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Why Did Cote De Pablo Leave NCIS?

When Cote de Pablo joined "NCIS" in Season 3, it took some fans a little time to warm up to her and stop comparing her to Sasha Alexander, whose character, Special Agent Caitlin 'Kate' Todd, had just been killed off in the Season 2 finale. Alexander had been on the show since the first episode, and her character was beloved by viewers. "I'm now a few episodes into season 3 and I know she's popular... but I just cannot stand Ziva. Partially it's because Kate was my favourite and I miss her and the whole dynamic is just off without her ..." u/azulamazing wrote on an "NCIS" subreddit thread.

Fortunately, when it became clear that de Pablo's Special Agent Ziva David was nothing like Kate, "NCIS" viewers began to warm up to her, and Ziva's personality was fleshed out and explored in ways that hadn't happened with Kate. But in 2013, de Pablo made the decision to leave the show, and fans were surprised when Ziva was killed off. Later, showrunner Steve Binder admitted on the "NCIS" Season 17 DVD (via cartermatt.com), "Killing Ziva off-screen, or making the audience think that, was an error on our part." 

Viewers believed Ziva's story wasn't finished yet. Moreover, many wondered what had happened that made de Pablo decide it was time to leave the show.

Cote de Pablo has spoken about her NCIS departure

When Cote de Pablo answered questions about her "NCIS" departure during a Q&A in 2016, she said she left because she wasn't happy with the direction her character was heading in. "Unfortunately because of political things and scripts not being good enough, I chose not to [return to NCIS]," she said, adding that she has an immense fondness for Ziva as a character, but felt that she wasn't being done justice with her story arcs. The actor continued on, saying, "They were going to send [Ziva] back to Israel and make her an unfortunate, miserable woman ... I didn't think it was fair, so I said, 'Until someone can really write something fantastic for her, I won't come back."

It is worth noting that de Pablo has since claimed that those comments don't reflect the actual reasons for her departure. In a 2019 USA Today piece about the character's brief return to the series in Season 17, de Pablo said of her previous statement on the matter, "I think that was taken out of context at a certain point, and people start writing that to justify the idea of leaving." After clarifying that she didn't feel like it was the right time to discuss the reasons for her departure, she said, "But I didn't leave because I wanted to go or because I was ready or because I was tired. I didn't really have an option."

So, it appears that fans are still waiting on an official answer. It remains to be seen if she'll reprise the role again on "NCIS" Season 20 or beyond.