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The Ending Of NCIS Season 5 Explained

When it comes to the season finales of "NCIS," fans can usually expect quite a few things from the series, including explosive encounters with arch-enemies and shocking character revelations. But one question also has a habit of coming up by the time the credits roll. Just how are Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and his team going to function now? Fans may have asked that question during the ending of Season 3 of "NCIS" as the two-parter "Hiatus" episodes conclude with Gibbs turning in his badge. Keeping its foot heavy on the gas pedal of thrills, Season 4 ends with the reveal of Tony DiNozzo's (Michael Weatherly) girlfriend being the daughter of the dangerous antagonist the agents have spent much of the season hunting down.

The ending of the 5th season of "NCIS" ups the ante drastically as the two-parter finale dredges up the season's most deadly villain and bewilders fans with a shocking death that perhaps few saw coming. Also, by the time the show fades to black, it's unclear how the NCIS unit will continue operating as we know it because Director Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll) has decided to make some crucial changes. With so much to digest, let's delve deeper into what went down during the ending of "NCIS" Season 5.

The Judgment Day finale killed off Jenny Shepard

The majority of "Judgment Day" is as tense as a tightly wound violin string desperately seeking to be in tune. During the first part's conclusion, Jenny Shepard (Lauren Holly) met her end after a gunfight with four assassins in an abandoned diner. While investigating, Vance explains to Gibbs that she held her own, taking out a few. It's discovered in the second part that Shepard was killed by a vengeful hitwoman named Svetlana Chernitskaya (Kathleen Gati). Gibbs killed her husband in an old covert mission nine years ago, and she's had it out for him and Shepard ever since. In one of the final scenes of Part 2, the string is about to snap as Gibbs has lured Chernitskaya to Shepard's study. Pointing her gun at him, Gibbs may soon end up joining Shepard. But another shot rings out. NCIS Supervisory Agent Michael Franks (Muse Waston) emerges from behind Chernitskaya with his gun smoking. He and Gibbs have managed to get revenge for Shepard and finally tie up all loose ends to their past covert mission.

The ending of Season 5 shows Gibbs at his deadliest and most calculated as he finally gets justice for someone who meant a lot to him. It almost mirrors his vengeful streak in Season 3, when he was after Kate Todd's (Sasha Alexander) killer, Ari Haswari (Rudolf Martin). Yet, besides the concept of vengeance, the finale was meant to jolt fans with one of the most surprising major character deaths. Few could have predicted Shepard going out because of a shootout, as she had already been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Behind the scenes, however, the unexpected death was a convenient way for the showrunners to write off Shepard, as her actor, Holly, was more than ready to depart "NCIS."

The ending also teased the end of Gibbs' team

Shepard's death was a significant blow and a massive change to the makeup of the NCIS team. Everything could have ended with that alone, with fans wondering how the unit would continue to cope next season. Instead, the Season 5 finale had one more curveball up its sleeve. As Vance meets with the rest of the team to recap the episodes' events, he fires Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) from her liaison position and hits DiNozzo and Timothy McGee (Sean Murray) with new reassignments. Gibbs is left with the files of three new team members. Just when "Judgment Day" could finally give everyone a chance to breathe, we're left thinking that Vance has broken Gibbs' team.

It's a heck of a cliffhanger. It's also heartbreaking, as Gibbs loses Shepard and essentially the rest of his family at NCIS. But it's also a clever way to segue into the following season's first main storyline. We later learn that during the beginning of Season 6, the change was only a way to flush out possible moles within NCIS. It doesn't take too long for Gibbs to get his old team back, and it all works out, considering the whole ordeal is also solely responsible for his worst moment in Season 6.