This past Saturday, at the Xfinity Theater in Hartford, CT the concert venue was overrun — or more specifically over-walked — by zombies. Yep, you read that right, zombies. And not just any zombies, these were fully-authorized and licensed Zombies from the AMC TV show and Image Comicbook undead phenomenon The Walking Dead. The official event was staged by Skybound EXP, an affiliate of Skybound Entertainment, which is the company of Robert Kirkman, Walking Dead’s creator. According to David Isaacs, president of Skybound EXP, the first Walking Dead Escape was staged at the San Diego Comic Con International in 2012, then staged for similar events in 2013, and another five this year (the fifth one will again be in San Diego in August at the convention).
Upon arriving at the Xfinity theater, participants were greeted with military vehicles and volunteers dressed in Camo fatigues (ostensibly National Guard) and directed towards the check-in where they were divided up into one of four levels (Walkers, Survivors, Spectators, and Volunteers; with different price points for the first three categories). Zombies were asked to show up 2 hours prior to their shift (in costume if possible) for make-up, while Survivors were asked to show up at least 30 minutes early. Waves of Survivors were sent off every 15 minutes from when the event started. The event itself ran from 6:00 p.m. and ran until Midnight. Navigating the course took some 30-35 minutes (Survivors weren’t timed, as this wasn’t a race), while Walkers were allowed to shamble in place for an hour-and-a-half. There was also VIP pricing that allowed the participant to run the course twice (once as a Survivor and once as a Walker, plus access to a special VIP area afterwards).
After check-in Walkers went off to get their make-up applied (assembly-line style by professional make-up artists that work for the company that actually does the make up for the show), while Survivors were assembled in a holding area awaiting “governmental” instructions. Spectators were allowed to wander through the safe areas checking out the grounds and the course. The Xfinity venue was staged to look like a military refugee encampment with military vehicles, barricades, camouflage netting, and even blood-stained buses. There was a Fanfest area set aside where participants could eat, listen to music, and participate in some gaming events (Walking Dead Trivia, Walker in the dunk tank, etc.) and purchase Walking Dead merchandise (there was even a special reprint of the first issue of the comic for all participants).
When it was time for Survivor’s wave to be off, they were given instructions (this is for fun, it isn’t a race, don’t freak out, hurt other Survivors or Walkers, if you want to quit or get hurt signal the volunteers for help, etc.). Then a representative from the Hartford Health Dept. cam out to read a statement about the virus that was spreading and that the military was here to help, we were all safe and were going to be lead off to the testing area to be checked for the infection. Then we were lead off to a tent where a military commander who told us of the dire situation and again told we were “safe” only during that talk Walkers were sited, and we were all told to flee for our lives.
This set off a mile or so run that took us up and around the Xfinity concert site. We passed through several infected sites (medical sites where doctors were attempting to control the virus on infected patients), detention zones (with the infected in cages and wandering about), and numerous other scenes (climbing over, and running through a group of stalled cars, passing through a bus, etc.) where there were shambling, infected, moaning, Walkers all out to get you. Unlike some other “Zombie Runs” — where participants run a specific course and are chased by zombies who remove flags from runners in order to infect them — the Walking Dead Escape event is staged to be a to total immersion into the world of a pandemic-level event. Here, Walkers don’t so much chase you as you have to run past them while they attempt to touch you in order to infect you (Participants don’t have to be concerned about being actually assaulted by Walkers).
While the event does require a certain amount of physical exertion (sprinting past Walkers, scampering over the cars or other obstacles) this is not a military-style obstacle course. Also there are points where Survivors can stop and catch their breath and/or get a drink of water. At the end, everyone is ushered into a medical tent where they are tested to ascertain if they have been infected. The infected are marked with a red dot on their forehead, while the clean are allowed to exit. Survivors are required make it through to the Evacuation Zone without any contact with Walkers (something that is nearly impossible). Still, if Survivors come into contact with a Walker during the course, they are still able to complete the course in its entirety. Everyone participating in the event is required to sign a waiver before participating.
All-in-all, The Walking Dead Escape was a very entertaining way to spend a day, participating and experiencing a fully-immersive zombie run experience, and while it admittedly isn’t for everyone, it certainly is a way that fans of the TV series and comicbook can get to enjoy not only what a zombie pandemic might be like, but to meet up with and (like comicbook and Sci-fi cons) interact with others who also share their enjoyment of this kind of experience.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing comicbooks for some 30 years. During that time, his reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular comicbook articles and reviews.