Zombie-filled obstacle course challenges BR ‘survivors’

Red Stick Dead

Gory zombie kills and pulse-racing excitement aren’t all that make “The Walking Dead” a hit both on television and in comic books.

It’s also the storytelling, which forces characters to make life-and-death decisions as they fight “walkers,” the undead who vastly outnumber humans, said David Isaacs, president of Skybound EXP, the company that publishes “The Walking Dead” comics.

“You’re sort of putting yourself in it and asking yourself, ‘What if I were left in this post-apocalyptic world?’” Isaacs said. “‘What would I do? Would I have made this decision or that decision?’”

On Thursday, April 24, the world of “The Walking Dead” will be in Baton Rouge, allowing south Louisiana to live — for an hour or so — through the zombie apocalypse.

The Walking Dead Escape, a zombie obstacle course, is visiting Baton Rouge for its first stop on a nationwide tour. Fans can choose to be a survivor and run through the one-mile course, or become a “walker” and stalk the living.

“We know fans are seeking other ways to participate in ‘The Walking Dead,’ and this is the most hands-on way we could think of to do this,” Isaacs said.

Following the story of sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes and a colony of survivors seeking safety after zombies have infested the world, “The Walking Dead” has become a hit in the worlds of comics, television and video games.

The newest spin-off, The Walking Dead Escape premiered in 2012 in San Diego, a one-time event created to coincide with the huge Comic-Con International comics and science fiction convention. With the AMC television show growing in popularity, Skybound expanded and staged the obstacle course three times last year.

Beginning with the Baton Rouge stop, The Walking Dead Escape will tour seven cities before returning to Comic Con in San Diego in July. It will stop in New Orleans on May 24.

The comic series premiered in 2003, and “The Walking Dead” franchise has gained a major foothold on television since it began airing in 2010 on AMC. In its third season, the show became the best-rated cable television series and was the most-watched show among viewers ages 18-49. A video game based on the comics won 90 “game of the year awards,” according to Skybound.

“What we’ve done here is really take the idea that you’re watching it, you’re reading it, you’re playing it,” Isaacs said, “until we have that you’re living it. We’re driving that home that you’re living it.”

Most participants complete The Walking Dead Escape in 35 to 40 minutes, Isaacs said. It’s not a race, and the obstacles are not as challenging as an outdoor adventure race, he said.

“We use the physicality to get people’s heart rates up to get them thinking more,” he said. “It’s not a sprint for a mile, but at the end people are huffing and puffing ... because at times they really are scared and everyone else is running. It just adds to the reality.”

Built in the River Center Arena, the course is set in a transportation hub where survivors of the disease that created the zombies are meeting. But zombies have infected many of the people there. Isaacs said the River Center and other stops on the tour — including the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans — mimic the settings where the government would transport survivors in an actual disaster.

“You know it’s not real, but in the back of your mind there is a doubt,” Isaacs said. “It could be (real). It’s kind of like it would be.”

Walkers receive a professional make-up treatment and training session on how to act like a zombie for their 90 minutes on the course. Survivors do not have to be fit to run the course, Isaacs said, and the event can accommodate guests with physical disabilities.

The course takes its cue from the television series, which can be action-packed at one moment — hordes of zombies converging on a group of human survivors — and then eerily quiet. Fans of “The Walking Dead” will recognize those too-quiet moments in the course.

Experiencing the fear of “The Walking Dead” world appears to be exactly what fans want, Isaacs said.

“They may not want to live in that world,” he said. “But I think they enjoy living vicariously in that, and feeling that I could survive, or I would make the right decision.”