Nobody Survives “The Walking Dead Escape,” And That’s A Good Thing

For the third year in a row, San Diego’s Petco Park has succumbed to the zombie apocalypse with Skybound’s The Walking Dead Escape, an interactive obstacle course in which fans of Robert Kirkman’s creation or running, can be a survivor, zombie or spectator for the carnage to come.

I’ll admit, I was nervous for the experience. At Halloween Horror Nights last year, I was on complete edge during The Walking Dead maze, and accidentally punched a zombie who startled me. I didn’t want to get kicked out of the stadium, or pee my pants. I didn’t know how intense it was going to be, I didn’t know if I needed to stretch first, or how serious people were going to take it. Those questions were answered pretty quickly. This is Comic-Con; there is no room to @#$! around, as you’ll be running practically nonstop from start to finish.

Going into a “zombie run experience” with no sleep on the second to last day of Comic-Con is a Herculean task, and I quickly proved I wasn’t up to Rick Grimes’ example. While I wasn’t fresh meat, I was drenched in sweat a half hour later, and had most definitely been infected several times over (and have since brought it to Los Angeles; whoops). In fact, I doubt anyone survived the adventure/nightmare, thanks to the nigh impossible ascension of hurdles, thanks to the exponential rise in zombies as you stumble through the corridors, stairs, and stadium seats.

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But that’s the point: no one wins in The Walking Dead, so no one should win in The Walking Dead Escape. We’re all screwed, and Skybound did an admirable job sticking with that theme, while jamming the experience with several game actors, shepherding us from location to location, promising us a safety that doesn’t exist. By the end, you’re laughing with them, as they complain about the military or the government, and how ineffective they’ve been at containing the virus. There is no containing the virus, or your fun during this obstacle course.

I filmed my travails, which you can view below (NSFW language; I get swear-y when zombies are coming at me). I give “shaky cam’s” a bad name with this iPhone filming, but that was the point. I wanted this to be filmed as if by a terrified/hopeful survivor. When a zombie outbreak occurs, you’re probably not going to have a GoPro strapped to your chest or dome. Of course, you probably wouldn’t bother with filming, since it definitely hindered my juking and evasive skills. I’m still angry that I didn’t slide across the beat up cars to escape the grasp of the Walkers.

I’m more angry at Deadpool, or the man who dressed up as Deadpool, who seemed to think a press pass (like my own) and a Deadpool costume gave him license to be a loud-mouthed asshole (he was in character). Of course, in a zombie apocalypse, it’s every man for himself, so I can’t say I blame him for using me as a zombie shield, leading to the first time I was clawed by a biter more than halfway through the excursion. Of course, he’s clearly a blight on humanity. You have to stick together to survive…. and that didn’t happen over the course of the half hour spent in the tunnels of Petco Park.

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You learn a lot about your fellow man and woman. Some would-be survivors use other people as bait, some attempted to work together and communicate (which normally was a lot of yelling/bossing around), while most people just worried about their own neck (without malicious intent to others). Some solo superstars attempted to run the course like a race, even though that’s not the point and merely subtracts from the time you get in the experience. And what an experience it is to get a taste of what life would be like with Walkers everywhere you turn. The zombies, despite training, had a vastly different skillset; some had bursts of explosive athleticism that came out of nowhere to tag you, while others stuck to the manuscript.

I loved all the different situations and arrays of zombies we were greeted with, though I think another possible terrifying ending could just be walking into a herd, or into an dead end, with zombies coming in from all sides. Game over. Once you get scratched/bitten/tagged, I almost felt like I should be turning on my group, or exterminated before I could; perhaps another wrinkle for future installments. I wonder how much of the track changes from year to year, but there are several avenues that Skybound and company can take with this event if they so choose. They could add a laser tag-like element to help eliminate zombies (though the point is to survive, not to kill, which is something I respect).

I learned that I probably wouldn’t be long for this world when it goes to $#*!, and we even got a water break. I had a blast running among the Walkers at The Walking Dead Escape. If you happen to be located in Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville and New Orleans, the disease will be coming to your city, and you should be first in line.

For more information on the course, check out its website. Buy tickets here.

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SDCC 2014: A Comic-Con Retrospective

San Diego Comic-Con is at a tipping point.

This was my second year at Comic-Con, so I’m by no means an expert, but I don’t think anyone would argue with me when I say that SDCC has become bloated, unwieldy, daunting and to be honest, kind of miserable, at times. It’s exhausting, insane and becoming less worth it by the year. There’s enough programming, panels and events to fit over a whole month: if that happened, the result would be much like The Hunger Games. But instead, it’s all squeezed from Wednesday night to Sunday night.

This year, there were innumerable moments where I wished I was in bed and wondering why I was operating on 2 hours sleep to hear god awful fan questions (“Can I hear your Bones laugh, Emily?” THERE ARE 189 EPISODES OF BONES TO REFER TO, WOMAN), and this time I didn’t have to set up or break down a booth and work for months before the event to prepare. It was just me, and what I wanted to do. That should be enough, except it’s impossible to do exactly what you want to do at Comic-Con.

It certainly feels like Comic-Con could very well collapse in on itself, that we’re fast approaching a Ragnarokian implosion, something that might be necessary to bring the event under control. Hollywood loves a good reboot, right?

Comic-Con bills itself as an event for the fans, but I think that’s a naive way of looking at it. Comic-Con is a massive money-making scheme; it’s not for the fans. It’s for the studios that are using Comic-Con and us to do the marketing and word of mouth for them, taking advantage of our passion and love for these characters. Comic-Con can make or break movies. We are killing ourselves waiting in line to watch trailers a few months before we can pay 17 dollars to see them in theaters, or watch them online for free. It’s pretty silly, yet we keep doing it year after year, and feel like we got a show.

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Comic-Con has become a place where Playboy has a Bates Motel-themed party. You can’t get in unless you’re somebody, and San Diego’s Gas Lamp quarter is filled with these parties with exclusive guest lists, open bars and/or covers throughout the week. Unless you’re high ranking press or a celebrity, or you’re lucky enough to win a contest, you’re not cool enough to get in, exactly the kind of thing you’d think Comic-Con shouldn’t be about.

Bless Zachary Levi and NerdHQ, who hosted a free-for-all dance party on Thursday night, and hold panels with the benefits going to a good cause. Felicia Day’s Geek & Sundry turned Jolt ‘n Joes into a lounge and party through Wednesday and Friday, open to anybody. These are the kinds of events that Comic-Con should be about, and the equivalent of Slamdance to Comic-Con’s Sundance. Every year, more and more people flock to NerdHQ instead of the Convention Center, to the point where their panels featuring Nathan Fillion, Stephen Amell and Tatiana Maslany sell out in minutes (so maybe it’s not that accessible, but at least your money goes to Operation Smile rather than 20th Century Fox). This is the future of Comic-Con.

If you asked A., who came all the way from Moscow, her face would light up, as she promised to come back to San Diego again as soon as she could afford it. She got to meet Jamie Bamber of Battlestar Galactica, happy to pay his signing fee (even knowing it was irresponsible), and raved nonstop about John Barrowman’s hilarious panel. She also got to walk in to Hall H to see the hunks of Supernatural on Sunday, when many of us were too tired to give a fuck.

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Al. flew all the way from Kitchener, Canada, and spent Friday night in line just to see The Hobbit panel, and left before Marvel and the rest of the fanfare. She came with her mom and sister, who were happy to sleep in the hotel. I got the sense that she was drawn to San Diego for the experience, and wanted to live it, rather than needing to be in Hall H, or obsessed with the shows and movies many of us spent hours talking about while we waited.

D. has been going to Comic-Con for 8 years straight, ever since she moved to San Diego. She lives and breathes it, and coordinates line waiting with her friends, and was in Hall H every night save Thursday, when she only got in line at 5 AM before the 10 AM panels.

If there’s one upside to the lines, it’s making friends with whom you’re stuck with. You meet people from all over the world, people who share many of the same interests as you, and will also pound mercilessly at you for the shows and movies you haven’t seen (do I really have to watch The 100?). Everyone’s different, but we’re all the same, wondering incessantly if we’re going to get into Ballroom 20 or Hall H, and debating how many in the cast will show up for the panel. Many complained, but still others accepted their fate, and were happy to camp outside.

Everyone is going to have a different experience and that is part of the beauty that remains of Comic-Con. Some people camped out to get into Hall H all four nights, and will do the same every year until they have crippling back injuries, and that’s worth it to them (many I think do it out of imaginary obligation, wanting to prove how much they care about a movie or show or movie star; the longer you wait in line, the bigger Walking Dead fan you are).

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Some actually go to San Diego to see their favorite comic book writers and artists. Whoa. Many just like to dress up, as cosplay is an industry and sub-society on its own (and it’s wonderful). Others just want to take part in the spectacle, to be where the party’s at. I wonder how many even get in; there were these two elderly women who somehow got seats in Hall H on Saturday, and looked blankly at me when I told them Marvel was up next (“What’s that?”). Seriously?

I love catching the various pilots, months before they come out, discovering the next hit shows before everyone else. The 12 year old who still resides in me who discovered Kevin Smith movies was delighted to see the man himself rejuvenated creatively, and talking excitedly about his next trilogy of movies. I got goosebumps and teary eyed watching and singing along to Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s “Once More With Feeling” in a jam-packed room of Whedon worshipers, as Nicholas Brendon ran up to the stage to sing Xander’s songs with the rest of us, something he’s done for the past four years. That is the power and magic of Comic-Con, that still lives and breathes in corners of the Convention Center. You just have to know where to look for it.

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