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The Real Reason Emmy Rossum Left Shameless After Season 9

The old adage that declares all good things must come to an end applies to most everything in life. A delicious pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream will, at some point, turn into an empty carton flecked with the remnants of chocolate chunks. A wonderful movie that makes you laugh, cry, and do both at the same time will inevitably fade to black. And your favorite actor will ultimately say goodbye to the character they've played for years — whether it's through a death, the end of a series, or the star's own decision to walk away. 

In the case of Emmy Rossum, the latter-most possibility applies. After spending eight years playing Fiona Gallagher on the hit Showtime series "Shameless," Rossum decided in 2018 to fly the coop at the end of Season 9. The decision thankfully had nothing to do with bad blood or pay disputes. The real reason Rossum left "Shameless" after Season 9 is a lot less complicated than you might think.

The grass looked greener outside of Shameless' yard

The reality is that Emmy Rossum left "Shameless" simply because she felt it was time for her to spread her creative wings. In August 2018, Rossum posted to her Facebook page a lengthy explanation for her departure, explaining that the stability of her "Shameless" gig actually gave her the courage to move beyond it. 

"This kind of stability, this family, has nurtured me and made feel safe enough to stretch and grow creatively," she wrote. "The way [executive producer and showrunner] John Wells has shepherded me as an actress, and more recently how he's encouraged me wholeheartedly as a director and a writer, has been an honor and a privilege."

Rossum described her acting career prior to landing the role of Fiona Gallagher as a "transient" adventure — one in which roles had come and gone, and one that allowed her to move on to new creative endeavors on a regular basis. She also admitted that never expected to get the family "Shameless" gave to her. "See, in real life, unlike Fiona, I'm an only child. I never had a big family. Being ensconced in that messy Gallagher family love is something I'd always dreamed of. But even off set, it feels real," Rossum said at the time. "We've watched the kids grow up into the strong, talented, independent human beings that they are."

She went on to call her experience "a gift," and said that she's had the best time of her life playing Fiona. "There are few characters — female or otherwise — as layered and dynamic," Rossum wrote. "She is resourceful. She is loyal. She is brave. I knew it the second I read the pilot script, this was different, this was special."

Emmy Rossum teased the possibility of Fiona returning

"Shameless" was obviously an incredible experience for Emmy Rossum, and she noted in the previously discussed Facebook post from 2018 that she felt the show had finally (after 10,000 hours of work) reached a point of near-perfection going into its 10th season. But for her, that meant it was time to try something new. At the time, Rossum made it clear that she was confident "Shameless" had many years to go, even in her absence. 

"I know you will continue on without me, for now. There is much more Gallagher story to be told," said Rossum. She even left the door open for a possible return, writing, "Try not to think of me as gone, just think of me as moving down the block."

For his part, "Shameless" star William H. Macy, who plays Fiona's degenerate father Frank Gallagher, believed that the chances of Rossum returning to the family were pretty good. "I think Emmy will come back and make a guest appearance before this thing sets sail," he told Variety in March 2019. "She better, otherwise I'm gonna grab her by the ear and bring her back."

It's normal for actors to leave shows, even the ones they lead

Emmy Rossum's departure from the series may have felt like a giant hole that would never be filled, but it isn't that uncommon for actors to leave the TV shows that made them household names. "Grey's Anatomy" has killed off dozens of people over the years, and it's currently in its 17th season as of April 2021 — proof that shows can and do live on without their biggest stars

"Shameless" showrunner John Wells actually came from "ER," another series known for soldiering on after its stars have left. He told Variety in March 2019 that losing Rossum wasn't out of the norm, and though he didn't rule out a return, he knew Rossum needed to find new challenges, new rewards, and new happiness elsewhere. "George Clooney left 'ER' in year five, and we managed to do 10 more years. It's what people do — they get on with their lives," Wells said at the time. "She's got other options."

Fiona Gallagher wasn't in the Shameless series finale

Unfortunately for "Shameless" fans, Fiona didn't return to the show, not even for its finale that aired on April 11, 2021. Many suspected that because Emmy Rossum was missing from Season 10 and the first 11 episodes of Season 11, she would likely reappear in the 12th episode — the last-ever episode of "Shameless." That didn't happen.

However, like Rossum's initial exit from the show, her absence from its finale wasn't because she hated the series and never wanted to come back. Rossum wasn't in the series finale of "Shameless" because it wouldn't have been safe for her to do so during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the virus ravaged the globe, it was relatively easy for an actor to hop on a plane, land at a shooting location, and spend a day filming some scenes for a quick but satisfying return for their character. In the COVID-19 age, though, that's an impossibility.

"Emmy and I had a lot of conversations about it, trying to make it work," showrunner John Wells explained to Entertainment Weekly in April 2021. "She's been in New York with [husband] Sam [Esmail], where they live, and right about the time where we were talking about putting it all together was when the additional lockdowns kind of hit again, and it just didn't feel safe or practical for her to come back. So I think it's with a great deal of regret that we couldn't do it but it's just more minor casualty of our year of COVID."

Wells later noted that he and Rossum tried to come up with a way to fit Fiona into the finale, but nothing felt right, and that gives him some grief to this day. "It all seemed a little cheesy, so we didn't do it. I don't know if it's the right decision, to be honest," he said.

In the end, at least "Shameless" enthusiasts have nine full seasons of the series in which Emmy Rossum brings Fiona Gallagher to life in astounding fashion. Better that than nothing, right?