July 21, 2016 at 11:24 PM EDT

The stars of TNT’s explosive nautical drama The Last Ship — Eric Dane (Cap. Tom Chandler), Bridget Regan (Sasha Cooper), and Adam Baldwin (Capt. Mike Slattery) — took the stage along with executive producer Steven Kane for the show’s panel at San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday.

Kane opened up about the season finale during the discussion, which was moderated by EW’s Darren Franich. As has always been true in the show’s history, the producers and actors try to keep a level of authenticity to real naval officers. “This season ends with a sequence that only exists because we happened to witness it when we were in San Diego the first time,” said Kane. “Something happened, a bunch of us were standing around, we started crying, and I said, ‘That’s our season finale.’ It happens on a very small level and it happens on a very large level, but we learn every day.”

At the beginning of season 3, of course, much of the crew of the ​USS Nathan James found themselves split apart until last week, when fans got the happy reunion they’d been craving. “We very literally hadn’t seen each other for a long time so it was a very true moment,” said Dane, “but I kind of felt bad for [the cast members who] were filming in this really terrible location in the mud at 35 degrees at night wearing pajamas.”

Baldwin said it wasn’t all bad — he was eager to get Slattery off the ship for a while (albeit with pirates, but still). “I liked working in the mud!” he told fans. “It was cold. We had a great core group of actors that were showing up on time in the dark and in the cold and in the wet. We just had a lot of gallows humor. It was cold and wet…but that’s what silk underwear is for.”

New characters got their due, too — especially Regan’s diplomatic newcomer, Sasha. Regan said the learning curve for the naval lingo is steep, in no small part thanks to the two seasons the rest of the cast had to cut their teeth. “One of my favorite things about the show is the amount of effort that everyone puts into getting the Navy right and doing it justice,” she told the crowd. “Every cast member puts so much effort into knowing and trying to fill these characters as realistically as they can, so I had a lot of catching up to do. But in a way, Sasha is, too. She’s not used to being onboard a naval destroyer, so she’s learning as she goes, too.”

Kane said expanding the scope of The Last Ship this year was a key move that he’s been looking forward to since the beginning. “The first season literally was these people on the ship…the second season, we get this sense of what America is looking like under the threat of the virus, and then we come home and bring home the cure, and now, what does the world look like and how does America rebuild?”

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Building a new version of America — “where nine-tenths of your neighbors are gone” — was a fun but daunting challenge for Kane, as creating democracy is no small challenge. “We’ve seen this historically after great plagues and through the Middle Ages,” said Kane. “We wanted to put that kind of minefield into the story and throughout the whole season build this political story for this president who comes in. He was not elected — he was No. 12 in succession. And yet he’s doing his damnedest to get things right. The country is trying to figure out how to accept this. Someone says later on in the season, ‘They were glad that you brought home the cure and saved the world, but now they want Wi-Fi.’ If you can’t give them that [and electricity and running water], you can’t lead. It became an interesting sub story. The two stories will speak to each other more and more as the season goes on.”

Kane equated the show’s political focus this year not to current events, but in fact to the Broadway hit Hamilton. “That’s a story about starting a nation from scratch and that’s the echo in ours — it’s literally starting over again,” he explained. “You’re starting a new country, so how do you do it? The founding fathers and mothers of America — that’s kind of what we’re doing here.”

With the third season finale in the can, Kane said the ending could once again be construed as another new beginning for the show. “We feel we put everything into every episode in every season — we throw the kitchen sink in, we didn’t make you wait three years for the cure to come,” said Kane. “We’re always trying to finish everything and find what’s next. It’s a daunting task to start over again but at the same time there’s a very organic progression. The show gets bigger in scale and scope as the problems get bigger in scale and scope. I look at the way this season ends as a great opportunity to start season 4.”

And somewhere along the way in the panel, comparisons to the show’s exploratory similarities of Star Trek came up, and Franich asked the cast whether newly-promoted Slattery had swapped roles with Chandler in their Kirk-Spock relationship. “Does there have to be a Spock?” asked Dane.

Baldwin added: “As long as my shirt ain’t red, I’m good.”

The panel also featured a new trailer for the back half of the season, showing a compromised White House and the return of John Pyper-Ferguson’s Tex — which got huge applause from the crowd.

The Last Ship, which is halfway through its third season, airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on TNT.

Entertainment Weekly is on the scene at San Diego Comic-Con. Go inside with all our coverage, available here.

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