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Spoilers ahead for the Ziva-tastic Season 17 premiere, called "Out of the Darkness."
NCIS fans have been waiting months to find out what brought Ziva back to the action, where she's been all this time, why she faked her death and remained "dead," and what the future holds for her. Well, the Season 17 premiere only told half the story of Ziva's return, as "Out of the Darkness" ended on a tantalizing "To Be Continued," but it's already clear that NCIS changed Ziva's character for her Season 27 return.
In one fell swoop of faking her death, Ziva lost her daughter and cut herself off from the friends she left behind at NCIS, even though she'd left them behind to return to Israel. All signs point toward Ziva really only maintaining contact with Adam, and focusing entirely on dealing with her enemies to make it safe to reunite with her daughter.
Unfortunately, that laser-focus on finding and killing her enemies meant that the Ziva who returned was not the Ziva who left, although it wasn't immediately clear just how much she changed. The episode picked up immediately after the Season 16 finale ended, with Ziva with Gibbs in his basement. A firefight erupted when some bad guys arrived, and Ziva and Gibbs managed to escape via an old coal chute.
Once they were on the run and not dodging bullets, Gibbs began to understand that he doesn't really know this Ziva. When he noticed her fidgeting, she confessed that one of the "demons" she was left with after faking her death was anxiety, and she had pills to take to deal with it, but they dull her senses so she wasn't going to be taking them.
She also revealed that the real reason the David farmhouse was destroyed all those years ago, leading everybody to believe Ziva had died in the attack, was actually for the purpose of killing Ziva. Her mission in "Out of the Darkness" -- other than to save Gibbs, of course -- was to track down a woman named Sahar and kill her, because only Sahar's death would make it safe for her to return to Tali, and Ziva is clearly at the point where she would do anything to achieve her goal.
Gibbs only stopped Ziva from shooting an unarmed Sahar by stepping in front of Ziva's gun. Ziva wasn't even deterred by Sahar's statement that a senator would die in the morning if she was killed, stating that's "tomorrow's problem." Law and order don't seem to matter to Ziva at this point; only reuniting with Tali. That said, she was also upset with Gibbs for just accepting her death, rather than trying to find her.
The real-life reason for this is undoubtedly that NCIS needed a reason to write out Michael Weatherly, and Cote de Pablo was not slated to appear in his final episode. In-show, Ziva was devastated that the man who was like a father to her hadn't done more to see what had happened to her.
Cote de Pablo didn't spill all the details fans were dying for about what precisely Ziva has been up to since faking her death, but she did say this to EW:
Whatever she has done has been obviously in secret. We thought that the best thing is that she’s been working in undercover operations, which has led her to run for years and in many ways, by staying quote-unquote 'dead to the rest of the world,' she’s been able to really save her daughter from potential harm. We needed to make that a very real thing. So when Ziva comes back from the dead so to speak, whatever cover she is breaking, whatever undercover operations she’s leaving behind, that it becomes a very real thing to her because obviously now she’s jeopardizing family, but she’s also jeopardizing people who have helped her along the way.
Fortunately, Ziva will be around for more than just the conclusion of the two-parter next week. She's slated to appear in two more episodes throughout Season 17 of NCIS. At first, the odds seemed pretty good that Michael Weatherly would return for a Tony/Ziva reunion, but that's seeming less likely now. Ziva certainly wasn't longing for Tony in the Season 17 premiere; her focus was entirely on Tali. At least we know answers will be forthcoming!