“Hartford, Connecticut is overrun by infection, and fans from across the state line up rather than run away to experience the outbreak. The zombie apocalypse obstacle course gives people the opportunity to test out their survival skills as a Survivor or feast upon the living as a Walker.”
I had been preparing for The Walking Dead Escape several days before the actual event. I ate up Zombie apocalypse shows, watched World War Z one and a HALF times because I fell asleep the first time and had strange zombie dreams, and played hours upon hours of Plants VS Zombies Garden Warfare. I felt that I had learned the necessary tips to hold my own if an outbreak ever occurred.
I want to first start out by saying that the staff at the Xfinity Theatre in Hartford, Connecticut where the event was held was extremely friendly and accommodating. That is the first step to a great experience. They directed me to each location of the event, and told me what I could find at each point. When the FanFest zone wasn’t open yet the staff helpfully pointed to the makeup tent where I could witness all of the made up Walkers in all their grotesque glory. I would participate at this location and event again simply because people were eager to make the time unforgettable. There were even water stations outfitted around the entire premises so I was happy to save quite a few dollars on the inevitable overly priced beverages at big events.
I was quite impressed at how well the makeup was done for the Walkers. Professional makeup artists were brought in to give humans their undead makeover, and that was part of the package if people opted to be a Walker during the course. People showed up in costumes; I saw a few doctors, a woman in hair rollers, and a woman in a nightgown.
I was excited when I saw a couple dressed as a Walker bride and groom where they could remain in matrimony until whatever constitutes real death during an apocalypse occurs. They hobbled over to me and let me take a picture. There is something about zombie love that is so paradoxically beautiful and horrifying. The only thing zombies are capable of loving is your flesh, but you have to admire their dedication. They would jump through hoops (if they could jump), and impale themselves upon sharp objects to obtain the object of their obsessive affection. When is the last time someone did that for you? Flowers are nothing, get on a zombie’s level, guys and gals.
What I was also impressed about was the effort and dedication the people who signed up to be Walkers put into their parts. I did not see one person who didn’t stay in character throughout the course. Even before the first wave began people stumbled around with ghoulishly grey faces and tingling fingers itching to dig into your fresh, live flesh. It was uncomfortable at first, but the good kind of uncomfortable- the unnerving discomfort of an undead creature trying to consume you.
You essentially start the actual course by hearing screams and fleeing for your life as you foolishly mull over the decision to actually run whole heartedly or not, because you know it’s not technically real. I’ll admit that I started off at a slow clip, feeling somewhat foolish as I clutched my bag and teetered over the rocks while trying not to be knocked over by the stampede of other survivors behind me. I realized quickly that running for your life is no joke when I found myself becoming winded. At this point I knew I couldn’t run past a Walker quickly enough but I COULD run backwards behind other survivors and let them distract the Walkers. DON’T JUDGE ME! This is an apocalypse and I’ve got cat children at home to think about! The survivors are able to weave their way through different settings in the course. At one point I was witnessing doctors experimenting on Walkers, and encouraging humans to succumb to the Walkers so that they could do more testing.
I found myself at a pileup of cars, presumably abandoned once the infestation set in and using your own two feet was a more docile mode of transportation than a clunky car that has a time limit and can’t quite hide as well. Most people tried to swerve around the Walkers that blockaded each exit way in hordes. I decided to jump up on the cars, and was the spectacle of the spectators for a good few minutes. No one had attempted this feat yet, and they all flocked to the fence with their cameras and cheers.
The fall from the jump off the car wasn’t exactly comfortable, but I didn’t want it to be. The more clumsily I progressed through this challenge, the more I felt that I was in an actual zombie apocalypse. At this moment I knew that this obstacle course wasn’t specific to one person; how you chose to navigate the course was up to each individual and this is what makes The Walking Dead Escape worth the admission. With any sort of event, you are responsible for getting out of it the money that you put into it. If you pay to see a movie, but fall asleep during it, that is your own fault. The same goes with this. The fun part of the obstacle course was finding out your own niche in escape plans and discovering who you are and how you might react if ever faced with this impending doom of a situation. I would like to say that I am courageous and valiant, wielding weapons with great finesse and saving every human I came in contact with. I would like to say that.
As I exited the gates and made my way up the road I passed a couple that asked me: “Is it worth it?” and I hesitated before I answered. At first I thought the prices were a bit steep; it would be $75.00 to be a Survivor and $95.00 to be a Walker. Survivors got to run the course while Walkers received professional makeup and got to moan around on the obstacle course and gracelessly trip over air while their glazed eyes combed the crowd for fresh yet slow meat. Here’s what I will say: it all depends on your attitude. What was so much fun about the obstacle course was how you made it your own journey. I can definitely say that the package for VIPs, which was $150.00 a person, was worth it. Not only did they get to run the course as both a Walker and a Survivor, gifts were given out at the end which contained a shirt, a book, and a comic, at the very least. Fans could also pay $20.00 to be a Spectator and stand on the sidelines while people made their way through the course. Essentially the event offers an option for anyone interested in The Walking Dead.
Other than the obstacle course, the event held an after party where fans could listen to music, dance, play games, and purchase The Walking Dead items. The FanFest area where the party was held was decorated in the finest apocalypse dressings imaginable, complete with body bags of infected victims. Overall, the event was a way for zombie fans to indulge in their obsession and meet with likeminded individuals who revel in their interest in the undead. You could tell the course was worked hard on. There were nuances throughout the course that gave me the heebie-jeebies… painted signs on the fences warning others of the apocalypse, and there were even buses broken into by Walkers with blood smeared over them. I think it is the innocence associated with buses that unnerved me the most about them being overrun and abandoned. You think of grade school when you think of yellow school buses, but in an apocalypse, bus and blood are somewhat synonymous. The next day, when bombarded with questions about how the event was, I couldn’t help smiling and recalling parts of the day that were memorable for me, and that is why I think this event is a success.
Zombie culture is more than just the gore and fear of being snacked upon by your undead mother who only lusts for your brains rather than your well-being. What I especially think is important about the entire genre is the blurred idea about humanity. There is supposed to be the black and white differentiation between good and evil; the undead want to kill, the living want to survive. Yet anyone who has seen the latest episode of The Walking Dead on AMC can understand the concept of humanity not necessarily being humane. Zombie culture also begs the question about whether or not being humane is actually beneficial in an apocalypse. The constant barrage of new obstacles that bring life to chaos and deviant behavior might make the context of humanity a bit different.
And I think the most important idea that The Walking Dead especially brings to the forefront is how humans can turn to monsters when faced with such monstrous consequences. Okay, there’s flesh eating creatures walking the streets, let’s band together to protect each other. That’s all good and dandy, but what if it isn’t the zombies that you need protection from? What if rational, alive, conscious human beings are the ones wielding the weapons? Now it is no longer about protecting your skin from Walkers when every walking creature is after a piece of your flesh. I know a lot of people who complain about the direction that The Walking Dead is taking, and that is what bothers me a lot about the societal expectations of today’s generation. People want instant gratification, and there’s only so many times a Zombie’s head can be decapitated before it becomes boring. Once the excitement of action scenes are over, a show is thought to be over as well.
But I am actually a huge fan of the direction being taken. They are truly exploring the similarities between two seemingly parallel identities. There are the Walkers and there are the Humans. Walkers have no conscious thought; they only obey the hunger and agitation that is present in the only part of the brain that operates. Humans on the other hand can differentiate between what is right and wrong, and essentially what the show does is show how even though humans are supposed to be different, in some ways they’re not. We’re all slaves to the most basic parts of our brains that require feeding and relief from anger or hostility. It is an eat or be eaten world during an apocalypse, quite literally, and it is every man for himself whether or not people believe they’re in groups.