Liam McIntyre

Andy Whitfield may not have attended the Spartacus: Vengeance panel at Comic-Con on Friday, but his presence was still felt by fans and former castmates who missed his performance as the iconic slave on the first season of the Starz sword-and-sandal drama. The actor had dropped out of the series to battle non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

"He's doing very well, for what I hear," executive producer Steven S. DeKnight told the audience. "Obviously he's very private about his health, so I can't go into details. We have joked with each other about working together again. ... He'd respond, something where he doesn't have to take his clothes off."

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Taking his place is newcomer Liam McIntyre, whom the cast praised as "amazing," "incredible" and "humble." The charismatic Aussie sets the audience's minds at ease by acknowledging Whitfield's huge contribution to the role and the series.

"It's a unique challenge: It's a great privilege, it's a great honor, it's a great responsibility," McIntyre said. "You wish it were never there, you wish you could never have an opportunity because I was a fan. ... everyone can agree that Andy in Season 1 was amazing. The best thing I can do is bust my a-- and work really damn hard and honor that legacy and try to make Season 2 as amazingly exciting as Season 1."

DeKnight moves on quickly from there because Spartacus will change much in its second season, partly from the setting moving outside of the ludus. "You may have noticed that at the end of Season 1 we basically killed practically everybody and broke out," he explained. "My plan for this season is to kill more people. I won't give it away, but there's an episode where we kill a lot of people. This season is just epic. There's such a grand scale. They're out and about causing mayhem and destruction."

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Of course, where there's bloodshed, there are also clothes shed. Spartacus would not be as popular without plenty of sex scenes. "The rebels are out in the world. They're meeting new people and they don't kill all of them," says DeKnight. "Some of them, they make the sweet, sweet love."

What else can we expect? We break it down by character:

Spartacus: "In Season 2, he learns how to be a leader," DeKnight says. "He goes from a guy with a serious personal ax to grind to getting the bigger picture."

Lucretia (Lucy Lawless): "The season is called Vengeance, so there will be quite a lot of that," DeKnight says. "Spartacus isn't the only one out for vengeance. You may have noticed from the trailer [that Lucretia] looks a little off." Lawless chimes in. "She smells a little off. She's absolutely bereft. She's lost her husband, she's lost presumably her child ... and all her status. So I am going to claw my way back to some kind of platform of power."

Gannicus (Dustin Clare): "He's been studying to be a hairdresser," jokes Clare. "He's been out in the world, he's been growing as a man and experiencing different cultures. We really see that in the costume that he brings back. He's just been using the time to enjoy being a free man to experience the world in the structured system that was the ludus."

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Crixus (Manu Bennett): "We had gone from the arena, and he had discovered heart with Naevia," says Bennett. "But the struggle continues and the battle continues. As we step outside of the ludus, it now becomes about leadership and finding common ground. Conflict rules in our show, so I think [Spartacus and Crixus are] going to continue to have power struggles."

Mira (Katrina Law): "It's safe to say that Mira has a little bit of a crush on Spartacus," Law says. "Now that she's a newly freed slave, she's going to spend that time figuring out what that means to be free and what her role is in this new world. She definitely wants to find Spartacus in love with her as well."

Illithyia (Viva Bianca): "There's still a Roman side to this story and there's still a lot of decadance and backstabbing going on there," DeKnight teases. "Illythia comes back in grand fashion." Lawless adds, "Our relationship takes many, many extreme twists and turns. You can't even begin to guess what happens."

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Ashur (Nick Tarabay): "He is wild, like laugh-out-loud brilliant," says Lawless. "He occupies a niche that nobody else has on the show, right? He's a free radical and totally dangerous and totally useful and you kind of can't get rid of him. So he's back in a big way."

Oenomaus (Peter Mensah): "He's totally in it. You saw him in the trailer [getting whipped]," says Lawless, "I know, but he deserved it. He did. I'm not saying anything this year, but it's so intriguing who's whipping him and why."

Check out Oenomaus getting whipped in this teaser trailer for Season 2 below. The full Comic-Con trailer will premiere on Friday, July 29 at midnight/11c on Starz. Spartacus: Vengeance will air in January 2012.