Warning: Spoilers ahead for the finale of NCIS Season 18. Look away until you've watched!

When a series lasts as long as NCIS has, it's going to have some turnover. Obviously, the hit procedural has already seen several popular cast members leave during the course of 18 seasons (and some under not great circumstances), but that doesn't mean that it's ever easy for viewers to let go of yet another one of their favorite actors and the character they helped bring to life every week. Now, a newly departed NCIS star has confirmed that they won't be returning, and sent a touching message to the fans.

Even though much of the story for NCIS Season 18 has focused on Gibbs' suspension as everyone waited to see both whether or not the series would be renewed and if original star Mark Harmon would be able to finalize a deal to return for Season 19, it turns out that audiences will now have to deal with the absence of a completely different actor and their character when the long-running hit comes back. Emily Wickersham, who's given fans quite the will-they-won't-they with her Ellie Bishop and Wilmer Valderrama's Nick Torres, has chosen to depart, but she left a lovely message for everyone on Instagram, and noted:

Hangin this hat and jacket up. What a great ride it’s been. This cast, this crew, are top notch. I can’t say enough kind words about this group that I’ve had the pleasure of working with for close to 8 years now and 172 episodes later. This business is finicky and weird and consistency is a rarity. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of a show where I got to show up and act and laugh and learn with wonderful people. A moment in time I surely won’t forget. Thank you CBS and NCIS for including me in a part of television history. Time goes fast. Eat it up but chew slowly.

Emily Wickersham first joined the NCIS cast as Ellie Bishop for Season 11, Episode 9 as a young NSA analyst the team had to work with. But, after working as a liaison officer, Bishop was soon promoted to NCIS agent, with Wickersham joining the cast full time. As Wickersham noted in her post, eight years is a long time to work any job, but it tends to be especially unusual for those working in TV, and it seems pretty clear how appreciative she is of being able to stick with NCIS for so long.

While there were some small hints during the course of Season 18 that something was off with Bishop, there were no giant red flags which could have pointed fans to the fact that Emily Wickersham would be leaving at the end of the finale. This is why many fans were likely so caught off guard when the penultimate episode saw Bishop accused of leaking sensitive NSA documents and (obviously) getting herself into a world of trouble.

The finale eventually revealed that Bishop had been training, in secret, for an undercover mission and needed to leave the NCIS disgraced. So, she and Odette basically set up the leaked documents to give Bishop a credible bad ending with the team, so she could go undercover for the foreseeable future. Torres is the only one who knows what really went down with Bishop, so at least that kiss she planted on him won't have the taint of actual crimes on it.

The episode itself didn't confirm that Emily Wickersham's Bishop was gone for good, but her Instagram post certainly seals that deal for fans who were wondering if the team would come in during Season 19 and clear her name. Though, I wouldn't bet on everyone being totally over losing Bishop when things start up again next season, even though it looks like Torres already has a new partner who could help fill things in. And, while fans will surely miss Emily Wickersham, it's no small thing to get eight years of a beloved character.

NCIS will be back for Season 19, on Mondays (!!!) at 9 p.m. EST, but for more to watch in the meantime, check out our guide to 2021 summer TV!

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