SDCC 2012: The Walking Dead Escape – Recap & Review

Zombies.

They’re the best. I love them, we all know that. Hell, my big zombie script, Fragile, has been was one of my most successful projects around town (in pre-production with Vigilante and BUF, ahem, just sayin…) But be honest; you love them too. As much as you want to say you don’t, you’d be a damn liar. They’re awesome. We read about them in comics. We read about them in books. They even made Pride & Prejudice an accepted novel for guys. They’ve already attacked movies. They’ve now taken TV by storm. So what the hell else is there for them to take over? How about real life. And hey, here’s an idea, how about we PAY for the opportunity to be attacked? Well, that’s exactly what the event organizers of The Walking Dead Escape must have thought, since that’s exactly what they delivered.

 

The Walking Dead Escape is about as close to being INSIDE a zombie outbreak as you can get. And when you combine it together with the release of the 100th issue of The Walking Dead comic as well as the San Diego Comic-Con, you’ve got a geeked-out zombie platter of awesome sauce. For those numerous around the world that weren’t able to partake in this really fantastic experience, let me take you inside what it was like.

Now, let me discuss the fitness/exercise aspect of this first. Many of you know that I also do a lot of endurance races, mud runs, etc. First things, first. This is NOT a Spartan Race or a Tough Mudder, or even a local mud run. This is more drama and show than race. But what’s interesting about it is that the drama starts to play with your brain a little bit. Let me explain it this way. Have you ever played paintball? If you have, you know this sensation. Before it starts, it’s all fun and games, joking with your friends, but… once that bell sounds, and the game begins, your brain suddenly forgets that you’re in a game, and now you are at WAR! It is kill or be killed; it doesn’t matter that it’s a paintball. If you don’t shoot your opponent, they’re going to shoot you. And that just isn’t going to happen. Yep, that part of the brain just forgets it’s all a game. And that’s kind of what happens in The Walking Dead Escape. At certain moments, you actually forget it’s all drama and acting. Once it all begins, crowd mentality takes over, and it’s an all out race from death.

Now to explain the race/adventure itself, let me use their map, and their labeling. Here’s the image, and below is the link to their more detailed map.

http://www.thewalkingdeadescape.com/petco.html

Initiation and Preparedness:
This is pretty much how it all begins. As the story goes, Petco Park has been taken over by zombies and you have to evacuate. The soldiers taking you inside explain that you have to make it to the top of the stadium in order to get out. So basically, in essence, it’s like our own little version of that movie, The Raid: Redemption, only with zombies. That’s pretty cool. And here is our first sight of the zombies. There’s a whole bunch of them in a very tenuous chain link cage (I think you know where this is going), and another soldier is leading two more infected toward it with a type of leash. Well, yes, what happens is what you think is going to happen. The zombies on the leashes turn and attack the soldier, the zombies in the cage get loose, and all hell breaks loose with it. The other soldiers then open the wall and tell you to run like hell.

This was when the part of your brain I was telling you about snapped in pretty much every person in my couple-hundred-person wave. They went apeshit. There was no specific path, just lots of barricades, fences, obstacles, body bags, etc. and everyone was just running like crazy people through it all, dodging zombies everywhere. It was sheer madness. Yep, this was real for a lot of people. It was almost bizarre how real.

These opening moments were also where I witnessed the single most disturbing aspect of this race, and it actually has still shaken me now. At one part in the madness, all of us were funneled into an area of stairs where we had to run down. There was hundreds of freaking out people going into one small downward stair area. Well, one poor girl got pushed forward by someone freaking out, and fell forward, with a LOT of force, face first into the curved metal armrail that went between the stairs. It was horrible, but to make matters worse, the forge of the hundreds behind us rammed her even harder into it and her face/head was crushed again. She dropped to the ground right next to me, and this girl was severely, and I mean SEVERELY injured. I literally tried to help her and the crowd of people pushed behind me and I was forced down the stairs. This poor girl was enveloped by the surge behind her and I never got to see what happened. But the force I saw her face hit, her nose was broken for sure, but I would not be surprised if she had something as bad as a cracked skull. It was that bad. It scared the shit out of me and set the tone for the entire rest of the race. So yes, while it was drama, it was also real. Whenever there’s a crowd, there is reality, even if it’s fake. Pretty scary stuff. And by the way, if anyone involved with the race is reading this, please let me know what happened to her. I’m actually pretty worried still. It was gnarly.

But, as they say, the show must go on.

FEMA Resupply Depot:
Next was a set of cargo nets that we had to climb over, complete with Walkers below jumping up at us. It was pretty cool I have to say. But at this point I was still haunted by the reality of that poor girl who was destroyed earlier so it wasn’t as fun as it probably should have been. But as we continued, and the attacking Walkers increased, that part of my brain that feared for my own safety, however nonsensical, pushed her (at least momentarily) out of my memory. After the climbing was the sliding, right into more attacking Walkers. The madness continued.

Next we had to race through a lot more gore and a lot more zombies, up stairs, down stairs, through abandoned cars, and everything. They put A LOT of work into the set design and it was pretty fantastic. The attention to detail part of me was really impressed by it all.

Acute Zombie Infestation:
As we continued through the stadium, up numerous inclines and stairs, the realization that most Comic-Con visitors are, well, to put it nicely, not in the best shape. People were wheezing like 80 year old Emphysema patients and hunched over sucking wind like crazy. What was great was that while people were always focused in front of them, looking for when Walkers were going to attack in FRONT, they forgot that they can come up from the BACK as well. As a few of the Walkers surprised these paused, wheezing, escapees, the sheer terror on their faces was a complete delight. As a racer, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I didn’t find some sadistic humor in this. It made me realize that hey, if there ever was a zombie apocalypse, there’d be a LOT of people for them to eat before they ever caught me. My self-imposed joy at this thought kept me running all the way up the inclines.

Through this section also was an example of some of the greatest aspects of the experience. On the stadium TV’s, they had actual news footage of a “Zombie Outbreak” running through on “Breaking News.” It was an actual news package that they put together and you found yourself watching as you breezed by. But what was great was that as people would slow to watch the footage, yep you got it, more Walkers would take advantage of this and attack them. It was this kind of thoughtful detail that I loved out this whole thing. Just impressive as hell.

Herd Highway:
Now at about this stage, I forget what was what. There was so much shit coming at me, I don’t remember up from down. Some of the highlights included, a long area you had to crawl through with a Plexiglas top, that was covered in blood and body parts; another area where I remember actually crawling though some “blood” since my hands and knees were all stained red; cars to run around; barricades to climb over; and all while what seemed like hundreds of Walkers were attacking at every second. There were all kind of different areas with Walkers eating animals or other people. There were Walkers handing from huge nets; Walkers popping out from walls; Walkers seemingly coming from EVERYWHERE. And remember that thing I was saying about your brain turning off and forgetting fiction from reality? Hell, there was even one area where a non-infected person was handcuffed to a fence screaming for help while Walkers were approaching him. I stopped and asked if he needed help. But when he broke character for a second and looked at me confused and smiled, I realized it was all just part of the show. I sure felt like an idiot, but hey, what can I say, I’m a helper. All this seemingly nonstop insanity ended with a large net bridge that you had to climb and run across, all while Walkers in the center were reaching for you and trying to “infect” you. Phew, man, yeah, it was a lot.

But finally, after I made it to the top of the stadium, someone was there to say we had made it. We had made it to the end. Finally. And I was so happy to say, I wasn’t grabbed or infected once… or so I had thought.

Evacuation and Decontamination Zone:
At the final contamination zone, running down all the stairs, there were a lot of nice touches like messages to family, spray painted greetings, etc, etc. Things you’d expect from a “safe zone.” Finally, upon the ending, we were made to walk through a dark tunnel where we were greeted by tons of workers in head-to-toe outbreak suits. I had thought I walked onto the set of Breaking Bad. They scanned us up and down with ultraviolet lights looking for “infection.” Now that I think about it, maybe it was a little more CSI. Regardless, they pushed you through and we ended up in a large doctor’s office. This is when the biggest surprise of it all came to be…

The Final Surprise:
A whole bunch of workers and doctors came running out of a room and called me by name. “Jeff! Jeff! Come here, quick! Jeff hurry, get in here! Now!” I was confused as all hell. How the shit did they know my name and what’s going on? Others were being escorted out normally, why was I being ushered into a separate room? I ran in this room and was put on a doctor’s chair right next to a whole surgical setup. To my right, a Walker was coming at me crawling slowly across more chairs, while a surgeon frantically talked to me and said I had 5 seconds to make a decision. Just before the Walker was on me, the surgeon pulled out a gun and shot the Walker in the head (a cap gun, don’t worry, but it still had the right effect.) It was then that a surgeon asked if I wanted to end up like her, referring to the Walker. I said no. He said, “Are you sure?” Not knowing what the hell else to say, I just said, no. Then he pointed the gun at my head and pulled the trigger, essentially killing me. Then he simply said, “God Bless America.” Somehow I guess I had been “infected” and I needed to be put down. Ha. He handed me a temporary tattoo of a bullet hole that I was supposed to put on my forehead and I was escorted out of the surgical room.

That was the end. Good times. I swear I wasn’t infected, but whatever.

Now, all in all, it was a blast. I had heard from some people that it took them 45 minutes or more to do the entire thing. It actually took me about 20 minutes, but I ran the entire thing. Most definitely did not. Still, this was an example of quality over quantity for me. The attention to detail was simply amazing and just being able to trick that little piece of your brain into forgetting reality at times is something worth every penny. And the fact that they used my timing chip to know my name and give me that little final bit at the end was even cooler (at least I think that’s how they knew my name.)  Anyway, I know they claim this was a once in a lifetime experience, but hell, if they ever decide to make it a twice in a lifetime experience, I’ll be the first one there. Definitely awesome. Definitely amazing. Definitely damn well done.

I just hope that girl is okay.

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