We get a sneak peak at season 6.

By Suzanne Rust

Ring the bell! Downton Abbey's final season kicks off on PBS's Masterpiece this Sunday, January 3rd. I was lucky enough to attend a preview of the first episode, and if it is any indication, it's going to be a great swan song for the beloved show.

The event, copresented by corporate sponsor Viking Cruises, gave us the opportunity to see the cast up close and personal. In attendance: Hugh Bonneville (Earl of Grantham), Elizabeth McGovern (Countess of Grantham), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley), Jim Carter (Mr. Carson), Kevin Doyle (Molesley), Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes), Allen Leech (Tom Branson) and Gareth Neame, executive producer.

The jovial stars spoke fondly of their characters and experiences over these past five memorable seasons. Phyllis Logan joked that she and Jim Carter were already having an affair prior to the shoot, and Carter found some relief in the uptight character of Carson. "It was a treat that a stuffy guy could also be funny!" They marveled at the success of Downton Abbey, which has been a hit since its debut on PBS in 2011, appealing to audiences of all ages. About that cultural phenomenon, Bonneville had this to say: "I thought something was up about four weeks into the run of the show. I was at the playground picking up my son from school and a guy in his age group, who was around 10, came up to me and said, 'Well, I don't like that Thomas!' First I thought, what are doing up at 9 p.m.? And second, wow, we never expected that demographic!" Indeed, the award-winning show has attracted a broad range of fans worldwide.

"The great joy about the scripts, for all of the characters, is that they are shot through with great poignancy and with great humor," mused Bonneville. "In one scene you can go from high comedy with Maggie [Smith] spinning in a chair to pin-drop silences as some truth is revealed that always brings a tear to the eye. And that has been the great joy for all of us. All of the characters have that depth of humanity, along with the twists and turns of fate."

What will happen to the Crawley family and their beloved staff? Lords and ladies, turn the heat on your teakettles up to high—season 6 is going to get steamy. Take a look.

Photo Courtesy of (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE