‘NCIS’: The 8 Saddest Character Exits, Ranked

The successful spin-off series, NCIS is one of the longest-running police procedural shows starring Mark Harmon as Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs who investigates Navy-related cases with his team of colorful agents. NCIS is noted for its clever cases, witty humor as well as memorable performances by an overall spectacular cast including Michael Weatherly, Sean Murray, and David McCallum.

Throughout the series, there have been a number of characters like NCIS Director Leon Vance and Special Agent Eleanor Bishop who have come and gone, but there are some final exits that weigh heavily on fans compared to others. From the uncertain fate of Special Agent Ziva David to Gibbs’ bittersweet departure, these are 8 of the saddest NCIS character exits, ranked.

8 Special Agent Ziva David

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Former Mossad Agent, Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) was introduced in the premiere episode of season 3, ‘Kill Ari: Part 1,’ and after saving Gibbs’ life, she officially joins the team. David is a beautiful but fierce enigma who quickly catches DiNozzo’s attention and for several seasons, the two engage in flirtatious banter that developed into one of the series most alluring storylines.

Fans are initially led to believe that David’s killed in a house fire in Israel, but in season 16, it’s revealed that she’s alive and had to fake her own death in order to protect her family. De Pablo returned to the show for several guest appearances in season 17 and even though things worked out for her in the end, her exit was still an emotional rollercoaster for viewers.

7 Abigail Scuito

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NCIS’ Chief Forensic Scientist, Abby Scuito (Pauley Perrette) is a vital part of the team who also cares deeply about her co-workers. Scuito marches to the beat of her own drum and while she might not appear like the traditional scientist, she has an immense amount of knowledge on a vast variety of topics that makes her a top-notch scientist.

Scuito was one of the show’s original and unique characters who was known for her bubbly personality, massive caffeine, and gothic style. The character made her first appearance in season 8 of the series, JAG, which served as a backdoor pilot for NCIS. At the end of season 15, Scuito informs the teams of her resignation leaving a major hole that no one could ever fill.

6 Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo

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Former Chicago detective, Special Agent Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) made his first appearance with Scuito in JAG and is known for his frequent pop culture references and playboy antics. Despite his sarcasm and humor, DiNozzo gradually reveals a softer side and eventually forms significant bonds with Gibbs and the team that make him one of the hardest characters fans have had to see go.

NCIS fans learn in season 13 that DiNozzo and David’s relationship had turned romantic and resulted in the pregnancy of their daughter, Tali. After David is presumably killed in the house fire, DiNozzo makes the difficult decision to leave NCIS and become a full-time father to him and David’s daughter. It was incredibly difficult for fans to say goodbye to DiNozzo but watching him interact with Tali are some of the show’s most touching scenes and make his exit a little easier.

5 Director Jennifer Shepard

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Former NCIS agent, Jenny Shepard (Lauren Holly) is made the director of NCIS in the show’s third season and viewers quickly discover that she and Gibbs have a romantic history. By season 5, fans are informed that Shepard’s father, Colonel Jasper Shepard, was accused of taking a bribe, but before the investigation was completed, he died and his death was ruled a suicide.

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Shepard’s search for the truth about her father’s death leads to her own demise in the finale of season 12. She dies from injuries sustained during an old-fashioned shootout that also claimed the life of Gibbs’ mentor, Mike Franks (Muse Watson). Holly wasn’t surprised by her exit and reportedly had also grown tired of playing the character and was eager to take on something new.

4 Ned Dornget

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Special Probationary Agent Ned Dornget (Matt Jones) was the son of CIA agent, Joanna Teague (Mimi Rogers) and made his first appearance in the season 9 episode, ‘Sins of the Father,’ where he’s blackmailed to look after DiNozzo’s father (Robert Wagner). Like most young agents, Dornget wanted to work out in the field, and by the following season, he started taking on assignments with Gibbs and the team.

Just as NCIS fans were starting to grow fond of Dornget, he is killed off in the season 12 finale, ‘The Lost Boys,’ after he selflessly stays behind to help people evacuate during a bomb attack at an event in Cairo. His death was a shock for viewers but while it was a tragic exit for a great character, Dornget still went out like a true hero.

3 Clayton Reeves

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MI6 Agent, Clayton Reeves (Duane Henry) started working as a Liaison Officer with NCIS in season 13 and made his first appearance in the episode, ‘Dead Letter.’ Reeves’ is soon welcomed into the tightly-knit team and just as he starts to find his footing in the group, his life is cut short while protecting one of the team’s own.

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In the season 15 episode, ‘Two Steps Back,’ Reeves is killed by former Army Specialist, Kent Marshall while protecting Abby Scuito. According to the actor, NCIS showrunner, Gary Glasberg, had developed his character and when Glasberg unexpectedly passed away in his sleep in 2016, producers weren’t sure what to do with Reeves and decided it was best to kill him off.

2 Special Agent Caitlin Todd

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Special Agent Kate Todd (Sasha Alexander) was a former agent with the Secret Service who is recruited by Gibbs during the show’s first episode, ‘Yankee White’. Unlike Gibbs, Todd has a difficult time detaching herself from victims, but her extensive skills and natural intuition make her an ideal NCIS agent.

Fans were floored by Todd’s murder in the season two episode, ‘Twilight,’ making her death one of the show’s saddest character exits. Many went online to express their anger at Todd’s exit but according to Screen Rant, she was ready to move on to a different project. Alexander went on to make several guest appearances as Todd, bringing some sense of closure to the agent’s unfortunate departure.

1 Leroy Jethro Gibbs

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Leroy Jethro Gibbs is a former U.S. Marine sniper who now serves as the agent in charge of NCIS’ Major Case Response Team in Washington D.C. Due to his heartbreaking past and dangerous profession, Gibbs mostly keeps to himself but still has the unwavering support of his team, friends, and family, who all greatly admire him.

In 2021, Mark Harmon announced that he would be leaving NCIS after 18 years on the show, his exit has altered the series’ entire dynamic. In the season 19 episode, ‘Great Wide Open,’ Gibbs decides to retire and stay in Alaska where he has found the first sense of peace since losing his wife and daughter. CBS has recast the faces of their popular shows before, but Harmon was the backbone of NCIS and without Gibbs, it just isn’t the same for most diehard fans.

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