Hey everyone! I wasn’t planning on having this as my first post, but here we are. Walker Stalker snuck up on me again (per usual) and I wanted to discuss everything while it’s still fresh in my mind. There will be a fancy introductory post later, but until then, I’m going to shamelessly geek out and offer some advice for anyone thinking about attending the convention in the future.
Some quick backstory: This is my fourth Walker Stalker. In 2015, I attended my first event in Chicago last minute, unaware that it would eventually become such a staple in my life. I knew absolutely nothing at the time, showed up with $50, and still managed to have an unforgettable weekend. Let me just say this now: I don’t think you need to have a lot of money to have fun at WSC. There are panels happening all day, rows of artists and vendors to sort through, and many of the cast members will do meet-and-greets for free. So many things have changed within the last couple years and it keeps getting bigger, but there’s still a level of intimacy that I don’t find at other conventions. Something about Walker Stalker will always be special, and if you want to go big, you go to Atlanta.
This specific weekend is kind of a big deal. Many refer to it as the Walker Stalker Super Bowl for various reasons. Tucked within Building B of the massive Georgia World Congress Center, the guest line-up is stacked compared to other cities. The Walking Dead cast take up majority of the attendee list, but you can also expect to see talent from Fear the Walking Dead, Lost, Sons of Anarchy, Z Nation, Ash. vs Evil Dead, and more. Aside from London, this is the only WSC Andrew Lincoln attends, and even the busier and more reclusive cast members will sign on for at least one day. There’s something grandiose about the whole thing. People travel from all over the world for this and it’s not unusual to hear passing conversations in French or Chinese. Nobody “looks” like a Walking Dead fan, either. You’ll see all ages, colors, sizes, and backgrounds. People will go through so much to meet a person from a TV show, but that’s when you realize it’s not just a TV show anymore. Crew members and volunteers wear shirts that read “it’s not fandom, it’s family” and there’s a humbling truth to that. This series has begun a movement, and like the mindless zombies on The Walking Dead, we’re all here to feed on something that keeps us alive. It’s why I keep returning, despite telling myself that it’s getting too popular, or that the magic has worn off (it hasn’t), or that I don’t have the money for it (which is usually the actual truth).
Soft feelings aside, I always attend the cons at General Admission level. There are four tiers to this madness: GA, VIP, Gold, and Platinum. Each of them have their own perks, and it usually takes you one or two cons to figure out which one works best for your needs. Personally, I like going the photo op route, in which you get a professional picture with whomever you choose, but the downside is that you don’t get to have a conversation. Usually it’s a “Hi, how are you doing?” type of exchange before the volunteers usher you out of the curtained room. If you’re a nervous wreck like me, you might actually prefer the brief interactions since it gives you minimal room to embarrass yourself. Some cast members are known for being very affectionate and talkative, while others will keep the exchange short and sweet. Thankfully, I haven’t had any negative experiences yet or have caught an actor on a bad day. If you think you’ll lean towards doing mainly photo ops, attending the con with GA or VIP will probably be good enough for you. Gold and Platinum holders will go first in photo op lines, but it really doesn’t make much of a difference since the lines move so quickly.
Depending on the actor’s popularity, photo ops may range anywhere from $50 to $100. You can pay an additional $10 for a digital download and $5 for a plastic hard case, which I strongly recommend. As for preparing for your photo op, I tell everyone to wear make-up (even if you typically don’t) and apply setting powder to your face right before your op. Nobody wants to look like a sweaty bowling ball next to Lauren Cohan. I also wear neutral colored clothing to not distract from the overall photo and practice my smile. I know that sounds kind of weird, but seriously, you don’t want to pay all that money for a picture and end up hating it.
I got four photo ops this year: Jon Bernthal, Melissa McBride, Danai Gurira, and David Morrissey. I tried to wait and get an autograph with Jon, but this is where my General Admission wasn’t enough. Jon’s line was so busy that they wouldn’t let anyone with GA through, so I ended up getting the photo op. It’s important to be aware of things like this, or else you risk missing out on meeting somebody altogether. Don’t ever be afraid to check in with the volunteers who are monitoring their booths. Majority of the time, they will not tell you what’s going on or bother putting signs up because things can happen and change so quickly. It can be frustrating, but consistently asking for updates (without being a nuisance) is vital if you’re at a lower admission and you’re trying to meet a popular cast member.
If photo ops aren’t your thing or you’d rather have more time to meet the cast member, the other option is to wait in their line for an autograph or selfie. All of them will have their own designated booths with four different lines to wait in. This is when the four tiers of whatever admission you go with will affect you the most. Say, for example, you want to meet Chandler Riggs. Depending on your admission tier, your wait in General Admission could be 2 hours on a Saturday, while someone with a Platinum badge only waits 10 minutes. If you want to meet a lot of people at Walker Stalker, you’re going to have to pay up. I typically only meet a handful of cast members per con since I plan on attending these for a while, so I’m not exactly racing to cross everyone off my list. Go with what’s best for you!
The autograph and selfie prices range per actor. Some of the bigger names, like Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus, won’t do selfies at all because their lines are too busy getting through autographs. Selfies are generally way cheaper than photo ops, but you should also take into consideration that 1) it’s not professional quality and 2) the lighting is usually awful and will probably make you look like garbage. Sometimes you might have an unflattering background, too. These are things to keep in mind, but I highly recommend getting selfies with Josh McDermitt, Michael Cudlitz, and Alanna Masterson because they all take like 8 pictures with you.
Most of the actors will offer standalone prices for a selfie or autograph, but most offer a combo package that will shave a few dollars off. For example, Josh’s selfie and autograph were each $50, but getting a combo is $70. Everything adds up quickly and prices change the longer someone’s been on a show, so if you like one of the lesser known or newer characters, I recommend meeting them as soon as possible.
Another nice thing about meeting someone at their booth is that you can give them presents! I gave Josh a couple pins in Chicago earlier this year, one of which had Eugene photoshopped as a Packers fan. I mentioned the pins this past weekend and it helped him remember me. Little things like that can help you stand out amongst the hundreds of people they meet every year. Try to give them something small and unique, like a hand made trinket or fan art. Avoid anything bulky or food-related, because they probably won’t take it home.
In terms of what you should talk about, I recommend keeping it light. Depending on the cast member, you might have anywhere from 3-8 minutes to talk with them. Have a general idea of what you want to talk about, but don’t plan the entire conversation in your head. If it’s a Walking Dead cast member, sometimes I’ll bring up their work outside of the show. It shows that you care about their entire filmography and gives them a break from talking about the same thing all day. Just go with what feels right. It’s okay to be nervous, but don’t be that person who screams or hysterically cries.
If I’m going to be honest, though, the best part about these cons are the other fans you’ll meet. Writing this has made me realize that I spent majority of my time hanging out with people that I met in lines or on social media. That’s the beauty of this thing. You end up having these organic and truly special interactions with everyone, famous or not. My favorite memories from this year were in the presence of new friends, honestly. Don’t ever be afraid to attend the convention alone and talk to a complete stranger.
If any of you have questions or comments, please let me know! I wrote this pretty much off the cuff, so I apologize if it’s hard to follow. I put together a rating system for both the convention center and Walker Stalker to help break down what I think are crucial things to know before attending.
CONVENTION CENTER RATING
- Location: 10/10. The Georgia World Congress Center is in the heart of downtown and gives you access to a genuine Atlanta experience. There are a lot of hotels close to the venue, but I stayed at an AirBnB 15 minutes away last year and payed $300 for 4 days.
- Parking: 8/10. There is no free parking, but there are many affordable garages/lots surrounding the venue. I paid $9 per day by booking in advance, but many lots were $20 if you paid the day of.
- Accessibility: 10/10. GWCC is very spacious and extremely accommodating to everyone’s needs. I’ve heard no complaints from anyone with a disability.
- Cleanliness: 10/10. Cons can get disgusting really quickly, but in the two years that I’ve attended, nothing has grossed me out.
- Bathrooms: 9/10. Occasionally the toilet paper will run out, but this is pretty much as good as it gets. There are also a ton of bathrooms, so you don’t wait in line too long. If you can, try using the ones outside of the convention hall, they’re way nicer.
- Staff: 10/10. Majority of the staff you’ll see are with WSC, but if you ever need help, the actual venue staff are equally as helpful.
- Food: ?/10. I’ve never eaten here because the prices will make you cry. Walk an extra 5 minutes across the street to the CNN center food court instead.
WALKER STALKER CON RATING
- Guests: 10/10. Atlanta is the pinnacle of the Walker Stalker. There might be one or two notable Walking Dead cast members missing each year, but it’s typically because they are too busy filming something else. It’s not just people who are currently on the show, either. Everybody from the series comes out for it. The con also brings in a consistent amount of actors from other fandoms.
- Panels: 10/10. Most of the panels will make your stomach hurt from laughing, honestly. I don’t think I’ve ever attended one that felt underwhelming or tedious. Everyone is very interactive with the fans and you can even go up to a mic and ask questions.
- Photo Ops: 9/10. Getting your photo op can be stressful, but Celeb Photo Ops, the company who run it at Walker Stalker, do a remarkable job. There were a lot of system issues this year, but overall they make everything run smoothly. My only gripe is how badly the photographers rush you.
- Artists and Vendors: 8/10. Whether you want a life-size cut out of Negan, a homemade cookie telling you to look at the flowers, or want to take a picture with stunning cosplayers, the vendor hall has so much to offer. In the future I would like to see more original artwork and less overpriced shirts.
- Events/concerts/after parties: 7/10. Walker Stalker Atlanta has plenty of things to offer once the con wraps up. In the past, there have been shows with Emily Kinney and Halloween parties thrown by Norman Reedus and Tom Payne. I personally don’t care for the after shows and most people say they’re boring and overpriced.
- Organization: 7/10. The convention floor is very well laid out and easy to remember. However, WSC could really benefit from having more signs and maintaining better communication amongst their staff.
- Affordability: 6/10. This one is tough. On one hand, WSC has made the four tiers of admission to suit different needs and expectations. And as I mentioned before, I don’t think you need to have a lot of money to have fun. The biggest downside about the entire con are the prices to meet the cast members. This is a very, very expensive convention. I’ve met far more established actors and artists who charged half the price of a relatively unknown Walking Dead cast member. I don’t know if there’s a way to fix this, but I worry that the con will become too expensive for my budget.
- Staff: 8/10. Majority of the staff and volunteers are friendly, personable, and will go above and beyond to help you out. Some of them seem undertrained, though, and it’s not unusual to be given the wrong information.