The first day of San Diego Comic-Con opened with word that Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD will end its run next year…and that it’s filming its final episode ever later this month

The entire cast spent much of their Thursday afternoon panel looking back at the past six years, and preparing to say goodbye when season seven airs sometime next year. Fans saw short summaries of the first five seasons, while the actors recalled specific moments.

Clark Gregg, who started the show as Agent Phil Coulson just after he temporarily died in The Avengers, says that first season, like T.A.H.I.T.I., was a magical place. “This has been such an incredible journey,” he said, “that only happened because when I stepped up on this stage with the cast from The Avengers in 2010, I think. Not long after that, I was dead. A really nice guy I just met up in the green room, named (Joss) Whedon, called me a little later and said ‘we think you might be so dead’

“They have taken us on this incredible ride that has changed our lives”, he continued, and paid tribute to other actors like the late Ron Glass, Bill Paxton, and Brett Dalton (played Grant Ward). He paid tribute to those who spread the hashtag “#CoulsonLives” through social media, and brought him back to live.

Co-showrunner Jed Whedon looked back at the early days and how it continued over the years. “Those early days, none of us knew each other,” he explained, “We were, as Clark said, finding our footing and I was sort of the foundation that all this was built on. Every week, we were kind of had to make a mini-movie, and spent a lot of hours together and some of the beginning of our friendships and life-long friendships.”

His fellow showrunner and wife, Maurissa Tanchareon, said that when they had their last table read ever, it included call sheets from the first episode. “We always talk about how, when we were shooting the pilot,” she said, “we never imagined, every time we were here, we never imagined getting a season four, a season five, a season six, and now a season seven. Now it’s really hard to believe that we’re at the end.” She went on to praise the cast, writers, producers and the fans.

From there, the cast looked back at certain moments including those who joined and then left. They talked how Chloe Bennett changed when she became an Inhuman, one of the classic moments from season two. She recalled how she had to change emotions several times in that moment when Daisy’s powers emerged but then- agent Tripp died.

Gregg praised producer Jeff Bell for being the “ballast” for the show, while Ming-Na Wen also recalled how Melinda May was called the “Cavalry” over a mission she’d rather forget. Still, she was also grateful to her staff and the fans. “It is such a family, it really is,” she said, “and it’s so miraculous when I look back, and so crazy to have like all those years like happen and snippets of seconds, but it brings back a lot of memories.”

It’s interesting the panel is happening just as the final episode is being shot right now, and Whedon is quite aware of the mix of emotions. “Part of the reason that we’re really enjoying this is that we are going through what the characters are going through. This is our last mission together,” he said.

They talked about how Iain De Caestecker showed his dark side as Evil Leo Fitz in the Framework, and how Elizabeth Henstridge was a little excited by it. She talked about how Jemma was stranded in a planet for a while in season three, and what is was like to be away from everyone for an episode.
Henry Simmons talked about how he joined the show, and that it was an emotional moment because Mack was coming in while Lance Hunter and Bobbie Morse left for a spinoff that never happened. He said he was close to Nick Blood and Adrienne Palicki, and that he would miss them. He seemed unsurprised, though, that he’d go from mechanic to SHIELD Director. He was a little worried about job security, though. “Before they ‘kill’ you,” he said, “they call you in and say ‘we need to talk’. Jeff Bell and Jed were walking down the lot. They’re like ‘Henry’. I ran.”

Of course, he has stayed ever since.

They talked about other scenes, such as when Elena (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) had to convince Mack that his daughter is not alive, and that it’s all an illusion in the Framework back in season four.

One of the more interesting stories is how Jeff Ward became a regular as Deke Shaw. He was originally playing someone else who gets killed quickly. However, it took an incredible table read to change his fate. “Jeff came in,” Bennett says, “was this one character that died, and I never heard a table read, no one ever reacted like that. He came in and just stole the part. Immediately you just wanted more of him and he’s been such a wonderful addition.”

Ward went on to explain that he didn’t think Deke would survive past “Past Life”, and that he was shown a wall of actors whose characters also perished on the show. However, he later found out he would be staying after all.

“Everybody took me in a way that they didn’t really have to,” he said, “and when you’re coming on to a show that already exists it doesn’t usually work out that way. So to be taken in by this family in that way, and now two and a half years later, I love all these people very very much.”

Ming says she’s just happy that Jeff has the biggest laugh now instead of her.

Finally, Gregg talked about how he said goodbye to Phil Coulson and maybe the MCU, and that it was pretty emotional. That is, until he returned into a different guy named Sarge.

The panel ended with a two-minute trailer for the final four episodes, and we can say Izel plays a big part that could also be pretty destructive. As for how last week ended, it’s definitely not the end. Here’s a look:

Agents of SHIELD airs Fridays at 8 PM ET/PT on ABC

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