The “Mad Men” troupe didn’t shade their emotions about the ending of the show during the final love-fest Q&A session in January at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena.

The camaraderie among the core six cast members — Jon Hamm, Christina Hendricks, January Jones, John Slattery, Elisabeth Moss and Vincent Kartheiser — and creator-exec producer Matthew Weiner was palpable as they discussed the experience of wrapping up the saga of Don Draper and Co.

AMC opened and closed the sesh with heart-tugging promo spots focusing on the trajectory of the key characters since the 1960s-set season first bowed in 2007. The final seven-episode half of season seven bows April 5, with the finale on Sunday, May 17.

“There’s no version of this ending that is not super-painful for me,” Hamm said, gesturing to the rest of the panel, “mostly because of these people and this person. They’ve been the single constant in my creative life for the last decade. That’s kind of tough.”

Weiner noted that the next three months leading into the premiere will be a funny period of limbo for him and the cast members. He’s anxious for the episodes to unspool but also wistful about the certainty that the end is definitely coming.

“I can’t wait for people to see this. It’s going to be weird to actually get to the point where there’s no more new ones,” Weiner said.

Weiner has famously guarded the plot details of the show throughout its run, and there were no spoilers unleashed during the 40-minute panel. But Weiner said that after reflecting on the completed episodes, he realized that “each one of them feels like the finale of the show.”

The episodes are densely packed, but he did not go out of his way to tie up every story point and character introduced over the previous 85 episodes.

“The shows become so much more concentrated on these (six) characters. There’s not much more room for digression. We didn’t want to leave anything on the floor in the writers’ room. So organically it became a thing where every one of these episodes became the end of the show.”

There were plenty of lighter moments during the panel. When the inevitable question about a possible spinoff came up, Hamm was quick to quip: “Better Call Pete!” Hamm and Kartheiser later joked about opening up competing car detailing businesses now that they’re unemployed. In a nod to Weiner’s famous exacting focus on historical detail, Hamm joked that his shop was called “Stickler for Detail.”

When asked about how the franchise would be managed in the future, Weiner admitted he won’t have much control over decisions made by AMC and producer Lionsgate TV.

Although Weiner has famously had his battles with both network and studio, he was gracious in praising them for giving him the authority to do the show on his own terms, right to the end. And he noted that they have mutually agreed to be cautious about exploitation opportunities in an effort not to tarnish its prestige.

“I don’t see this show participating in a ‘Mad Men’ cruise,” he joked.

Weiner didn’t give up anything about the plot of the final episodes, but he was clear about what isn’t in them: any direct connection of the characters to the 1969 Manson family murders.

Speculation that the character of Megan Draper would be a victim of the Manson mayhem reached a fever pitch last year on the Internet, with fans scrutinizing every aspect of the character’s life in Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon for clues that she would be brutally stabbed to death along with actress Sharon Tate and others.

Weiner cited the depth of the research that he and others have done to ensure a faithful and accurate depiction of the “Mad Men” era.

“I would not add a person who is not murdered by the Manson family into that murder,” Weiner said. “I love that people have conspiracy theories.”

But he acknowledged that after the rumor got going, he did understand why some would strain to draw those conclusions. “The Sharon Tate (connection) is so flimsy and thin, and at the same time (after considering the theory), I’m like ‘That’s a lot of coincidences.'”

The actors were pressed over and over for their reaction to the last episode and how the story ends for their characters. Jones noted that the script initially arrived without the final 10 pages.

“It’s a beautiful story. It’s perfect in every way. I read it over and over,” she said. “Sometimes I still read it.”

Moss said she was “surprised in the best way. I was really, really happy with it.”

Hendricks said: “I was very pleased. I guess I was surprised I was pleased.”

Slattery said: “It was surprising to the end. It’s been surprising the whole time.”

Weiner emphasized that he focused on bringing the story to a close in a way that was true to the vision he sketched out more than 15 years ago when he first wrote the project on spec — and then spent a decade trying to get it made.

“I am extremely solicitous of the fans’ pleasure … but as the person who’s telling this story, I think people sometimes have to be protected from what they want to see happen. To delight them with a surprise, you can’t give them everything they want.”