After nearly a decade away, Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) will make his long-awaited return to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for the Season 22 premiere. That's right, Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Stabler will finally reunite next season! Showrunner Warren Leight confirmed Stabler's return while appearing on The Law & Order: SVU Podcast.

"It's pretty clear that Elliot will be in the SVU season opener," Leight said, noting that he's still unsure when filming on the new season will get underway. "Whether we'll get to see his family as well remains to be seen."

According to Leight, Stabler was originally set to appear at the end of Season 21 as a way of testing the waters before he set off to lead his own spin-off. Revisiting SVU's heartbreaking storyline with Benson's brother Simon, the plot would have involved his wife Kathy, who's concerned that her son might have been drugged after getting caught up with some very bad people. Stabler's reemergence would have rejuvenated Olivia and given her something positive after a season of losses. With Season 21 cut short due to COVID-19, that plan changed, and Stabler will now appear in the Season 22 opener.

Christopher Meloni Will Star in Law & Order: SVU Spin-Off

Meloni starred opposite Hargitay for SVU's first 12 seasons before his character retired from the police force in 2011 due to a traumatic case. If you'll recall, Stabler was forced to shoot and kill a 16-year-old girl and was subsequently placed on administrative leave. Though he was eventually cleared, Stabler refused to submit to a psych evaluation and take anger management courses, choosing to leave the job instead. He hadn't been seen or heard from since then, so his appearance in the SVU Season 22 premiere and his new spin-off series should explain what the former detective has been up to in the last decade.

Law & Order: SVU is available to stream at NBC and Hulu.

Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni, <em>Law and Order: SVU</em>Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni, Law and Order: SVU