[Photos by Carlos Duncan]
It’s not that I expected The Walking Dead Escape this year to be uniformly the same as last year. It’s just that, well… The first couple of minutes were pretty much like last year. Except for the crowd. Unlike last year’s Escape at San Diego Comic-Con International 2012, where my photog, Robyn Bobby , and I were running with roughly a dozen others, two of which were from a local news crew, Carlos Duncan and I were running with around a hundred other Walking Dead fans, dodging zombies, just trying to make it to through the Evac Zone to the end of the obstacle course.
Also different from last year, when the Escape was held for four days, and started in the daytime, this year’s event occurred only at night, and for two nights only. More limited time meant bigger crowds, which to me improved the overall experience.
Like last year’s script, our group was led to an Evacuation Prep Center where a National Guard official briefed us on our mission: Get from this point to the Evacuation Zone avoiding, if possible, contact with the Walkers. The setup was pretty much the same. I knew, KNEW, on the other side of the camouflage mesh was our first round in last year’s obstacle course – The Herd Highway.
I tell Carlos, “Dude, there’s no way you’re going to get out of this without getting touched. On the other side of the fence is going to be a bunch of hazard markers, some ravaged cars and about a dozen or so walkers. Try to post up behind the barricade,” and so on.
And just like last year, they threw open the gates, and, knowing the route, we charged forward…
Straight into a herd! [“When you assume…”]
We were faced with a horde of flesh hungry monsters, too thick to even think about running past them. A human… well, a post-human, wall between us and the familiar route. Extras dressed as military personnel were the first to fall. A nice ramp up and red herring for those who thought it was going to be like 2012, and a moment worthy of the show itself.
We were quickly ushered to an “alternative route,” a half dozen or so flights of steps, usually reserved for staff, perhaps an evacuation route built with another disaster in mind. Like many along the course, the walls of the cramped passage were plastered with hand made “missing” posters, last minute “bug out” notes indicating places to which people would be traveling, and occasional warnings or post-apocalyptic admonitions like “Go back.” “Area Overrun,” and, “Do you believe now?” [and even a Doctor Who “Easter Egg” of sorts, “Bad Wolf.”] scrawled, apparently in blood.
For the most part, though the course was different, the action was much the same. That is to say there aren’t a lot of ways to say, “From there, we dodged a lot of zombies until we got to the Evacuation Tent.” That isn’t saying there was nothing on which to remark. There were noticeable changes and improvements to the course. Lots of care and attention to detail went to the desiccated and digested corpses strewn about the walkways, and the body parts on which the undead were gnawing.
On a story level, a “Woodbury” style zombie battle arena was added. For the most part it was good, and rang true to the show. However, it’s a little odd when the chained zombies are more lively than the Governor’s “Gladiators.” Additionally, a couple hydration stations operated by “FEMA” volunteers, were positioned along the route. Not as vital as last year, when people were running in the daytime, but a good idea nonetheless. I wasn’t even “running” so much as I was just walking at a good clip, and I still broke a sweat.
Our last stop was a military checkpoint, where we were inspected for marks of any contact with the undead. For the second year running, I was infected. [In my own defense, it’s not like you can run the course with a weapon…] However, “diseased” as we were, my fellow infected and I were awarded our participation prizes, a Walking Dead poster, and the new Pocketbook edition of the Walking Dead (comic) tie-in novel, The Rise of the Governor. [Part of a trilogy that includes the sequels, The Road to Woodbury, and the upcoming, Fall of the Governor.]
The Walking Dead returns to AMC on October 13th – the season premiere will be in two parts. Hopefully, The Walking Dead Escape will return to Comic-Con 2014. For more pictures of The Walking Dead Escape at PetCo Park, see Carlos Duncan’s Walking Dead Gallery here on Nuke the Fridge.