The Walking Dead

It began with smoke. Lots of smoke.

We started forward nervously, as the walkers snarled at us behind their enclosure. The FEMA guys kept yelling, saying that they had it all under control. Right before two of the walkers broke loose and started chomping on this cop. Then they opened the gates in a haze of screams and smoke, and let us into hell.

That wasn’t a drug-fueled nightmare vision: that actually happened to me last month, courtesy of  The Walking Dead Escape. One of the many off-site activities that took place at the San Diego Comic Convention last month (you can also read more about my SDCC 2012 experience here, here and here) but not an actual part of the convention, it was held over several days at Petco Park, just across the road from the San Diego Convention Centre. Organised by the makers of The Walking Dead, in essence, it was the chance to test out that age-old thesis: how would I fare in an actual zombie apocalypse? Which is something that I never, ever spend hours and hours talking/pondering/tweeting/Facebook-ing/obsessing about. Uh uh. Not me. Which is I signed up for this faster than a zombie herd that’s spotted a group of tasty humans.

The Walking Dead

The waiting area before they let us into the start of the obstacle course.

Basically a zombie obstacle course held over the entirety of a baseball stadium, it offered participants the chance to be a plain old spectator (US$15), be made up by the actual Walking Dead make-up crew as a walker and pester the living (US$35) and of course, become one of the uninfected: a survivor (US$85). I was saved from having to answer the question “do I really want to make Robert Kirkman any richer than he already is” by my girlfriend, who surprised me with a survivor ticket. It also came with an issue of The Walking Dead #100, though Kirkman wasn’t around to sign it. But this was a must for a hardcore zombie fan like me. After all, as fellow Singaporean geek @Moxy_Tod put it, this was like playing catching with zombies.

The rules were well-defined: ‘infection’ was by touch, meaning that the ‘walkers’ weren’t about to bite/consume you. You had to be at least 16 to take part, and weapons were strictly forbidden. Participants were released into the course in 15 minute waves. You were also asked not to fight back against the ‘zombies’, since you were doomed anyway. Judging by how stoked some of the guys in my wave, which took place in the evening, were – whooping, chest bumping, taking off their shirts – I had my doubts about how strictly ‘survivors’ would adhere to this rule. I even saw quite a few guys with head-mounted cameras, since they had asked us not to bring in handheld devices. I stupidly left my phone in my bag when I checked in, as I was afraid of like, falling and smashing it. Fortunately, the girlfriend had signed up as a spectator and managed to take quite a few shots.

She was later to complain that the vantage point for the spectators was really poor, as she really couldn’t see very much. But as far as production values go, I must say that the course was fairly realistic, from the uniforms of the ‘officials’ to the blood on the zombies to signs proclaiming “THIS IS WHAT THE MAYANS WERE TALKING ABOUT”.

The Walking Dead

The obstacles ranged from planks to cones to cars. Oh yeah, and the f***ing undead.

The Walking Dead

We had to run, climb, zig zag and sometimes even crawl.

The Walking Dead

There was smoke along the way too.

The Walking Dead

There were ‘FEMA officials’ there to guide us through the course.

The Walking Dead

All while the friendly walkers tried to eat us.

The make-up wasn’t quite hyper-realistic, the zombies had obviously been told to tone down their aggression and there was never any doubt that this was all make-believe. But still, there were times when I was BLOODY TERRIFIED. Fueled by adrenaline, the screams of other participants and the total immersion in this world, it felt pretty damn real times at times. It was all I could do to keep from screaming like a little girl. Or at the very least, yelling out “GET THE F*** AWAY FROM ME!!!!!” Which is very different from my Rick Grimes-like fantasy where I pick up a baseball bat and bash the brains out of the nearest walker, while leading a group of awestruck survivors to safety.

I did the course on my own, which makes it a lot less fun. But I did pick up a sort of buddy along the way. Bizarrely, he was also dressed in a Superman tee. Appropriately for a zombie apocalypse, I never did learn his name, since our conversations mainly consisted of comments like “Shit!” and “Man, this is tough”. And even more appropriately, at one point in the course when we were climbing over an obstacle and the ‘walkers’ were closing in, I found myself unconsciously pushing him to get ahead. I blame it on my subconscious liking of the TV version of Shane (remember what he did to poor old Otis?).

The Walking Dead

Superman and Superman plot their next move.

The Walking Dead

A walker reaches out as I showcase my Olympian skills.

One thing I was unprepared for was the physical demands of the obstacle course, which took almost an hour to clear. I had completely ignored the fact that a) Petco Park is pretty big (the course took us all the way to the top of the stadium and back) with loads of stairs and uphill slopes, and b) the last time I was fit was more than a decade ago when I served compulsory military service. Subsequently, I began the course sprinting at top speed, and ended it panting like a dog on crack, together with a splitting headache that took a while to clear. By the end, I was going so slowly that I must have gotten ‘infected’ ten times over. One very clever aspect of the course: the ‘blood’ from the ‘walkers’ shows up under UV light, which is why we were taken into a tent with UV lighting by ‘medical personnel’ to determine if we were ‘infected’. Needless to say, there was more than a bit of ‘blood’ on my clothes.

The Walking Dead

The course is almost over and I’m completely spent.

I didn’t have a head-mounted camera, but here’s a video with highlights of the course, courtesy of Gamespot

 

So that was that: I was in the zombie apocalypse, and I became a meal for walkers. So you know who not to pick for your team when the zombies take over.

.
Did you take part in The Walking Dead Escape? What was your experience like?
..