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'Walking Dead' maze: Show EP gives fans a sneak peek at new attraction

LOS ANGELES — Have you ever wished you could get caught in a hoard of walkers à la The Walking Dead? Well, you're a weirdo because that sounds terrifying. Luckily, a Walking Dead executive producer, Greg Nicotero, is making your weirdo dream come true with Universal Studios Hollywood's new The Walking Dead attraction, which opens to the public July 4. 

Until now, the show has only come alive for fans in temporary mazes at the annual Halloween Horror Nights events in Los Angeles and Orlando. However, the new attraction, inspired by the hugely popular AMC show, takes it to a whole new level.

"It’s a permanent retelling of our storyline from the beginning," Nicotero tells Mashable about the year-round maze. "We see the hospital, we see the prison, we see aspects of the show that are iconic and lead the participants through high points of The Walking Dead."

Excitingly for fans, among those involved in bringing the critically acclaimed show to life is the team at KNB EFX, the LA-based special effects studio who also provide the series with its zombies. 

Ahead of the attraction’s official reveal, Mashable caught up with Nicotero to talk about what he and his team have created and what show secrets lie within it.

This attraction seems similar to mazes that have been at Halloween Horror Nights here in Los Angeles and in Orlando. What are the differences?

GN: I think the opportunity to make it more authentic, by making it real, is a key thing. It feels like everything is bigger; it’s a grand scale version of the show and the Halloween mazes. With this, it doesn’t feel like you’re rushing through — you get a chance to soak in and experience The Walking Dead. It feels more epic to me.

Q: Tell me about the mix of animatronics and live-action walkers.

GN: That is one of the biggest differences between the Halloween Horror Nights maze and the permanent attraction. There are 20 or so animatronic characters, there are a lot of actors all over and there are a lot of effects and tricks ... I know that with the light and sound and smell, because it feels more real, it brings the audience much closer to the sensation of what it must be like to be in the show with Rick and everyone else.

Q: There are parts of the attraction that fans will recognize from various seasons of The Walking Dead. How difficult was it to bring them together?

GN: Because we have a very clean timeline, I think that knowing Season 1 was the hospital and Season 2 was Hershel’s farm, Season 3 and part of 4 was the prison and so on, we have a very clear narrative. One of the things I wanted to help the team at Universal Studios do was to make sure that the storyline felt relevant. I am glad we were able to do that because it means it feels tied into the show now, which was important. To do that it meant including current aspects of our storyline that weren’t available to them when they were writing the attraction’s initial treatment — such as Negan and The Saviors and where Season 6 ended.

Q: Is there the chance to add in things at a later date that we have yet to see in the show so it keeps feeling current?

GN: I think so and I think that’s the plan because our show continually morphs with new characters and locations, such as Alexandria; our world is growing and our world is expanding. I think it would be exciting to come to Universal Studios Hollywood and be able to experience this maze two years from now and have it be different. It’s not like the Haunted Mansion where people would be outraged if you changed it too much because there’s a nostalgic dedication to it; I think as long as we’re true to the spirit of the show people will continue to be satisfied. 

Q: Are there easter eggs in the attraction for fans? 

GN: Yes, and we do easter eggs on the show sometimes too, of course. For those uber fans that go back and watch it over and over again they might see a zombie that looks particularly like a zombie from Dawn of the Dead and I put those in there because I love that kind of stuff. With this attraction it won’t be like you go through once and you experience everything the first time, you will be able to find easter eggs in every section of the attraction.

Q: What about clues to things have yet to happen in the show? 

GN: We haven’t talked about that yet but I don’t foresee that. That’s only because I don’t think the art department here could stay that current with scripts because we have to be a bit secretive about what we’re doing. If all of a sudden we were putting something in here that revealed a character death or even teased something else that was coming up it might be a little tricky ... but you never know.

Q: What else makes this different each time? 

GN: There are live performers as well as animatronics so everything will always be a little bit different and will feel organic. We have some pretty exquisite animatronic characters — Bicycle Girl has always been my favorite character, so to be able to see that recreated and crawling around is pretty breathtaking. Even going through the queue line, seeing the inside of the hospital where Rick woke up, it’s not just one little corridor, it’s the entire cafeteria — in the comic book, the cafeteria is where they threw all the bodies. It’s fun to walk through and you go around a corner and something opens up or you see bullet holes in the wall or bloody handprints — it is just like being in the first episode.

Q: The attraction is not recommended for guests under the age of 13. Is that because it might be too dark and intense?

GN: It’s very different to some of the other attractions in the park. There’s the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is quite dark and intense in its own way and isn’t all peaches and cream, but this is the perfect opportunity here to have something that is a little creepier and a little scarier. Traditionally people like to associate this kind of thing with Halloween but then it’s gone, so the fact that people will be able to go on this thrilling journey every day, 365 days a year, is very exciting to me.

Q: How intense are the scares?

GN: A lot more intense than I think people are expecting. I think, aside from Halloween, this is a true House of Horrors. We’re even in Universal Studios Hollywood where they created the classic horror movies so, to me, it feels like the perfect home. The fact that The Walking Dead is being paid tribute to with this permanent attraction goes to show how exciting the show is and how much people look forward to being scared and are so committed to characters that they cry if they die.

Q: Is the attraction everything you hoped it would be?

GN: It is and I’m excited. We’re still finishing it up but I am excited to come through, turn all the lights off, flip all the switches and make it all come to life. It’s thrilling because I have never been involved in anything like this, so permanent, so this is something new. It’s been the last six years of my life becoming the executive producer and director of the show and now consulting on something like this. It’s pretty amazing. It made me wonder why we haven’t done a Boogie Nights attraction yet but that’s just me.

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