Gibbs’ Rules

LJ GibbsFans of NCIS (one of my all-time favorite TV shows) know that the main character, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), has a list of rules he expects his team to know and obey. The rules are doled out to both viewers and team members over time with the expectation that they will be remembered.

I recently watched the entire series from season one to season ten (the show is now in season twelve!). As I watched, I tried to write down every rule and make a note of when it was first mentioned.

Here is that list (which I’ll try to keep updated with any new rules that come along). The notation in square brackets is the season and episode when the rule is first made known to viewers. (The characters often already know the rule by then and are just referring to it.)

Note that the list is thus far incomplete — we haven’t heard all of Gibbs’ rules, yet!

Gibbs’ Rules

#1. Never let suspects stay together. [S1E1 {Mike Franks Rule}]
#1. Never screw over your partner. [S4E14]

#2. Always wear gloves at a crime scene. [S1E1]

#3. Don’t believe what you’re told. Double-check. [S1E1]
#3. Never be unreachable. [S3E13 {Mike Franks Rule}]

#4. Best way to keep a secret: tell no one. Second best way: tell one if you must. There is no third best. [S4E14]

#5. You don’t waste good. [S8E22]

#6. Never apologize — it’s a sign of weakness. [S7E12]

#7. Always be specific when you lie. [S1E23]

#8. Never take anything for granted. (Never assume.) [S3E10]

#9. Never go anywhere without a knife! [S1E13, S1E20]

#10. Never get personally involved in a case. [S7E21]

#11. When the job is done, walk away. [S6E24]

#12. Never date a co-worker. [S1E15, S6E24]

#13. Never ever involve a lawyer. [S6E7, S7E24]

#14. Bend the line; don’t break it. [S11E4?]

#15. Always work as a team. [S5E5]

#16. If someone thinks they have the upper hand, break it. [S8E24]

#18. Better to seek forgiveness than ask permission. [S3E4]

#20. Always look under. [S12E17]

#22. Never ever bother Gibbs in interrogation. [S4E10]

#23. Never mess with a Marine’s coffee if you want to live. [S2E9 {not a Gibbs Rule?}]

#27. Two ways to follow. One way they never notice you. The other way they only notice you. [S7E15, S7E24]

#28. When you need help, ask! [S13E?]

#35. Always watch the watchers. [S8E22]

#36. If you feel like you’re being played, you probably are. [S9E1]

#38. Your case, your lead. [S6E16 (not explicitly stated until S10)]

#39. There is no such thing as a coincidence. [S7E21]

{“The 40s are for Emergency Use Only!” ~Abby}

#40. If it seems like someone is out to get you, they are. [S7E22, S7E24]

#42. Don’t ever accept an apology from someone who just sucker-punched you. [S9E?]

#44. First things first. Hide the women and children. [S7E23]

#45. Clean up your own messes. [S7E24]

#51. Sometimes — you’re wrong. [S7E24]

#62. Always give people space when they get off the elevator. [S11E?]

#69. Never trust a woman who doesn’t trust her mom. [S9E?]

#70. Keep digging until you hit bottom. [S12E5 {McGee}]

#73. Never meet your heroes. [S16E7]

#91. When you decide to walk away, don’t look back. [S18E16]


#1 & #3: Gibbs’ former mentor, Mike Franks, also had some rules. We only know of the two listed.

#6: This may be the only Gibbs Rule with which I disagree. A couple of the characters on the show have also disagreed.

#10: Bishop challenges Gibbs on this one in She [S16E13] (the return of Ziva David episode). Gibbs tears up the rule at the end of the episode, so #10 is no longer a rule.

#23: Apparently another adopted rule (from the Marines?).

#70: McGee invents this rule. Gibbs questions it at the end of the episode, but we don’t know if the rule has been accepted as canon.

#91: At long last, a new rule! (Although it seems the harbinger of changes coming.)

¶ Some rules are credited to multiple episodes because they featured prominently in them. (Or possibly because I was confused. Someday I’ll re-watch the entire series with more focus on getting the rules right.)

¶ The twelfth season episode House Rules [S12E10] tries to mention and use as many Gibbs Rules as possible in one episode. There were no new rules I spotted, but all these are mentioned: #1 (both versions), #3 (both versions), #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #12, #13, #15, #22, #36, #39, #40, #42, #45 & #51.

Any additions or corrections, please let me know!

For whatever it’s worth, here’s a list of the blog posts I’ve written about NCIS over the years:

  1. The House of LEO [Sep 3, 2012]
  2. Worst NCIS Ever! [Oct 1, 2012]
  3. Lotsa Baseball; Little TV [Oct 4, 2014]
  4. Not My NCIS [Feb 16, 2015]
  5. The End of the Affair [Mar 4, 2015]
  6. NCIS: Spin-off Spin-out [Mar 25, 2018]
  7. NCIS: NoMo Orleans [Jun 8, 2018]
  8. Am I Over NCIS? [Mar 5, 2019]
  9. NCIS: Widening Gyre [Jun 11, 2019]
  10. NCIS: On Very Thin Ice [Oct 1, 2019]
  11. NCIS: End of the Road [Feb 2, 2021]

If nothing else, it tracks my growing disappointment with, and eventual rejection of, all the spin-offs. More recent posts track my growing disappointment with the main show.

And what do you think?

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