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Spoiler alert: 'NCIS' closes Season 16 with huge guest shocker

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 5/22/2019 Bill Keveney
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Spoiler alert: This story contains a big surprise from Tuesday's Season 16 finale of CBS' "NCIS."

"NCIS" delivered a shocker in its Season 16 finale Tuesday, but it's one fans will love: the return of former NCIS and Mossad agent Ziva David (Cote de Pablo).

The beloved character, long thought to be dead before an episode earlier this season hinted she was alive, returned at the very end of the season finale. 

Mark Harmon sitting at a table in a restaurant © Provided by USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Satellite Information Network, Inc. After the episode, producers offered news likely to make Ziva/de Pablo fans even happier.

“This surprise moment is just the beginning,” executive producers Frank Cardea and Steven D. Binder said in a statement.  “We are thrilled to share that Cote de Pablo will guest star in the NCIS Season 17 premiere this fall as Ziva’s warning to Gibbs unfolds.”

Ziva delivers that warning in the closing scene. As the episode ends, Gibbs (Mark Harmon), her former NCIS boss, is working on a boat in his basement when he hears someone approaching from upstairs.

"All right. What now?" he asks.

Then the surprise: Ziva appears at the top of the steps. 

"Hello, Gibbs. No time for pleasantries," she says, signaling the Season 17 story. 

Gibbs is dumbfounded, but pleasantly so. As he remains speechless, Ziva asks: "Well, aren't you going to say something?" 

All he can say, with a hint of a nod and a smile, is a whispered, "Ziva." She smiles back and the show shifts to its signature black-and-white photo as the episode ends.

Producers went to great lengths to keep the return of Ziva, something fans have long wanted, a secret, including having de Pablo arrive at the stage under the radar via a back gate entrance, according to CBS. 

The scene was not included in any script or call sheet, a list that includes actor and character names, and only Cardea and Binder had copies of the relevant scene pages, in order to keep a lid on the big TV news.

Ziva became a big fan favorite after arriving in Season 3 in 2005, with the Mossad-trained agent showing her crime-fighting skills in the field while establishing a strong chemistry with NCIS Agent Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) that wasn't revealed to be consummated until after the character left the team when de Pablo departed the show in 2013.

When DiNozzo left in 2016, as Weatherly was moving to CBS' "Bull," the agent's goodbye episode revealed that Ziva had died in a terrorist bombing and that the couple shared a child.  

However, "NCIS" raised the possibility that Ziva is still alive in a February episode in which agent Ellie Bishop (Emily Wickersham) follows up on a case Ziva was investigating. Late in the episode, she finds a note in Ziva's old safe house that suggests the character may not be dead.

And now "NCIS" fans know the well-kept secret: Ziva lives.

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