Culturally speaking, you can’t escape from The Walking Dead, as the TV show and comics continue to spawn a merchandising empire that includes the likes of plush toys and board games. But in real life, could you escape from the actual walking dead? Come San Diego Comic-Con International, you get to find out in The Walking Dead Escape, a fully immersive experience taking place at Petco Park, in which you can participate as either a survivor, walker or spectator. To find out the details, we talked to Liam Brenner, architect of The Walking Dead Escape, about his role in creating the attraction (we also got in two bonus questions with Robert Kirkman!). (To win free tickets, enter our contest and keep an eye on @TWDEscape on Twitter)
Nerdist: How did the The Walking Dead Escape event come to be?
Liam Brenner: I have been working on award winning mass-participatory events for almost ten years now. I realized I had a passion for obstacle course races, and I loved the idea of building an “adult playground” where people could have fun and remember what it’s like to be a kid again. I’m also a bit of an apocalypse junkie — when I was 12 years old, I told my mom I wanted to read the The Stand by Stephen King. That did me in. I was hooked. Whether it’s viral, nuclear, biological or — most importantly — zombies, I love anything apocalyptic. So a few years ago I was watching one of our obstacle race events and noted how much it looked like these participants were being chased by zombies in the midst of the apocalypse — running to climb over fences and crawl under structures in the mud. The only things lacking were the actual zombies. So we reached out to the guys at Skybound last year and pitched the idea to them. They happened to be coming out with Issue #100 of The Walking Dead at San Diego Comic-Con International, so they asked us if we could do the event in San Diego in July to coincide and we said yes. And the rest is pretty much history.
N: How will this differ from the standard horror mazes we’re used to at places like Universal and Knott’s?
LB: The Walking Dead Escape is an actual obstacle course and though it’s less of a race and more of an experience, it is more physical than walking through a maze. Survivors will be navigating large scale obstacles to escape the Walkers. The Walkers are scattered throughout the course in plain view — they aren’t going to jump out and say “boo” like the ghosts and shape-shifting aliens you might find in some mazes or haunted houses. It’s an entirely different physical and interactive experience.
N: Are you prepared in case someone sick with Mad Cow Disease and high on “Bath Salts” crashes the event?
LB: Our police details have been told to channel Rick Grimes in preparation for the event. I’m pretty confident they will know what to do.
N: How true to the Walking Dead experience will this event be? Do you have to sign a waiver in case of loss of limb?
LB: Though we don’t expect any limbs to be lost a la Merle, participants can expect to really feel like they are a part of a new storyline within The Walking Dead. We couldn’t be more excited to have Greg Nicotero and the KNB EFX team handling the zombie transformations. Greg was really the only logical choice for us, and the addition of actual Walking Dead zombies is a finishing touch that just puts this event over the top.
N: Would you participate as a survivor or a zombie? Why?
LB: I’m a runner with a couple of Marathons under my belt, so I’d probably participate as a Survivor. Though it would be cool to get made up into something as grotesque as one of Nicotero’s Walkers.
N: While Petco Park is convenient to Comic-Con, did you have any desire to potentially do this at a former prison site or in a hospital like Capcom is doing in Japan for Resident Evil 6?
LB: The theme of this specific event is to immerse participants in a story line of The Walking Dead that hasn’t yet been explored. When Rick wakes up from his coma, everything is already destroyed and the apocalypse has already begun. We’re trying to explore what may have happened in those early days while he was down for the count. We chose to hold the course at a major league stadium, as it probably would be an evacuation point in the event of a real Zombie Apocalypse.
N: Zombie walks are all the rage; do you think people will be able to return to a simple shamble after this experience?
LB: If you’re assuming they will survive The Walking Dead Escape…. then sure. They can do the zombie shuffle all they want. But I think this is the Zombie Apocalypse event to end all Zombie Apocalypse events… The Zombie Apocalypse Apocalypse, if you will.
N: If this goes well, can we expect a Battle Pope immersion event set in the Vatican? C’mon, please?
LB: We’ll be looking for the white smoke…
N: How are we going to be able to tell if the zombie apocalypse actually breaks out during The Walking Dead Escape?
Robert Kirkman: Real zombies won’t look as good as the ones done by Nicotero’s KNB effects team. That’ll be a dead giveaway… pun not intended.
N: What are the challenges of storytelling, such as it is, in an immersion experience like this?
RK: Bringing the world of The Walking Dead to life in a way that is fully immersable seems like an insurmountable challenge but Ruckus Sports have really pulled out all the stops to make this an unprecedented experience that people are really going to go wild for.
For more information on The Walking Dead Escape, head to the official site or become a fan on Facebook. The event runs July 12-14 at Petco Park in San Diego; tickets are on sale now – USE THE PROMO CODE Nerdist7 FOR A SPECIAL DISCOUNT. For your chance to win some for free, check out our ticket giveaway and stay tuned to @TWDEscape on Twitter.