For some people, San Diego Comic-Con is all about the panels — massive conflagrations of fans where you might get to watch an exclusive tease of an upcoming season. For others, it's the swag, whether that's free posters, or a signature and some face-to-face time with your favorite TV celeb.
But if you really want to put your life on the line, you'll want to head outside of the convention center to test yourself on the many, many TV focused "experiences" that spread throughout San Diego's Gaslamp District.
These experiences — called activations — range in scope from a chance to grab some water at Sterling Archer's "wet bar," to incredibly elaborate immersions into the world of, well, Westworld. But one thing is clear, as I spent the past few days checking out a good portion of these activations: they're trying to kill me.
With that in mind, here's the definitive ranking of San Diego Comic-Con's outdoor TV activations, based on the odds of my imminent death.
How did it work? The American Horror Story set-up is part of FX's FX-hibition, an outdoor fair set up between the main convention center, and the Hilton Bayfront (where a number of TV panels are being held). There's a chance to get your shoelaces redone by the crack experts behind Snowfall, the aforementioned "wet bar," and an enormous zoetrope teasing the next season of American Horror Story. Basically, after waiting in a long line you step inside a small, dark room and watch as — behind a plate of glass — three platforms spin around, showing off clown heads, a broken beehive and two women — one with dark hair, the other blonde hair — fighting.
How did it try to kill me? I mean, particularly for American Horror Story it's not trying very hard. The wait in the sun is rough, though FX's kind workers pass out bandanas. I kept expecting Twisty to jump out and scare me, but it never happened.
How did it work? Right across the railroad tracks from the convention center is AMC's Deadquarters (get it?), celebrating both The Walking Dead, and Fear the Walking Dead. The expansive activation featured multiple areas, including chances to take virtual pictures with zombies, statues of the cast, and more. And if you hashtag your instagrams properly, which is a real phrase I just wrote, you can print out your pics right in the activation.
How did it try to kill me? There were "zombies" wandering around, and though they never touch you they got real close. There was also a Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) themed batting cage, where you can hit balls with Negan's bat, Lucille. You get protective gear, but you know, anything could happen! And also the whole thing is sponsored by Mountain Dew, and you really, really shouldn't just drink sugary soda on hot sunny days. That part is optional, though, which is why this activation ranks so low.
How did it work? Step inside a glass tank, put on some protective glasses, and after a few moments you'll be blasted with a jet of smoke and some flashing lights meant to indicate whether you are — or are not — a mutant, the super-powered beings on the run in Fox's upcoming show. Once they figure it out, you're sent to genetic testing, which is a chance to use actual DNA testing to find out where your ancestors are from.
How did it try to kill me? Full disclosure: I didn't actually do this at San Diego, as I had ran through a miniature version of this at the FOX Upfront party a few months ago. I guess if you turned out to be a mutant, "Sentinel Services" could drag you away and interrogate you (they won't), so that's potentially deadly? And the DNA test involves a cheek swab, which feels pretty weird and you could accidentally jab yourself through the cheek if you do have mutant super-strength. But otherwise, pretty safe.
How did it work? Do we have a video recap of what you can do at the "Winter is Here" experience? Yes we do! Short version, you travel through an interactive exhibition that puts you in different scenes from the massive hit fantasy show, and then cool off with some taste tests of Game of Thrones themed beer and wine. Neat!
How did it try to kill me? For most of the exhibition, you're safe. But true to form for the show, the second to last stop is where the danger lies. There, you have a chance to dress as a Wildling, or Jon Snow (Kit Harington), and swing a sword or knife while being filmed by a 360 degree camera. Look, they're blunt weapons, but you're also encouraged to swing them around like a maniac, so... This also gets elevated on the slight chance you have the world's tiniest liver, and the small samples of booze you get give you alcohol poisoning. I was fine, in both cases. FYI.
How did it work? The immersive Legion experience at the FX-hibition turns you into David Haller (Dan Stevens), the powerful — and potentially insane — mutant at the center of the show. After being checked in and given a medical style wristband, you're ushered into what may be Summerland — the mutant haven on the show — but more likely is Clockworks, the insane asylum we first meet David in. Or maybe it's someplace else? An uncomfortably close talking assistant sits you down, gives you elaborate VR glasses that let you "see through the astral plane," and then walks you into another room for an evaluation. There, you interact with characters from the show as they speak directly into your mind, coach you through various exercises of your mutant power, and ultimately help you battle the terrifying Shadow King.
How did it try to kill me? "Try to play along," the guy outside the activation told me. "You'll have a better experience that way." He was right. The experience is extremely interactive, from the aforementioned close-talker, to the intimacy of hearing stars Rachel Keller and Jean Smart whisper into your ears, to being grabbed and shoved by members of the cast. Imagining yourself as David — rather than "random convention attendee #6,382" — makes the experience all the more rewarding, and ultimately more terrifying. In particular, the mix of VR material, audio and physical interaction is disorienting. You won't die or get hurt, but compared to everything mentioned above, this is one of the more alarming experiences at San Diego. And rightly so, as the show has one of the best mixes of horror and weirdness on TV.
How did it work? A full VR experience set up at the end of Netflix's Stranger Things prop exhibit, you put on goggles and headphones, hold two sticks (one for your hand, one for a flashlight), and wander around Joyce's (Winona Ryder) house from the show. Follow the flashing Christmas lights, and you'll ultimately be rewarded with a creepy phone call, and a visit from the show's monster — the demogorgon.
How did it try to kill me? By scaring me half to death. What makes this unique is that you can walk around the room in a predetermined area, versus just looking around a la most VR experiences. And knowing that once you turn around, and shine that flashlight you'll be attacked by the monster from the Upside Down? Yeah, those who are faint of heart? Don't try this at home.
How did it work? I've pretty extensively run down how the Westworld experience works here, but the short version is you travel off site, meet a few hosts (robots who provide whatever Westworld park guests need), and then go through one of the most difficult moral dilemmas you've ever faced. And then there's drinks!
How did it try to kill me? I know it sounds like I'm playing it up here, but there's "I have to run from one panel to another and the wifi is dying and I have to turn in this panel report NOW" stress, and then there's what I felt during this Westworld experience. Nobody tries to harm you — despite being asked to choose a gun or a knife at the start of the experience — but it is one of the most alarming things I experienced this year at Comic-Con. The show is all about bringing out who you really are... And that's exactly what the experience does, too. The truth can be terrifying.
1. Mr. Robot
How did it work? Hey, I broke down this one pretty extensively, too! Look at me! You start off at the show's villainous Bank of E, where you receive a card full of E-Coin — virtual money that can be redeemed for real food at shops around San Diego. Next door, you purchase a pulled pork sandwich and a milkshake, solve some puzzles, and eventually unlock the chance to live a scene from Season 2 of the show. Your reward? New photos from Season 3, which changed every day of the Con.
How did it try to kill me? Without VR glasses, things flashing in front of my eyes, or janky animations, actually living a scene — and one of the most terrifying scenes, mind you — from Mr. Robot was extremely alarming. But this is number one of the list because, guys: don't eat a pulled pork sandwich five days in a row. That's just not healthy.