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The Sad Ziva Detail You Never Noticed In NCIS

In general, "NCIS" is not the kind of show that carries plot lines over from week to week. The series is a crime procedural and, as such, there's typically a new case each week that the team has to solve. While stories may not carry over through successive episodes, certain character details do remain constant. We're not suddenly going to see Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) start giving soliloquies any time soon. The leader and former Marine gunnery sergeant is going to remain a man of few words and let his piercing gaze — the patented Gibbs stare — do most of the talking; it's his personality, as shaped through the life he's lived before and during his time on the Major Case Response Team. These details are subtle reminders of how the show's central players have been changed by the things they've gone through and they reinforce the idea that, while the team is always taking new cases, the characters don't forget all the things they've been through together. 

The same can be said for everyone's favorite will-she-return-or-not character, Ziva David (Cote de Pablo). Her prior life and her time alongside the "NCIS" team has shaped her personality. In fact, one case in particular had a noticeable impact on her wardrobe. 

Lieutenant Roy Sanders is a dead man walking on NCIS

The case in question was investigated in the 16th episode of "NCIS" Season 4, entitled "Dead Man Walking" — not to be confused with the 1995 movie of the same name that nabbed Susan Sarandon the Academy Award for Best Actress. This "NCIS" episode featured a Navy lieutenant named Roy Sanders (Matthew Marsden) who shows up in the MCRT bullpen and isn't looking too good. He comes to the team with a simple request: to solve a murder. His own murder, in fact. No, he's not a ghost visiting them from beyond the grave; as he demonstrates by removing a clump of hair, Roy has realized he's been poisoned with radiation and will meet an untimely end. It turns out he works at the International Atomic Energy Agency, but doesn't believe his sickness is mere occupational hazard.

The team manages to suss out how Roy's been poisoned — Abby (Pauley Perrette) isolated radioactive ash from a shooting range and Ducky posits that the thallium has been laced into Roy's cigars — but has yet to figure out to figure out a motive. That is, until Gibbs puts together that Roy is due to go to Uzbekistan to inspect a nuclear reactor. Given that he'd made a similar trip six times previously, it's likely that he would have noticed the changes that have been made recently, changes that appear to be geared toward re-establishing a Soviet-era weapons program at the site. All it takes is a $50,000 bribe to IAEA admin Holly Stegman (Erin Torpey) for her to poison Roy. Sadly, her goal was simply to prevent him from making the inspection trip and she's dismayed to learn he's dying.

Ziva wears Roy's orange beanie after his death

Roy Sanders and Ziva David form a close bond over the course of the episode, in part because Ziva actually recognized him, but couldn't figure out why at first. Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) wonders if it could be from her past with Mossad. Eventually, she realized that she'd seen him running and the two bond over having similar fathers and other life experiences. The NCIS team is ultimately able to solve Roy's murder, but he eventually succumbs to the thallium poisoning he already knew would kill him. The Navy lieutenant doesn't survive the episode, but before he dies, the bond he forms with Ziva clearly makes a lasting impression on her, one that would carry over into subsequent episodes. After Roy's death in "Dead Man Walking," Ziva is seen wearing his orange beanie.

It's a devastating episode, in part because Roy had quickly established himself as a likable character and as someone with whom Ziva had a real connection. The fact that Ziva continues to wear his beanie following his death speaks to that connection and to the fact that although the NCIS team has moved on to other cases, the show's characters still remember the cases that had the biggest impact on them. That orange beanie became a regular part of Ziva's identity, and although it's a subtle detail, it's one that fans on Reddit noticed and appreciated for what it represented. Every "NCIS" character develops their own history as a result of the cases the team takes on, even if they're not always explicitly acknowledged.