SAN DIEGO - Good news for "Spartacus" fans: the show isn't going out quietly in its final season. Not that you'd expect anything less after two seasons (and one prequel) of extreme violence, sex and twist-filled storytelling.

At the Comic-Con panel hyping the upcoming last season (dubbed "Spartacus: War of the Damned," watch the trailer below), executive producer Steven S. DeKnight explained the decision to bring the series to a close. "We figured let's go out on top. Let's make the biggest most insanely epic season we've ever had."

And DeKnight knows the pressure is on. "It's tough to end a show," he added. "If you don't stick the landing people can look back at what you've already done and say, 'Well it wasn't really that good, the ending sucked!'"

Stars Liam McIntyre and Manu Bennett joined DeKnight for the entirety of the panel and joked around about the show's trademark indulgence in pay cable sex and violence. At one point Bennett even lifted up his shirt in a demonstration of a New Zealand tribal dance he said they perform to honor departing cast members.

But if you ask the actors, there's more to "Spartacus" than just the tawdry stuff. "We've really tried to make a show with heart," Bennett noted. "You have characters meant to be the bad guy but Steve writes them so well you care about their relationships. I've gone to see big films lately about heroes and fighting and come out of them not really moved. But on our show everybody you've grown to care about are close to the end, we'll take you on a journey and hopefully you'll be moved by it."

Since the second season finale killed off so many key characters, you can expect to see many new faces on the new season. "There's a void [after last season's deaths]," McIntyre said. "We have a lot of new characters. They had to cast someone to fill the position Laurence Olivier held in the original movie [as Marcus Crassus]. They went to England and found Simon Merrells." Other new cast members include Todd Lasance as a young Julius Caesar and Australian Disney vet Christian Antidormi as Tiberius.

In another nod to Stanley Kubrick's 1960 film "Spartacus," DeKnight revealed the show may put its own spin on the famous "I am Spartacus" scene. "[It won't be] like it was in the movie," DeKnight said. "We played with that in season one with Spartacus in the arena. We're thinking we might tip our hat to it [again] but that's all I can say so far."

The panel also included surprise appearances by dearly departed cast members including Lucy Lawless, Peter Mensah, Viva Bianca (yes, her character literally did die of shock in the season finale), Katrina Law and Nick Tarabay. And a spontaneous tribute to the late Andy Whitfield, who originated the role of Spartacus in season one and passed away last year -- the crowd burst into a standing ovation when his name was mentioned and Bennett noted that Whitfield's family hopes to release a documentary about the last days of his life next year.

Check out the NSFW (lots and lots of blood, just a bit of sex) trailer for the new season that premiered during the panel:

"Spartacus: War of the Damned" premieres in January on Starz

Geoff Berkshire lives in Los Angeles and writes about film and television. His work has appeared in Variety, the L.A. Times, and Premiere, among other publications. He is the former national entertainment editor and film critic for