a family and supportive of one another. There was an emotional fallout amongst cast and crew when we found out.”

And after watching last night’s episode, Carmack said he was “drenched in tears.”

“It was really kind of beautiful to look back on Alex Karev and his 16 years of life on the show,” he said. “Watching him and Meredith and their first go around, and him and Izzie. How incredible to see a flashback of 16 years ago that was actually shot as part of the television show. It was very tangible and emotional. It wasn’t just a flashback from that episode. Those were scenes that fans had invested in so long ago. To see them all back to back was very powerful.”

Chris Carmack
| Credit: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

During Thursday’s episode, fans — and Karev’s wife and close friends — finally got answers as to why the pediatrician decided to leave: He’s moved to Kansas to be with his ex-wife, Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl), and their 5-year-old twins.

“Jo is a tough character,” Carmack, whose character is best friends with Alex’s wife Wilson. “She has come so far and has grown so much. She’s a survivor she can stand on her own. I think she’s going to rise from the smoke of all this. I don’t think you can just crush this one-off, it’s tough. She’s a strong cookie. She has a lot to give to the world and the medical community and to the patients at Grey Sloan. I think, as a viewer, she’s going to rise and be okay.”

To Carmack, the episode will be one to remember for many reasons.

Carmack and his wife, Erin Slaver, recorded a cover of Ingrid Michaelson’s “Turn to Stone,” which played in last night’s episode.

“[Showrunner] Krista [Vernoff] had shown a little interest in hearing the music before we release our EP, Stonewall,” Carmack, whose band is called Life On Eris, said.

“We played it for her and she was a big fan right off the bat. It was happening concurrently with this episode and this idea she was having to revisit Ingrid Michaelson’s version of ‘Turn to Stone’ which was the original Alex Karev and Izzie montage when they got married. She told us there were two different montages that were going to be happening in this episode. She was thinking, ‘Do I use this song twice in one episode?’ Then she had this idea to ask us to take a stab at doing a cover.”

Chris Carmack and Erin Slaver
| Credit: Jason Davis/FilmMagic

“This was the first time as a band, the two of us, would be doing something for some else,” Slaver added. “We were ecstatic.”

In January, ABC confirmed to PEOPLE that Chambers, 49, was not returning to the franchise.

“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,” Chambers said in a statement to PEOPLE. “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.”

He added, “As I move on from Grey’s Anatomy, I want to thank the ABC family, Shonda Rimes, 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.”

Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays (9 p.m. ET) on ABC.