January 28, 2013 at 12:00 PM EST

Dallas fans get to see some of Larry Hagman’s final work tonight as he dons his Stetson in the show’s second season premiere. But the TNT drama’s cast say some of the show’s best episodes are yet to come.

Co-stars Jordana Brewster and Jesse Metcalfe say the passing of the longtime Dallas icon last November inspired the show’s writing team to draft some of their strongest hours. The writers had to scramble to rewrite the second half of the season over the show’s winter hiatus with the aim of giving Hagman’s character J.R. Ewing a dramatically fitting send-off.

“Larry’s death was terribly sad and sudden and we’d certainly rather make the show with him than without him,” said Brewster on the red carpet for EW’s annual SAG party in Los Angeles on Saturday. “That said, I think the writers really came up with a brilliant way to cope with the loss. It could have ruined the show and derailed everyone but instead they made the best of it and actually came up with some really great stuff. It sets a lot of things in motion. We owe it to Larry to make the best show we possibly can. The last two scripts we have done since we came back have been phenomenal.”

Echoed co-star Jesse Metcalfe: “The writers had to basically … rewrite the second half of the season. But because of that, and I hate to say this, but out of a terrible tragedy, we made some very great television … the writers really took a s–tty situation and made the best of it and the show doesn’t suffer any more than was unavoidable. It did not derail us.”

Added Metcalfe: “Original fans of the show are going to be very pleased and surprised. But new fans will be able to still join in and find that updated feeling. The storylines are a little more complicated and more intricately interwoven this season. We’ve got some giant fights and deaths and all that classic Dallas drama.”

Writer-producers have largely kept quiet on how exactly Hagman’s death impact’s the show’s storyline. Hagman appears in the first seven episodes. There’s a funeral for J.R. in the eighth. Recently promised writer-producer Cynthia Cidre: “This is a character who will have the last laugh, no matter what. What you’ll see unfold will be J.R.’s masterpiece.”

With reporting by Carrie Bell

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