NBC’s “Hannibal” took over Ballroom 20 at Comic-Con Thursday, with creator Bryan Fuller, EPs Steven Lightfoot and Martha De Laurentiis, director David Slade and cast members Caroline Dhavernas, Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams on hand to tease the sure-to-be delectable developments ahead in season three.

Stars Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy were absent from the panel due to work commitments, but Mikkelsen sent his apologies via video from Denmark, while Dancy recorded a message from Australia, both thanking all the “Fannibals” for their support of the critically-acclaimed drama.

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The biggest reveal from the panel? Raul Esparza will be “a huge part of season three” despite his character, Dr. Chilton, being shot in the face in season three. Esparza (who worked with Fuller on “Pushing Daisies”) said that he trusts the writer implicitly, because no matter what kind of awful mishaps befall the twisted psychiatrist, Fuller always reassures him that he’ll survive — and Esparza believes him (in part because Chilton plays such a major role in the books).

While the series will no longer be able to feature the delicious verbal sparring between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter at the beginning of season three, Fuller compared the duo to R2D2 and C-3PO — who “don’t become less interesting” when you separate them. They’ll be introducing new characters for both leads to interact with, as well as revisiting some old favorites.

Star Eddie Izzard is set to return via flashback, and Kacey Rohl’s Abigail Hobbs will also appear in some form in season three. Fuller intends to introduce a number of major book characters next year, including Commander Apache in episode two; Lady Murasaki in episode three; Cordell in episode four and Francis Dollarhyde in episode eight.

Season three will start a year after the season two finale in order to join the characters at their “most active point,” according to Fuller. “We want to be very vague with who survived that bloody, bloody night.” Episode four will deal with the events of that missing year. “We’re telling the story emotionally as opposed to temporally.”

The show is also departing from the procedural structure of the prior two seasons, which often featured a case of the week among the character beats. “You only see the FBI in one episode in the first seven,” Fuller revealed, because the show will focus on the pursuit of Hannibal going forward.

The cuisine theme in the titles next season will be Italian, according to Fuller, which gives a big hint as to where Hannibal may end up after his plane lands.

While some shows are slow to embrace the appetites of their fanbase, Fuller admitted that he loves the art and fan fiction the series inspires. “I think the whole television show is fan fiction, we’re all adamant fans,” he pointed out. “What’s good for the gander is good for the goose.”

Still, fans shouldn’t expect Mikkelsen and Dancy’s characters to lock lips on the show any time soon. “They have love for each other… it’s not necessarily a sexual love, but they absolutely have a pure, genuine love for each other,” Fuller said. “The audience is already taking care of it, there is some fantastic art out there.”

De Laurentiis teased that Fuller already has a plan mapped out for upcoming seasons to include plots from “Hannibal,” “Hannibal Rising” and “Red Dragon.” Asked whether we’ll ever see Clarice Starling on the series, Fuller noted that MGM still retains the rights to all “Silence of the Lambs” characters and plotlines, but that they intend to launch a “full court press” to adapt the film, since Fuller appreciates the importance of telling a complete story.

Fuller also spoke of his passion for writing female characters, having switched the genders of Freddy Lounds and Alan Bloom from men in the novels to women in the series, just to include more female voices in the story. “I tend not to think about genitals when I’m writing a character, they’re people first and foremost,” he noted. “There’s something unique about the female experience that I think has an accessibility and an emotional resonance… I find writing for women to be no less complicated than writing for men, because I look at them as individuals.”

Fuller admitted to being excited to have more female characters in season three, including more of Gillian Anderson’s Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier and Lady Murasaki, Hannibal’s Japanese aunt, who has yet to be cast. “We think we’re doing some interesting things with the female characters… most of the female characters can see Hannibal clearer than the male characters… we’re going to be exploring more of that in season three,” he said.

As for whether we’ll ever see a musical episode of the already heightened series, Fuller demurred, but admitted, “I would love to see a surreal musical number in Hannibal’s mind palace. I want to see Mads Mikkelsen dancing like Christopher Walken in ‘Weapon of Choice.'”

“The man can dance,” Esparza agreed.

Anything can happen on “Hannibal.”

(Pictured: “Hannibal’s” Raul Esparza, Steven Lightfoot, Caroline Dhavernas, Bryan Fuller, Scott Thompson, Martha DeLaurentiis, Aaron Abrams, David Slade at Comic-Con)

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