With the show's final season set to begin on April 18, the cast and producers of Freeform's Pretty Little Liars on Saturday reunited for PaleyFest at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood to assure fans that after seven seasons, all will finally be revealed for what lies ahead for the liars - but it won't be an easy road.
"All the end games will be the end games, but they're not going to get there easily," said executive producer Marlene King of the show's final 10 episodes.
Sharing the same sentiments, exec producer Joseph Dougherty said that while fans want instant gratification and the happy endings they've been waiting for, they have to embrace the anticipation: "Without hurdles, the prize is not worthy. You have to earn your happy ending."
Throughout the series, the five girls dealt with nonstop threats, countless reveals of various "As," kidnaps, arrests, police questionings, heartbreaks and makeups, all while growing up from teenagers to adults. While every drama-filled moment made for good television, the cast says that the special part of this series was the family they created.
"When we're all together, we're a family," said Tyler Blackburn of the cast's bond.
The panel turned into a trip down memory lane, with castmembers reflecting on their favorite memories with each other.
"I remember I saw Shay, and I knew that girl was going to get it," Ashley Benson recalled of seeing Shay Mitchell during the audition process. While best friends in the show, Benson and Mitchell are also best friends offscreen, dubbing their friendship with the nickname "Buttah Benzo."
"I never had a sister, but when I met Ash, she was like my little sis, and that just grew over the years," said Mitchell. "We weren't best friends when the show first started. During the second season, I was like, 'eh,'" the actress jokingly added. But now, Mitchell says the two are "lifers."
Despite the show featuring a myriad of dark and sinister moments, the cast had a difficult time keeping it together during scenes without laughing hysterically. While King described those scenes like "wrangling kittens," it emphasized how close the cast has become over seven years.
"We laugh so much," said Blackburn of his and Benson's chemistry. "This show was my first really big acting job and she made me feel comfortable immediately. It just spiraled from there in a good way. We both had the ability to create romance with each other."
Even though each of the characters on Pretty Little Liars represented various personalities and stories, the panel instantly turned to discussing Mitchell's Emily Fields, the character that the cast pointed to as the show's standout figure.
Emily was the series' proud lesbian character, who originally struggled with her identity before learning to embrace it with confidence. The show's willingness to explore her storyline was something that the cast and creators say related closely with many viewers. "To play a character that has an impact on a lot of people's lives in a meaningful way has been huge," said Mitchell of her character.
In fact, when taking audience questions, the actress heard a story of how her character gave an audience member the acceptance she felt she couldn't receive in society. The woman told the Pretty Little Liars cast that when she joined the military, she had to hide her sexuality, but felt proud to see a show with an open gay character in Emily. When asked if she had any qualms about portraying her character, Mitchell replied, "Love is love, it didn't matter! There needed to be characters like Emily from the beginning."
The cast said that the big reveal of "A" will finally happen during the final episodes of the series, but Janel Parrish was quick to mention that she felt honored in being the show's first "A": "I do have pride that I was the first one to wear that hoodie!"
While the cast says it's hard to say goodbye, they're proud of their Freeform show and proclaim the final 10 episodes as their best work in the series.
"It has been an incredible ride. I'm overwhelmed" said a choked-up Andrea Parker, the show's resident villainous character.
King confessed that despite being the end, the final season will be a "love letter to the fans."
Other highlights from the panel:
• One of the most exciting elements of the show are the core couples. In the season finale, Hanna (Benson) and Caleb (Blackburn) share a love scene after giving fans the awaited reunion they've been waiting for. Although swoon-worthy to fans, Benson and Blackburn said the love scene was more awkward than people may think. "We just sweat by the fire," Benson joked of the love scene by the fireplace.
• Sasha Pieterse revealed she originally auditioned for the role of Hanna before ultimately getting the role of Allison.
• On embarrassing moments: Harding shared his comical mishaps when filming love scenes with Lucy Hale. "When Lucy and I had a 'love thing,' she had pasties on, so I thought that it would be really funny if I took those and put them on my eyes, but one of them got stuck. When I finally got it [out], multiple eyelashes came out!" related Harding. In another love scene, Harding recalled getting a surprise bloody nose, making the sequence seem like a "horror" scene.
• When an audience member asked if anyone from the cast was dating each other, in particular Benson and Blackburn, Harding jokingly replied, "What's crazy is that we are all dating each other. We swap out. Every other Wednesday, we trade off!"
• During her first scene with Keegan Allen, Pieterse recalled having to scream at him, ultimately making Allen a little frightened of her. After the scene, she asked if he was okay and he replied, " I just need a minute." Harding then teased Pieterse, saying that Allen was still scared of her to this day.
• Throughout the panel, moderator Jarett Wieselman gave castmembers previously filmed scenes to reenact, each playing their other castmembers' characters. In one scene, Mitchell and Benson traded their roles, with the audience waiting to see if they would break out into laughter. In another scene, Pieterse re-enacted a Hanna Marin scene, to pay homage to her original audition. The audience's favorite re-enactment was that of Harding and Blackburn taking on the roles of Spencer (Troian Bellisario) and Aria (Hale) as they commented on each other's wardrobe.
• Although two of the castmembers were missing from the panel (Bellisario and Hale), the actresses filmed videos thanking fans for their support, expressed their love to the cast and crew and said prior filming engagements prevented them from being there.
• When Harding got to explore being an implied "A" during some episodes, he said that he was so excited to take on the role that while filming, a producer said, "You need to cool it down."
• When her character died, Parker doubted whether she was truly gone due to the twists of the show, only to have King tell her, "Embrace your death." She also joked, "Let's face it, I'm always the bitch."
• On a potential Pretty Little Liars spinoff? King simply told the crowd, "We're open to hearing your pitches!"
The final season of Pretty Little Liars kicks off Tuesday, April 18, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform.