NCIS: Why Cote de Pablo Left in Season 11

The circumstances surrounding Cote de Pablo's NCIS departure were never fully explained, but she did get to reprise her role as Ziva in Season 17.

  • Ziva David was first introduced in Season 3 of NCIS as a Mossad agent and liaison officer before finally becoming a probationary NCIS agent later in the season.
  •  Ziva left NCIS in Season 11 to protect Gibbs from a political vendetta and chose not to rejoin when the issue was resolved. Season 13 later revealed that the character had died off-screen.
  •  Cote de Pablo later returned in a Season 17 arc, wherein Ziva hunts down the people who tried to kill her and finally reunites with Tony DiNozzo and her daughter, Tali.

NCIS has been no stranger to significant cast turnover in its long history, sometimes leaving viewers wondering if the show could sustain itself without some of its most integral stars. Arguably, the most shocking shake-up to the cast came when Cote de Pablo’s Ziva left NCIS. From her first appearance, Ziva was a big part of the franchise, making her departure all the more heartbreaking for longtime viewers.

It hit fans of the long-running crime series hard when CBS announced Ziva would be leaving the highly successful NCIS. Details on why the character was written out were never fully confirmed, but quotes from de Pablo and lack of confirmation from production have led to conflicting rumors.

Updated by Jordan Iacobucci on December 17, 2023: NCIS has continued to go through major cast shakeups in recent years. Even Mark Harmon’s Leroy Gibbs made his departure during the show’s nineteenth season. Yet, even as the series awaits the premier of its twenty-first season in 2024, audiences can’t help but think back to the tragic circumstances behind Ziva David’s departure over a decade ago, and all the events that befell her character in the years that followed.

Who Was Special Agent Ziva David on NCIS?

Ziva David’s first NCIS appearance was in the Season 3 premiere as an agent of the Israeli Mossad. She was introduced in a tumultuous time on NCIS, shortly after Sasha Alexander’s Caitlin Todd had been suddenly killed by Rudolf Martin’s Ari Haswari in the Season 2 finale. Things were slightly awkward because, as it turned out, Ziva was Ari’s half-sister. But it didn’t take long for Ziva to declare her allegiance to the right cause, shooting Ari to save Gibbs.

  • Ziva David first appears in the Season 3 episode “Kill Ari (Part One)”
  • Cote de Pablo becomes a series regular in the Season 3 episode “Silver War”
  • Cote de Pablo appears in 194 episodes of NCIS

After that, Ziva became a liaison officer between her father, the director of Mossad, and NCIS’s Director Jenny Shepard. She served in that role for four years over the course of three seasons. She then returned to Mossad but was captured in Somalia while on assignment before Gibbs, Tony, and McGee rescued her. Following this traumatic experience, she resigned from Mossad and became a probationary NCIS agent and a US citizen.

Ziva’s time at NCIS finally came to an end in Season 11. She, Tony, and McGee all resigned from NCIS in order to protect Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs from a dangerous political vendetta. However, unlike Tony and McGee, Ziva chose not to rejoin the agency when the issue was resolved. Instead, she returned to Israel and was supposedly killed offscreen in Season 13 during an attack on her father’s farmhouse. Viewers later learned that Ziva and Tony had a daughter named Tali. After finding out the news, Tony also chose to leave NCIS.

Why Did Ziva Leave NCIS?

In a 2013 interview with TV Guide, Cote de Pablo indicated that she left NCIS because of a personal issue: “As far as my decision to leave, that’s a personal thing, and I’d rather leave it at that.” However, in a 2016 Q&A about her departure, she told a different story, which involved how her character would be treated in the future. She noted, “They were going to send [Ziva] back to Israel and assemble her an unfortunate, miserable woman. I said, ‘What do I leave all the women that are watching and following the show?’ And I didn’t think it was fair. So, I said, ‘Unless someone can really write something fantastic for [Ziva], I won’t go back.'”


Even with all of that, fans still don’t have a complete answer why Cote de Pablo left NCIS after Season 11. However, some cast members, including David McCallum, were markedly disappointed by her sudden choice to leave. Regardless, fans were unhappy with how Ziva was written off and clamored for a cameo appearance for years. Nevertheless, for many years, Ziva was completely absent from any of the shows in the NCIS universe, killing any hopes for a return. That is, until Season 17.

When Does Ziva David Return To NCIS?

While NCIS had spent many years claiming that Ziva was dead, a shocking twist in Season 16 revealed that the character had actually faked her own death and was still active somewhere in the shadows. Finally, six years after her departure and apparent offscreen death, Cote de Pablo’s Ziva David returned in the Season 17 premiere “Out of the Darkness.” In a four-episode arc broken up throughout the season, Ziva teamed up with her old colleagues at NCIS, including agents Gibbs and McGee, in an attempt to find the individuals who had attempted to kill her just before she went underground.

  • Ziva David’s death is first revealed in the Season 13 episode “Family First”
  • Ziva is confirmed to still be alive in the Season 16 episode “She”
  • Ziva finally returns to NCIS in four episodes of Season 17, “Out of the Darkness,” “Into the Light,” “The North Pole,” and “In The Wind.”

Ziva must once again embrace her history as a ruthless assassin in order to defeat the enemy hunting her down. But first, she must regain the trust of her former colleagues who, despite being glad to see that their old friend is not dead, are wary of trusting her after she lied about her fate for so long. Eventually, she is able to convince them to help her in tracking down the mysterious “Phineas,” who seems to want her dead.

Ziva’s final appearance comes in the eleventh episode of Season 17, entitled “In the Wind.” Therein, she, Gibbs, and the NCIS squad make one last stand against Phineas. However, it is revealed that the true mastermind behind the scheme to kill Ziva is actually Sarah Johnson, a seemingly innocent civilian who was secretly the terrorist Mira Sahar Azam — and Phineas’s mother. With the help of her old team, Ziva kills Mira before she accomplishes her mission, finally freeing the former NCIS agent to live in peace once more. Ziva takes the opportunity to reunite with Anthony DiNozzo and their daughter, Tali, once more, though this tender moment occurs offscreen.

While audiences have often lobbied for an NCIS spinoff starring Ziva and DiNozzo, the likelihood of such a series seems relatively low. After a turbulent will-they-won’t-they romance, both characters were finally able to settle down and get their long-awaited “happily ever after.” While there may be more stories to tell featuring the fan-favorite special agents, NCIS would do best to refrain from forcing Ziva and DiNozzo back into the spotlight, instead allowing them to live out the rest of their days in peace.


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